A Megapolis & A Daunting Task

The opportunity was afforded me a few years back to visit the great New York City. Visiting this large metropolis was an awakening experience especially when you’re from a relatively small city in Canada. You get a real sense of awe when gazing your eyes upon the grandeur of the lights, the historic tall buildings, it’s monuments and the sheer volume of people travelling through its streets. New York a center for art, music, and theatre (and sometimes combined) and the best acts around the globe flock there. It has the most exquisite museums and art galleries anywhere in the world. By inference this city didn’t achieve it’s magnificence overnight. It took many years of development and New York has some serious history associated with it. What also comes to mind in pondering this megapolis, is the other side of the beauty. The reality of crime, sex and violence that plagues the city which to my understanding has gotten far more intense since my time there.

One other thing that was noticeable was the diversity of religion. Much like their shopping district, if you wanted to find a religion, it was available. Various religious beliefs were present whether in their edifices or someone in the streets with a placard trying to make a sale by warning about the end of the world. You didn’t have to look far for a religion to fit your needs. With that said, one must wonder how a person attempting to start a church with little financial backing would go about to bring his/her faith to the Big Apple? Imagine the intimidation of walking into a city staring a soup pot of various beliefs and attempting to establish your own. Now, try to picture yourself entering this city and you are preaching a message that goes explicitly against the establishment so much so that not only are you riling up the local temple priests, Rabbis, or imams but now you have the mayor and governor attempting to put shut you down. Why you may ask? Because you’re preaching a message that is completely opposed to theirs and you’re refusing to bow the knee to theirs! Because your message is more than simply an agnostic yoga class. You’re preaching a message that there is only one God in a city where most believe there a multitude, and everyone of them is seen as authentic. You are proclaiming a Messiah who is calling on them to repent from their sins, be it their idols, their sexual perversions, their oppression, and to embrace Him as the only way to be right with this One God. But not only this, you’re telling the government officials that they’re not in charge. You’re establishing the fact that Jesus is Lord over them, and not their Democrat representative. Needless to say, your entrance into the city wouldn’t be welcome and how intimidating would it be for you to be charged with this daunting task.

The City of Ephesus

The ancient city of Ephesus is today located in Turkey in a city known as Selcuk. Much like New York is today, in its heyday, it was a wealthy city full of grandeur and upscale pagan culture. The city boasted of an extraordinary harbour able to dock many large ships which provided it with a healthy economy. In addition, Ephesus also connected many highways which made it a very important commercial town hence wealth was prevalent, and it was a suiting abode of many rich elites. The city was known for its superior philosophical Greek wisdom, and it boasted of one of the most desired libraries in all the land. Ephesus was especially renowned however for the centrality of its pagan culture. The most well-known was its worship in the temple of Artemis (shrine of Diana) which in its day was considered as one of the seven wonders of the world. It was a center for gathering in the worship of pagan deities only second to Rome. The locals were persuaded that they were the guardians of this temple and that her image fell from the sky (Acts 19:35). For those today who enjoy stateliness and big flashy places of worship, they would have certainly been in awe. When the first Christians arrived in this city, they were surrounded by vast arrays of pagan multiculturalism dominated by a plurality of gods. One of the big business opportunities was to sell pagan idols of Artemis and any disruption in that endeavour may have brought some local retribution (Acts 19:23-25).  They had a lot of work to do to spread the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection along with notion that it wouldn’t be easy to spread their views of monotheism and the Lordship of the Son of David in polytheistic city which thrived in Emperor worship.

Paul in Ephesus

As daunting as it was, the apostle Paul, a man of Jewish and Roman descent from Tarsus, through the Holy Spirit and with his marching orders in hand (Matthew 28:18-20) entered the city amongst all this intimidation. Paul visited the city during his 2nd missionary journey to the nations, and he left those traveling with him, Priscilla and Aquila, to proclaim Christ in the synagogues to the Jews who lived there (Acts. 18:19-21). He proclaimed to them repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). On his third missionary journey he returned to the great city and spent approximately 3 years there (Acts. 20:31). He found disciples of John the Baptist to whom he bestowed the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7) and at his arrival spent three months reasoning and persuading the Jews in the synagogues that about the kingdom of God was at hand with no success. He then made his way to the school of Tyrannus to reason with them and demonstrate that the Kingdom had come to both Jews & Greeks (Acts 19:8-10). In those days, the kingdom was being established by miracles (Acts 19:11-16) and many repented and believed both of Jewish and Greek descent (Acts 19:17-20). This was disturbing some of the locals since some businesses who were profiting from making idols for the shrine of Dianna. It was bad for business to have a sudden surge of people who were attempting to persuade others in the city not to commit the sin of idolatry (Acts 19:23-27). For this reason, two believers, Gaius and Aristarchus were dragged out of the theatre and most in attendance were confused why they were there but regardless the men wanted to make sure that everyone knew they were siding with Artemis rather than Yahweh (Acts 19:28-34). The uproar was so intense that they were being accused of rioting (Acts 19:40).

During Paul’s stay in Ephesus, he preached house to house (Acts 20:20), testifying to both Jews and Greeks repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21) and proclaiming to them the whole purposes of God (Acts 20:27). He was upfront with the elders that they needed to be on guard because from within their ranks the wolves would come to devour the congregation (Acts 20:28-30).  It is unquestionable that he cared deeply for the believers and had grown very close to them (Acts. 20:29-38).

An Apocalyptic Church

After Paul’s departure, the church continued in the region. This church’s mention in the Book of Revelation leaves us with the impression that this church had been through much turmoil seemingly due to some meddling from false teachers. As we saw, they also received repercussions to standing firm for the truth. They acted in the spirit of the Bereans in that they had “put to the text those who call themselves apostles and they are not”. The strength of the assembly was found in their ability to receive the teaching they received from the apostle Paul (Acts 20:28-32) and specifically his warning against false teachers creeping in (1 Timothy 1:3-11; 4:1-8). Churches have long lost their desire to filter out false teaching and its about time they get back to that. Their incredible ability to deal with false teachers had lost something else of great value along the way mainly their “first love” and they are exhorted by the Lord of Glory to be mindful of who they were in the beginning when they were a vibrant witness for the Lord Jesus. 

A Task

While it certainly can be intimidating to consider sharing the gospel in your local community, consider that it’s quite less daunting than entering a city where there are no believers, where people have never heard of Christ and especially a place where you know that you will rile up the crowds with your message to the extent of being lynched. The task to bring the gospel of the kingdom to the nations is no less urgent today than it was in the 1st century. The marching orders are still the same and the Holy Spirit is still among us. The kingdom is to be proclaimed to all the nations and they need to be baptized and taught obedience. Thus far, as I’m sure you can see, we still have a long way to go. It should also be noted that the churches also have a responsibility to keep watch for false teachers but in a way that won’t dim your testimony to the world. We are still responsible in lighting a fire of witness to our communities and proclaiming the words of the living God. Fly the flag high of the gospel of the kingdom and ring the bells to summon those to come to the Lord of Glory.


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