Michael Bird is a fine New Testament scholar who has returned to Oz relatively recently from Scottish environs. He is a New Testament lecturer at Crossway College, Brisbane.
He has a very ‘Aussie way’ of communicating – especially in less than formal scholarship arenas. Last month he penned an opinion piece at ABC Religion and Ethics, School Chaplains: The Real Issue Isn’t the Separation of Church and State. Michael writes:
“…The separation of church and state is just a smoke screen.
The real issue is that some of the more ardently godless simply do not want kids or teenagers to have a positive experience of religion or religious people. After all, there are stereotypes to be maintained. All Catholics are child molesters and all Evangelicals are psychotic crazies trying to sign you up to their weird cult.
The problem is, of course, that if you start meeting some of these people and learn that they are not sexually-predatory-religious-whackos, but are sincere and caring people, many of whom have left lucrative careers in order to become school chaplains, then these stereotypes become rather difficult to maintain.
The myth of religious dysfuntionality must be impressed upon our youth and it is rather inconvenient for this dominant secularist myth-making if young people meet functional and likable men and women of faith.
If separation of church and state were the real issue, then there would be calls for the abolition of all chaplains, not just school chaplains.
For the most vocal opponents of faith, freedom of religion is principally freedom from religion. Religious people are permitted to exist as long as their religion is neither seen nor heard.
It is a bullying dogma that aims to deny the religious any voice or influence, much less a platform in a place like a public school, where young people can get to know them and – Stalin forbid – even start to like them. Or, worst-case scenario, young people might begin to find their way of life so attractive and their worldview so coherent, that they might even aspire to be like them.
That’s the real issue, if you ask me.”
Well it’s Melbourne Cup day. The church’s Annual Report is due to be released this coming weekend. So with seemingly all of Melbourne caught up in Cup fever, I sat down this morning to pen some words on the last twelve months. Here’s how I began:
“We have just experienced a dramatic year in the life of this church. There have been many truly wonderful spiritual highlights and blessings. And we have grieved together at the home call of my wife, Sheryl. It has been a dramatic year both for our church community and for myself personally. ”God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble….The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Ps 46:1,11)”
I didn’t get much further. But I have cleaned out the tear ducts!
Then as I sought to resume my writing, I came across the eulogy given by Steve Jobs’ biological sister, Mona Simpson, at his memorial service held on 16th October at the Memorial Church of Stanford University. It has just been published in The New York Times.
“…Steve became ill and we watched his life compress into a smaller circle. Once, he’d loved walking through Paris. He’d discovered a small handmade soba shop in Kyoto. He downhill skied gracefully. He cross-country skied clumsily. No more.
Eventually, even ordinary pleasures, like a good peach, no longer appealed to him. Yet, what amazed me, and what I learned from his illness, was how much was still left after so much had been taken away.
I remember my brother learning to walk again, with a chair. After his liver transplant, once a day he would get up on legs that seemed too thin to bear him, arms pitched to the chair back. He’d push that chair down the Memphis hospital corridor towards the nursing station and then he’d sit down on the chair, rest, turn around and walk back again. He counted his steps and, each day, pressed a little farther.
Laurene got down on her knees and looked into his eyes.
“You can do this, Steve,” she said. His eyes widened. His lips pressed into each other.
He tried. He always, always tried, and always with love at the core of that effort. He was an intensely emotional man.”
Hmm. Still need to finish that Report…..
Rev 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
Patmos is one place I have really wanted to visit, ever since the Book of Revelation was so instrumental in my own coming to faith. And so it was very special to visit this rather small, rocky Greek island. Patmos is about 30km south of Samos and is only 11km long and 5km wide. Skala is the little village at the main harbour.
So here is John – stuck on an island. A captive of the massively pagan and immoral Roman rulers. Surrounded by pagan temples on Greek islands and nearby Asia Minor. Not far from Ephesus, with the grotesque idol of Artemis of Ephesus.
And the God of heaven and earth sends His revelation to John.
I took a taxi up to the Monastery of St John the Theologian. This is a wonderful Greek Orthodox monastery to visit. While there I reread the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation. I then walked down the hill to the Cave of the Apocalypse. Half way down I stopped, took in the magnificent scenery and read Rev 4 & 5.
I then came to the cave, which is now a small Orthodox chapel, and sat at the entrance and read the remainder of the Book of Revelation. It was wonderful to be there, even if this is not the exact spot where John was “on the Lord’s day.” Rev 21 & 22 come with such impact after the upheavals of the earlier chapters.
I then spent some time inside the cave (Chapel of St Anne), reflecting and praying. After about another hour I left, thrilled that I had finally made it to Patmos. But even more thrilled that the Lamb wins and that in His marvellous grace, He saved me.
Here are some pictures:
- looking down on island and harbour, from the Monastery of St John the Theologian
- icons at main entrance to the Monastery of St John
- Main Church
- frescoes on the wall outside Church, depicting scenes from the life of John (2 pictures)
- frescoes on the ceiling outside Church
- sign to Cave
- icon at the entrance to the Monastery of the Apocalypse
- Cave entrance
- looking into Cave (Chapel of St Anne)
- text of Rev 14:7, displayed in one of the passageways.
Samos is an ideal island from which to explore nearby Patmos. I was given excellent travel information on Samos from my Greek newsagent in Lower Templestowe, Melbourne who comes from there.
The island is large and readily accessible – either by ferry from Kusadasi, Turkey or by air from Athens. Samos has very rugged scenery, numerous attractive beaches and lots of places to enjoy Greek food.
The pictures are:
- Samos Town
- Samos Town harbour
- Samos Town at night
- Karlovasi harbour front (on the northern shoreline of the island)
- Pythagorion harbour front (on the southeast side of the island) from where the hydrofoil, Flying Dolpin, departs for Patmos
- Flying Dolphin
Rev 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
Ephesus is simply a ‘must see’ place. Settlement at this western Anatolian harbour sites goes back perhaps as far as the Neolithic period. Greeks later came and settled around 1000 BC, Lydia conquered it, then Persia, then Alexander the Great, then the Seleucids qnd finally thriving under Roman rule. It became the capital of the Roman province of Asia. At that stage its population would have been around a quarter of a million with a Jewish community of maybe 10,000.
The Temple of Artemis (of the Ephesians) was first built about 560 BC. This massive Temple brought economic prosperity to the city, serving as a bank and drawing people from all over the ancient world.
The Apostle Paul visited Ephesus briefly on his second missionary journey, but stayed there three years on his third journey. His preqching harmed the commerce associated with worship of Artemis and a riot ensued (see Acts 19:23-41).
The Apostle John, according to tradition, moved to Ephesus from Jerusalem. From here he was exiled to Patmos, then returned to Ephesus where he lived out his days, caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The message to the church at Ephesus in the Book of Revelation is a very challenging one – here was a church that placed a great priority on truth and also served. Yet, they had lost their ‘first love’ for Jesus. They are called to repent. I always find this a stark reminder that being a Christian is about Christ – being in intimate relationship with Him. Everything else must flow from that.
The pictures below are:
- Port city of Kusadasi (from the balcony of Mr Happy’s Liman Hotel – great little hotel with wonderful service)
- House of the virgin Mary
- Odeon (place of meeting for City Council and also for concerts)
- Kuretes Street
- Fountain of Laecanius Bassus
- Library of Celsus (lecture hall to left)
- Grand Theatre
- Artemis of Ephesus (housed at Ephesus Museum)
- Church of St John (built by Emperor Justinianus in mid 6th century AD)
Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.”
Hierapolis (modern day Pamukkale) is a must to see – both a natural wonder and a significant historical site – and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you approach the area, you are presented with white limestone cliffs, which simply become more majestic as you draw closer. There are spectacular water pools and mineral formations. There is a pool open for public swimming (see below).
Hierapolis was one of the major cities in the Lycus Valley, along with Colossae and Laodecia. It was founded perhaps as far back as thev 4th century BC. The city was rebuilt twice after devastating earthquakes. Like other cities in the Valley, it was famous for its textile industry and its high mineral content water was considered to have healing properties.
Apollo was honoured as the city’s deity, and Pluto, god of the underworld, was also worshipped. Again like other cities in the Valley, it had a considerable Jewish community. In the early church at Hierapolis, Philip (either the Apostle or the Evangelist (Acts 6:1-7)?) was honoured. In fact, the tomb of ‘Philip’ (see photo below) has only recently been excavated. Papias was bishop of the city in the early 2nd century AD and suggested to be a disciple of John.
Pictured below are the swimming pool and limestone cliifs and rock pools at Pamakkule; Roman theatre; recently discovered tomb of ‘Philip’; martyion of Philip; Byzantium church ruins.
Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Laodecia was founded in the 3rd century BC by the Seleucid king, Antiochus II. Located at the crossroads of two major trade routes.
Zeus was the principal god worshipped in the city, but there was also a significant Jewish population. The Gospel was likely spread by Ephrasus through the Lycus Valley, including Laodecia and Colossae.
The city was designed on a grid plan. A sewerage channel ran underneath the main street (see below). The colonnaded street was the main east-west route through the city. The Roman Temple had a basement for storage of the Temple gifts. Adjacent to the Temple area there are ruins of a Byzantine church.
Laodecia is located 16 km from Colossae (with its good supply of cold water) and 10 km from hierapolis (famous for its hot springs). Laodecia’s water was of poor quality and likely lukewarm (see Rev 3:15f for imagery). The city was a banking centre and wealthy (see Rev 3:17 for imagery). It was also famous for its textile industry and medical school, specialising in eye and ear complaints (see Rev 3:17f).
Col 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.”
Colossians is such a wonderful part of Scripture. Perhaps my favourite book in the New Testament. On the complete sufficiency of Jesus. So it is paradoxical that the ruins at Colossae are small, off the beaten track and a little tricky to find!
It was once a prosperous town in the Lycus Valley, about 160 km east of Ephesus. It was well-known for its purple-coloured wool. It was also on a main trade route.
Below are shots of the Lycus Valley, the mound of the unexcavated acropolis site of ancient Colossae and some ruins.
But far more important than these ruins is the truth about who Jesus is, and what He has accomplished:
Col 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Rev 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Sardis, during Roman times, was the centre for the worship of Artemis. It also had a large Jewish community and a Christian church at least by the end of the 1st century AD. A church community that was not travelling well in the eyes of the Lord.
The ancient city was located next to the Pactolus River, and the city’s acropolis positioned on a spur of the Tmolus Mountains (see picture below). These mountains were associated in mythology with the birthplace of gods Dioysus and Zeus.
Sardis was the centre of the powerful Lydian kingdom (invented coinage). It had a gold refining industry and wool dying. Sardis was a significant city under a succession of rulers – Persia, Greece and Rome.
The Jewish synagogue (see below), adjacent to the large bath-gymnqsium complex, was the largest non-Palestinian (Diaspora) synagogue. It could hold 1000 people and had unusual features – an eagle table with two lion statues – reused from elsewhere in the synagogue, suggesting the significant integration of the Jewish community into the society of Sardis.
Leading to the bath-gymnasium complex and synagogue was a row of shops, established in the 4th century AD, containing some Christian symbols.
A short distance away was the Temple of Artemis. It is one of the seven largest Greek temples, with a size of 91 m by 49 m. During Roman times, the Temple was also associated with the Imperial cult.
In the 4th century AD, a Christian chapel (see below) was built at one corner of the then disused Temple.