Pastor David B. Curtis


Riot For Profit

Acts 19:21-41

Delivered 02/28/2010

In our text for today we find Paul on his third missionary journey, in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the most beautiful cities in the Graeco-Roman world. Its wide main thoroughfare, which could accommodate several chariots in a row as well as pedestrians; its inviting shops and invigorating public baths; its stadium and large theater, which would seat over twenty five thousand people, made it the Rome of the East. Add to all this its temple, which was the religious showplace of antiquity.

Ephesus was a city of pagan superstition. It was a place where sorcery existed and witchcraft existed and all kinds of perversions, and there were magical imposters and exorcists all over the place.

We saw then in our last several studies that Paul brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Ephesus. He first shared it in the synagogue, and when his teaching was rejected, he rented the school of Tyrannus, which became the center of his teaching for the next two years. The result was that they had a great bonfire in Ephesus, to which the people brought their books on black magic and their astrological charts and horoscopes and Ouija boards and burned them in a public square in the center of the city.

So Ephesus had a church established that became a beachhead for evangelism that extended to the entire Roman province of Asia Minor. Paul spent three years teaching about the kingdom of God in Ephesus:

"Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Acts 20:31 NASB)

So far as we know, he stayed in Ephesus longer than he stayed at any other place.

Our text for this morning is dealing with the riot that Christianity caused in Ephesus. It runs from verses 21 through verse 41, and it's pretty much just a simple historical narrative dealing with an incident that occurred in the city of Ephesus.

Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (Acts 19:21 NASB)

"After these things were finished"--probably refers to the whole section from 12:25- 19:20. Luke begins by mentioning the fact that Paul has formed a deep and far-reaching purpose, encouraged by God, to go and see Rome. "I must also see Rome."

When the phrase "purposed in the Spirit" is taken in combination with the "must" of the next sentence, which is "dei," a term often used by Luke to indicate divine necessity, Luke seems to be declaring Paul's conviction by the power of the Spirit that it is God's will for him to continue pursuing his calling by preaching the Gospel in Rome.

A look at the map would indicate that Macedonia and Achaia were hardly on Paul's way to Jerusalem. For that matter, Jerusalem was hardly on Paul's way to Rome. Paul was in Ephesus, and so traveling to Jerusalem via Macedonia and Achaia would require him to go north and then to double back past Ephesus to Jerusalem. Rome would then require him to go northwest.

So why does he want to go to Macedonia and Acaia? Paul was planning to go to Jerusalem via Macedonia and Achaia so that he could take a collection from these churches to the poor saints in Jerusalem. The church of Jerusalem was very poor, and Paul wanted to take a love offering from his churches as a gift to the church at Jerusalem.

In several places in Scripture Paul alludes to this offering:

but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25-26 NASB)

Paul sent Timothy and Erastus on ahead, to begin making preparations for the collection.

And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. (Acts 19:22 NASB)

Paul then wrote to the saints in Corinth, encouraging them to make a generous contribution to the needy in Jerusalem: (1 Corinthians 16:1-12; see also 2 Corinthians 8:1-15).

So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. (2 Corinthians 9:5 NASB)

It was the apostle's plan to stay in Ephesus until the day of Pentecost, but his mind was soon changed. Luke tells us now, in Acts 19, what caused him to alter these plans:

About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. (Acts 19:23 NASB)

"No small disturbance" means a fairly large one, and it was an attack on "the Way." Christianity was called "The way," and Christianity was causing a huge disturbance in the culture of Ephesus. We have already seen that many were bringing their magic books and burning them. A revival was taking place in Ephesus.

For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, "Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. (Acts 19:24-25 NASB)

Ephesus was the city of the worship of Artemis, not the Diana of Roman mythology, but the Artemis of Asian mythology. She was not the huntress, chaste and pure, of Roman mythology; but she was the goddess of fruit. The image of Artemis was not beautiful, for this many-breasted woman who symbolized fertility was carved out of a black meteorite, which the priests said had fallen from heaven.

The temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and many historians believe it was one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. It stood about a mile northeast of the city and served as a bank as well as a place of worship and cultic immorality. It could accommodate 50,000 people and was probably the largest Greek temple ever built. A prosperous business had sprung up around this temple to serve the residents as well as the religious tourists. They were making and selling shrines of Artemis. If the market dried up, they would be ruined.

It is very probable that we have here in this gathering an example of a trade guild in which members of a trade would gather together. There were many such guilds for different professions, and the Romans were not very keen on them and sought to limit them by legislation.

"You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. (Acts 19:26 NASB)

What an incredible testimony from the mouth of this pagan to the effect of Paul's ministry--"in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people." Until Paul arrived, all had been going very well, and trade was brisk. Silver shrines sold like hot cakes. But Paul's teaching had affected their trade. The people of Ephesus have come to see the futility of magic; they have also come to see the futility of idolatry. Paul's preaching threatened the business of the idol-making industry.

One man comes to Ephesus preaching the Gospel, and now those who make idols are worried about their job security. This demonstrates the power of the Gospel:

"Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence." 28 When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" 29 The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia. (Acts 19:27-29 NASB)

The silversmiths losing money would bother most of the people, so they stir up the crowds by making it a religious matter--"Artemis be regarded as worthless and... be dethroned from her magnificence."

Demetrius' statement, "Whom all of Asia and the world worship," was no exaggeration. Over thirty sites around the Roman Empire from Spain to Syria have been located where the worship of Artemis was carried on, while according to Pausanias, this cult achieved the most extensive and most supreme worship in the ancient world. People flocked to Ephesus from all over the Empire in order to participate in the games, take part in the festivities, and enjoy the religious orgies.

The silversmiths knew that they could stir up the whole city with this one, because historians believe this was the season of the year when Ephesus gave itself over to a whole month of feasting, revelry, and debauchery centering on the worship of Artemis. They called this festival the "Artemision." It had the characteristics of the Mardis Gras in New Orleans. So that this would be a time when the masses of people were swarming the city of Ephesus, and these people were making their living at the very highest level of the year off their silver shrines and silver statues of the goddess Artemis.

They poured out of their meeting and raced in large numbers down the main street that led to the theater, yelling, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians" and harassing people, and as they went, calling them to come to an unofficial assembly. And at one point they came across, and were able to seize, Gaius and Aristarchus, two Macedonians who were working with Paul as companions and assistants.

Archaeologists have restored the theater at Ephesus. It lay on the side of Mt. Pion in the town and seated 25,000 people in 66 rows. Its semicircular design was typical of Roman outdoor theaters.

And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. 31 Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. (Acts 19:30-31 NASB)

Paul bravely wanted to go into the theater to assist their defense before the people. But the disciples knew that while Gaius and Aristarchus might come away from the situation only having been roughed up, if Paul showed his face there, he was liable to be torn to pieces. He was Public Enemy Number One--"Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people."

"The disciples wold not let him"--this is very curious to me. How do you stop the Apostle Paul from doing what he wants to do? Obviously, Paul wasn't a monolithic monster. He must have submitted to the disciples at this point.

The Asiarchs were men of great power and influence who controlled the league of cities of the province of Asia. They were chosen annually from the wealthiest and most aristocratic citizens. Among other things, they were responsible for the organization and running of the games.

Paul had clearly won the esteem of some of them, and Luke mentions them because it would demonstrate to any skeptical reader that the most important and loyal men in the province were on Paul's side.

So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. (Acts 19:32 NASB)

Everybody was yelling their heads off and saying what they want--"For the assembly was in confusion." And here's Luke's sense of humor--"And the majority did not know for what reason they had come together." They had no idea what was even going on.

Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" (Acts 19:33-34 NASB)

A prominent unbelieving Jew named Alexander wanted the crowd to understand that even though Paul was a Jew, the local Jewish community did not approve of him. However, like Gallio in Corinth, this crowd did not distinguish between Christianity and Judaism. Both groups are monotheistic and oppose idolatry. Recognizing that Alexander is a Jew, they drown out his attempted defense with a two-hour chant: Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!

The literal Greek here is "great Artemis of the Ephesians." They started yelling to their God, "Do something." This was a common formula of prayer and invocation and is found on inscriptions.

Luke may have mentioned this attempt by Alexander because it confirmed the uselessness of Paul's wish to enter the theater and speak:

After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, "Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? 36 "So, since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. (Acts 19:35-36 NASB)

He let them shout for two full hours after Alexander was put forward, until the crowd must have worn down. Paul had taught that idols made with hands could not be true gods. Well, in this case, that was irrelevant, because everyone knew that the image of Artemis had fallen from heaven. It was thus not made with hands! Therefore, Paul's words had not been spoken against Artemis:

"For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. (Acts 19:37 NASB)

The Christians didn't go around blasting Artemis. They didn't have marches against the Temple of Artemis. They didn't carry posters around "Down with Artemis of the Ephesians." They hadn't organized rallies or tried to get legislation passed to stop the corrupt practices that went on there. They didn't bast that, all they did was preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the negative took care of itself.

This is a statement of a pagan that the Christianities have done nothing against the government:

"So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. 39 "But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. 40 "For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today's events, since there is no real cause for it, and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering." 41 After saying this he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:38-41 NASB)

The town clerk was comparable to the mayor. He was the one who would have to answer to Rome for this riot. He assured the crowd that the greatness of Artemis was not in danger, and that the two men they had apprehended were not guilty of robbing the temple or blaspheming their goddess. He reminded them of the proper judicial channels if they had a grievance. And he warned them of the consequences if Rome accused them of an unlawful assembly. Unless this crowd is eager to have a Roman regiment disperse them, they had better move on, and quickly.

We need to view the city clerk's dismissal of the mob assembled at the theater in Ephesus in light of Gallio's decision in Acts 18. While our Lord's promise to Paul was for his safety there in Corinth, it seems that from Corinth on, Rome becomes the protector of Paul and of the preaching of the Gospel, rather than his persecutor. Here we find a pure pagan, a man who seems to have worshiped Artemis himself, taking a position which defended not only Paul, but also those with him, even though they preached a Gospel message that denied the existence of his "god."

Here, as in Corinth, Paul's safety and protection was not the result of his own defense, for neither in Corinth nor in Ephesus did he have the opportunity to speak in his own defense. In Corinth, he was interrupted by Gallio, before he could offer a word of defense; here in Corinth Paul was not even allowed to enter the theater to speak in his defense. But God provided protection for Paul and for the preaching of the Gospel through pagan men who were in positions of political power. The sovereignty of God is once again evident.

In this narrative we learn the nature of the opposition to Christianity--vested interests. When the preaching of the Gospel affects men's pocket books, the opposition is great.

What message is the church preaching today that affects the income of a certain guild? We preach the sanctity of human life, and that conception is an act of God. This makes those who run abortion mills very upset. Not because they care about women's rights, but because they care about the almighty dollar.

Abortion is a money maker. It's big business. The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the research arm of Planned Parenthood, estimates that there were 1.21 million abortions performed in the U.S. in the year 2005. Of the 1.21 million annual abortions, approximately 88% (1.06 million) are performed during the first trimester. The other 12% (150,000) are performed during the second and third trimester. In 2005 the average cost of a nonhospital abortion with local anesthesia at 10 weeks of gestation was $413. The Women's Medical Center estimates that a 2nd trimester abortion costs up to $3,000 (with the price increasing the further along the pregnancy goes). If we take the $413 average for 1st trimester abortions and use a $3,000 average for 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions, here's what we get: $438 million is spent each year on first trimester abortions and $393 million is spent on late term abortions. That means that each year in the U.S. the abortion industry brings in approximately $831 million through their abortion services alone. If you add in the $337 million (or more) that Planned Parenthood (America's largest abortion provider) receives annually in government grants and contracts, the annual dollar amount moves well past 1 billion.

Abortion, to put it plainly, is a very lucrative business, and this has been true from the beginning. By last count, Planned Parenthood (a tax-exempt organization!) has $951 million in total assets!

What this means to the abortion debate is that the people and organizations who defend the morality of abortion the most vehemently are generally the very same ones who rake in huge profits from its continued availability. This sets up a significant conflict of interest and should immediately call into question any claims they might make about their desire to reduce the number of abortions. When Planned Parenthood argues that they're working hard to reduce the frequency of abortion, the fact remains that their financial livelihood is built on abortion. Planned Parenthood, then, is just like the big tobacco companies. Does anyone really believe that tobacco companies want people to stop smoking? Does anyone really believe that Planned Parenthood wants people to stop having abortions? Follow the money.

If we assume (for the sake of argument) that Planned Parenthood's primary ambitions are financial instead of ideological, then much of their behavior suddenly makes perfect sense.

Those who defend abortion, arguing that it is good and necessary for a healthy society, are defending an institution that is making itself very wealthy. On the flip side, those who argue that abortion is an act of violence against an innocent human being, do so at great financial cost. There is no pay-off on the "pro-life" side. All the efforts to educate people about the reality of abortion consume large amounts of money, and there is no billion dollar product to refill the coffer. Think about it: Those who support abortion the most are growing rich off its continued availability while those who oppose abortion the most are losing money for their efforts. Who, then, is more likely to be honest and forthright about the issue at hand? Who is more likely to be motivated by principle, and who is more likely to be motivated by profit?

It is truly incredible that in an age where great amounts of money and effort are expended in saving whales, baby seals, bald eagles, and even three-inch fish--in an era of great concern over "animal rights"--not only do we deny the rights of the unborn to life, we callously turn our heads to their suffering. We not only treat them as less than human, we treat them as having less value than animals. Dogs have more rights in this country than unborn children.

Dr. Irwin Lutzer reveals the twisted and tragic logic of our society, which now places a higher value on animal life than on human life:

Nothing dramatizes the schizophrenia of our age more than the law against crushing the egg of a bald eagle. Such a person may be fined $5,000 and put in jail for one year. Incredibly, our society has adopted the notion that a baby eagle is worth more than a human being. Everyone knows that an eagle's egg is a potential eaglet subject to protection, but a fetus, we are told, is not a human being even if it should be already viable outside of the womb.

So how is it that the Church today hurts the abortion industry? We hurt them by teaching the sanctity of human life, by teaching that: Conception is an act of God. This is perhaps the strongest Scriptural and theological argument against abortion there is. Biblically, God Himself is said to create the child in the womb. So then, those who have an abortion are not merely destroying tissue or protoplasm, but an actual work of God Himself.

We suppose that the power of reproduction lies solely within the ovum and sperm and is entirely controlled by the genetic code. But Biblically, it is clear that God Himself is involved in the process. God creates, personally and individually, every human life. God not only starts a pro-creation process, but is active in that process bringing into existence all those people whom He has foreordained to life:

Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife. (Genesis 20:17-18 NASB)

God is sovereign over conception and the womb:

So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. (Genesis 16:2 NASB)
So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. (Genesis 21:2 NASB)

God ordains who will live, and when they will live:

Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is so, why then am I this way?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. (Genesis 25:21-22 NASB)
Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, "Because the LORD has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me." (Genesis 29:31-32 NASB)
Then Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" (Genesis 30:2 NASB)
Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. So she conceived and bore a son and said, "God has taken away my reproach." (Genesis 30:22-23 NASB)
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. (Ruth 4:13 NASB)
A Psalm for Thanksgiving. Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalms 100:1-3 NASB)
A Song of Ascents, of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. (Psalms 127:1-3 NASB)
Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. (Psalms 139:12-13 NASB)

From the Psalms we see that what goes on in the womb is a work of God:

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. (Psalms 139:14 NASB)

He attributes his making to God. Human life is God's work.

My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (Psalms 139:15-16 NASB)

When I was nothing but an embryo, you had my life all laid out. God is the power behind conception, and every life that begins, begins because God has foreordained that life to begin. Conception is an act of God and life begins at conception.

In the First Testament the Bible uses the same Hebrew words to describe the pre-born, infants, and children. In the New Testament the same Greek words also describe the pre-born, infants, and children, which indicates a continuity from conception to childhood and on to adulthood.

The Greek word brephos is used of the newly born, infants, and older children in Luke 2:12 & 16, 18:15; and 1 Peter 2:2. In Acts 7:19 brephos is used of John the Baptist while he was still in the womb, a pre-born infant. Even three months before birth, John could miraculously recognize Jesus in Mary's womb:

"For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. (Luke 1:44 NASB)

There is nothing in Scripture that even remotely suggests that the unborn child is anything less than a human person from the moment of conception. So life begins at conception, and conception is an act of God. The life of a baby begins long before he or she is born. A new individual human being begins growing in the mother's uterus at fertilization, and if the baby's life is not interrupted, he or she will someday become an adult man or woman.

In 1981 the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee held hearings to discuss the question of when biological human life begins. The testimony was revealing. An overwhelming majority of the experts answered emphatically that biological life begins at conception or implantation.

The American Medical Association shared that perspective until the 1960s, calling abortion a criminal act that ignored the obvious medical fact that fetal life begins at conception. In 1967, however, citing Changing Social Views, the AMA began to officially back away from its anti-abortion stance, completing the retreat in 1970.

So the Church preaches that conception is an act of God, and life begins at conception. This ruffles abortion mills because it costs them. The Church also teaches that Scripture proves that God values the unborn in the womb as an adult. This principle is illustrated in:

"If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. "But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:22-25 NASB)

The Hebrew word for "gives birth" is yeled, it is the same Hebrew word that is used for children. It is used 88 times in the First Testament of children. In verse 23, God has ordained that the killing of a child prior to its birth is to be paid for by giving your own life.

This law is perhaps the most decisive evidence in Scripture that the unborn in the womb is to be regarded as a living person. The sixth commandment, "thou shalt not murder," is equivalent to, "thou shalt not commit abortion."

The text in verse 22 literally reads "so that her children go (or come) out." Some translations have erroneously rendered the word "prematurely," yatsa, in this verse as "miscarriage," but there is no linguistic justification for this interpretation. The Bible has a word, shakol, that is often used to mean miscarriage or accidental abortion (e.g. Gen 23.26, Hos 9.14), but shakol is not used in this case. Yatsa is used in every Biblical case except one (Numbers 12:12 uses it for a stillborn child) for the birth of an ordinary child. Thus these verses are most naturally understood to refer to a case where a pregnant woman is hit and delivers a child.

The object of the phrase "no injury" (literally, "and no harm occurs") is not specified, and therefore is most fully understood to be the mother or the child. This means that the lex talionis (i.e. the attacker is punished in keeping with the victim's injuries) applies when harm comes to either the mother or the child in her womb. Only if the mother is spared serious injury, and the baby is born without injury is the lex talionis not invoked. The natural conclusion is that the Mosaic law considered the child in the womb to be fully a person, protected by the lex talionis.

To summarize, the Bible does not specifically address abortion or categorically state when human life begins. The overwhelming preponderance of Biblical evidence, however, consistently supports the sanctity of human life inside and outside the womb. To interpret the Bible differently reads our preferences into the text and does not do justice to the authors' intentions.

To follow the pattern of Acts, I would think that the preaching of the Word of God would so change lives and values that abortion clinics, for example, would find that fewer and fewer women wished to use their services.

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