Big Idea: Ephesus was a well instructed church in an affluent, spiritual city
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are beginning a new sermon series focussed on the book of Ephesians. So today, I’m going to be giving you A) a kind of background on the City of Ephesus and B) some insight into the content in this book – before we jump in and look at the details next week.
Well friends as a church pastor I am told to both PREACH and TEACH. Preaching is when I am trying to touch your hearts with God’s Word and move you to action. Teaching is focussed more on touching your minds, so that you understand the Christian faith. And today’s sermonis going to be more A) teaching, than B) preaching. Its going to be more like a LECTURE, than a call to arms.
Quite a few Christians who have visited Jerusalem, and Ephesus and Corinth have told me it gave them amazing insights into the Bible. They had all been Christians for quite a while and knew their Bible well. But they all said that visiting places they read about in the Bible – really brought the story to life. So some told me about going to the GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE in Jerusalem and then intentionally walking the 2km to the TEMPLE MOUNT just to get a sense of what it was like for Jesus on the night he was arrested.
Others went to the Holy Sepuchre church in Jerusalem to see where Jesus was laid in the tomb. They said it was spine-tingling to think this may have been where Jesus was laid after he died on the cross. Now there is some debate as to whether the Holy Sepulchre church really is the site of Jesus’ tomb. THE PROBLEM IS the Holy Sepulchre church is located within the boundary walls of Old Jerusalem AND it is very unlikley that Jesus’ gravesite would have been within the Jerusalem city precincts. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified and buried outside the city walls (Mk.15:20ff; Heb.13:12-13).
But all my friends told me that visiting all these sites and seeing the history brought the Bible alive. 1) Seeing the wailing wall – helped them to appreciate the spiritual fervor of the Jewish people. 2) Standing on the Areopagus in Greece – they could better appreciate the Apostle Paul’s sermon in Acts 17. The view from Areopagus is absolutely amazing and as Paul talks about the God who made the world and everything in it – they could imagine Paul waving his arms around at the amazing view – saying the God of the Jews made it all. The thing we need to remember is the Bible is grounded in history and today as we prepare to jump into Ephesians – I want to bring some of that history alive.
Point 1: The City of Ephesus was a large Multicultural City in Turkey
Show: Ephesians 1:1-2 (READ)
Explain: As you can see this letter is addressed to the saints in Ephesus. (Slide 2) Ephesus is a city in Turkey. Now when Paul wrote this letter, Ephesus was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Rome 1m, Alexandria 400, Ephesus 250. And it was MULTICULTURAL. Ephesus included Romans, Greeks, Arabs and Jews of the Diaspora. It also had regular visitors from France, Spain and Africa. The population would have been around 250,000 people (ENTER). That’s bigger than Hobart, but a little bit smaller than Newcastle.
Now when Paul wrote the letter to Ephesus – he was in prison in Rome (ENTER). It was actually Paul’s FIRST IMPRISONMENT which we read about at the end of the book of Acts. (Now I know many people struggle to put the history of the Apostle Paul and all his different mission trips together. So I put together a Chronology of Paul’s life for you to take home and put in your Bibles). I hope that helps as we get into this book. Anyway Paul writes Ephesiansduring his first imprisonment in Rome in Spring 61AD (ENTER).
Now you’ll notice in verse 1 that after the word Ephesus there is a little “a” with a footnote. If you look down to the bottom you’ll see that it says “some of the early manuscripts do not have ‘in Ephesus’.” Most of the early manuscripts we have of the book of Ephesians include the words “in Ephesus”. But three of the earliest manuscripts of Ephesians –– do not have “in Ephesus.” Now I could get very technical. But the long and the short of it – is that most scholars believe that this book was not just intended for churches in Ephesus, but also for other churches in western Turkey. (ENTER) Now given this book seems to apply to more than one specific church – it does not address any one specific problem. It is actually a very general letter. Ephesians also lacks some of the personal touches we find in other Pauline letters. There are no greetings to specific people. It is just a broad, inclusive letter.
Now if you flick over to the END OF THE BOOK – look at; Eph.6:21-22 (READ). TYCHICUS is a Christian leader of sorts. In 2 Timothy – Tychicus seems to be the one who has to take up leadership of the church in Ephesus – so that Timothy can rush to Rome before Paul’s execution. But Tychicus’ seesm to have begun as Paul’s postman. So in 61AD Paul writes this letter to the Ephesians from Rome. But at the exact same time he writes 1) the letter to the Colossians, 2) a letter to the Laodiceans and 3) a personal letter to a man named – Philemon who has a slave named ONESIMUS. Tychicus and Onesimus are in Rome with Paul. But Paul now sends Tychicus and Onesimus (the slave) back to Turkey. TYCHICUS is an Ephesian and ONESIMUS is a Colossian. So they (ENTER: ENTER: ENTER) come first to Ephesus (where they drop off this letter). Then they travel down the road to Colosse and Laodicea (ENTER) and deliver the other letters. Now sadly, we no longer have the book of Laodicea, but scholars believe it would have been very similar to Ephesians and Colossians (ENTER)
Now look again at verse 21 (READ). Notice Tychicus is meant to tell the Ephesians how Paul is going. Although, Ephesians has some qualities that are VERY GENERAL AND NON-SPECIFIC – we know the Apostle Paul still had a very close relationship with many people in Ephesus. Here’s the background…
(Slide 3) Paul first visited Ephesus in the Autumn of 52AD while returning to Jerusalem from Corinth. We know Paul was rushed and only spent a few weeks in Ephesus. But he left Priscilla, Aquilla and Apollos there to instruct the people AND Paul promised he would return. (ENTER). A year later Paul came back to Ephesus for 3 years. First he spent 3 months teaching in the Jewish synagogue. (A lot of Jews became Christians, but some Jews were hostile). So Paul then left the synagogue and went to a Gentile lecture hall in Tyrannus. This is a place orators and philosophers would have used to promote their ideas. Paul used the place to promote Christianity for at least 2.5 years.
So the Ephesian church had both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The church was growing so much – that the idol makers of the Ephesus eventually drove Paul out of the city because his teaching was effecting their business. (ENTER). But about 6 months later Paul comes back for just one day. While his boat is docked in Miletus (on the way to Jerusalem) – Paul calls the church leaders of Ephesus to say goodbye. Paul knows he is about to be arrested and they all pray and cry together. So this is a close relationship. (ENTER) Finally, Paul writes the Ephesians this letter from Rome about 3-4 years after his arrest.
Point 2: The City of Ephesus was a Spiritually Dark Place
Show: Acts 19:8-11 (page ___________; READ)
Explain: Well as I’ve already said – Ephesus was a big multicultural city. But it was also a very SPIRITUAL CITY. Just as Rome or Mecca or Jerusalem might be called spiritual cities, so Ephesus was a spiritual city. The city revolved around a temple to a female deity called Artemis. (Slide 4) THE TEMPLE TO ARTEMIS was first built around 1100BC by the Amazons. According to Greek mythology the Amazons were 1)fierce women warriors, 2) who lived in women only communities at the edge of the world. The Amazons only interacted with men for the purpose of babies. Now for a long time – it was thought the Amazons – were purely myth.
But they have now found large, grave sites exclusively of women warriors – buried with all their armour – on the southern shores of the Black Sea. They have also discovered that some of these communities appear to be exclusively female. So the Amazon stories probably have their origins in these Black Sea communities. Anyway, these women warriorssupposedly set up the first temple to Artemis – a female god – around 1100BC. IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY Artemis (also known as Diana by the Romans) was the daughter of ZEUS and the older sister to APOLLOS. Artemis was a female hunter and in the heavenly pantheon she refused to marry.
In the ancient world it was generally accepted that women who married automatically became SUBSERVIENT to their husbands. So Artemis refused to marry so she could remain her own master – with equal power to any of the male gods. The Amazons (a women only community) then embraced this thinking and promoted it through Artemis worship. Artemis and the Amazons are among the first true FEMINISTS.
Now the original temple of Artemis burnt down on the day of Alexander the Great’s birth in 356BC. Again the myth says – Artemis was tending to the birth of Alexander the Great and while she was distracted the temple was ransacked by other gods. Anyway, immediately afterwards, the Ephesians went to work rebuilding the temple with no expense spared. When it was finished in 334BC it was the largest manmade structure on the face of the earth. It was the size of a football field, with 127 columns – 18 mtrs high and 2 mtrs wide. (That’s about 6x the size of our church – with a ceiling 4 mtrs higher). When Alexander the Great saw the temple as an adult he offered to cover all expenses if A MEMORIAL PLAQUE could be added to the building with his name. But given Artemis desire as a woman to be wed to no man – Alexander’s offer was politely declined. This shows the Ephesian commitment to the feminist ideal. Now let me show you what Antipater says in the C2nd BC (Slide 5)…
Apply: Ephesus held PRIDE OF PLACE in the seven wonders of the world and because Artemis was alongside Zeus as NUMBER 1 in the Greek pantheon – Ephesus drew visitors from as far afield as France, Spain and Africa. Ephesus was a proud city whose history, identity and even economy revolved around Artemis worship.
But alongside Artemis – there was also lots of sorcery, magic and witchcraft. It is widely recognized that Ephesus was the most accomodating city in the whole Roman empire to sorcery, witchcraft and black magic. We see some of this in Acts 19.
(Read Acts 19:17-20). Now the value of the sorceror scrolls is phenomenal. The original simply says – 50,000 pieces of silver. Now if that is 50,000 silver DENARII or DRACHMA’S that’s about 10-15 million dollars worth. If it means 50,000 TALENTS of silver it’s nearly a billion dollars worth of magic scrolls. (Most scholars think the smaller figure is more likely). But either way that is A LOT of black magic and sorcery. It may also be why Jewish Rabbis in Ephesus are having to attempt exorcisms. Where there is a lot of occult activity there tends to also be lots of demonic oppression. This is dangerous stuff that Christians should have nothing to do with. But Paul’s preaching is also changing things economically. The silversmiths of Ephesus also get grumpy because people are buying less idols of Artemis. (Slide 6) This is where the riot takes place in the second half of Acts 19. It’s the Great Theater of Ephesuscapable of seating 24,000 people. The mob in Acts 19 are in this theater wanting to lynch Paul for effecting their business.
Point is some of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians really does challenge the prevailing culture of the city. Paul talks in Ephesians 2 about THE CHURCH being a home for Jews and Gentiles where everyone is united in love. In a very multicultural city like Ephesus this is important teaching. When Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5 – this flies in the face not just of modern feminism, but the worship and theology of of Artemis in the C1st. When Paul says in Ephesians 6 – to put on the whole armour of God (so that we can stand against the forces evil in the heavenly realms) it is entirely relevant because Ephesus is a spiritually dark place, with lots of demonic activity.
And in this context…
Point 3: The City of Ephesus needs a Strong, United Church
Show: Eph.1:9-10 (READ)
Explain: This is what God is doing. Now to say that Ephesians has one BIG IDEA is difficult. But in some ways – all the little ideas in Ephesians can be grouped together under this verse. Paul says; the Creator God has revealed to us in Jesus – that his ultimate purpose is to bring all things IN HEAVEN (the spiritual realm) and on EARTH (the physical realm) TOGETHER under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words – Zeus is not the supreme god, nor is Artemis. Jesus has revealed that he is the true Son of God – by dying on the cross for our sins and then rising again from the dead. And it is “in Jesus” that God’s purposes will be fulfilled and our togetherness as a people realised.
Now in some ways – the book of Ephesians explains – IF THIS IS TRUE AND GOD IS WORKING TO BRING US TOGETHER IN JESUS 1) how should we live in the church? 2) How should we live as people in our daily life? What should our marriages be like and our families be like – if we truly live under Jesus rule? OBVIOUSLY knowing that Jesus is the supreme ruler should also give us confidence that Christians will ultimately prevail no matter the sorcery and witchcraft around us. But Paul wants us to see that Jesus’ rule should also be evident in our lives NOW. Wherever Satan (and the forces of darkness) rule there is generally division, disorder and disunity. But whenever Jesus brings people under HIS RULE – he brings togetherness, order and unity. Jesus’ doesn’t just bring light out of darkness, he also brings togetherness out of disunity.
SO SOME OF THE KEY WORDS in Ephesians (Slide 7) include unity 3x, one“ness” 28x and together 8x. This “togetherness” that Jesus is creating is especially found (ENTER) in the church 9x and the body of Christ 10x. The church should be a place of unity, not division. But the church in Ephesians is not focussed on the local church in Ephesus – but the worldwide universal church.
Pauls point is there should be ONENESS not only in the local Ephesus church, BUT UNITYwith everyone who is a true follower of Jesus. Paul’s focus is 1) unity in the universal church, 2) unity in the local church and all the way down to 3) unity in Christian families and marriages. Wherever Jesus rules unity and togetherness shou;ld prevail. And this unity should be expressed (ENTER) in love – 15x. Love is spoken of a lot – but primarily God’s love for us and our love for each other. In fact, some scholars believe that when Ephesians 4-5 tells us to AVOID CERTAIN SINS – Paul mainly focuses on sins that lead to disunity and break fellowship. Wherever Jesus rules togetherness, unity and love should prevail.
Now like all Paul’s letters (Slide 7) – he focuses first on Christian theology and then on Christian application. All Paul’s letters follow the same formula. He always explains what God has done for us in Jesus before he tells us what we should now do as Christians. AND THIS IS CLEAR IN EPHESIANS. In first half of the book Paul explains that God is creating a group of people (worldwide who are living under the rule of Jesus). This should be a small picture of heaven. In the church Jesus is breaking down divisions and bringing unity. Therefore, second half of the book: do everything you can to preserve this unity 1) in the church; 2) in your marriages; 3) in your family and 4) in your workplaces. Don’t let Satan divide you…
Apply: Friends, I think Ephesians is A GOOD BOOK for us to be studying as a church. Just as the city of Ephesus was hostile to Paul, so Sydney is becoming increasingly hostile to us. Like Ephesus (Sydney now has its own funny religion) – that is SECULAR, HUMANIST AND RATIONAL, but with a big slice of new-age witchcraft on the side. So under increasing pressure from this pseudo religion – we need to work at unity. Satan’s tactic is simple – divide and conquer. That’s how Satan works divide us and then conquer us. So we have to work at unity because it shows Jesus’ victory and makes us stronger.
But this unity should not just be in our local church. It should be evident in the wider Christian church. As the spiritual battle rages (and we get closer to the last days) we will need other faithful Anglican Churches, and Baptist churches, and Presbyterian and Charismatic and Evangelical churches to stand with us and us with them. But this is not straightforward. When times are good (and the church feels secure) – we tend to divide as Christians over the smallest of things. I don’t like the way you do baptism – so we’re going off to start another church. I don’t like the translation of the Bible you use, so we’re going off to start another church. It gets crazy. Now that is not to say theology is not important. God’s truth matters. Nor is it to say that we should give up on Christian denominations. I think in some ways a diversity of Christian denominations keeps the worldwide church honest and humble. But mature Christians should have a graciousness about them that transcends denominations and preserves unity. Mature Christians need to know what is TRUE, what is FALSE and what is a thing of INDIFFERENCE. There should be many things where Christians humbly agree to disagree in order to preserve the unity of the Holy Spirit, that exists under one head – even Jesus Christ. And I believe Ephesians probably has a helpful word to say to us – in this matter. Somehow we need to humbly walk the narrow path between the two collosal mountains of God unwavering truth and the Holy Spirits gracious unity.