I have been quiet for a few weeks. Contemplative. No email, no social media, (though as soon as I hit the “publish” button it will appear that I’m there, but I’m not), no leading, and no preaching. I have been listening to God in unique ways. I trekked Asia Minor and studied the expansion of the gospel in the Roman province of Asia in the first century. I walked in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul and the disciple John, and contemplated their lives as followers of Jesus and messengers of the gospel. I thought about the Graeco-Roman, emperor worshiping, polytheistic, opulent, class-based, world influencing, militaristic, enslaving, sexualized, culture that these early disciples were called to serve with the gospel of Jesus.
Folks, you’ve probably heard it before, but after digging deeply into it, I’ll reiterate: The mighty Rome of ancient history looks a lot like 21st century America. That’s one reason I wanted to study in the ruins. You see Asia Minor, after Paul’s four missionary journeys and the faithfulness of many disciples of Jesus, eventually became predominately Christian for a long season. The key question, “What changed Asia Minor?” The answers (and they are multi-faceted) lend insight into what might bring true revival to America.
Enter Philip. You know, this one:
John 1:43-45 “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.”
John 6:4-7 “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundered denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.'”
John 12:20-21 “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galillee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.'”
John 14:8-9 “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?'”
We hiked through the ancient city of Hierapolis, higher and higher and then we sat down in a unique archaeological structure unlike any I have ever seen before.
I found it odd that the structure was marked with ancient Christian and Jewish symbols. Especially in Hierapolis known for its natural travertine hotsprings, temple to Apollo, and theater designed to entertain the masses. Clearly, Hierapolis was a bastian for the best kind of self-indulgence that Asia province of Rome had to offer. So why the odd structure with a cross and a menorah? The answer, Philip… the young disciple who left a small fishing village he called home in the Galilee to follow Jesus. When Jesus said, “Come,” Philip followed. Eventually, passed the cross, passed the resurrection and the filling of the Holy Spirit, this quest to follow Jesus led him to Asia Minor, and specifically Hierapolis. I sat down, among the others in the Martyrium, a structure I now understood as a memorial to Philip, the martyred disciple of Jesus. I wept because you see, I know the Bethsaida boy. For almost 10 years I have been sitting groups down in Philip’s boyhood home in the 1st century Galilee village, Bethsaida, to discuss exercising a faith that exhibits courage. The kind that loves God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might. Now, in Turkey, I was sitting, not in the beginning of Philip’s story but at the earthly end.
Church tradition suggest that Philip and his sister Miriam along with Bartholomew came to Hierapolis in the 1st century. The governor of Hierapolis was a mystic and obviously in cahoots with all that is Rome. The governor’s wife became ill and at about the same time encountered Philip. She become a follower of Jesus and was healed from her ailment. The governor became furious. He flogged Philip and bound him and dragged him by horse through the city mocking him in the worst way. Philip was then crucified with irons through his Achilles tendon. It is believed that his crucifixion took place in the spot now marked with an extravagant monument called the Martyrium. For hundereds of years, early Christians visited the Martyrium to celebrate the gospel-centered life of Philip.
What changed Asia Minor? Well, for one thing, real people like Philip. Disciples of Jesus who lived for Jesus and his mission. Wait, you thought I would say, “…who died for Jesus.”
I walked a little and sat down again by Philip’s tomb. Often when I think about martyrs both past and present, I feel guilty. My walk of faith seems somehow too easy. But, then I thought about it. No one plans to be a martyr except in one respect. A martyr is someone who wakes up every day and chooses to die to self out of love for Jesus and because of a commitment to His mission. Think about it. Philip didn’t meet the governor’s wife and lead her to Christ so that he could die a martyr’s death. He was just being faithful to the person and mission of Jesus. He was loving God and loving people just like his Rabbi demonstrated. What changed Asia Minor? Disciples of Jesus who took these words of Christ to heart every day. “And he (Jesus) said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For, whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)
We need disciples of Jesus in America who wake up every day and choose to die to self for the person of Jesus and His mission in the world. That’s the kind of living that changes impenetrable cultures. Lord, make me that kind of disciple.