In the late afternoon sun we travelled to the ancient Ionian city of Priene. Sitting high above the Meander River on the southern slopes of Mount Mykale, it's remarkable not simply for its backdrop - a towering rock face casts its protective shadow over the site - but because of its design. Though the topography slopes downward, the city is planned with a Greco Roman grid pattern. It was an ordered city, and in its temple the goddess Athena was worshipped to maintain the spiritual order between mortals and the Greek gods. It was here that the 'Priene Calendar', an inscription that tells of the providence and power of the second Caesar, Augustus, and written 9 years before the birth of Christ, was found.
Providence…..has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things…….the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him.
Augustus was hailed as a savior and his birthday celebrated as the beginning of global good news. The Priene inscription also confirms why Mark, using the same formula, begins his good news with a counter claim. 'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.' So who is the true God? Would the real Savior please step forward? The best Augustus might do was' end war and arrange all things'. But surely a real Savior would offer more than a 'might' or a maybe! Does Mark's Messiah have better credentials? Listen to Jesus' own words.
He commanded men with 'Follow me' and shut the mouths of demons with 'Be silent'. He healed the sick with 'Be clean' and calmed the sea with 'Be still!' He raised the dead with 'Get up!' and said to the paralyzed, 'Your sins are forgiven.' Jesus' showed his total authority over every aspect of life that causes humans to fear its finality. And how did people react? 'What is this?' 'We never saw anything like this!' 'Who then is this?' Mark waits till the end of his Gospel to let us hear the answer to that ultimate question from the lips of a Roman soldier: "And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way hebreathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"
At the crucifixion the great confession of a centurion announces the beginning of a new day and God's new way. Priene is the place that helps me sort out my loyalties and my loves. Against the backdrop of that magnificent mountain I hear and am convinced by Jesus' real authority and true power.
'The modern world detests authority but worships relevance. Our Christian conviction is that the Bible has both authority and relevance, and that the secret of both is Jesus Christ.' (John Stott)