This is not a post about evangelism or about this “technique” often used to guide (coerce? trick?) people in to Christian life (though, perhaps by prefacing with this sentence, the post sort of is about that). This post is about:
In February, I spent a little over a week visiting biblical sites in Turkey and Greece. This is a picture I took in Phillipi of the road leading in to the main city. If you read Acts 16:16, and the following verses, Paul and Silas walk into Phillipi with a “female slave who had a spirit” following them. Because this is THE road that leads in to the city center, almost undoubtedly Paul and Silas walked on this very turf. For me, this was the most significant destination on our trip because (since I had to come late due to illness), it was the first place where I had actually stood on ground that biblical characters had been. It was really powerful to walk on this ground, to imagine Paul and Silas talking about their recent stay with Lydia down the road (before this site, we had visited the possible location of Lydia’s baptism). The road leads eventually to the agora, the marketplace, where Paul and Silas were brought before authorities, tried,and then beaten and thrown in jail. The story ends with them singing their way out of jail (brings back Children’s Choir memories of a song we used to sing: “I read about, how Paul and Silas were in jail…”) and the jailer begging for salvation.
It was truly amazing to stand in the very area where they would have been and then wander across the highway to a jail (though this particular jail probably was not the same one).
What made this whole site experience even more earth-shaking for me was what we found across the road. Basilica A, one of the early-ish Christian churches (I can’t remember the date, but it’s not super super early) was there, but it was built next to an old Roman arena. The arena was used for many things, but at one point in history, it was most certainly used for persecuting Christians. In arenas like this one, Christians would often be thrown to the lions.
To me, the reality of suffering with Jesus came alive in this moment. But Christians weren’t killed for worshipping a different God. Christianity undermined the Empire and the whole way the world was going and so Christians had to be snuffed out.
The example at Phillipi, and just in general my trip to Greece and Turkey, made Christianity immediately after Jesus mean more to me, and seem more real to me, than anything else I’ve ever done. When I think about the Church today, I have to think about their suffering too, because they are a part of my family history. Just like some people think of ancestors who fought in this war, or were president of this company, or invented this, these early Christians are my ancestors who fought the good fight, who “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14).