Israel/Greece 2019 Days 11-12

We said a bittersweet goodbye to part of our group as they headed home. The rest of us followed in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul traveling from Israel to Asia Minor— modern day Turkey. Paul didn’t fly Turkish Airlines, instead he used Roman roads.

After a very quick stop in Istanbul we caught a short flight to modern Thessaloniki (biblical Thessalonica) in northeastern Greece. Our luggage didn’t make the transfer, so we had to make due with the same clothes for an extra day!

Our first day of touring in Greece focused on Paul’s travels east of Thessaloniki. We stopped for an overlook of Neapolis, the port town in which Paul and his companions landed in Acts 16:11. This was the first time the gospel was proclaimed in Europe. The Lord specifically directed Paul to Macedonia/Greece, and the Roman roads and ports made it possible for this journey to continue. The main Roman road running east/west was called the Via Egnatia and is visible in Neapolis at the bottom of the photo below.

From Neapolis Paul traveled to Philippi. Philippi was a Roman colony in the first Roman district of the region called Macedonia (Amphipolis was the capital of the district). We read in Acts 16:13-15 about Lydia and her household hearing the gospel, believing, and being baptized. These first European believers were made disciples somewhere on this river.

Paul also was used by God in Philippi to deliver a demon-possessed slave girl in Acts 16:16-22. The girl’s owners filed a complaint, and Paul and his crew were brought before the magistrates at the agora—the city municipal center and marketplace pictured below.

Paul and Silas were thrown in jail for the night. While they were singing songs of worship and praying, God sent an earthquake. In Acts 16:23-34 we read that Paul and the other prisoners didn’t leave. The jailer and his household believed the gospel and were baptized, likely in the same spot Lydia was.

In Acts 16:35-40 we read that the magistrates ordered them to be released, but Paul had a strategic reason to decline. He informed them that he and Silas were Roman citizens, and therefore the magistrates needed to come and release them publicly. Roman citizenship was a central component of life in Philippi. Roughly 90 years before Octavian and Mark Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi (42 BC). This was the most important battle in Roman history as it marked the transition of Rome from a republic to an empire. Paul wanted to be sure the magistrates at Philippi knew they had done wrong so they would allow the newborn church some breathing room.

The Philippian focus on Roman citizenship also sheds light on Paul’s later letter to the Philippian church. In Philippians 1:27 Paul writes, “Just one thing: conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ…” In essence he is saying, your Roman citizenship must be secondary to your heavenly citizenship (see also Philippians 3:20). Citizenship entails a set of shared values and responsibilities. Paul calls the Philippians, and us, to allow the gospel to set our priorities for how we approach life.

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