Defense of the Vested Interest – Acts 19:23-41

One of the blessings of the Book of Acts is that it is practical. In reading Acts we can see the work of the Lord in ways that relate more directly to us than when we study some of the other books of the Bible. For example, we know the abstract principle that God is all powerful, and by faith we believe it. But when we visit Mt. St. Helens, and we view first hand what the little finger of God can do, it brings tangible meaning to the word “omnipotence.” And when we see a wrath-filled sinful wretch of a man instantly changed from persecutor to disciple, we nod our heads and acknowledge God’s sovereign omnipotence over the human heart. These things give us the means – and the reason – to praise the Lord Whom we are studying. The Bible tells us that Hell is hot and that there is an eternal judgment made up of fire and brimstone. These things are academic Biblical doctrine, dismissed by everyone but true believers, but when we see a lava flow incinerate a house, we begin to understand the more abstract and fantastic concepts about Hell.

So the Book of Acts puts God before our eyes and, in a sense, lets us touch Him. It also puts up a mirror before our eyes and lets us see ourselves. It takes the abstract declaration from the Baptist preacher that there is a conflict between men and God, and it forces us to realize what that means and who we are in the midst of that conflict. If you will let it, the Books of Acts will talk to you – about the important things of life.

The title of our message this morning has been borrowed from the old preacher Henry Trumbull. For a message that he preached from this scripture he used the title: “Defense of the VESTED Interest.” I like that. Even though my message is different from his, I have borrowed that title. The word “vested” speaks about something that is “settled, fixed or absolute.” When something is “vested” it means that it is going in one direction and there are no alternatives. A “vested interest” is one that appears to be certain and unalterable. It is a word we humans may use once in a while, but the fact is, there are always alternatives. And as long as there is an omnipotent God, then the plans of men are in jeopardy. That is one of the things we learn from this scripture.

What were some of the vested interests of Demetrius and the people of Ephesus? They weren’t much different from the interests and so-called “rights” of people today. There was the right to make money and to earn a living. Idolatrous shrine-making was a perfectly legitimate business in Ephesus. It combined art and religion, filling two different kinds of markets. It was patriotic in that society and helped to keep Ephesus on the map as a destination city. Both labor and management were happy. There was peace and prosperity in Asia through the industries related to the Temple of Diana. So shrine-making was a legally acceptable business – just like the liquor and pot industry, casinos and abortion clinics are today. But are they legitimate in the eyes of God? For that answer, we have to make sure that our logic matches the declarations of the Word of God. Our “vested” interests may not be agreeable to the will of the Lord.

And then there is the fundamental human “right” to worship god according to the whims of our hearts. For some reason or other, it is universally acknowledged that men have an innate right to worship the god of their choice, in the way of their choosing. And I somewhat concur. Baptists have died struggling for that basic human privilege – to let people worship Diana if they want. But that doesn’t mean that the worship of Diana, or Vishnu, or Mary pleases the one true and living God.

When it appeared that these two, self-declared, “human rights” were under attack there in Ephesus – When it appeared that these prerogatives were under attack, Demetrius stirred-up his fellow-tradesmen. And in a very short period of time a full-scale riot was sweeping through the city. The riot was in defense of the vested interests of those people. It was not unlike the rioting we have seen in Portland, Seattle and other American cities in recent weeks.

But notice here that the sin-induced riot bore TESTIMONY to the POWER OF THE GOSPEL.

I can’t tell you exactly what the population of Ephesus was in the days when Paul was there. But I can tell you that as the capital of the province of Asia; it was not a small or minor community. It was probably more the size of Spokane than Post Falls. It wasn’t as spread out as far and thin as a modern city, but the population was probably large. And what do you think was the likelihood that Paul had ever met Demetrius in that metropolis? That Ephesian was not a Jew or a proselyte, and therefore he had no interest in the synagogue where Paul first began his preaching. And he was in a business which probably kept him out of the agora – the common marketplace. His activities were primarily at his workshop and on the grounds of Diana’s temple, where his shrines were sold. And Demetrius probably had some degree of wealth which tends to isolate some people from the rest of us, who don’t have as much. It’s unlikely that Paul had ever met this man.

But the gospel was having wide-sweeping effects, and Demetrius thought those effects were get too close and personal. There were hundreds of Jews, raised under the sound of the Old Testament scriptures, who, through Paul, were learning that JESUS is the Christ, the Son of God. And they were learning that despite their religion and their morals, they were not children of the Lord or even true children of Abraham. Nevertheless Jehovah had been bestowing upon them repentance for sin and faith to trust Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Then in addition to those who should have been quick to turn to Christ, the Lord was also regenerating hearts of hundreds of Greeks and Romans as well. There were multitudes who could see the foolishness and impotence of worshiping stupid myths and carved chunks of marble. There were people whose lives were hollow shells – due to the sins that they had been imbibing throughout their lives – finding peace through repentance before God. There were others for whom logic and argument played no role at all, but the grace of God just swept them off their feet, with a message of the love and the sacrifice that the Lord Jesus made at Calvary, and these people unhesitatingly turned toward Jehovah in love and service. And then there were men and women, who had been possessed by evil spirits as a result of the demonic worship of Diana, who were being cleansed and freed by the power of God. In other words, the Lord was calling a people to His Name out of every branch of Asian society. And as people repented of their sins, and as they learned to worship the Lord, they forsook the idols of their former lives.

Paul had no vendetta against Demetrius. This wasn’t a conspiracy against the most prevalent religion in town. In fact, I would guess that Paul and his helpers were far more interested in positively preaching Christ than in attacking the obvious foolishness and indefensible theology of Diana. The town-clerk, as he tried to quiet the mob, was forced to confess that Paul and his friends had not even blasphemed their beloved goddess. As it had been in Philippi, Athens, Corinth, and dozens of other communities, the gospel which Paul was preaching was the greatest blessing that had ever visited Ephesus.

The riot which sprang up was very simply a testimony, in a reverse sort of way, to power of the gospel of Christ

Obviously, that riot was ROOTED IN SELFISHNESS.

Demetrius’ first and primary concern was his wallet and his future retirement. When he was talking to his fellow-craftsmen he clearly said so. “Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.” But “this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands. “And as a result our income and our wealth are taking a beating.” It wasn’t about the worship of Diana, but rather about the worship of filthy lucre. The riots in Portland haven’t been about justice – it has been about money.

Riots and persecutions are rarely without the motivation of self-interest. Someone may say they are burning buildings and looting stores for the sake of society, but it’s a lie. Personal interest was the reason the Jewish priests resolved to rid themselves of Christ. That was why Herod arrested and then beheaded John the Baptist. That was why Paul was arrested in Philippi, and that was ultimately why he was released.

Any child can see from this scripture that the love of money was the root of this evil. And in applying what we see here, this is why there are taverns, bars and liquor stores all over this nation. There is a fortune to be made in brewing cheap liquor and selling as expensive liquor. There is money in frying people’s brains with super-potent strains of marijuana. Every once in a while we hear someone argue for abortion because a baby is going to be born deformed. But for every case like that there are a hundred or more healthy babies murdered for no other reason than parental selfishness. Furthermore there are a doctors and nurses who are willing to kill those babies because there is good money in it for them. And I admit that there can be a thrill and even some skill involved in certain forms of gambling. But the billions of dollars which are wasted in lotteries, and sports pools, prove that the real reason for gambling in this nation is simply one man’s lust for another man’s wealth. There is not much of a jump between gambling for someone’s money and taking it at gun-point. When Christians come along with a Biblical perspective, preaching Christ and attacking societies ills, the Demetriuses of this world are going to come unglued and riot, claiming it is a personal attack upon them. But, as one preacher said several generations ago said, “The application of the words of this Scripture to present-day life is a task that might be assigned to a child,” because it is so obvious.

Obviously, this riot, like so many since, was PROMOTED BY FALSE ARGUMENTS rather than the truth.

“The temple of our great goddess is going to be despised, and her magnificence is being destroyed.” There are two things wrong with that statement. The first can be seen with only a few minutes at a computer. If you ask Google to research “Diana worship,” you will come up with 87,800 references in .4 seconds. I looked at the first 10 of those hits and found that only one was the work of a Christian group, exposing the worship of Diana. Two of those ten appeared to be encyclopedia-type references, simply describing historic Diana worship. 70% of those references, written by current worshipers of Diana, described how she is reverenced today. Several of those sites openly linked Diana worship to paganism, demonism and Wiccanism. In other words, Diana is still quite popular – and particularly so among the most radical feminists. Demetrius was not correct when he said that the worship of Diana was on the verge of being extinguished.

Label me a bigot if you like, but I think that such worship deserves to be called “utter foolishness.” To think that the image of Diana which filled the temple in Ephesus, fell down from Jupiter, is ridiculous. To imagine that an idol of stone can hear prayers, grant requests and control nature – is absurd. And when Paul exposed those things, while preaching the love and grace of Christ, logic should have caused the whole city, the whole province, and the whole world, to turn to the Lord for forgiveness, eternal life, and the delivery from this and the rest of their sins. But logic is not the means to meeting the Lord. The tentacles of sin have so entwined and crushed the heart, mind and reason of men, that on their own no man will willingly turn to the Lord, no matter how strong the arguments. No, the worship of Diana was not going away, because it has not gone away.

The second thing that Demetrius got wrong was the idea that Paul was trying to create a spiritual void in the hearts of people. Had this man stopped to consider the message of the Apostle, he would have quickly learned that Paul yearned to replace their corrupted worship with the proper worship of the proper God. He wanted to substitute the corruption and destruction of the sins of Ephesus with the blessings of salvation, holy living and true godliness. Contrary to popular myth, gospel preachers have no desire to make people miserable. They want only to bring people out of the temporary, imitation happiness of Satan into the true and eternal joy of the Lord. The difference is like cheap cut glass and a large diamond. The difference is like calling a hunk of stone a “god” and worshiping the omnipotent gracious Jehovah.

The fourth thing we see here is that MOBS OFTEN TURN to ignorant, insane and unjustified VIOLENCE.

“The whole city was filled with confusion.” For two solid hours the mob shouted; “Great is Diana of the Ephesians. Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Or it might have been “Black lives matter.” Of course black lives matter – all lives matter. Because below every living life is an eternal soul. When these hundreds, or perhaps thousands of people, reached the open-aired amphitheater with two Christians to sacrifice, the greater part of the crowd didn’t even know why they were there. “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another; for the assembly was confused.” Again, consider America’s recent riots – organized by a few activists and carried out by ignorant lemmings.

And poor Gaius and Aristarchus. They were not sure that they wouldn’t be stoned to death, cut into ribbons, or trampled into the ground. Clearly their lives were in danger for simply helping a man to preach the life-giving gospel of Christ.

Paul, the optimist, fully trusting in the protective hand of God, looked at the crowd as potentially the largest audience in the history of Ephesian evangelism. He was ready to enter the theater and to start preaching the gospel. He was ready to challenge the power of God to protect him while he declared the Lord once again. Remember that Paul knew what it was to feel the stones breaking his bones, and he had been arrested in Philippi and severely beaten. Later he wrote: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned.” But he also said, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die … for the name of the Lord Jesus.” In this case the friends of Paul somehow convinced him that setting another lamb in front of these lions, was not a good idea. Not only some of the Jewish saints were involved, but also some of Paul’s friends from among the Gentile leadership, convinced him to stay away from the theater. Despite the opportunity all this mass of humanity afforded, it was not wise, and it was not the will of the Lord that Paul risk his life to address them. Besides, they were not in a mood to hear the truth anyway – just like today’s rioters. It would have been a waste of both time and blood – casting the pearls of the gospel before these swine.

This riot did absolutely nothing to stop or even to slow THE GROWTH AND SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL.

I tip my hat to the town-clerk of Ephesus. We don’t know this man’s name, and I’m not even sure exactly what sort of office he held. He was not the mayor, governor, or pro-consul of Asia; he appears to be only the chief scribe of the city. But not only did he have courage to stand before this mob, he displayed good wisdom. It is highly doubtful that he was a Christian, but he was able to secure the peace and release of the Christians – Gaius and Aristarchus.

Let’s say for the sake of argument, however, that the wisdom of the town-clerk was rejected, and the two saints of God had been murdered. Let’s say that the with the taste of blood in their mouths, the mob had surged through the city until they had found and killed Paul. Based upon what we have already learned and what we have seen throughout history since, the death of these men would not have stopped the work of the Lord. Without contradiction: the blood of the saints has effectually watered the seed of the gospel. Or as it has been put by others: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” When the saints of God are persecuted, they are ten times more effective as witnesses of Christ than when they grow fat and lazy during periods of peace and safety – as we have been up until today. But there was no blood shed in Ephesus on that particular day. And despite the hatred of some, the mob melted away, perhaps even itself watering the seed of the gospel. Praise be to God !

Conclusion:

Now, let me close with a “what if” and “isn’t it interesting” kind of application. I began a few minutes ago with references to the omnipotence and sovereignty of God. Keeping that in mind, I remind you that there was established a good strong church of the Lord Jesus Christ in the city of Ephesus. History tells us that after Paul’s departure, and after the ministry of Timothy there, the Apostle John came to be its pastor. That John is one who penned the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John and Revelation.

Now, turn to III John: Verse 9: – “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. DEMETRIUS hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.” I’m not going to pretend that I have proof that the Demetrius about whom John wrote in III John is the Demetrius of Acts 19. However, I will remind you that both of Demetriuses were from Ephesus. I don’t know if it was a common name or not, but it is not common to me.

It is possible that John was referring to the man who lead the riot against the gospel here in Acts. It is possible that the Lord eventually calmed that man’s heart enough for him to consider his true spiritual need. It is very possible that just as God converted Saul of Tarsus and changed his heart into that of the Apostle Paul, he converted the mob-stirrer into a man with “a good report of all men, and of the truth itself.” The gospel of Christ is driven by the omnipotence of God. “The Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword.” The grace of God loves overturning the worst of human cases and most wicked of people. There is no one who is beyond the hope of conversion and salvation – not even you.

If you would humble yourself before the cross of Christ this morning. If you would, in repentance, turn from your sins and trust the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, even if your name is “Demetrius,” the Lord has promised to save you. The grace is the Lord’s; the salvation is entirely His. Even the repentance and faith belong to Christ and are dispensed at His will. And based upon those things – along with the promises of the Lord as expressed in His Word – If you would repent and throw yourself upon the mercy of God, trusting Christ to save you, He will do exactly that – save you, forgive you, redeem you, and take you to Himself.