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We have seen all sorts of demonstrations on the media over the last few years. People will gather and demonstrate and often such demonstrations will turn ugly. Here are just a few we’ve seen in recent years:

  1. Brexit – people both for and against brexit have demonstrated in large numbers about their perceived grievances.
  2. Climate change – anyone remember the global ‘extinction rebellion’ protests which took place over the last few years in nearly every major city? Greta Thunberg became an overnight celebrity becoming the face and focus of demonstrations about this.
  3. Race riots blighted major cities all over the world in the summer of 2020. Despite the narrative portrayed by broadcast and social media, very few of them could really be described as peaceful as shops were vandalised and looted, vehicles set on fire, people hospitalised and in some cases people killed.

Acts 19v23f is a very interesting passage, it reports a city wide riot in Ephesus. We watch riots today in the 21st Century and think that they are a rather modern phenomenon, but here we read of this one riot happening 2,000 years ago.

What triggered it, what did it look like? What can we learn from it?

  1. It was stirred up by one person. In this case it was a silversmith called Demetrius. Riots may appear to be a large number of people venting their feelings, but rarely, if ever are there more than a handful of people at the heart of any riot. In fact, in this riot, we read Luke observing “Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32). So some people were rioting for no other reason than they got caught up in the emotions of it all. When we watch riots on the TV, don’t for one minute believe that everyone in the riot has the same feelings. People follow the crowd and some (most?) are almost certainly there for no reason other than getting caught up in the emotions of it all.
  2. The riot was not pure. It was not ‘religious’ at all. Demetrius had entirely selfish motivations for what he did. He had financial reasons for sparking the riot — he stood to lose business. Certainly as far as the Christian faith is concerned, many people’s expressions of hatred towards us are almost always entirely selfish and not genuinely based in faith issues. They don’t like Christianity because they want to live their own lives, but they don’t just want to live their own lives, they want others to approve of their choices.
  3. The riot was chaotic. “The assembly was in confusion. Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people didn’t even know why they were there”. Rarely is there a coherent message which is agreed on by all in a riot.

So, the next time you watch a “riot” or “demonstration” on your television, don’t for a moment believe that the group is a cohesive, united group. There will be all sorts of different people there. they will have different reasons for joining in, and they will be there with all sorts of agendas, some of which are not nearly as pure as you think they are. Of course some will be genuinely concerned about the issues, but some will be there simply to look good, doing what is known as “virtue signalling”. Some will be there just to get on the telly. Others will be looking for opportunities to make trouble, still others will be there to gain something politically or to get some publicity for their own causes.

Be wise about how much of the modern narrative about such things you take on board, people are not nearly as honest and sincere about their motivations as they would like you to believe.

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