The Witness of a Panicked Pagan
- Friday, October 19, 2007
How could this be? The worship of Artemis had prevailed in Ephesus time out of mind; now, suddenly, everyone was turning to this Jesus whom Paul was proclaiming. Ephesus had seen religions of various kinds come and go, especially the “mystery sects” which seemed to pander to baser human instincts. But none of these had threatened the worship of Artemis—or the work of the silversmiths who supplied the demand for Artemis-related images and trinkets. Demetrius began to fear that not only would the sacred Artemis be dethroned, but his own livelihood might be jeopardized if this mad rush to the faith of Paul were to continue unchecked. So, calling his colleagues together, Demetrius reported his observations and spelled out his concerns. This “gospel” that Paul was preaching was throwing everyone and everything into a tumult and upheaval. The ground was shifting under Demetrius’ feet, and, panicked, he rallied his associates in a desperate attempt to preserve the status quo.
Keys to the Gospel's Impact
In Demetrius’ brief exhortation to the silversmiths and other craftsmen we can discern four keys to the Gospel’s power to transform people and cultures. Paul would later write to a young pastor in that very town and insist that his life was to be a pattern for all to follow in serving Christ and the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:16). It may be that what Demetrius observed can be instructive for us in thinking about how the Gospel of Christ can exert transforming power in our day as well.
Broadly proclaimed. First, for the Gospel to exert transforming power it must be broadly proclaimed. In Acts 20 Paul reminded the elders of the Ephesian church that, when he was among them during the days of Demetrius’ concern, he preached and taught publicly—in synagogues, public halls, probably in the marketplace as well—and house-to-house (Acts 20:20). Paul made use of every available venue as a platform for talking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Further, he made sure that the Word of the Lord went out from Ephesus to all the surrounding communities, and we can imagine that in these, too, public and private teaching was conducted by those taught by Paul.
If we would see the Gospel have the kind of world-transforming impact it had in Paul’s day, we’re going to have to break out of the confines of our churches and look for ways to establish platforms for the Gospel in neighborhoods, coffee shops, bookstores, even classrooms and office conference rooms. There we need to engage in conversations, share testimonies, seek out discussions, offer to teach, and entertain the questions of any and all, just as Paul did wherever he went. The Gospel is like light, leaven, and salt. It needs to go everywhere, penetrate everything, makes its presence known everywhere in order to do the transforming work it is truly capable of doing.
Precisely targeted. The thing that really got Demetrius’ attention was when he heard Paul say that gods made with hands are not gods at all. Paul did not preach the Gospel in the abstract. Wherever he went he proclaimed the truth of God into the culture of his surroundings, exposing the lies and half-truths of unbelief and insisting that the Gospel alone can meet the needs and satisfy the concerns of all men. Our panicked pagan understood clearly the implications of Paul’s preaching: If he’s right, or, at least, if he’s believed, then we’re out of a job!
If we want the Gospel to have transforming power today we need to speak it directly to the issues and concerns of the people in our communities. We need to tell them that everything they’re trusting in apart from God will fail them; only Jesus can give them real hope and a full and abundant life. Not their wealth, their work, or their well-being will endure; Jesus alone is the eternal, unchanging God and Savior.
Pointing out a better way. Demetrius complained (as the Greek has it) that Paul was “misleading” people away from the worship of Artemis. That assumes that he was leading them somewhere else, somewhere more appealing to them, somewhere that, evidently, Paul had described in such highly desirable terms that people felt free to leave their ancestral goddess and launch out in an entirely new spiritual direction.
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