They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Affecting our Culture: The Riot in Ephesus

Read Acts 19:23-41

Ephesus Theater

One of the most fascinating places to visit in the country of Turkey is the ancient port city of Ephesus. Although only one third of the city has been completely renovated and restored, its ruins are among the most magnificent of the ancient world. Ephesus during the time of Paul and John would have been equal to our New York City as far as importance and proportionate size. It was one of the three largest cities in the Roman Empire (250,000 est. pop.) and was the major seaport that served all of Asia Minor. Writers of that day referred to it as the “crown jewel” of the Roman Empire. Several biblical events took place here. Paul came here on his second missionary tour and left Priscilla and Aquila to start the church there (Acts 18:19). Paul then came back to Ephesus on his third missionary tour and stayed for almost three years (Acts 19). John, the youngest disciple of Jesus, also came here and was the bishop for all the churches in the area. He wrote to the church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, chapter 2. Church history also records that Timothy was here and later became a bishop in the Ephesian church. In addition, most scholars think that Paul wrote the epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and 1 Corinthians during his three year stay in Ephesus.

If you visit Ephesus you will be able to visit the huge theater that is mentioned in Acts 19. This is the same theater in which the riot described in Acts 19 occurred. This Roman masterpiece held 25,000 or more people and is in remarkable condition, even today. To hear the story of Acts re-read while you are sitting in the theater where it took place is a very moving experience. Let’s look at some history and background that will make this story in the Bible come alive.


The city of Ephesus was the “neokoris” (temple warden, or for comparison purposes in English, the Vatican) for the worship of the Greek Goddess Artemis. The huge temple of Artemis was just outside the city and was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. If you wanted to worship Artemis you needed to come to her temple in Ephesus. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto (an illegitimate relationship) and the twin sister of the male god Apollo. She was known as the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, and was a protector of young girls, virginity, and women in childbirth. In Ephesus, her image was portrayed as a many-breasted, mother goddess who took care of her children.

Artemis Temple in Ephesus

A huge industry grew up around the Artemis cult and silversmiths and carvers made a large profit by making images and figurines of Artemis. Every year a huge festival was held in April to honor Artemis. Estimates of over one million people have been given that appeared from all over the world to attend the festival and ceremonial events each year. During the festival, an enormous procession of people, led by Artemis’ eunuch priests, went through the city with the statue of Artemis in the lead. Against this backdrop, let’s now look at the story of the riot that occurred in Ephesus.

God’s spirit had worked in such a remarkable way in Ephesus that large numbers of people were coming to believe in the Jewish God and His Son, Messiah Jesus. They were bringing their pagan articles and scrolls and burning them in front of the whole city. The Artemis craftsmen were losing all their business because no one was worshiping Artemis any more. The leader of the silversmiths guild, Demetrius, stirred up a riot and they drug some of Paul’s companions into the theater to work them over. The crowd was going wild, with some shouting one thing and some another. The Text says, for two hours they shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Finally, the mayor of the city was able to get the crowd under control and disassembled.

A couple of faith lessons jump out from this story. First, when was the last time that we got people so excited that they shouted something for two hours? By and large, we have little passion for Christ or spiritual things. Our church experience is usually ho hum; we go to Sunday School and church and then go home. We reserve our passion and excitement for sporting events! For the most part, we aren’t even bothering the devil’s crowd, we don’t want to stir the waters and cause a problem. Look at the chutzpah of Paul. He was willing to take on 25,000 Artemis worshipers! We need to be stirring the pot for Christ!

Another thought that jumps out at you is, “What business or activity of the devil is suffering because of our walk and testimony?” What industry (drug, pornography, etc.) are we shutting down because of our impact? What effect is is our personal influence having on the dark side? As Christian businessmen, what are we doing when evil comes to our city in the form of gay pride parades, etc? Can we even have an impact on our city and our state? All these are sobering thoughts that come out of this moving story of one man’s impact on a city and culture. May God give us the courage to be the kind of testimony that we need to be in a world that is dark and full of the same kinds of things that were going on in Ephesus.

Our Stuff: The Story of Acts 19

In Acts 19, Paul went to the huge seaport of Ephesus to further spread the good news of the gospel of the God of the Jews and His resurrected son, Jesus. Acts 19:10 tells us that Paul discipled there in Ephesus for over two years and during that time, all the Jews and Greeks who lived in Asia heard the gospel. Even if this is an editorial statement, it is an amazing one to think that virtually all the people in the area were reached by Paul’s preaching. In Acts 19:17-20, we see that Paul’s preaching had great effect. Many people openly confessed their sins and quit living their ungodly lifestyle. They changed their lives completely and began to follow the God of the Bible. In order to publicly show their change in lifestyle, they brought all their worldly stuff and burned it in front of their friends and neighbors. Acts 19:19 even records how much their “stuff” was worth, 50,000 drachmas. A drachma was one days wages, so if we put this in today’s monetary value, their stuff would have been worth approximately four million dollars! They would have spent 136 years collectively of their daily wages on just “stuff”! If each person had brought $400 of merchandise, then approximately ten thousand people would have participated in this event! Knowing these figures gives us a clearer idea of just how big this would have been in Ephesus. Paul’s preaching had a huge impact on the whole environment of the city. This is a fascinating story to us and we marvel at the affect the gospel had on this city and it’s citizens.

A question that comes out of this story for us as modern day Americans is, “How much would our stuff be worth if we brought it all publicly and piled it up for all to see?” As the wealthiest nation that has ever lived, we too are captivated by, “our stuff”. We are a nation of accumulators and we desperately hang on to our worldly things. When we think of God testing us, we always think of things like cancer, or bad things that happen to us and our families. But, God also tests us through prosperity. America is definitely being tested by God with the wealth that He has given us. Wealth is such a hard test to pass because when we have it all, we don’t really need God. Read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 8. In verse 12 it says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, when your build fine houses and settle down, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold increase, and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, our of the land of slavery…You will say to yourselves, it is my power and the strength of my hands that has produced this wealth for me”.

As Americans, if we are honest, our “stuff” often holds us back from being an effective witness for the Lord. Think for a second, “What holds you back? What do you spend all your time doing? What keeps you from selling out?” We hang on to our retirement plans, our nest eggs, etc. and think that is where our security is. Wealth is a hard test to pass, but God warns us explicitly about clinging to our wealth and forgetting where our security really comes from. Like the crowd at Ephesus, we need to bring our stuff before God and tell him that we want to serve Him more than we want to cling to our stuff. He is where our happiness and security really lie.

When the Rabbi says, “Come” and When the Rabbi says, ”Go”

”Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” – Matthew 4:19-20
”Go make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19-20
“You will be my witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” – Acts 1:8

Paul in Ephesus

Paul in Ephesus; Acts 19

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus called twelve disciples to follow and learn from Him. He spent three years teaching them to be just like Him. They followed him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and watched him do everything; from simple, mundane things, to healing sick people and even raising the dead.

When the end of this three year training period had ended and Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, His call to His disciples changed. He had finished teaching them to be like Him and now they were ready to go out on their own to spread the gospel that they had witnessed for those three years. And, they went! These eleven former trainees went literally to the ends of the earth to spread the good news about their rabbi. Jesus didn’t spread the gospel; he had his disciples do it! They went to far away, pagan cities such as Ephesus, Pergamum, Collosae, Corinth, Athens, and Rome to carry on the training that they had received from their rabbi.

One striking example, that I had never noticed before, that shows how Jesus’ followers tried to be just like their rabbi is found in the book of Acts in the 19th and 20th chapters. The story is of Paul, in the city of Ephesus, and says in verse 19:7 that Paul had about twelve disciples, and in 20:31 that he taught those disciples for about three years! That is following the outline pretty closely!

We don’t often think about why we have Christianity in America in the twenty-first century. It is because of the discipleship training model of Jesus and his disciples’ determination to follow their rabbi’s instructions down to the last jot and tittle. Those eleven men (and women) followers changed the world forever because of their training and their commitment to their rabbi and His message. We are being challenged by Jesus in the same way today. He asks us to follow Him and to go and make disciples. Are you up to the challenge?