Tag Archives: New Testament

Today would be a good day to be at Ephesus

I’ve been marking final essays for my New Testament class this semester. So I’ve been thinking about the historical and social contexts of the first churches and the letters written to them that continue to speak into the lives of millions of Christian churches today. Its helpful to imagine walking in their shoes as they figured out how to daily live out this transformative encounter they had had with the risen Jesus. So if I could take a quick jaunt to anywhere today, it’d be great to visit one of the best preserved NT cities: Ephesus, a place where people long ago and yet not so different from me sought to walk in the same footsteps in which I daily choose to walk.

What did I love about and learn from Ephesus?

Ephesus today lies on Turkey’s western coast. It was then was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, an impressive city home to two amphitheatres, one of the world’s largest libraries, and the famous Temple of Artemis.

The apostle Paul spent two or three years here, living out the gospel among the people of this place. He preached in the large theatre and caused a riot that likely landed him in prison.

The church in Ephesus was largely made up of non-Jews, and Paul writes to encourage them by articulating who they are and how they fit into God’s plan for the world.

The letter speaks of the ‘mystery’ that has been revealed: that God’s plan is to bring all things, seen and unseen, under Christ. That’s a huge challenge when what you can see is the might and power of the Roman empire!

This revealed mystery is demonstrated in a completely unexpected and seemingly insignificant way: through a new kind of community, this group called church, where people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic circumstances, and statuses seek to live together as family.

Seeing the houses, shops, and public facilities of ancient Ephesus helps me imagine what this might have looked like. I can envision some of its its practicalities and some of its challenges.

These were real people living in a real place, seeking to embody a new way of doing life and being family together in the midst of a city that didn’t quite get what they were trying to be.

Its a similar challenge many face today. I know I do as I seek to do life with my local church community and we try to be a new kind of family to one another.

Its messy and complicated and not always easy. We certainly don’t always get it right as we sit in the tensions between our culture and the gospel.

We hope in and live out of a new story that others may not think makes sense or looks true, and yet we see the transformation it is bringing little by little in our lives and our neighbourhoods.

And we continue to walk in the footsteps not only of the millions who have come before us, but of the risen King we worship and who is making all things new.

Today would be a good day to be in Caesarea

For the past year, my church has been teaching through the book of Acts. Yesterday our pastor, Dan, preached a powerful message on Acts 25. At this point in the narrative, Paul has been in Caesarea Maritima for two years as a prisoner, waiting for his trial to be heard. He is offered the opportunity to go back to Jerusalem and have his case heard there, but instead he appeals to Rome. His focus is on getting to the place where he can continue the kingdom ministry he has been called to as the apostle to the Gentiles.

What remains today of Herod Agrippa's palace, where Paul was held
What remains today of Herod Agrippa’s palace, where Paul was held

It made me remember how much I have loved visiting Caesarea, and how each time I’ve been there I’ve been struck by what it must have been like for Paul. To be in this Roman harbour city built by Herod to honour Caesar, at the main port for ships coming to and from Rome, likely kept in the basement of the palace which lies on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean Sea … looking towards Rome.

What the palace would have looked like when Paul was there
What the palace would have looked like when Paul was there

From his letters and other travels, we know of Paul’s strong desire to go to Rome. The centre of the empire was a key place for the spreading of the good news throughout the world. I’m guessing he didn’t originally expect to get there via a prison ship, but when that’s the opportunity that arose, he jumped at it. Paul knew who he was, what he had been called to, and what was worth giving his life to.

Caesarea sign about Paul

So, what did I love about Caesarea?

Seeing its history, particularly the Roman history of the first century.

Timeline of Caesarea's history
A timeline of Caesarea’s history

The artificial harbour constructed by Herod the great.

Caesarea Harbour

The remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct that brought fresh water to the city.

Aqueduct

The 4000-seat Roman theatre, completed by Herod in 10BCE and restored to be used for performances today.

Caesarea theatre panorama

The remnants of Herod’s hippodrome.

Caesarea hippodrome

Caesarea hippodrome seats

Caesarea is also the place where the Pilate Stone was discovered in the 1960s, the first archaeological item found which mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, under whom Jesus was crucified.

The inscription mentioning Pilate, in the Israel museum
The inscription mentioning Pilate, in the Israel Museum
What did I learn from Caesarea?

I find it intriguing that in a place built by a king known as “the Great” and built to honour the Emperor of the then known world, the person I remember most is a man who spent two years here as a prisoner. Paul’s legacy, due to his faith in Jesus and commitment to the gospel, has profoundly changed the world. I hold copies of his writings in my hand every day.

The palace where Paul was likely held and tried
The palace where Paul was likely held and tried

It makes me think about what really lasts. In the past few decades there have been wonderful restorations to preserve the city’s history, but the truth is that in the end all great building projects come to ruins.

A 2012 archaeological dig taking place at the western end of the palace ruins
A 2012 archaeological dig taking place at the western end of the palace ruins

Certainly, glimpses of faded beauty remain.

Mosaics at Caesarea
Mosaics at Caesarea

But watching the waves crash over Herod’s once great breakwater reminds me that so many of the seemingly great achievements in this life will not last; and Paul’s life challenges me once again to commit mine to the things that will.

Waves crashing over part of Herod's breakwater wall
Waves crashing over part of Herod’s breakwater wall