Our journey from Hierapolis through the fertile Meandros Valley to Miletus moved us closer to the end of our tour. As we crisscrossed traditional villages, steady rain slowed our progress, however the weather cleared whenever we alighted the bus to tour ancient temples and theatres. It will be sad to farewell the friends we have made and to finish our time travelling together. Have we been given a glimpse into the emotions of the Ephesian elders who travelled fifty kilometres on foot to farewell their spiritual father and brother, Paul? The apostle had lived in Ephesus for three years, humbly suffering countless hardships for the sake of Christ and his church. Paul taught with tears. Their faithful pastor didn't succumb to the modern fad of reducing preaching to 'Bible bits' nor to the theological myopia of the topical. 'You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you…I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.' (Acts 20:20;27) Paul preached the whole story of God - the cover to cover (or scroll to scroll) promise of the kingdom, from creation to the cross and from the resurrection to the new creation.
What was Paul facing as he prepared to farewell his dear friends? 'And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardship are facing me.' (Acts 20:22-23) Would we weaken if we received this warning? What kept Paul focused as he contemplated his future? He was gripped by the Gospel of God. 'And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guardwhat I have entrusted to him until that day.'(2 Timothy 1:11-12) Paul passionately warned God's people to guard themselves from error and evil because we are 'the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.' Paul prayed that the Ephesians would live in God by the word of his grace 'which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.'(Acts 20:32)
The final scene by the shores of the Aegean is one of the most touching in Scripture. Paul is on his knees praying as the elders embrace him, their eyes wet from weeping. 'What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.Then they accompanied him to the ship. After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea.' (Acts 20:36-21:1) There was nothing superficial about these believers. Their faith was real and their feelings were raw. They loved the apostle and grieved his going. We can imagine them watching through moist eyes, waving from the beach as Paul's ship sailed beyond the horizon, the sea now separating them from their shepherd. Men of Ephesus - 'Do not weep! 'See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed!' (Revelation 5:5) Yet Christians are to look further than the horizon. In the new heaven and new earth there is 'no longer any sea' (Revelation 21:1). Everything that divides and separates God's people now will disappear then, and every sadness will dissolve in the sight of our Shepherd Savior. In the New Jerusalem Paul, the Ephesians, indeed every believer from every age will unite around Jesus. We need not weep like the world, 'for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.' (Revelation 7:17) Then we shall see his face and we will be satisfied. (Psalm 17:15; Revelation 22:4)