Old, but New

by Bill Johnsson

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining. 

1 John 2:7-8, NLT

He has come to church, this old, frail man. He doesn’t miss a service, even though he is so weak it seems a gust of wind could gather him up and whisk him away.

He can’t walk anymore—his legs are useless. The only way he gets around is by having someone carry him. That’s how he got to church this day: carried.

Carried! His mind goes back to the days when his body was strong and tall, when muscles bulged from arms and chest, when he worked hard day after day without a problem. That’s when the Love Story began.

All the church people love this old gentleman. He’s a saint, a man of God. He knows so much, has so many stories to tell. Especially the big one—the story of his life. It’s a fascinating tale. It’s a love story. His mind is still sharp, bringing back the words and events that have meant so much to him.

Time for church to begin. They carry him into the gathering of friends, men and women who worship the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. This church is a very simple building, a private home. It has no cross, no steeple. In this city you don’t see a cross or steeple anywhere. The Christian religion isn’t recognized—it has no legal standing. You worship Jesus of Nazareth at your own risk. You can find yourself arrested, thrown into jail—or worse. It could cost you your life.

So the followers of Jesus have to be careful. They keep a low profile, check out people before they invite them to join for worship. Spies are out there, ready for an opportunity to report them to the authorities.

In this city, Artemis is the object of worship. This city is, in fact, the center of her worship. People come here from near and far to pay homage. They come away with little silver replicas for their home shrines.

Artemis is a black, female figure. As the goddess of fertility, her body has many breasts. Unable to bear a child? Come to Artemis—ask her to help you get pregnant.

Her temple, located just outside the city perimeter, is huge. Its tall marble columns touch the sky. This temple is so grand that people call it one of the wonders of the world.

What chance does the worship of Jesus of Nazareth have in this city dominated by Artemis? Here the temple business provides a livelihood for thousands of craftsmen who make the silver figurines.

This city doesn’t need the Jew. This city is prosperous and proud. Built near the mouth of the Cayster River and on the main road that stretches east, all the way to the capital, this city is ideally placed for business and trade. It’s an old town going way back into history. Ages ago an earthquake leveled it, but it sprang back to life, bigger and better than ever. They called the city Ephesus, first or attractive.

The old man has lived here a long while. He isn’t from around here; he grew up far away. But the Love Story that changed his life brought him here many years before.

Ephesus had become his city. How often he had walked down the hill from the gateway to the north, along the marble-paved boulevard that ran all the way to the harbor. Along the way he passed the stores and public latrines on the right, looked left to the sloping suburb where the big shots lived in luxurious homes decorated with marble and frescoes. Then down the hill, and the amphitheater came into view. Cut from the hillside, its row upon row of stone seats rose sharply from the stage.

Its acoustics were amazing: a person could speak in a regular voice on stage and 25,000 people heard every word.

No doubt about it, Ephesus had it all—beautiful natural surroundings, the broad thoroughfare, wealth, prosperity, and above all, the magnificent temple dedicated to Artemis. This indeed was the first, a city to be desired.

For the old man and his flock, however, Ephesus was a different story. The followers of Jesus did not—could not—join in the religious festivals focused on Artemis.

For the old man and his flock, however, Ephesus was a different story. The followers of Jesus did not—could not—join in the religious festivals focused on Artemis. They found no pleasure in attending the immoral performances in the theater or joining the bloodthirsty crowd in its vicious sports spectacles.

Christians in Ephesus marched to the beat of a different drummer. And the old man, the revered one they called “the Elder,” had been their pastor for many years. Not only for the believers in Ephesus—congregations in the nearby cities of Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea had looked to him for spiritual leadership.

He is greatly loved. His whole being radiates love. His face shines with love. He is like love embodied.

Although his body is weak, his eyes glow with an unquenchable light. He can’t preach much these days, but on occasion he consents to give a message. Today is one of those days. They’ll prop him up and gather close to catch every word.

“Elder, what’s your topic today?” someone asks.

“Love, beloved, love.”

“But that’s what you spoke on last time. In fact, it seems that’s what you always preach about.”

“I know, I know. I always preach on love—God’s love and how we should love one another, because that’s what it’s all about. That’s what our Lord Jesus taught us—God is love, and when we love we dwell in God.”

This story comes from an ancient Christian tradition.
William G. Johnsson, former Adventist Review editor, writes from Loma Linda, California. This article is taken from Living in Love, a soon-to-be-released book by Oak & Acorn Publishing.

Celsius library on curetes street in Ephesus ancient city. Tourism and Leisure concept.