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Jesus > ______

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:15
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The people living in the first-century city of Ephesus were not unlike us; they loved a lot of things: sports, theater, comfort, money, and idols (especially the town’s beloved goddess, Artemis).
These people would have fit in nicely in 20th- and 21st-century America. The Ephesians were all caught up in their own stuff; seemingly content doing what they were doing, warm and comfy idol-worshipers, bowing before these pagan and secular altars, pledging their allegiance to country, money, sport, sex, and other created things.
We’ve not advanced very much as a people in 2,000 years. We are beset by the same ol’ sins. We are held captive by the same evil desires. We give our time, our affections, our energy, ourselves to the same worthless idols.
Paul was writing about us—humans, all—and our fallen condition:
Romans 1:25 NIV
25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
This is us. And this is the Ephesians to a “t”.
In Ephesus, there was a beautiful, incredible temple to the pagan goddess of fertility: Artemis (or Diana, if you please). The city pretty much revolved around Artemis and the worship of this false goddess. It was tied to the economy, to the rhythms of the week. People made their living by making temple do-dads and tchotchkes and knickknacks.
The whole city seemed to rotate around the temple and this goddess. People from all over Asia flocked to Ephesus just to worship Artemis, especially during the week-long spring festival dedicated to the goddess. Crazy, right? Life revolving around some silly idol!?
We can think it’s crazy, but we’re not all that different. Think about the gravitational pull of kids’ sports. Our lives and schedules revolve around their games and practices...
While I’m making enemies, think about how crazy people get in the months leading up to a presidential election. Every four years it goes just like this. Our conversations and social media interactions revolve around blue states and red states.
I started writing this sermon on October 20th, so I had to sit back in my quarantine office (aka, the futon in the mudroom), and imagine how this sermon would play post- Election Day.
I wrote this on October 20th at 3:56 p.m.:
“I doubt I know any more post-election than I know right now. What’s clear is that we have collectively gone plum-crazy over politics and politicians and a temporary kingdom. Enough donkeys and elephants; long live the Lamb.”
I joke about making enemies, but this is true: you mess with anyone’s idol, anyone’s comfort, anyone’s lifestyle, anyone’s quality of life—and you’re asking for it. In fact, a good way to diagnose idolatry in your own life is to think about what really gets your blood boiling.
If you can’t stand someone saying something negative about your favorite sports team or favorite politician/political party, you’ve probably made an idol out of whatever it is.
“The human heart is an idol factory,” says my good friend, John Calvin. This is, sadly, true—then and now and in every age.
Ask the average Ephesian, and they’d likely tell you everything was just fine; going the way it had been going for years.
And then this pesky fella named Paul comes to town and starts walking around telling people about this guy, Jesus. What’s worse, Jesus—the Crucified and Risen Savior—has actual power; unlike Artemis, Jesus heals and frees and saves.
Jesus is better than Artemis, and that upsets the apple cart. Jesus causes a major disturbance, a great disturbance (v. 23) in the city.
To be more accurate, it’s the message about Jesus that causes the disturbance. It’s Paul’s message—which, of course, is the gospel, the Good News about Jesus—that sets the world on fire and completely upends the city of Ephesus.
How did the early church impact the nations? Through the Word of God and the message about Jesus.
It’s how the Church advances the Kingdom of God—through the Word of God. Not through crusades or campaigns, not with weapons or warfare, not with gimmicks or games, but through the Word of God.
Luke places some bookends in the text for us, to remind us about the power of the word of God—verse 10 and then verse 20;
Acts 19:10 NIV
10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
Acts 19:20 NIV
20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
It’s the Word of God that has an impact. The message about Jesus changes lives, conquers evil, sets people on new paths, and gives them new affections.
This is the account of what God did in Ephesus:
Acts 19:11–12 NIV
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Unfortunately, just reading those verses makes me cringe a little. Religious charlatans and TV preachers (televangelists) have misapplied and bastardized passages like this.
False teachers have told gullible people bizarre things like, “Get this prayer hankie that I have prayed over, and it will heal you. Order yours now for only $99.99.”
This verse is describing historical events. Luke is not prescribing an activity, telling us to do something similar with handkerchiefs and aprons and cooking oil.
Paul is simply the instrument here; he’s not walking around hucking “prayer cloths” at people or selling his handkerchiefs so he could buy himself a Bentley and a summer home in the Hamptons.
Luke clearly states that it’s God doing the work—God did extraordinary miracles through Paul.
Through Paul’s ministry—his Holy Spirit empowered proclamation of Jesus—God was pleased to make it known to the Ephesians that:

Jesus > Sickness & Evil Spirits

God chose to do the miraculous through Paul, accompanying his message in this city which was steeped in superstition and heavily interested in magic. Here in Ephesus, God kindly stooped-down and showed the Ephesians His Sovereign power in a way that would get their attention and draw them to Jesus.
God showed them, in this peculiar way, how much greater His Son Jesus was than sickness and evil spirits. They were cured from their illnesses. The evil spirits tormenting them left.
Jesus is greater than all of that.
Some Christians demand a miracle every so often, but the typical Christian life rarely involves visible displays of miraculous power.
We can’t rule out miracles. But we can’t assume God isn’t working just because we don’t see miracles firsthand.
The greatest miracle is the new birth, something that takes place within the individual believer at the moment of belief. God works miracles, but likely of a different kind than is mentioned here.
And there’s no reason whatsoever to think that any handkerchief or apron—no matter who it belongs to—is going to carry the same healing properties as Paul’s did among the Ephesians. Go ahead and get that notion out your head. This was an historical happening.
All the same, this truth remains: Jesus is greater than sickness or evil spirits.
Evil spirits, He has conquered, once and for all in His death on the cross. There is evil at work, but only as a slain foe thrashing about. Our enemy seeks to harm us, but Jesus saves and He holds us fast.
Sickness is a result of the fall. We’re prone to cancer and kidney stones. We catch colds and viruses. It just happens. And sometimes, sickness seems to win. Sometimes, cancer takes a life, the heart gives out, the lungs give up.
But, for the Christian, this life is not the end.
Sickness does not have the last word; the Risen Savior does.
And for the Christian, there is life after life. Because Jesus is greater.
Acts 19:13–20 NIV
13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Because Paul was the Lord’s instrument of healing and exorcism, there were some among the Ephesians who thought, “Hmm, I wonder if I can do that. If Paul can do it, I probably can. Anything Paul can do, we can do better...”
Some even tried to piggy-back on Paul: “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches...”
People get some crazy ideas. Jewish exorcists were known for offering strange Hebrew incantations; something like “bippity, boppity, boop” or “abracadabra”, only in Hebrew.
It was common for these false prophets to borrow a name—like Paul’s—for their “bippity, boppity, boopity” craziness.
But their act doesn’t work. Jesus will not be used, and He can’t be played like a hand of gin-rummy. “The Seven Sons of Sceva” are humiliated.
Allistair Begg calls them “The Seven Streakers of Sceva.” Their sorcery fails; these worthless wizards don’t belong to Jesus, and as such, they have no power. The demon isn’t forced to listen to them. They don’t drive out the demon; the demon drives them out.
The demon gives them such a beating that they run out of the house naked and bleeding.
“If, when the fight started you were wearing pants, and then, when it’s over you’re no longer wearing pants, you have clearly lost.” —Matt Chandler
Their sorcery was nothing, especially when compared to Jesus.

Jesus > Sorcery

Their sorcery is shown to be powerless, a sham. It doesn’t work; it has no power. This episode shows us the reality and the influence of the devil, sure. But, even more so, it shows the superior power of Jesus over all other forms of power.
This story became known to the people living there in Ephesus. Part of me wonders if they chuckled when they heard it; the other part of me realizes that they felt some fear, some reverence for Jesus.
And, we read (v. 17), the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.
Many of the people, upon believing in the superior name of Jesus, repented from their sorcery and they renounced their sin. They burned their scrolls of great value (totalling 50,000 drachmas/daily wages. In today’s money, that would be anywhere from $3-$6 million).
This marks a radical break from their sorcery, from their way of life, from the old affections. Faith in Jesus and participation in sorcery are incompatible.
They have a new affection, something infinitely better than sorcery. They have Jesus—the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Risen Savior.
“The Sermon of Saint Paul in Ephesus”, a painting that hangs in the Louvre, depicts this scene [show picture].
When you realize how much better, how much greater Jesus is than anything else, you’re willing to part with everything else.
Why do you think Peter and James and John left their fishing businesses and families? Because Jesus was better! He was greater far than anything they had.
Why do the sorcerers burn their books instead of selling them? Because, regardless of their monetary value, they are worthless compared to Jesus.
Realizing how good, how powerful, how great Jesus is will lead to a confession of sin. It’s easy to confess our sins and shortcomings when we realize we’re not going to miss out on anything; in Christ we have everything!
Confession and conversion: a radical break accompanied by new affections—a new love for Jesus.
No longer do we value that; our hearts are set on Jesus, knowing Him and making Him known. We value Him.
In the book of Revelation, the letter written to the church in Ephesus rebukes them for forsaking their first love.
We can easily grow cold in our love and affection for Jesus. Let us continue to cultivate our love for Him, seeking to know Him in His Word, rejecting all rivals because Jesus is greater than any other.
Acts 19:20–41 NIV
20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. 21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” 22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer. 23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. 32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.
After the book-burning, Paul decides that he needs to head to Jerusalem, visiting the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth on his way. He’s led to go to Rome, also, but has one more exciting experience in Ephesus (at least the last recorded for us).
Paul’s ministry, his proclamation of the Word and the Gospel of Jesus—causes an uproar. The disturbance was unavoidable; it messed with their favorite idol and their way of life.
Paul’s ministry proclaimed the counter-cultural message:

Jesus > Idols

The truth always threatens idolatry; the truth exposes it and its adherents.
A leader among the silversmiths, Demetrius, felt threatened by the Way, the followers of Jesus and the message they preached.
Demetrius calls Paul out, saying Paul was leading people astray and telling them that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.
The biggest part of Demetrius’ beef is the “good income from this business,” that their “trade will lose its good name”, that “the temple of Artemis will be discredited”, and that Artemis “herself…will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
Anything that threatens someone’s income, their name, their religion, and what they worship is going to be the cause of a disturbance.
Paul was asking for it. But, boy howdy, to be faithful to Christ requires that we point out idolatry.
It is not loving to tolerate sinful behavior. The highest ideal is not tolerance; what’s most important is that God be worshiped, and God alone.
We have to call out idolatry, no matter the response because lives are at stake. We want all people to know and honor the One True God, not waste their lives worshiping false gods.
When idols are threatened the response (if it’s not repentance) is anger. Our idols are part of our identity; who we are is tied to that idol in some form or another.
If something happens to our idol (whatever it might be, whatever we love more than Jesus)—if something happens to it, we’re lost. We’re mad. We want it back. “How dare you!”
Since the angry mob can’t get to Paul, they take Paul’s companions into the amphitheater. It was absolute chaos—most of the people didn’t even know why they were there (v. 32).
Others, so blinded by their idolatry and the assurance that they were right and the Way was wrong, shout for two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
The city clerk in Ephesus is able to calm the storm and quiet the chaos. The uproar ends. They got themselves all worked up over the perceived threat to their livelihood, threw a nice little tizzy, and then broke it up.
The clerk’s remarks make it clear that the Christian gospel was not contrary to the Roman rule of law and was not disruptive of public order.
What Demetrius and the rest of the angry mob missed in all of this was that their goddess, the thing they worshiped, was just a hunk of stone sitting in a fancy building. “Artemis” did nothing for them—couldn’t and wouldn’t, even if “she” wanted to.
And Jesus, the One Paul was preaching, had real power—power to heal, power to exorcise demons, power to save, to change lives and affections.
The crowd just decided to riot.
They didn’t even consider who Jesus was and what Jesus could do. They didn’t think about the folly of their idolatry—gods made from human hands are, in fact, no gods at all. Why worship something someone made? Why worship something that fell from the sky and just stays there?
Some people think the reference to Artemis’s image falling from the heavens indicates that this is was a meteorite. A meteorite—just a hunk of rock and metal.
I worked as a tour guide in a gift shop that housed the world’s largest pallasite meteorite. It was pretty neat, but at the end of the day, it’s just a 1,000-pound hunk of stony iron. Who would worship that?!
Who would worship something like that?!? The same type of people who worship money, or a flag, or a country, or a sport, or another person.
We are prone to worship worthless, temporary objects when we forget who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. We forget that Jesus is greater, more powerful than any other, and Jesus is infinitely real—He’s not a meteorite or rock that fell from the heavens.
He’s the eternally-existing Son of God who came down to us, taking on flesh, bearing our sin and shame, paying the price for our sins, absorbing the wrath of God that we deserved. Jesus is infinitely real, not some lifeless idol. Jesus died for our sins, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and raised to life on third day—and He lives today! He’s no lifeless idol; He is the source of life and has secured for us eternal life.
Why worship any other?!?
May we never be found shouting for another, clamoring for others to praise or give their lives to any idol common to us.
Let us only shout: “Great is the One True God! He alone is worthy to be praised!”
>We advance the kingdom of God by announcing that Jesus is better, great far than __________________.
We advance the kingdom of God, not with weapons or force or violence, but by the Word of God and dependence upon Him.
“The Church has the opportunity to show the world that there is something more important than politics, something more lasting than the social media fervor of the day.” - Trevin Wax
We have the opportunity—this glorious opportunity—to show the world that Jesus is greater than anything, greater than everything. We get to live and serve and invite people into the Kingdom of God—the only Kingdom without end. We, Christians, get to advance an eternal kingdom belonging to an eternal and eternally glorious God.
May we praise the name of Jesus—and Jesus alone:
Romans 11:36 NIV
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
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