Series on the 7 Churches
Ephesus was one of the most remarkable cities of the ancient world. Paul labored and lived here for three years so we want to know a little about it. In the time of the New Testament, this city was the 2nd largest in the world behind Rome itself. There were 250,000 residents of the metropolis. (That’s more than all the city of Chesapeake (229,000–and the population of Accomack 33,000). 7 times larger than Accomac). Rome, understanding its strategic value made it the capital of the Asian province. It was the Atlanta of its day, with everything coming and going through Ephesus. The word Ephesus itself means desire and this was a city of passion, energy, and desire.
If you take a tour of ancient Ephesus you will surely stroll down Marble Street, the very street that led to the famous theater mentioned in Acts 19, where a riot broke out. This famous theater seated 25,000 people and is still visible today in all its glory. Paul had been preaching against idols and false gods such as Artemis. A lot of people made their living making and selling these statues and business was down thanks to Paul. So the people gathered in this theater and screamed and hollered for hours and hours. (Read text in Acts 19:29—RUSHED INTO THE THEATER . . .
This theater was on Marble Street. And if you stroll a little past the theater toward the Celcus Library you will surely stop and notice the imprint of a woman’s foot, carved into the marble stone. It is on the right side of the street and it was positioned with all the skill of our modern advertising executives. (Called by some as the first professional advertisement). It can’t be ignored. It demands your attention. It gets you thinking. It’s the marble calling card of the brothel that is still there in ruins today. The brothel had two floors. The main floor had a beautiful atrium with gorgeous mosaics of the seasons some of which are still visible today. The atrium welcomed the guests who were looking for love. The building also had a second floor where the smaller more intimate rooms resided. Etched into the marble stone beside the left foot is the drawing of a woman with an impressive hair style and below that a drawing of a pulsing heart of love.
A typical day for a resident of this city might be to arise and go the public baths of Varius on the east side of town and catch up on the latest news while bathing in the various pools of water, the hot, tepid and cold pools. (frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium) Then from there you would stroll past the Temple of Isis and wander into the smaller Odeon where a group of actors was rehearsing for an evening performance. The Odeion held 1500 people, perfect for a cozy up close experience of some current play. Then on down Marble Street past the huge theater empty at the moment. Then past the brothel and the alluring footprint. Many shops would be open and wares of all kinds would be on display with vendors and business people serving light food for the early risers. And then on toward the end of the street where the huge library of Celcus was open for a quiet hour of reading
It is to this city of Asia, Ephesus, that Christ brings a commendation and a warning. Surely we here at Grassfield can benefit from the words of the Lord as He walked among the saints on these very streets. We know the Lord was there because of the phrase in Rev 2:1—The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this . . .
We know from these words that our Lord is vitally interested in what goes in the Ephesian Church, in the Drummondtown Baptist Church. He observes, takes notes, writes His critique of how we are doing and gives us feedback through His Spirit. Churches that pass His test are commended and those that don’t are reproved and given warnings. Grassfield is being watched and critiqued by this very Lord who walked the streets of ancient Ephesus. We should look with keen interest into the affairs of these churches and learn from history’s lessons.
Paul knew this city very well. He walked these very streets himself for three years. (Acts 20:28-31). It was a hard ministry. There were many detractors, many people who resisted the message of grace.
When Paul arrived in Ephesus the first time there only about 12 disciples. (12 in a city of 250,000). He met with them, baptized them in the name of Jesus since they had only had the baptism of John the Baptist. And from that humble beginning, he built a great church of dedicated believers who anchored the work of God in Asia.
Those early days were so exciting in the life of the Ephesian congregation. Paul set up a school in a local building owned by Tyrannus. Tyrannus was a Greek schoolteacher who had his own class of local pupils. But when his day ended, Paul stepped in and taught the disciples the truths of the Gospel. He did this daily for two years. Every day he gathered his flock together at the schoolhouse. Every day they walked past the baths, past the theater, past the brothel, past the library to the little school that Paul had set up in the building that Tyrannus owned.
**Many years ago when I was just out of seminary I linked up with the Illinois Baptist Convention and became a church planter. They sent me to Ottawa, a town of about 25,000 about 2 hours west of Chicago. I started off with 7 members (Paul had 12 and I had 7) and we met on the second floor of the YMCA. I was so excited to have a church. It didn’t matter to me at all that I had no pulpit, no pews, no choir, no hymnbooks, no WMU, no deacon board, no building of my own. I had seven members and I had one sermon. That was enough to get started.
Each Sunday for several months I learned to preach over the sounds of the bustling YMCA members. On the first floor just below me, there was always a rousing game of men’s basketball. I could see them while I preached. The second-floor room I was in was surrounded by glass windows. Cheers and jeers punctuated my sermonic points. When a basket was made the players would whoop and howl and when somebody got body blocked I would hear some choice words that usually didn’t blend well my second or third point But I just kept on preaching. And people started coming.
After awhile I realized that the Y wasn’t the best place to be and it wasn’t big enough. So I looked around and I found the Reddick Mansion in the center of the city. (When you go home I want you to google the Reddick Mansion and look at it. It is one of our nation’s most historic buildings. (Athe Chamber of Commerce was meeting upstairs). It is a 22-room pre-civil war mansion of the utmost elegance and style. It had ornamental plaster cornices, ceiling medallions, marble fireplaces and woodwork throughout unmatched in beauty and craftsmanship. The Lincoln-Douglas debates happened just in front of this very mansion. I used to sit on the steps and imagine watching Lincoln argue his cases before me.
I think I know how Paul felt finding a suitable building and gathering his members and friends there to preach and pray. I was at the Reddick Mansion and Paul was at the school of Tyrannus building up the Ephesian congregation. There was a genuine love among these early brethren. Miracles happened daily in these early years. The Scriptures say that God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul (Acts 19:11–). Paul was so anointed with the Holy Spirit that the handkerchiefs and aprons he wore when he worked would be carried from his body to the sick and their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
So powerful was the ministry of the church that an entire movement sprang up against the magic of the day. There was even a book burning. (Read Acts 19:19-20).
But something had happened as the decades rolled on. Something troubling. By the time of our Revelation text, Paul was gone, martyred in Rome. The congregation still met and worshiped and prayed and did good works. But something was missing. It was not their perseverance in the face of opposition. No, this congregation had steeled themselves well to resist the evil and temptations of the city. But something was wrong. It wasn’t that the church had grown weary and didn’t have the energy to carry on with the mandate of the Gospel. No. They were hard workers and they stuck to their mission. But something was missing. Something was wrong.
This repudiation of the church has echoed through the centuries with a hauntingly sad reverberation. Lost your first love. Lost your first love. The heavenly criticism tolls it dreary message up and down Marble Street and causes us all to wonder. How could this happen? The dynamic first pastor hasn’t been gone but a few years and already the glow is gone. The embers of spiritual passion and fervor are cooling. The traditions of the church are solid. The members continue to meet and help the poor and read the Scriptures. But still the toll rings out its devastating message—Lost your first Love. Lost your first love.
And swiftly behind the echoing toll comes the harsh reality of God. I am not happy with this. And unless you remember where you used to be, and repent and do the deeds you did at first I will come and remove your lampstand.
Every church, Grassfield in no exception, must grapple with this very command of God. He walks among us and looks for love. He looks for that first love, that first commitment, that first joy and determination and zeal. It is the Lord who is looking for love now, not some sailor off a ship staggering down Marble Street. It is the Lord Himself searching for the love that once burned brightly for the cause of Christ.
As we march on into the blank pages of a new year, let’s all vow to restore the first love. Let’s all vow to find that spark of spiritual fervor that Paul had when he walked down Marble Street in the ancient city of Ephesus.
(Photo of Ephesian theater) http://www.ephesus.us/ephesus/theatre.htm