As I have thought about and prayed for so many brothers and sisters around the world who face intense persecution, my mind has brought me back to a verse in Acts that I love.
About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. (Acts 19:23)
A couple of years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the ancient city of Ephesus while in Turkey. I remember being in awe as I walked down the street toward the familiar ruins of the ancient library. On the approach to that magnificent structure, though, I became aware of what used to be small temples where only fragments of statues of ‘gods’ remain. I vividly remember one, in particular. I have to admit, I wished all along that journey that I had taken time to research the meaning of the ruins before this walk, but I knew right away that this one particular statue had to be a tribute to a god (the Roman Emperor Trajan). The figure stood probably 15-20 feet high or more at one time, with one foot placed on top of the earth, displaying its complete submission to his great might. The only thing left at the time of my viewing, however, were the feet…and the world that he thought belonged to him and his great kingdom.
Although I had failed to do my homework concerning what was what among the tourist trail, I had taken the time to go back and read the portions of Acts that took place in and among Ephesus. As I looked at this site (The Fountain of Trajan), I recalled what a character named Demetrius, from Acts 19, had declared what Paul was doing among his people:
Men, you know that from this business [making tribute statues of the goddess Artemis] we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship. (Acts 19:25-27)
I couldn’t help but smile as I looked at the feet of this statue…all that remained of a man-made god-ruler of the Romans. Paul had been proven right, and God had moved mightily through his life to awaken so many ‘pagans’ from ‘pagan lands’ to the truth of the gospel that he preached and away from the false gods of his day. This great awakening movement of God took place among intense persecution of Christians. Despite this harsh treatment, many turned to Jesus and the church was established all throughout Asia. This movement proved so powerful that it even came to attain a name by those who witnessed it: “The Way,” coming from Jesus’ confession that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” in John 14:6.
As I turned from the great library and began to approach the magnificent coliseum at the city’s end, my mind turned to the powerful statement I included at the beginning of this blog. This movement that God’s power through Paul’s missionary journey spearheaded had arose no little disturbance indeed. I experienced chills as I sat in the very place that the ancient Ephesians sat on a day where this movement had invoked a 2-hour riot. The crowd chanted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” as the disciples held Paul back from entering the arena. I considered what sort of boldness it must have taken on the part of these believers as they knew that their death could occur at any moment as they proclaimed the truth with reckless abandon. I meditated on the incredible advancement of the gospel, even despite such raging hate toward those being swept up in its current.
With all the news of massive persecution against Christians today in places like Syria, Pakistan and Kenya, I can’t help but think that this is once again no small disturbance concerning The Way. And historically when there has been no small disturbance concerning The Way, no small advancement of the gospel and the church has accompanied it. As my heart is sick and I am filled with concern for my brothers and sisters around the world, I fret not for the church because I know its future. Even in the middle of my angst for fellow believers, I rest in the same hope they have, even unto death. In the midst of this present day disturbance the church flourishes and continues to grow, even in the most dangerous and unlikely of places. My prayer today is that this no small disturbance would be accompanied once again by a great spiritual awakening, the likes of the one that took place in Paul’s day when those who served the false gods of the age couldn’t help but express their great distress over the power of the great movement raging around them. Just like Demitrius in his day, there are those today determined to put a stop to this disturbance, but no man can thwart God’s great redemptive purposes as he providentially brings history to his perfect conclusion. May the blood of brothers and sisters around the world serve as seed for such a movement!
Amen and Maranatha!