Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's September 24, we must be in Thessalonica

Like tourists on the budget tour of Asia Minor, it's another day, another pile of ruins. Ruins amid Greece's second largest city (Salonika) now, but back in Paul's day it was an Aegean seaport AND a crossroads on the east-west 19-ft. wide Egnatian Way that led from Constantinople to the Danube River. Imagine Burlington in the late 1800's, where the railroad and the inland waterway of Lake Champlain intersected and fortunes were made in sheep and lumber. The mighty orator and Roman senator and proconsul Cicero said: “Thessalonica is in the bosom of the empire.”

An ancient inscription found in Thessalonica reads: “after death no reviving, after the grave no meeting again.” Had Paul been familiar with that inscription, no doubt he would have improv'ed on it to the crowds, as he did just down the seacoast in Athens with the statue to the Unknown God. Indeed both letters to the Thessalonians contain prophecy of Christ's return. Paul had stayed there but briefly on one of his missionary journeys recorded in Acts, and First Thessalonians is believed to be the earliest Pauline letter, written from Corinth in about 50 AD. Again, how amazing that less than two decades after being crucified by the Romans, the seeds of the gospel story of God's "Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (v. 10)." After death - reviving! After the grave - a great rescue and reunion!

Most of the rest of the first chapter reads like many of his other opening chapters: greetings, I always thank God for you, I pray for you, I remember your work, faith and love, I know you are chosen because the Spirit came in power among you, you are a model to the other believers, others praise you, too. Like the Evangelist in Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress", Paul knew by God's grace how to love, affirm and encourage.

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