We left Paul in the middle of his second missionary journey praising God through the adversity of being jailed while he revisited the new churches he established on his first missionary journey. Corinth was Paul’s next stop, a thriving seaport and home to the temple of the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Corinth was a hotbed of cult prostitution as a form of worshipping Aphrodite and generally a society with loose morals. One of Paul’s most read letters at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13:4, begins with “Love is patient, love is kind…”, and was written to teach the Corinthians what real self-sacrificing love was. After eighteen months in Corinth, Paul heads back home to Antioch around the spring of 54 AD.
Restless to continue to spread the Gospel, Paul leaves for his third missionary journey in the fall of 54 AD. Among the many cities he visits, he returns to Ephesus, the capital of Asia, probably one of the most impressive cities in the ancient world. Ephesus was the home of the temple of Artemis, the pagan goddess of fertility. Her temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and worship of Artemis was rampant in Ephesus. Along with being a center of commerce, Ephesus was also the center for magical arts. Seeing Paul work miracles in the name of Jesus, brought out magicians and even seven sons of the Jewish high priest, Sceva, who tried but failed to use the name of Jesus for their own glory and power. We are reminded that the Church teaches in CCC 2115-2117 that using any forms of magic, divination or sorcery are attempts to tame occult powers and are considered a sin. Consulting horoscopes, palm reading, clairvoyance, mediums, tarot cards, Ouija boards, wearing charms and the like reveal that a person has the desire to control the things that only God is in charge of and has the power to control.
Having spent two years in Ephesus, Paul moves on to finish his third journey through additional cities and ends up back in Jerusalem in the spring of 58 AD. Wasting no time, Paul heads to the Temple to preach the good news to the Jews, who learn of Paul’s efforts to convert the Gentiles to Christianity and are incited to riot and kill Paul for it. Paul is rescued by a Roman military commander who through a series of events enables Paul to appear several more times in front of large audiences to give his testimony even while Paul remains in Roman custody. By now, Paul has perfected his formula of bearing witness to Christ. Paul tells of his life before Christ which involved being a pious Jew and persecuting Christians. Being knocked to the ground and blinded is how Paul encountered Jesus and how Paul’s heart was converted. After meeting Christ Paul was led to proclaim Jesus to all nations. Life before Christ, an encounter with Christ, and life after Christ is the perfect way for us to share our testimony with others as well.
During this imprisonment with the Roman military commander and then the Roman governor, God speaks to Paul and says he will bear witness to Christ in Rome. There is no doubt that Paul will get to Rome, but the trip is not a straight path. As a Roman citizen, Paul demanded that his case be heard by Caesar and that guarantees him a trip to Rome. On a ship full of murderers and prisoners, Paul sets sail in the fall of 59 AD after almost two years of being in custody for charges the Romans never really understood. After a shipwreck on the island of Malta, Paul makes it to Rome in 61 AD and even though he is under house arrest, awaiting his trial with Caesar, he entertains many people and continues to testify to Christ. Rome was truly the “end of the earth” of the known, civilized world at the time. Back in Acts 1:8 Jesus told his Apostles to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria and Judea, and the ends of the earth. Then just as we are ready to see what happens next, the book of Acts of the Apostles just abruptly ends. It’s a cliffhanger.
So, what’s the rest of the story? The rest of the story is you! Yes, you are His disciples, you are His hands and feet, you are His body on earth. The story isn’t over, it’s your turn to give witness to your life before Christ, your encounter with Christ and your life now in Christ, just as Paul did. Jesus is counting on you to finish this story.
Written by Birgitt Hacker