Reflections on the Trip of a Lifetime: Day 9 Philadelphia, Sardis, Kusadasi
Philadelphia, Sardis, Kusadasi
Happy birthday to me!
January 18th is my birthday, and someone on tour happened to ask, just a couple of days before, when my birthday was. That meant I wasn’t going to get away with just sneaking through…
Everyone sang Happy Birthday on the bus, and then our tour guide playfully mentioned that in Turkey, the tradition is for the Birthday boy to give the gifts at a birthday party! I was unprepared, so I came down the front of the bus, took “Birthday Boy Privileges” by deciding that it was my turn to share my story for the group’s benefit, and when I had finished I presented my Bible as a gift to Bariş, the tour guide.
By the end of the day I had been sung-to three times, and had been given two cakes. The one on the left by one of my companions on the tour, and the one on the right by Bariş.
I was feeling the love.
Philadelphia literally means “city of brother-love”. It was appropriate!
The site was effectively the remains of a single building – a church. It was interesting enough, but most of the photos really aren’t anything to write home about.
In this photo you will see a mosque in the background. While we were at the site there was a long announcement made from the mosque’s public address system.. Apparently it was an announcement about a funeral that was happening that day.
The Sardis visit was split across two sites, both part of the ancient city of Sardis.
I will label these two sites “wow”, and “wow”.
The first “wow” was the gymnasium and the surrounding city features. The gymnasium has been substantially restored, and is visible from miles away on the main road.
Behind the impressive facade, there is what used to be a swimming pool. It is half filled in with soil and grass now, but that didn’t stop the boys having an Olympic swimming race. It was a relay, and at one point I think someone invented a new stroke – back-butterfly!
Having had grass placed on their heads, they all took the podium, to tumultuous applause.
We then saw the synagogue, which was remarkable. The inscriptions, the mosaics… it really was stunning.
I reflected at the time about the irony of having a synagogue immediately beside a Greco-Roman gymnasium. In the time of the Maccabees (Mid 2nd Century BC), there was a huge problem with Jews becoming hellenised even to the extent of having surgery to remove the evidence of their circumcision, so that when they competed in the athletics (this was always done naked…), they appeared to be non-Jews.
In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.’ This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. – 1 Maccabees 1:11-15
The Maccabees led an uprising which actually liberated Israel for a while, until the Romans took control in 63BC. The uprising included martyrs dying horrible deaths because they refused to Hellenise, and it included the rebels forcibly circumcising Jewish boys. These things were fresh in the “modern history” memory of the people during Paul’s ministry, when Paul was preaching a faith in Jesus Christ that did not require circumcision…
Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.
– Galatians 5:11
A short bus ride to the other side of the ancient city of Sardis brought us to the Temple of Artemis, and the next ‘wow’.
“What’s so ‘wow’ about that?” I hear you ask…
Well there’s a modest little 5th-6th century church tucked in right behind the temple!
In keeping with the Christian architecture of the Empire, it is modest and functional, and stands in stark contrast to the vastly imposing bulk of the temple of Artemis.
By the time the church was built, paganism was not tolerated in the Roman Empire any more, so the temple would have been disused. One can only imagine the sermons preached here, about the folly of man in building imposing edifices to gods that aren’t gods at all…
As we came through the hills into Kusadasi I was struck by the sudden shift to a California-Dream holiday town environment. As we rolled into town I quipped on facebook, “Turkvegas”.
The next day I repented of that. Sure, it’s heavily tourist-influenced, and there was all that “HOLLYWOOD” lettering on the hillsides, but my initial assessment was heavily influenced by the past several (long) days in which the only Turkish towns we had seen were inland, and not heavily tourist affected. In actual fact Kusadasi is lovely. I just wouldn’t want to be in town when all the cruise ships come through in the summer months!
Engagement with the Text
The text for the day was Colossians 3-4. Although it is probably at odds with most commentator structures for the text do to this, I read it this way:
Believers, live before the face of God (Col 3:1-4:2)
We, the apostles, are taking the heat for preaching the Gospel. Pray for us (Col 4:3-4)
As for you, just ensure that you are seen to be decent and discrete, and don’t get yourselves into unnecessary trouble (Col 4:5-6)
… and then the greetings.
In fact, I see a clear distinction between what Paul instructs believers to do, and what he does himself as an apostle. He does not exhort believers to go out evangelising! Not, that is, unless they happen to be an evangelist. His encouragements to Timothy are very different, for example.
This speaks very profoundly to me. I most certainly am an evangelist, but many in the tour group were not, nevertheless everyone had an equally important role to play in the working of the body of Christ. After all, as Paul rhetorically asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:29-30). The answer is “no”. I would love for our churches to stop trying to make the answer “yes”…
Philadelphia is also one of the Seven Churches of John’s Apocalypse:
‘And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of the holy one, the true one,
who has the key of David,
who opens and no one will shut,
who shuts and no one opens:
‘I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. If you overcome, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
– Revelation 3:7-13
This is an encouragement to the persecuted. Whether the “synagogue of Satan” was any kind of reference to the Emperor seems unimportant to me. It is sufficient that it is a Jewish community which is hostile to the Gospel message.
As Paul says elsewhere, “a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.” – Romans 2:29. This is consistent with what Jesus is saying in the letter to Philadelphia – the persecutors are not really “Jews”, in the sense of being part of the people of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. They are only physically circumcised, and are carnal, and are enemies of the Gospel. This is sufficient to label them, “the Synagogue of Satan”.
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