God’s People, part 270: Gaius & Aristarchus

Read Acts 19:23-41

“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The site of what was the Temple of Artemis.

Part 270: Gaius & Aristarchus. Ephesus was an important center for early Christianity. It was a city that had a long and storied history, both in it’s ancient history and in the Roman Empire. Located in what is now modern day Turkey, the city was renowned for its Temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the world. In fact, Antipater of Sidon wrote this about the seven wonders and the Temple of Artemis:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand” (Antipater, Greek Anthology IX.58).

Ephesus was also where Marc Antony stayed for periods of time when he was proconsul of Rome, and in 33 BCE, he and Cleopatra met there and gathered 800 before the battle of Actium against Octavius (aka Augustus). In fact, Augustus made Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia, making it the largest and most important city, second only to Rome itself.

This brings us to Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. He had been preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ in the synagogues and in the streets, and he had been successful in converting many people and establishing the Ephesian church. Of course, the Gospel focuses on Jesus Christ, son of the Father, who is a part of the Godhead. For Paul, and Jews alike, there is only one God and so he taught.

This, of course, riled up a mob of business owners who were losing money as a result of people no longer wanting to purchase idols of Artemis. Luke also states that their complaint was not merely financial, but religious as well. Artemis was the patron god of Ephesus and the teachings of Paul were not lifting her up in any way, shape or form. It’s not hard to imagine how insulted the Ephesians must have been.

Here’s where mob mentality kicked in. They were so angry that they grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s assistants, as they evidently could not find Paul himself. The drug them to the ampitheater and demanded that those men were punished for what they were teaching. Eventually, thankfully, they were released, and the mob dispersed because the Mayor intervened. They had not actively spoken against Artemis, nor had they stolen anything from the temple, but were just sharing their own religious faith. They mayor saw no need for them to be punished and, should the offended have legitimate complaints against the two men, then those offended persons should file a formal complaint with the courts.

Thank God for the mayor, who ruled justly on behalf of Gaius and Aristarchus; however, it also shows how dangerous being Christians can be when preaching the truth to people out in the world. Jesus Christ is not aligned with the ways of the world, nor is his message one of conformity; rather, Jesus calls us to represent the TRUTH of who he is to all people, even when it goes against our society and culture. The question for us, as Christians in the 21st century, do we have the bravery and boldness to live out our convictions regardless of the cost. That is a question I invite you to reflect on.

“If you get into really learning about the roots of monotheism, it was utterly a radical cultural moment. The Bible was so revolutionary and against all that came before it.” – Ezra Furman

Lord, give me the courage to live out my faith and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ with brave boldness and humble grace. Amen.

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