“To the Church at Ephesus write”
October 16th 2016
Introduction: A nervous bride came to her pastor for some advice in dealing with her anxiety about the wedding service. The pastor answered with a sure-fire formula, “As you come through the door, keep your eyes down, don’t look around at all the people, keep your gaze fixed upon the aisle before you.” Then he said, “when you get about half-way down the aisle, raise your eyes just enough that you can see the altar and fix your eyes there until you are nearly to the front. Then lift your eyes just a little more and fix them on him-him who is your beloved.
The day of the wedding came. The church was full. The wedding march began. The doors of the sanctuary opened and there stood the beautiful bride in all her glory. The young bride seemed remarkably composed but the people wondered why as she walked down the aisle they could hear her mumbling under her breath these words, “Aisle, alter, him, over and over.” Many young brides marry with the intention that “I’ll altar him” to be sure, but that is not why I tell you this story today at the beginning of this series of sermons dealing our need to return to our first love.
The term “first love” in vs.4 has definite romantic overtones. Can a couple married for 15 years or more recapture the intensity and excitement of their first years of marriage? Most of us would answer “NO!” The problem with honeymoons is they don’t last a life time…or do they? A second honeymoon is actually little more than a vacation, the critics say. The most pertinent question is this, “What is the source of love and can we return to it?”
The message of Christ answers with a resounding “YES!!!” Again and again we can be renewed, replenished, and reawakened, but only if we are willing to go to the source of our spiritual strength, return to our first love, Jesus our Lord and our Savior.
I want to outline for us what I have felt God laying on my heart in the series of sermons about returning to our first love, Jesus. To start with, today, I want to lay the ground work so to speak with a brief conversation about the city of Ephesus, where the Apostle Paul had labored and planted a church. As I talk about Ephesus, I invite you to let your minds wander and consider how God has worked, and is working, and will work, in the city of York, in and through the York First Church of the Brethren. Now that is for today.
Next I want us to take time looking at the church of Ephesus. It’s work and ministry in the city and community in which it was planted. Then the final message will deal with you and me and God working and through our lives where we are right now. Not where we were in the past as wonderful and awesome as it may have been. Not what God will do in the future through the body of Christ gathered here in this place, but what is God doing through us right now! Let’s get started.
I.) The city, Ephesus, York
A.) Lumen Asiae – literally, “The light of Asia.”
1. It was a great city!
Ex. Pergamum was the capital of the region, but Ephesus was the greatest city!
2. In the time of John, Paul and the early church, Ephesus was the greatest harbor of Asia.
3. The river, Cayster ran to the Mediterranean through the city. (Today the ruins of Ephesus are some six miles inland from the coast)
4. Roads from all directions ran through the city.
Ex. Strabo, the ancient geographer, called Ephesus “The Market of Asia.” It may well be that later in the book of the Revelation, in chapter 18:11-13, John is seeing nothing other than the riches of the market-place in Ephesus when he writes, “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is human souls.”
5. Ephesus is the gateway city through which travelers and merchants passed.
6. Perhaps New York, or Philadelphia would be more appropriate than York? Think about the commerce that happens here in our city today.
7. Ephesus was the highway to Rome.
8. In later times, when the martyrs were brought from Asia to be flung to the lions in the arena in Rome, Ignatius called Ephesus the highway of the martyrs.
9. It truly was the wealthiest and greatest city in all Asia at the time.
10. The Vanity Fair of the ancient world.
Ill. Ephesus was a “free city” in the Roman empire which means they were faithful to Rome and the empire. It also meant that within there borders they were self governing. They never had to have Roman troops garrisoned in the town to keep people in line. It was what was known as an “Assize” town. The Roman governor of the region would once or twice a year come to town and it was a great holiday. The governor would hold court in that town. This was a great honor for Ephesus. One time every year there were games held in Ephesus and they were the most famous games in Asia. Do you get the picture? This town enjoy a special place in the Roman empire.
One step further, it was the center of worship to the Greek god, Artemis(or Diana) of the Ephesians. The temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was four hundred and twenty five feet long by two hundred and twenty feet wide; it had one hundred and twenty columns, each sixty feet high, each the gift of a king, and thirty six of them were richly gilded and inlaid with gold. Ancient temples consisted mostly of colonnades with only the center portion roofed over. The image of the god, Artemis was one of the most sacred images in the ancient world. It was by no means beautiful; it was a squat, black, many-breasted figure, but it was so ancient that no one knew its origin. Let’s look at Acts 19:23-41.
In the time that John is writing to the church in Ephesus not only did the believers there have the Artemis cult to contend with, which was very popular, they also had the beginnings of emperor worship as well. Ephesus was a spiritual center as well as an economic and military center. They were supporters of Rome pure and simple!
Because of this they were also a very cosmopolitan city, diverse in nationality and culture. Not unlike our own city of York in this regard. The down side of this is that it led to an influx of a strong criminal element along with the immorality of the worship of Artemis. I forgot to mention the temple prostitution that was a part of the cult following.
Ex. Heraclitus was one of the most famous ancient philosophers; he was known as the as the “weeping philosopher” because he felt that no one could live in Ephesus without weeping at the immorality which was on every side!
Ephesus was a difficult place to plant a church and to be the church for sure. Yet in this environment Paul labored the longest in his ministry. It is in Ephesus that Timothy, Paul’s spiritual son does his ministry work. It is in Ephesus that we find Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos, saints of the early church to be sure.
John spent much time in Ephesus and it is said that he brought Mary, Jesus’ mother here and that she is buried there.
Ex. Ignatius of Antioch wrote his letter to Ephesus on his way to be martyred in Rome, he could write, “You were ever of one mind with the apostles in the power of Jesus Christ.”
Conclusion to message: When we think of York First, the city of York, and the world in which we live, we are not so much different than the world of ancient times. Sure our technology has changed but the human condition has not. Sin is still sin, love is still love. Jesus Christ is still God’s son and our way of salvation. We have a choice today, we can wallow in self pity or we can say we are God’s people and we have a mission as long we are here to share the love of God with all people and to do it faithfully.
The church at Ephesus is gone, but there are souls in heaven today because of the faithfulness of the saints who lived in the midst of the city and community and shared God’s love faithfully.
Next week were are going to continue our look at Ephesus, Christ and his church in the city and community.