Acts 19:28-41 (ESV)
When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel. But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 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!”
And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
This time it’s not the Jews who are stirring up trouble; it’s the local craftsmen, but the objection is the same. “Christianity is messing up our system.” But they’re messing up a system too – a bigger one.
There’s a useful cliché about the culture Christianity was born into – “All roads lead to Rome.” The Roman Empire was a built empire, not just a conquered one. Roads, aqueducts, libraries, you name it. Their technology seems primitive to us, but to them it was awesome. The people in the Roman Empire were thrilled to live in an age full of new wonders and blessings.
And key to it all was crucifixion – the top punishment in a rigorous criminal justice system. It made the streets safe and so civilization flourished. Everything was designed to defend “the system” and anything that threatened the Pax Romana was snuffed out. The last thing they want is to be charged with rioting. So, the town clerk gets everyone’s attention when he says, “For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today.” They don’t need to explain what that means. Everyone clears out immediately.
The very system that crucified Christ saved Paul’s bacon here. Imagine being a Christian in the first Century. Imagine seeing crucifixions and every time being reminded of the Lord’s suffering – and hating it. Yet Paul was protected by the intimidation Roman justice provided.
There are often good reasons for things we think are bad. Sometimes we discover these silver linings and sometimes we don’t. Today, let’s just praise God for the amazing way that He works.
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