Sermon Summary - The Purifying Effects of Persecution - Acts 19:21-41
The Purifying Effects of Persecution
Christians are sinners who are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, and like new born babies, they grow and develop. The effect of new birth upon the Ephesians bore fruit, causing them to stop practicing sorcery, magic, idolatry and sexual immorality, which was all connected to the temple of Artemis. The Holy Spirit calls people from the world and its culture, causing them to change their practices, often bringing persecution as well. The main reason why the gospel is hated is because it exposes sin. In the midst of opposition, we are to trust God who is sovereign to protect his church and deliver them from death if He wills.
Paul had been ministering in Ephesus for almost three years, and resolved to pass through Macedonia, Achaia, Jerusalem and Rome but remained in Ephesus. There arose a huge disturbance concerning Christianity. As the hearts of the Ephesians were changing, so were their actions, which threatened the business of idol makers. A man named Demetrius gathered workmen of similar trade and explained how their livelihood was in danger, how their trade may come into disrepute because of Paul, who turned away many people (Acts 19:24-27). Much of the economy of Ephesus was built around the temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the world at the time. It drove many people in and out of the city, and these idol makers made their living selling statues. They were angry that their business was threatened. When Christians walk with Christ, it often bothers those who are still in darkness.
The gospel, and the new believers in Ephesus exposed the people’s love of money. Paul’s message was cutting into their profit, so Demetrius instigated a riot by stirring up the people’s cultural and religious sentiment. The crowd became enraged, ran out to the theatre, dragging Gaius and Aristarchus with them. Paul wished to go in among the crowd, but the disciples would not let him (Acts 19:30). By the grace of God, no one died but Paul later wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 1:8), “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” They experienced fear, but Paul knew God was sovereign in the midst of satanic activity.
The crowd was in confusion, Alexander rose up and wanted to make a defense for the Jews, to separate the Jews from the Christians in the crowd’s mind, “but when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:33-34). Eventually the town clerk came in and by God’s providence, quieted and dismissed the crowds. Paul along with thousands of other Christians in Ephesus stirred up the enemy’s opposition, they exposed their sin which led to a riot, but God was sovereign.
We’ve had peace with our culture, but the freedom of religion is being attacked in our country more and more each day. Bible-believing Christians are being slandered so Peter encourages us by saying, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:14-16).