Walking In St. Paul's Footsteps
On my recent trip to Greece and Turkey, I returned for my second visit to the incredible archaeological site of the ancient city of Ephesus.
It's been well over a decade since my last visit to Ephesus, and I was amazed at how much more work had been done to uncover even more of its history.
Ephesus was one of the many cities in the Roman Empire where the Apostle Paul not only visited during his missionary journeys but also worked to establish a church that would continue to grow long after he left.
Paul's Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament contains some specific information about the church and its congregants but is generally believed to be a cyclical letter, one that was copied to be distributed to several churches.
The tour I was on was billed as a journey in "The Footsteps of Paul," However, there were very few places on the tour where we could firmly say that we were walking where Paul most likely walked.
Ephesus was one of those places, however. Our guide could confidently say there were several streets where we walked that were first-century streets that anyone who walked through Ephesus would have trod all those centuries ago.
There was a thriving Jewish community in Ephesus as well, and there is some graffiti to prove it. On the marble steps of the great library of Ephesus, someone carved a menorah into them two thousand years ago.
As my fingers traced the grooves in the marble step, I thought of the Apostle Paul arriving in Ephesus, visiting the local synagogue, and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people gathered there.
His message would have seemed strange to most and caused a stir. He would have claimed that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived and was executed at the behest of the corrupt Jewish religious leaders by the Roman authorities.
And he would have further claimed that this same Messiah was raised from the dead, and his followers sent out to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God on earth.
Paul had the credentials to do all of this in the synagogue. He was a visiting rabbi who had studied under the tutelage of one of the most famous rabbis in the Jewish world, Gamalial of Jerusalem.
The message he came to share would have taken them all by surprise.
While he was in Ephesus, Paul also healed a young woman who had been enslaved by unscrupulous men, who used her strange powers of divination to make money from those who sought to have their fortunes told by her.
There was a subsequent riot, and things were looking grim for Paul as a huge mob traveled to the city's auditorium to voice their grievances and demand Paul and his companions be brought to justice.
The fascinating thing is that Paul wanted to go to the auditorium and address the crowd, but his friends stopped him and eventually got him out of the city quietly.
I imagine that Paul chafed at this turn of events, though. He would have seen the auditorium full of people as an incredible opportunity to share the Gospel with the biggest crowd he'd ever spoken to.
His friends quite rightly knew that he would have probably been beaten within an inch of his life, but you have to admire Paul's moxy.
You see, Jesus had transformed his life. He had been a zealous persecutor of Christians in his former life. The kind of guy who saw Christianity as a threat to Judaism and Christians as worthy of punishment, even death.
But his encounter with the Spirit of the Risen Christ changed everything. He spent decades studying Scripture, listening to accounts of Christ's ministry and teaching, and then forming the theology that would change the world.
And then Paul spent the rest of his life traveling the world, telling anyone who would listen about the One who had turned both his life and the world upside down.
As I walked the well-worn stones of those first-century streets and Athens and touched the menorah graffiti on the steps, I couldn't help but feel both gratitude and admiration for the determined rabbi from Tarsus, who believed that Jesus had ushered in a new age and that God's love and grace were for all.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, now and forever. Amen.