GOD ESTABLISHES HIS CHURCH IN THE WORLD
Weathering the Storm of Persecution
Jerry A Collins
Yesterday I watched the story of a man who rescued two young teenagers from one of the piers in our area. The waves had been beating against the pier and all day they had been rising. Waves smashing against the pillons with waves powerfully driving water over them. It was at this time that these teens thought they would approach the pier and attempt to cross it. Of course, they were swept over in minutes and this guy went after them, risking his own life too. People helplessly were watching from the shore as this man repeatedly attempted to get these boys out of the water and onto the pier but each time all three were swept into the water again. Even the police and ambulance watched unable to help at the time. The man testified that he finally shoved the boys up onto the rocks before the next wave arrived and scurried with them onto the pier. Then as they turned another huge wave was upon them. All he had time to do was yell for them to interlock their arms and lean into the wave and then it hit them. Somehow they were not swepted over again and they began to inch their way down the pier toward shore. There were a couple more scary moments as the waves continued to crash around them. The boys had been screaming the whole time, we are going to die, but urged on by their rescuer, they finally began to weep and cry as they realized they were out of danger. Imagine finding yourself threatened and attacked like this because of your Christian faith? Could you remain standing again and again as the waves of ridicule, scorn, unbelief, disdain, anger, argument, rejection, and even physical danger pound you because you are a follower of Jesus Christ and your commitment to him has become intolerable to others? In Acts 19 a similar kind of disturbance takes place in a city called Ephesus.
1. THE WORLD WILL FIND CHRISTIANITY INTOLERABLE 23-28
For all the talk about tolerance in our society, the one thing they will not tolerate is intolerance of their way of thinking. Christianity can never accommodate the way the world thinks. And as a result, the world will find Christianity intolerable.
(1) What became intolerable was the message that gods made with hands are no gods at all vs 27. Ecumenism would say that all gods are alike. People were believing this message and confessing their idolatry and burning their books and changing their thinking and ways (vs 17-20). A satanic foothold has been lost but he will not give it up without a fight!
(2) So opposition is incited against Christianity in the form of a riot vs 23, 28. First, the gospel was threatening business vs 24. Demetrius’s business was making silver shrines of the goddess Artimes (Diana) and they would be used as household idols to her. We receive a clue about this idol in vs 35 where we learn that she represents an image of something which fell down from heaven which most likely was a meteorite and became a sacred stone to them. Second, they were losing money vs 25. This teaching that man- made idols are not gods would ruin their idol-making business. He plays on motives always influential with men, the love of money (a root of all evil). Third, a hypocritical appeal is made that their temple and goddess would be discredited vs 27. A religion they had taken pride in making Ephesus an object of admiration to all Asia—was in jeopardy as well. Interesting that man-made religion builds his ego and self-importance. By contrast, the gospel proclaims man a sinner and in complete and utter need of God’s grace in his/her life. The obvious motive is money tho. Fourth, the spector of financial disaster, the challenge to fervently held religious beliefs, the threat to their civic pride were too much for the crowd to bear vs 28. So they surged into the streets, invoking the name of their goddess and the whole city was filled with confusion vs 29. Note the progression: a. They were angry. Furious and infuriated they were about to become violent. b. Confusion results in frenzied chaos as they
rushed and swarmed in the streets seizing Gaius and Aristarchus, companions of Paul.
2. THE GOSPEL IS THREATENING BECAUSE IT IS INTOLERABLE OF FALSE RELIGIONS AND SIN 30-41
People do not want to be confronted about their false views of God or their sin. That is understandable but it is not acceptable. The gospel will not allow it. The gospel is about a view of God and sin that the world refuses to accept or acknowledge. (1) Now when Paul heard of this he naturally wanted to some to their rescue but his friends would not let him 30-31. These were his disciples and political and religious officials of Asia who apparently did not regard Paul as dangerous or in unlawful activity. (2) The appearance of Alexander did not make things better vs 32-34. He may have been asked by fellow Jews to make a defense for them so that noone thought that this was being caused by them. It backfired and triggered a two-hour melee. Interesting that the Jews themselves—enemies of the gospel too--serve to exhaust the energies of the crowd which might otherwise have been directed toward Christians like Gaius and Aristarchus. So in times of stress the Lord often sends help from unexpected sources. The Asiarchs would be expected to side with supporters of idolatry and the Jews opposition to Christianity would be expected to make them in league with the riotous crowd. In both cases God over-ruled and defeated the purposes against His gospel. (3) Finally, the town clerk is used as an agent of God’s deliverance 35-41. Despite his own blindness to the false religion in Ephesus, he illustrates for us the powers that God ordains and how those powers, tho they know nothing of the truth, can still be used to protect the advance of the truth right under their own noses. The result is that the mob disbands, the Christian Church remains in the city, and the Apostle and his companions are free to go their way. So, the whole episode fails to accomplish it’s objective. God completely overrules the plans of men and keeps His plan intact.
(1) God will use persecution to advance His gospel.
(2) We cannot know how God is going to use it just that He will.
(3) Our ministry can be stronger and more effective because of persecution.
(4) God causes the wrath of man to praise Him (Ps 76:10).