After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.Acts 20:1
Paul is eager to explain to the Christians this whole uproarious riot that had just taken place in Ephesus. There is something about it he does not want them to miss, so he calls them together and exhorts them before he leaves. Luke does not tell us what that exhortation consisted of, but I believe that Paul does. There is a passage in his second letter to the Corinthians which refers to this very occasion. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 Paul says,
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8 RSV).
Put yourself back with the apostle into the midst of this tremendous uproar. It had appeared for a while that the gospel had so triumphed in Ephesus that Paul could think of leaving and going on to other places. Then this riot suddenly occurred, seeming to threaten the entire cause of Christ, and putting the Christians in great danger. Paul is crushed and distressed. His life is in danger. This crowd is so wild, so uncontrollable that for a few hours it looks as though they might just sweep through the city and wipe out every Christian in Ephesus. Paul says,
...we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death... (2 Cor. 1:8b-9a RSV) He could not see any way out. It looked as if he had reached the end of the road. But God had a purpose:
...but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:9b RSV)
That is the very heart of the Christian message, as Paul will go on to explain in this letter.
Our sufficiency is not of ourselves, he says (2 Cor. 3:5). His explanation to these young converts in Ephesus was unquestionably along this line. He was saying to them,
God has sent this event, has allowed it to happen to teach us that he is able to handle things when they get far beyond any human control. When our circumstances get way out of order, far beyond our own resources, God is able. He has taught us this so that we will not rely on ourselves but upon him who raises the dead, who works in us to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
What an awareness this apostle had of the fantastic strength of the body of Christ working together, praying together, supporting one another, upholding each other in prayer and thus calling into action the mighty power of the God of resurrection, who can work through the most unexpected instruments to quiet a situation, to hold a crowd in restraint, to stop the surging emotionalism of people whose reasoning has been short-circuited, to hold them within limits and bounds, and to bring the whole affair to nothing! This is the might of our God.
This is what we can learn from this situation, as we too come into times of danger and pressure and trouble. The difficulties which strike suddenly in our lives, the pressures through which we must go, the sudden catastrophes that come roaring in out of the blue — these are sent so that we might rely not on ourselves but on God.
Thank you, Father, for those trials and difficulties you bring into my life which teach me to depend not on myself but on you.
'Safety first' is not the Christian logo! Do we need to be disabused of the notion that authentic Christian living means immunity from hardship, persecution and suffering? Are we taking up the whole armor of God, trusting Him to do battle through us -- or are we resisting the very adventure to which we are called?