The roar from the stadium must have been deafening.
For two hours, the people of Ephesus raged, crying out “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” As Paul stood outside the theater (Acts tells us the disciples held him back from going inside to the rioters), I imagine the clamor emanating from the stadium seats could be heard throughout the entire city. The grand theater in Ephesus could hold up to 25,000 people. It was built of marble and had such impressive acoustics that a man on stage speaking normally could be heard even in the top row. While we don’t know how many joined in the protest against Paul that day, Acts 19 does tell us that the Gospel of Christ Paul had been sharing with the people of Ephesus caused a great commotion within the city. Even today, the Good News that Christ died for our sin continues to cause great commotion.
My husband and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Turkey, and during our time there we visited the incredibly preserved city of ancient Ephesus. As we sat in the seats of the Great Theater where the events of Acts 19 took place, I was struck by the incredible faith, courage, and strength of both Paul and the believers in Ephesus. These were faithful men and women (Ephesians 1:1) who persevered for the sake of Christ (Rev. 2:3). When I read through the New Testament, it can be easy for me to forget that those written about in its pages were actually real people living in a real culture and facing real triumph and trial as they pursued holy lives. And as we similarly stand in the midst of a raging culture war, there are many things we can learn from Paul and the Ephesians about persevering for the truth of God’s Word even when the world around us roars.
A god of human hands
Who was this Artemis of the Ephesians?
Does this even matter for us today, or are verses like these just interesting cultural tidbits from an irrelevant ancient culture?
Artemis was a goddess worshiped not just by the Ephesians, but much of the ancient world. She was known as the goddess of nature, hunting, and childbirth, and people would sacrifice to her through lavish gifts of money, gold, and other possessions they considered precious. The temple built to Artemis was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and was located near Ephesus. Even the economy within Ephesus was heavily influenced by the worship of Artemis. Silversmiths and idol makers were dependent on worshippers of Artemis buying their idols. So when Paul came to Ephesus declaring that there is one God, and that Artemis was not that one god, people were outraged:
“About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the way.
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. 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.
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.”
When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
If Artemis was not god, everything about the lives of those worshiping her would have to change. If Artemis was not god, people would have to stop worshiping her. If she was not god, the silversmiths and idol makers would have to give up their way of making money. If she was not god, then the acts of sacrifice to her would be all in vain.
gods of our own day
While the century we live in now may not worship this Artemis, we are surrounded by modern gods of our own. Money, self-worship, knowledge, security, sports, independence…these are just a few of the gods we are surrounded by today. Our culture doesn’t give lavish sacrifices in the temples of greek gods, but the sacrifices to the gods of our own day are many:
-babies are sacrificed to the god of independence, the god of keeping a trim figure, the god of financial abundance, and the god of having the freedom to do whatever I want to do.
-time and money are sacrificed to the gods of entertainment and sports.
-truth and true love are sacrificed to the god of social approval.
We don’t live in the culture of Artemis worship, but we do live in a culture which worships the idea that we can be our own gods- that we can decide what is good or bad, what is true or false. So as we ask the Holy Spirit to help us live lives that worship the one true God, we, like Paul, can expect to ruffle feathers within our own culture. To worship Christ as God is to reject the false gods of our day. When we refuse to join in the chants of “Great is ________ of our day!” (wealth, knowledge, choosing childlessness, homosexuality, self-worship, promiscuity etc.), we too will face a culture angry at the Gospel.
Put on the armor of God
The Ephesians were fully immersed in a culture that rejected Christ.
Their city loved false gods and was home to one of the wonders of the ancient world- the Temple of Artemis.
Their city loved money and was immensely wealthy, with streets made of marble and homes that had hot and cold water.
Their city worshiped knowledge and built the Celsus Library…the third largest library in the Roman world besides the library of Alexandria and of Pergamum.
Their city loved power, and was a large, thriving metropolis.
How could the Ephesians be surrounded by so many gods and still stay true to Christ?
How do we stay true to Christ while surrounded by so many gods in our own day?
We put on the armor of God.
Paul writes in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace;
In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
The believers in Ephesus needed the armor of God to stand strong in their faith in a world that loved wealth and worshiped so many things except the one, real God. Likewise, may we trust God to help us be strong and stand firm in our faith while we face the false gods of our day.
A temple destroyed
Only a short, ten minute drive from Ephesus lies the site of the Temple of Artemis. Without the help of google maps, it would be easy to miss. A small brown sign nearly overtaken by weeds sits on the side of the road pointing tourists to the plot of land where this great wonder of the world once stood.
In its prime, the Temple of Artemis boasted 127 massive columns- each 60 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter. It was 425 feet long and 225 feet wide (making it almost double the size of the Parthenon in Athens). It was huge!
Today, only one pieced-together column remains. If you look closely at the column’s top, you’ll notice a nest where a family of birds have claimed it as their home. This once magnificent wonder of the ancient world is now nothing more than a grassy field on the side of the road. Artemis of the Ephesians may have seemed great, but in reality she simply reminds us that “gods made with hands are no gods at all” (Acts 19:26).
Seeing this one, lonely, bird-poop covered column was great encouragement to me. Like Artemis, the gods of this world will all eventually fall. I imagine Paul, the believers in Ephesus, and many others prayed that God would destroy the temple of Artemis and show the world that she was a false god with no real power or substance at all.
In our day, we will face the roar of a culture that hates God. People will say mean things, write angry social media comments, and slander us when we stand on God’s truth and refuse to bow to our modern day Artemis. Fellow believer in Christ, stand strong and put on the armor of God even when the roar is loud and you feel alone. Our one true God is greater than any worldly idol or god. The worldly things we worship today will all fade away in time. One day Christ will return and all of the gods of our day will be turned to rubble. Until then, may we trust the one true God to help us be strong and wear the armor of God.