Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Arm of Caesar

"As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it" (Acts 19:40)

Today we return to the book of Acts. We left Paul at Ephesus, the city in which he ministered more than any other in his travels. One of the themes in this part of Acts, which we saw when we considered Acts 18, is that God was making it clear to the early Christians and to the Jews that He would protect His new people. You may recall from Acts 18:12–17 that the Jews tried to get Paul in trouble, but the Roman proconsul refused to hear them; and though he protected Paul, he allowed the Jewish leader to be beaten publicly.

Something similar happened in Ephesus, as recorded in Acts 19:23–41. This time, the man who tried to get Paul in trouble was Demetrius, a man whose craft was to make silver idols of Artemis. Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt, corresponding to the Roman goddess Diana. In Ephesus, however, Artemis was also the goddess of fertility. The people of Ephesus believed that a meteorite that had fallen from the sky was a heavenly sign from Artemis (Acts 19:35).

Now, however, an ambassador named Paul from the true court of heaven had arrived in Ephesus. The amazing miracles wrought by Paul in Ephesus had the effect of turning many away from the false heaven of Artemis to the true heaven of Jesus Christ (Acts 19:1–20). Demetrius the silversmith begins to notice that there was markedly less interest in his idols, so he called together all the makers and vendors of idolatrous trinkets and lead them in organizing a mob out of the remaining Artemis-worshipers.

The mob seized two of Paul’s fellow preachers and rushed to the amphitheater. The Jews put forward their representative, doubtless to add to the charges against the Christians, but the pagans refused to hear him. (The pagans knew that Jews as well as Christians despised idols.)

Finally, the mayor arrived (the “city clerk”). Fearful that the wrath of Rome would fall upon him and upon the city if this riot continued, he pacified the crowd. He pointed out that Demetrius had no legal case against Paul and ordered the mob to disperse. In this event we see God working through the long arm of Rome to protect His church.

We often think of Caesar as the enemy of Christianity because the Romans did often persecute the church. Here in Acts, however, Rome protected the church against Jewish and pagan enemies. Consider how these believers responded to angry opposition to the Gospel, and try to imitate their faith in an increasingly hostile society.