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The Riot of the Great Artemis

As we come to the end of Acts 19, it’s high time to ask the question: “Why does preaching the gospel cause riots?” What is it about Paul’s message that is so upsetting wherever he goes? But we also need to ask a more painful question: “Why doesn’t our preaching of the gospel caused riots?” Why was Paul so hard to ignore, and why are we so easy to ignore?

In this passage, we see the answer to both questions. Preaching the gospel causes riots because it turns everything in our lives upside down: our wallets (v. 25), our work (v. 27a), and our worship (v. 27b). This is what Demetrius the silversmith reacts to: Jesus demands that we submit our wallets, our work, and our worship to Him. He is not just Lord of Sunday morning; He is Lord over all of life.

And the reason why our preaching today doesn’t cause riots is because we’ve swallowed the idolatrous panacea of the town clerk (v.35-40). Where Demetrius incites a riot, the town clerk shuts it down. There is no reason to riot, he says, because Rome will take care of everything. He looks for a secular solution to the religious problems of Ephesus, and his mindset has taken over western culture.

The whole passage is structured by the speeches of these two men, speeches that reveal two different strands of idolatry at work. Ultimately, all idolatry is the same: the exaltation of self over God. But the way it manifests itself can be very different, as in Ephesus, and in our world today.

If you want to see Christianity causing riots, look to countries full of people who wear their non-Christian faiths on their sleeve. These people see the gospel as a direct threat to their worship, and thus a threat to everything about their life, since they’ve organized their life around worship.

If you want to know why a life-giving, Spirit-empowered gospel isn’t making waves, look for town clerks, those who might pay some lip service to God, but won’t allow Him to infringe on the neutral zones of commerce and public life. Bureaucrats will allow you to worship whomever you want, so long as you submit your wallet and your work to the secular power.

Because the bureaucrat sees Rome as central, not worship, he doesn’t see preaching as a threat. Religion is not a competitor; it’s just another part of life that the state manages. Rome fully expects Christianity to behave just like the Artemis-worshipers do, and quietly submit to Rome’s authority. It will take several centuries of turning martyr’s blood into the seed of the Church for Rome to realize how badly she has misunderstood Christianity and the claims of King Jesus.

But initially, because Christianity doesn’t fight with swords, there is no persecution, and because there is no persecution, the secular state seems like a benevolent friend of Christianity. This is a clever lie that the Church has fallen for, so that many Christians would rather have wealth, work, and freedom of private religion than a government that submits to Jesus as king. The greatest enemy such people recognize is whatever upsets the social order and causes economic harm or loses jobs, and they’ll riot over those things. But having completely swallowed the town clerk’s lie, riots are never caused for the gospel’s sake.

Here’s how to cause a riot: insist that Jesus is not only Lord of your worship, but Lord of your wallet, Lord of your work, Lord of the public square, Lord of the nations, Lord of all. When secularists claim that nations can be governed without reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and especially His ascension to the throne of the universe, don’t believe it for a second. Since Jesus really died and rose again, and since He really is king, then the response not just of individuals but of nations and kings needs to be bowing down before Jesus. So what do you really want? Do you want a good income, a steady job, and an idol on the throne? Or are you willing to submit your wallet, your work, and your worship to King Jesus? These are the kinds of questions that cause riots. May we have the courage to start asking them, and answering with the cry “Jesus is Lord."

Posted on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 by CJ Bowen