Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Regarded As Nothing

There is danger not only that this business of ours will come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be regarded as nothing – Acts 19:27a (NET)

These are the words of a man named Demetrius. He lived in the city of Ephesus, and was “a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis” (19:24b). He was obviously quite the influential man in the city of Ephesus, as it was his instigating words that would nearly bring the city to the point of riot. This influence was gained from the fact that he “brought a great deal of business to the craftsmen” (19:24c). While also being a man of influence, he was also a man of awareness. Like any good businessman, he kept abreast of current events that could have an effect on his business. Recently, an event had occurred in Ephesus that was of considerable concern to Demetrius.

Backing up a bit in the nineteenth chapter of Acts, we learn that “God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, so that even when handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his body were brought to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them” (19:11-12). As we would imagine, this would make quite the impression on those that witnessed such things. It also served as something of an inspiration, as “some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were possessed by evil spirits, saying, ‘I sternly warn you by Jesus Whom Paul preaches’.” (19:13) We go on to learn, in fact, that it was seven brothers that were doing this very thing. Fascinatingly, “the evil spirit replied to them, ‘I know about Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man who was possessed by the evil spirit jumped on them and beat them all into submission. He prevailed against them so that they fled from that house naked and wounded” (19:16).

What happened following this rather interesting event? We read that “This became known to all who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; fear came over them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised” (19:17). Though the exorcists had failed in their invoking the name of Jesus in order to cast out the evil spirit, the subsequent occurrences still had the result of brining praise to Jesus. This provoked a response on the part of the people which enables us to go on and read that “the Word of the Lord continued to grow in power and to prevail” (19:20b). What “Word of the Lord” was it that was growing in power and prevailing? That is a simple question to answer, as it was obviously the Gospel that Paul was preaching. We know that “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke out fearlessly for three months, addressing and convincing them about the kingdom of God” (19:8). Paul’s preaching of the kingdom could not possibly be disconnected with His preaching of Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel, Who was the Son of God, Lord and King of the world. Paul would not be preaching a kingdom without its King, that being Jesus; and apart from His crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus could not be spoken of as King.

There were those in the synagogue, as usual, that rejected Paul’s preaching of “the Way” (19:9), so eventually Paul left the synagogue and took up his teaching “every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all who lived in the province of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the Word of the Lord” (19:9b-10). Again, this Word of the Lord, as we are able to construe from the record of Paul’s preaching and from his writing, would have been that Jesus is Lord. That was the message of the Gospel, and that alone represents a message that would grow in power and prevail. If we desire consistency with the text of the New Testament, we have to agree that there is no other message that could be described in such a way.

Due to the effectiveness of the preaching of the message of the Gospel, as it grew in power and prevailed, Demetrius’ business was most likely suffering. So he called a meeting of the craftsmen, “along with the workmen in similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that our prosperity comes from this business. And you see and hear that this Paul has persuaded and turned away a large crowd, not only in Ephesus but in practically all of the province of Asia, by saying that gods made by hands are not gods at all” (19:25b-26). This is where we come upon his statement that “There is danger not only that this business of ours will come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be regarded as nothing” (19:27a). He concludes his statement with “and she whom all the province of Asia and the world worship will suffer the loss of her greatness” (19:27b).

In that day, this temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world, had been in place for over five-hundred years. It drew thousands of worshipers from all over the world. The devotees of Artemis, as the goddess of Ephesus, could quickly fill a fifty-thousand seat theater, and when prodded, gladly shout “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (19:34b) for two solid hours. Nevertheless, the tireless preaching of the Gospel, of the foolish and confounding message of a crucified man that had been raised from the dead by God, was seen to be threatening the temple and its goddess, to the point that both would be “regarded as nothing,” and that the world would suffer the loss of her greatness.

That tells the power of the preaching of the message of Jesus. There is no message besides the message of Jesus Christ crucified and raised that has such power. It is this message that goes forth by the Holy Spirit and transforms hearts and minds. It is the message that Paul preached. It was the message that Jesus’ disciples took into the world. It is the message, supreme above anything else that we can ever preach or teach, that we should be carrying into this world on a daily basis. All other messages are secondary, and if not rooted in the message of the cross and an empty tomb, by which anything else that we desire to teach or preach will gain its power, all other messages are rather pointless.

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