A Great Miracle
- 27 September 2021
- Stuart Robinson
September 26th, 2021
A Great Miracle
A Great Disturbance
A Great Outcome
Today I’d be pleased for us to ponder the notion of, ‘a great miracle’, ‘a great disturbance’, ‘a great outcome’, and ‘great grace’ from Acts 19.
May we pray?
First – a great miracle.
In our reading from Acts 19 last week, we were reminded of a great miracle – or a series of great miracles, really – that took place in the city of Ephesus, and which shook that city to its very core, as we’ll see presently.
It all began in prayer: St. Paul prayed for people – he laid hands on them (Luke reports in Acts 19:6), and they were powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
Paul then proceeded to preach in their synagogue persuasively and boldly concerning God’s plan and purposes, until some ‘obstinate’ and fractious people in that congregation began to malign the ‘Way’ of Jesus (19:9).
So, Paul decamped and rented a local hall in that city.
For two years he ministered there with great authority.
And his preaching was ‘authenticated’ by remarkable physical healings, and with people being released from debilitating demonic oppression (19:9-12).
Word of the ‘extraordinary miracles’ (Acts 19:11) spread, the name of Jesus was held in great honour, and a wave of repentance ensued (19:17):
People who had been involved in pagan rituals and witchcraft confessed their sins and publicly burnt their articles of worship – 50,000 drachmas worth.
A drachma was a day’s wages – so to put it into perspective, that bonfire was fuelled by the equivalent of $11,600,000 Australian dollars’ worth of jettisoned artifacts.
Hence Luke’s editorial comment in Acts 19:20, “In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power”.
A great miracle that pre-figured (and related to) a great disturbance.
So, second – a great disturbance.
Ephesus, a heaving Roman metropolis, was the centre of the cult of Artemis, a fertility goddess.
In mythology, Artemis was the celebrated daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo.
The Ephesians built a magnificent temple for the goddess, and it was known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple comprised 127 pillars, each just over 18 metres (60 feet) tall, with beautiful artwork adorning each pillar.
The temple also served as a financial institution, a bank of sorts. Residents, merchants, and politicians kept their money in the temple, ‘secure’, they believed, under the protection of the goddess.
Luke says in our reading for this week, “about that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way [of Jesus]”. Acts 19:23.
You see, people turning to Jesus and away from demonic and cultic worship, was not simply a change in allegiance, it also meant a change in spending habits!
Enter one Demetrius, master silversmith (possibly the guild leader) and purveyor of Artemis shrines and idols, who recognised that conversions to Christ were bad news for business.
So, Demetrius called a meeting of his peers and he warned them (dramatically) that – ‘practically the whole province of Asia’, had responded to Paul’s preaching such that their very ‘good income’ was at risk (19:25-26).
Worse, their culture – and their livelihood – was under threat as Artemis’ authority, and their identity (as her flock), was being assailed, Demetrius claims (19:27).
Ironically, in his railing against Paul, Demetrius, in high dudgeon, nonethelessarticulates a great gospel truth when he declares, “and Paul says that gods made by human hands are no Gods at all!!” (Acts 19:26)
Driven by avarice and greed, Demetrius’ oration fuelled his colleagues’ fears and prejudices, which in turn gave rise to a very great disturbance.
Here’s the short version: the crowd swells and gets nasty; shouting and jostling begins, confusion reigns as some people aren’t even sure why they are there; the city is in uproar as the people move into the theatre – a stadium that held 25,000 people; Paul’s travelling companions are dragged into the melee; a representative of the Jewish people tries to speak (possibly to pour scorn on the Christians) but is shouted down; Paul himself sought to bring a public defence of his ministry but those whom he respected [provincial officials] convinced him that it was a bad idea, and so he stayed away, and the scene ends with the entire arena chanting for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. Acts 19:23-34.
And then – remarkably, an intervention.
So, third, a great outcome.
A bureaucrat – the city clerk (a person with mayoral-like authority) steps into the breach and quells the furore.
Subtly, the fellow affirms the crowd in their common devotion to Artemis [out of interest, he mentions her image fell from heaven which leads some scholars to think she may have been fashioned from a meteor shard] and as Artemis’ position is not under threat, he says, ‘you have no cause for concern and the people you’ve dragged into the arena have no case to answer’.
Lest they be charged with rioting and civil disobedience (a capital offence under Roman rule) they should immediately disburse, and Demetrius, if he is serious, can take the matter to court. (19:35-41).
Well, there and then, the crowd packs up and goes home, and Paul and his colleagues are free to minister.
We know this because chapter 20 opens with Paul gathering the leaders together for fellowship and encouragement before he then heads back to Europe.
In that great outcome we can see the working of great grace.
Indeed, each of the scenes we’ve just rehearsed is linked with a ‘golden thread’ of grace.
Think about that bureaucrat for just a moment.
He is an agent of God’s grace.
Paul majored on this theme in Romans 13 where he stated in verse 1, ‘let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God’.
Unbeknownst to the fellow himself, this Roman civil servant was used of God to bring order and calm, and he quite possibly saved the believers, Gaius, and Aristarchus, from being thrown to wild animals – another popular pastime in that theatre in Ephesus.
And then there is Demetrius.
Paul doesn’t even need to open his mouth for it is Demetrius who inadvertently advances the notion that the gospel is bringing transformation and change across the whole of Asia, and that idols who are crafted by humans are no gods at all.
So even the hostile crowd, courtesy of Demetrius, hears something of the glory of God – albeit obliquely.
And anything but oblique is God’s powerful delivering of women and men from demonic oppression, physical ailments, and spiritual death through faith in the risen Jesus.
As Luke noted (in Acts 19:20), “in this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power”.
And it all began with prayer.
Which is where I’d like to finish.
Our great God and Heavenly Father
We pray – as your servant St. Paul did in Acts 19, for a lasting and powerful outpouring of your Holy Spirit.
May our friends, family, and colleagues, come to know the salvation, healing, and wholeness, that is found in Jesus.
And Lord, give us the eyes of faith to recognise your grace in the appointment of rulers and leaders, in the vagaries of life and death, and in our struggles with blocked goals and unmet longings.
May it be said of our generation and of our community of faith, “in this way, the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power”.