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Mob Religion

Mob Religion poster

Diana was the most popular goddess in the Asian world. There were 33 centers for her worship, and the greatest of them was at Ephesus. The temple of Diana (or Artemis) was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The month of May was dedicated to Diana, and at that time thousands of worshippers would come to Ephesus to pay their respects. Little did the pilgrims know that during their festival there would be a riot! Acts 19 certainly presents a dramatic picture as you see that mob jamming into the theater (it seated 25,000) and shouting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” for two hours. It was a case of “mob religion.”

As you look at that mob, you begin to learn some things about Paul and the ministry of the Word of God. Let’s examine this scene from three different viewpoints to discover the lessons God has for us.

Look Behind the Mob and See Paul’s Ministry

To begin with, Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was a positiveministry. He and his friends did not picket the temple of Diana or try to burn it down. They simply taught God’s Word daily (Acts 19:9) and tried to win people to Christ. The Word of God changed lives, and then spread from person to person (Acts 19:20), so that “all Asia heard the Word of God.” It is not necessary to make a nuisance of yourself to win souls. A positive ministry will accomplish what God wants done.

It was a courageousministry. Ephesus was a difficult city, yet Paul stayed there longer than any other place—three years. There was opposition all around him. “I fought with beasts at Ephesus!” (1 Corinthians 15:32). A great door was opened for him, but “there were many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8–9). It takes courage to stay in the city and preach the Word, but that is what we need. 

It was a respectedministry. I note in verse 31 that the “Asiarchs” (the officers of the district) were friends to Paul and warned him not to go into the theater. Paul had friends in high places. They respected him for his life and his ministry, even though they may not have agreed with him.

Finally, it was a controversialministry. It caused “no small stir.” But this is the history of the Gospel! The Jewish leaders accused Jesus of stirring up the people. In Jerusalem, and in the cities that Paul visited, the preaching of the Gospel usually brought opposition and division. Wherever you preach the Truth, you can be sure Satan will come and fight you. Paul did not deliberately set out to upset the city, but his ministry did this just the same.

I wonder why Christians today do not cause more of a stir? Is it because we are so like the world that the unsaved are not afraid of us? Have we compromised so much that you cannot tell a Christian from an unbeliever? The actions of this mob in Ephesus assure us that the Christians there were different—and dangerous! May God help us today to be dangerous Christians.

Look Beneath the Mob and See What Runs Society

What are the forces that control the lives of most people in society today? We see them here in this scene (see Acts 19).

1. Leaders and experts.Demetrius was a respected leader, a man we would never know about were it not for Paul. He knew how to arouse the emotions of the workers and get them to do what he wanted them to do. So it is today: people play “follow the leader” and never stop to investigate whether what they are saying is true or not. Imagine all that noise and trouble over an imaginary goddess.

2. The crowd.“Everybody’s doing it” has been an excuse for all kinds of activity, good and bad. People are impressed by numbers and noise. If you tell a lie long enough, eventually people will believe it. Yet the Word commands, “Be not conformed to this world…” (Romans 12:2).

3. Emotions.The entire scene is an illustration of the damage that is done when thinking is replaced by feeling. First there was fear—the workers might lose their jobs. (It was not Diana that Demetrius was worried about; it was his job.) Fear turned to rage: “Attack everybody who opposes Diana!” Nobody stopped to ask whether Diana was worth fighting for. The speaker at the meeting knew how to sway their hearts and get them worked up.

4. Propaganda.This is the art of manipulating people’s minds so they will unthinkingly follow you. Demetrius was a master of propaganda: “our city…our temple…our craft…” He appealed to their religious devotion, their patriotism, and their pocketbook. Nobody asked, “Is this Diana story true?” It is the age-old battle between truth and superstition.

5. Love of money.When somebody says, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing,” you can be sure it is usually the money that is important. Throughout the Book of Acts, the Gospel comes into conflict with materialism and money. First it was Judas (Acts 1). Then the early believers shared all they had so that everybody would be cared for, and that caused a disagreement (Acts 6). And who can forget Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5)? Paul was thrown in jail in Philippi because he cast a demon out of a fortune teller and her owners lost their racket.

No matter what high sounding speeches people might make, when you get to the basics of human behavior, you will find that most people do not act rationally on the basis of truth. They are controlled by hidden forces that manipulate them. In the end times, the Antichrist will use his lying propaganda to control the world, and the love of the truth will die out as men believe lies. Alas, there is something in human nature that wants to believe a lie and reject the truth.

Look Beyond the Mob and See God Use the Church

There was a day when this mob scene was big news in Ephesus, but now it is all gone. Ephesus is gone; the theater is a heap of old stones; the great temple of Diana is gone; and so are Demetrius and his workers. But the Church is still here!And Paul’s letters are still here. And the Gospel is still here. “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” 

The church must not be like the world. We use persuasion, not propaganda. We must share the Word and permit the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and minds of people. As Christians, we must be careful not to manipulate people and exploit them just so they will fulfill our plans. The church depends on truth, not superstition or tradition. Here were 25,000 people defending someone who did not exist. They were concerned with their precious “image that fell from heaven.” I hear a great deal about “the church’s image” these days. Our task is not to protect some fictional image, but to preach the Word of God and glorify Christ.

The church ministers in love, not rage. It is a positive ministry, a patient ministry. We are concerned with the eternal values of life, not the passing prices of images of Diana. What a tragedy it is when the church adopts the values of the pagan world. “That which is high-esteemed among men is an abomination to God,” said Jesus. We can get so involved protecting our investments that we forget to minister to people. The best investment the church can make is in the lives of people.

This event forces us to answer two questions: 

1. What am I following?Truth or lies? God or men? The Bible or religious superstition? The crowd or Jesus? Jesus Christ did not die to make us slaves to the world; He died to set us free from sin, death, and judgment—and from this present evil age. We are to be different people because we are God’s people.

2. Is my faith disturbing anything?Jesus promised that our faith would upset homes, families, and friendships; and it does. No Christian deliberately goes out to make an enemy, but the living of the truth will always provoke the attacks of Satan, the liar. Are we afraid of a dangerous faith that gets people stirred up? Is Satan afraid of us, individually and as a church? Or have we lost our power to confront and to convict the world? A comfortable faith is not New Testament faith.

Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

No! “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable!”

Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords! May we follow Him and obey Him no matter what the consequences may be. And may the Lord deliver us from a “mob religion” and give us the kind of spiritual power that will shake our cities and win people to Christ.