Philip of Byzantium once wrote, “I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade.”
No one would question that the temple of Diana in Ephesus, also called the temple of Artemis, rightly holds its place as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In its day, it was a masterpiece to behold. This makes it all the more stunning when we read that while Paul was preaching in Ephesus, a riot broke out. This riot was not due to Paul having simply upset someone. No. This was a riot that erupted from fear of the deepest sort. The people who sold idols came to the realization that if Paul was not silenced, this ancient temple would be totally abandoned. That was the power of the apostolic gospel. In Acts 19, we have record of the angry mob’s words, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” Wanna know the truth? They knew she wasn’t so great. If she had been, there’d have been no need for her loyal servants to become hostile toward a simple gospel preacher.
The mob was angry and hostile because they foresaw the future…their temple in ruins. Today, all the old gods are dead. The glory of Diana lives on primarily through ancient ruins and a superhero Invented in modern times who we call Wonder Woman. Zeus no longer flings lightning to the earth. No one looks to Prometheus for fire. Their stories are memories on the pages of mythology. Ruins memorialize the long dead gods.
In modern America, we have not gone searching for truth on top of Olympus. We have worshipped at the feet of other gods, within temples of our own design. Athletes, movie stars, and entertainers of every sort became the object of our praise. We worshipped in stadiums, in theaters, and before our very own household gods. Unlike the heathen of Old, we did not sacrifice our children in rituals. We gave them up in search of a better life, telling ourselves there would be more time later. Millions of them, we slaughtered them on the altar of choice. The family table was largely abandoned; the family altar became a thing of legend, and our future was sacrificed in pursuit of wealth, trusting an annual vacation to atone for our daily absence.
Alongside entertainment and success, we have worshipped the gods of education, prosperity, leisure, and luxury. Pride is now a virtue and greed a respected state of being. Not wanting to be outdone by Hollywood, many of our preachers even adopted the values of this new religion, twisting scripture to serve their own lusts and adding a simple adjective to the age old message…”prosperity” gospel. Jesus made the gospel free, but this newly syncretized faith made sure it was not.
Today we are mourning, because like the Ephesians of Paul’s day, we fear that our temples are being abandoned. A strand of Virus that was unheard of only months ago has emptied our sports arenas, closed our casinos, left bar stools barren, and boarded up box offices. Commerce has closed. Store shelves are emptied. Fortunes are threatened. The voice of the prosperity preachers has faded into the background, hiding behind the walls of their castles in hopes that the plague will pass them by.
As nations come to their knees, we have remembered the value of healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and truck drivers. At last, for a time at least, those we should have honored all along are emerging as heroes. In a shocking turn of events, education has temporarily returned to the home. The family table has been remembered. Bibles are being dusted, and I was almost sure I caught a glimpse of a family altar. In the distance I can still hear the shouts, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!!” But she isn’t great. False gods never are.
As the true Gospel echoes through the streets, over the World Wide Web, and from pulpits across the globe, the question remains…will we have the courage to abandon our gods for the One True God? When the effort to refurbish the old temples begins, Will we remember the One whose reality caused riots? Will we pray with the old prophet, pleading to Heaven, “In wrath, remember mercy”? Will we be discerning enough to realize that our old gods failed us once fortunes return, schools reopen, and businesses boom? Are we willing to bow at the feet of the Christ whom Paul preached, regardless of whether we live in poverty or prosperity?
In a time of much trouble, as people of every faith and no faith labor to halt the spread of COVID-19…as we question what the future will be and where this will all lead…as politicians debate solutions and strive for the title of “savior”…I am lifting my eyes to the hills, “from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord!”
As I lift my eyes, I also now lift my voice, pleading with all who will listen to adopt the heart position of the Psalmist who declared in Psalm 27:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
4 One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.
5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
6 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy.
When so many reasons to be afraid abounded, the Psalmist just wanted to be in God’s house, gazing upon God’s beauty. Though certainly not all, multitudes of church buildings across our nation are temporarily closed. The Gospel has moved online, into parking lots, and into rented drive-in theaters. Believers everywhere find themselves saying with King David, “one thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after…”
We now lift our eyes, not to Olympus, but to another hill. It’s the hill we sang about as children:
On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, but I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain! So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I’ll lay down. I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown!