Have you ever felt powerless in your life? Whether it was your finances, your work situation, even a relationship in your life, we’ve all had experiences that left us feeling absolutely powerless. Even feeling powerless in the first place implies that there is something or someone that has power over you.
For the early Christians in the city of Ephesus, the cult of the goddess Artemis must have left them feeling powerless. We read in the book of Acts about a run-in that Paul and some of his companions had with the cult of Artemis as they had been preaching about Jesus.
“23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 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. 27 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.”
28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd.34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.”41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.” Acts 19:23-41
Can you imagine living in a city where if you dared to insult the goddess of the city you could be killed, or at minimum, cause a riot to be started? What would it have even been like to share the gospel during this time? Those who followed Jesus must have felt powerless in such a situation. After all, the Christian faith is a thoroughly public faith. But when your faith clashes with those who are in power, what should you do?
Later on in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds them that they have a power that those who worship Artemis cannot even begin to dream of.
“…according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Eph. 1:19-21
For those Ephesians who were afraid of the followers of Artemis who were in power over their city, Paul reminds them that they worship a God that has rule over the heavenly places and over every other authority both in this world, and in the world to come. Artemis may rule Ephesus, but Jesus rules the universe.
And Jesus still has power over those things in our lives which make us feel powerless. He invites us to join him in a relationship, and he gives us open lines of communication through prayer. And in the midst of our powerless situations, he gives us the power to change and the power to endure.