Today we find ourselves in Paul’s farewell tour at least in regards to the leadership of Ephesus. It is fairly clear that Paul loves the Ephesians and there is a special place in his heart for them. You notice that in verse 5 the Christians are still celebrating the Jewish traditions. They are celebrating the festival of unleavened bread, which would have been the traditional passover meal. How many Christians today celebrate Passover as well as Easter and Christmas and all the other Christian holidays? We see the same theme come up when Paul wants to quickly make his way toward Jerusalem and skip Ephesus because he did not want to miss Pentecost (vs.12) in Jerusalem. The assumption is that this is the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, but you have to wonder if it has now become a very powerful Christian celebration in Jerusalem in Paul’s day as well. How could they forget the day that the Holy Spirit had descended up on the church? So maybe Paul wanted to get back in order not to miss the Christian celebration of Pentecost which by now may have become quite a big deal.
How do we celebrate our Christian Holy Days? By the way, that is from where the term holiday came. They were considered Holy Days. I know, some of the holidays that we celebrate seem like anything but Holy. But we celebrate Easter in church and maybe a special meal. How much of a Christian take do we give to the time that we spend together on that day as a family? Christmas is a bit different. We certainly do emphasize the birth of Jesus and the exchanging of gifts follows along in that vein. What about Pentecost? We wear red…and we wear red. There really is nothing done in society about Pentecost. We don’t sell decorative flames, or bobble head dolls that speak in different tongues. Pretty much Pentecost is one of the few Holy Days that is commerce free. It has remained a Holy Day, and we should probably celebrate it as such in our families. Not only has it been skipped by society, but it seems we have skipped it as Christian families as well. For Paul, it was such a big deal that he wanted to hurry back to Jerusalem just so that he wouldn’t miss it.
I think it was a big deal that he skipped Ephesus on the way back to Jerusalem. Follow along starting in vs.17 and following and we see that he sets up a special envoy of people to meet him in Miletus. Now, if you look at a map, and below you will see Paul’s third missionary journey, you will see that Ephesus is not that far from Miletus.
They are so close that Paul called for the elders and then waited for them to arrive. He spends a good amount of time convincing them of his loyalty to them, of his work among them, and overall, how much he cares for them. Personally, I think he was worried about going to Ephesus considering what had happened last time he went there and how he had almost lost his life to an angry mob. Maybe, just maybe, he also didn’t want to cause trouble for the Christians living in Ephesus by going back there. Sure it would have been nice to see him there, but with him there maybe they would become bigger targets.
In 2009 while we were serving in Russia we got word from the US Embassy that a FLOTUS team (in case you didn’t know it stands for First Lady of the United States) was going to make a site visit because First Lady Obama was considering visiting our soup kitchen when she visited Russia with her husband. It was a big deal for us. When the team arrived we talked through the logistics, and we had everything we needed to make it a safe visit and one where she could get in and out, no problem. At the end of the visit we talked about our clientele which were elderly Russians who had fallen through the economic safety nets of society. Perfect, that would look good with Mrs. Obama rubbing elbows with destitute elderly Russians. Then we spoke about our staff and our volunteers, they were primarily African immigrants, most of them illegal, who were trying to scrape by and what we provided them was, for most of them, the only income that they received. They asked us, how will that affect them when all of the attention of the nation is on them. We quickly realized that for those of our staff who were illegal, it could mean arrest and deportation. We asked our staff and they said they were willing to take that risk, but FLOTUS, understandably, simply was not willing to put us in that position. She did not come.
There is a sense that when you are in a position of leadership, in this case even a position of power or at the least a position of notoriety, it carries a certain responsibility that not all people have to face. Paul, I believe, understood that, and so wanted to protect the community in Ephesus by not showing up there. He says, and I believe him, that it is not about him being safe, but more about them being safe.
He meets with them and prays with them, weeps with them, and says goodbye to them. We don’t know how he knew this would be his last journey, maybe he was getting old, but he was right.