In Acts 19:21-41 we find the account of a riot in Ephesus. When you read the passage, it becomes clear that these people are passionate about Artemis (their city goddess). At one point they spend two hours shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”
We look at this and it seems foreign- so different from our world- from us. We don’t worship mythological gods and goddesses who dwell in temples, are visible in the form of statues, and are worshiped with sacrifices and sex.
Here’s the deal though, behind the visible, physical idols there is always something deeper. Worship and idolatry is never just about statues and temples. It’s about the heart; it’s about what you love; what you live for. We see this here in Acts 19.
No doubt some who worshiped Artemis were, underneath the surface, worshiping sexual pleasure. Artemis was a fertility goddess and sexual acts were a significant part of her worship. The readily available temple prostitutes made Artemis an appealing deity for many.
Other worshipers of Artemis probably saw her promises of fertility through more of an economic lens. They looked to Artemis to make their flocks and their crops fertile and their bank accounts full. An idolatry of wealth is seen in a secondary way with Demetrius and the silversmiths. Their worship of Artemis was really about money. They loved money.
Later in the passage yet another idol appears, the idol of cultural identity. There was a sense of significance and superiority that came from being the city where Artemis temple was and where the sacred stone associated with her was found. The riot itself shows that they were not about to let go of their idol of cultural identity.
Here’s the point, yes they were worshiping Artemis, but they were also worshiping sex, money, their cultural identity, etc.
Seeing this tells us a couple of things. For one it reminds us that idolatry is almost always multi-layered. In addition, it reveals that we are more like the Ephesians than unlike them. We run after the same idols that the Ephesians did along with countless others.
We need to ask ourselves what it is that we value supremely in our hearts. What are we loving above Christ? What are our greatest fears? What do we daydream about? What could we not live without?
This is an opportunity for repentance and to turn back to Christ in faith, confessing our sins and trusting again in his finished work. There is forgiveness and grace in him.
This is also an opportunity for us to come back to Christ as better than all of our idols. By God’s grace, this is what a number of Ephesians came to see. Jesus is better than Artemis or any other idol the human heart might manufacture.