TRA Wordtalks

"Sunday, 2nd November, 1997 - Turn from Superstition."

37/97 2.11.97 Scripture: Acts 19:1-41

IF I stand on one leg and imitate a crane with wings out folded, bright young adults would be reminded of a film. If I circle my hands, palms outwards and say, "wax on", "wax off" and raising and lowering them say "paint up" and "paint down", many would know the name of the film but few could tell me the name of The Karate Kid's Japanese teacher. Like most patient teachers, Mr Miagi, is not remembered. Most identify with the Karate Kid who wanted to be an expert in unarmed combat, to chop and kick with deadly effect. But Mr Miagi, taught him to paint a fence, wax the car and stand like a crane. He was teaching self discipline, hand and arm movement, balance and patience. The kid did not understand until eventually he won.

A young attender in a service asked why I teach every verse in a Scripture passage in its own context, when other people tell only how the passage applies today. Because, like Mr Miagi, I am teaching understanding, approach and method that applies to all Scripture. A Chinese boy wanted to learn how to carve jade. He went to study with a talented old teacher. The older man put a piece of stone jade into the youth's hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the jade and sent the boy home. That happened for weeks. The boy was impatient. When would he be taught to carve jade? Then one day when the old man put a green stone into his hands, the boy cried out, "That's not jade!" When we take the Scripture verses, examine them, and give the true meaning to the background text, it may be slow, but you are learning to handle the word of life correctly with true meaning.

One day you will hear some person say, "You know what I think the Bible says...I think the Holy Spirit is leading us to ...." Instinctively you will say "That is not jade!" You know, because you have rightly handled the Word of God. One day someone will tell you that there is no basis in Christianity, that you cannot prove it, that there is no evidence Jesus ever lived, and you will smile, because you have read in the Scriptures a hundred examples of truth rooted in fact! Let the shallow teachers change the meaning of Scripture or question its accuracy and you, who have rightly handled the Word of God, will know and say "That is not jade!"

Several million people in Australia regularly read what the stars have to say in newspapers and women's magazines. An astrology page is in most women's magazines, the dailies and the weeklies. This is a silly superstition, fodder for the gullible! Astrology is a hoax. "Encyclopaedia Britannica" says "Reading astrology these days is continuing only among the non-intellectuals in the Western world, and gradually it is becoming more fraudulent." In a shop opposite Wesley Centre is a sign "Seek guidance for your future with a palm reading." You can get tarot cards and boards, charm readings and seances right in the heart of Sydney. A superstitious hoax that tempts people from reality.

Maybe it is because people believe that true science has failed them and that genuine sciences have done nothing to bring peace on earth or give more personal inner satisfaction. Maybe it is because religion has failed them and they have turned instead to images of religion which lack the substance of the life-transforming power of Jesus.

I visited a large book shop in Bateau Bay Village. In the section marked "Religion" was a good range of books. Another section entitled "New Age" was filled with books on Psychics, Palmistry, Sorcery, Astrology, Cults, Crystals and Karma, Tarot Cards and Eastern Mystics, but also the book by Bishop James Spong decrying belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, and the book by Dr Barbara Thiering of her latest reduction of the person of Jesus. That is exactly where they belong! The book shop manager knows what is jade and what is only stone!

The Apostle Paul established many churches when he crossed from Greece to Turkey to the mouth of the River Cayster. He visited the great city, Ephesus. Today, you can walk the actual streets that Paul walked, and visit the theatre in which he preached. Ephesus was a centre for astrology, the focus of superstition and good luck charms. Well-known in the ancient world were the "Ephesian Grammata", little letters which were for sale. When you unrolled the scroll, it told your fortune and said, "This is the way to find peace, love, security, success in business and in love." Many museums have these good luck scrolls sold in Ephesus.

1. THE GOOD NEWS

In Acts 19, we read the early church confronted astrology and the old superstitions we today call The New Age Movement. Ephesus was home to the great Temple of Diana or Artemis in Greek. The Temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: 425 feet long, 200 feet wide, with 127 huge marble columns about. It was four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. Models of the temple and silver shrines were sold in the streets to visitors in the day of Paul.

Artemis was the goddess of love, of seductive power, fertility and nature's bounty. The huge statue of the 36 breasted goddess was carved out of a meteorite. Magicians, soothsayers, sellers of shrines and worshippers thronged the city when Paul preached in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. As God's word was growing stronger and spreading in Ephesus, one can be sure that someone was going to be upset. Soon there were rumblings of discontent from the Temple. "Those who were making money out of visitors and from selling artifacts became angry as business became poorer."

2. THE SILVER GODDESS

Every year there was a month-long Festival of Artemis. There was a lot of drinking, carousing, racing and athletic contests, with much betting. It was the high season for the prostitutes who lived all around the Temple. The rows of silversmiths, who sold models of the Temple and good luck charms, looked to the Festival as their most profitable time. Now Paul preached Jesus. Paul said that man-made gods were not gods at all. There was only one God who lives in heaven and Jesus Christ is His Son. Paul called on the people to repent from their sin, believe in Jesus, have sins forgiven and find life eternal.

Some silversmiths closed down. Some who had been living on the tourists became Christian. Some of the prostitutes turned to a new way of life - and those who profited from the Temple felt a growing resentment. "A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: `Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 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 man-made gods are no gods at all. 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 worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.'" There is the real problem! Paul was bad for business.

Demetrius was the leader of the Guild of Silversmiths. His speech included three significant points. "You know we receive a good income from this business... our trade will lose its good name.. the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited." The Council of Commerce united in their opposition.

3. A RIOT

Ephesus was the centre of the ancient trade union movement. There were unions or guilds for bakers, architects, bankers, doctors, carpenters and masons; unions for metalworkers, barbers, embalmers and pastry cooks. Demetrius blew the whistle and called, "Everybody out!" And everyone went out. "They were furious and began shouting: `Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!' Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's travelling companions from Macedonia and rushed as one man into the theatre." The theatre with its beautiful curved ranks of seats accommodated 25,000 people and is still used today for concerts.

This Jesus, was in the way of their self-interest.

Do we allow our business to come before God? Demetrius refused to listen to God because he was listening for the sound of coins in the till. Our commitment to Jesus Christ is above very other allegiance. The crowd chanted slogans and listened to speeches for hours. Then some of the traders and workers grabbed and intimidated Gaius and Aristarchus into the theatre. "Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him." Paul had shown he would face anybody. His courage led to him being stoned, bashed, imprisoned, put in the stocks. But friends and "even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theatre." Paul would later face wild animals in that theatre and barely survive mauling!

In the theatre itself "the assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there." This is typical of wild protest meetings in every age. Some shout one thing, and some another, and in the crowd there would be many who would not even know why they were there. How relevant the Scripture is to what happens today! Gaius and Aristarchus were caught up in the uproar. And then the crowd found another scape-goat. The net was thrown a little wider and caught a Jew named Alexander. The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defence before the people. But when they realised he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" The Jews wanted to disassociate themselves but ended up also blamed.

4. THE TOWN CLERK

The town clerk is the Mr Fix-it who came to restore peace. "The city clerk quieted the crowd". He was not interested in the rights or wrongs, only that everybody kept quiet and protested according to the rules. "Men of Ephesus, 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? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash." Town clerks have such good sense. He went on, "You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it. After saying this, he dismissed the meeting." A cool head among hot heads!

The crowd went away. This event in the life of the early Christians has relevance today. There are still wild protests when the superstitious are confronted and threatened by Christianity. People of faith confront New Age believers. Wherever Jesus Christ is proclaimed in truth, there is an inevitable confrontation with false religion. If you have been influenced by the New Age Movement, cults or astrology I say to you very bluntly: get out of it! Turn from superstition to the Saviour. Turn from the stars to the Son, the Son of God who loves you and saves you. Come to give your life to Him now!

Gordon Moyes

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