On day two of our trip through western Turkey we were able to visit 3 amazing sites: Smyrna, Sardis and Philadelphia – each having received a personal letter from Jesus. Before I share much about the sites I want to share an important piece of background to the land of Turkey. If you’ve ever wondered “Why Turkey”…you aren’t the only one! But the geographic location of Turkey gives great insight into why this area, the coast of the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas are so important. First, Turkey serves as a land bridge between Europe and Asia as well as the middle East. So, when Christianity started in Jerusalem, shortly after the resurrection of Jesus, if you wanted to get the gospel to the rest of the known world, Turkey was a key land. In other words, the gospel is for others too, not just a few and therefore we are wise to focus on areas that bridge many different cultures and lands. Second, the western side of Turkey was home to several of the largest ports in the world at this time. Again, if you wanted to take anything anywhere, you went to the ports. So, since the gospel is not just for a few and for all and since God has called us to be a people who sharing the gospel with others Turkey makes strategic sense. Now, here is a little bit of what we were able to see in Turkey on day 2.
The Gospel is for others too,
not just a few!
Smyrna was a city that was known as being very beautiful, and today when you visit the ruins and the modern town of Izmir you would certainly agree. Izmir is seated on the edge of the Aegean Sea with several mountains surrounding and incorporated into the city. Originally Smyrna was built upon Mount Pagus and continued down toward the water. Today, many of the ruins that you can see are just below Mount Pagus.
In His letter to the Christians at Smyrna Jesus describes Himself as the “one who died and came to life again.” This is a very clear reference to His resurrection, but it is also an incredible word of encouragement to a church that was facing intense persecution including martyrdom. Imagine you yourself facing such intense persecution that you feared for your life. Then you receive a letter from Jesus, the one who himself faced death and beat it. Imagine the comfort of hearing – I see you, I know your afflictions and I will give you victory if you follow me! What an important message in our culture that is gradually becoming less welcoming to Christianity.
The Christians at Sardis had it all! Because of a gold rush that had occurred, thousands of people had flocked to Sardis to strike it rich. Some did and because of that the city grew quite wealthy. The city was so wealthy that they built an enormous gymnasium (seen below) as well as the largest known synagogue in antiquity for the Jewish residents.
But here was the problem, the Christians there had settled into the culture and grown complacent and sleepy! No longer were they focused on the mission and no longer were they focused on loving God and loving others, only themselves! Here at Sardis, Jesus tells the Christians to wake up, persevere in the ministry that I have called you to and start producing fruit. Specifically, Sardis had a great opportunity to help others from around the world know Jesus because of the traffic on the Royal Road right outside it’s gates and the great temple to Artemis just a little outside the city. Thousand of people would regularly travel to this area for worship and simply to arrive at other destinations, but the Christians here weren’t doing anything with the good news!
No longer were they focused on the mission. No longer were they focused on loving God and loving others. They were only focused on themselves!
The city of Philadelphia is currently buried under the modern-day city of Aleshir. While there aren’t many ruins, there certainly is an extraordinary story here, and here is all I’m going to say for now because I am extremely tired and I want to hold you in suspense: you will have to visit New Story Church this fall to see our series called “The Seven” in order to learn more about Philadelphia! Until then, I will share more tomorrow including Laodicea and more!