Most of us who have worked or travelled in Israel, Greece, Turkey, or Italy have on our sightseeing tours been in the ruins of the different arenas, sometimes called theatres, of that time. These structures were able to accommodate many people, anywhere from eight to thirty thousand. The people came there to see gladiators fight to the death or to see Christians devoured by lions. There were also public meetings of some kind or another on many occasions.
For instance, in Acts 19 we have the story of Demetrius the silversmith who called his tradesmen together because the Christians were ruining the sale of the statues of the goddess Diana, not only in Ephesus but throughout the whole area. Discussions were held to try to put a stop to this. One thing led to another, and they arrested two Christians:
Acts 19:29 – So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's travel companions. (NKJV)
Paul wanted to go to the arena himself to plead for their freedom, but his followers would not allow him to do that, because they knew what might happen if he did. It seems that Paul never preached in the arena in Ephesus. If he had, he would have preached to a very big audience, and songs of praise would have been heard, for sure.
We were in the arena in Ephesus some years ago, and it was and still is a magnificent structure. We were there with a group of Christians on a tour of that area, and when we were in the arena, our leader suggested that we sing a hymn. Centuries ago, our brothers and sisters in Christ, awaiting their death in that very same place, huddled together, so history teaches us, sometimes singing hymns of praise to God for all that He had done in their lives, and quietly awaiting to be united with the Lord.
As a non-singer, I separated myself from the group and went as high up on the seats as I could go, to the very top, high above the group down below on the sand of the arena. I wanted to film the place from some distance. I could hear every word that they were saying. It is no wonder that they held gatherings there, as well as spectacles.
And then our group started to sing How great Thou art. Their voices filled the whole arena, loud and clear and vibrant. Other tourists stopped to listen:
- O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Stuart K. Hine
One of our group sang the descant at the end of the song, and those wonderful words of truth rang around the ruins of that place.
If those Christian martyrs could sing hymns of praise even as they faced a cruel death, what a challenge it is to us to "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, it is with thankful hearts that we are able to sing praises to Your name in worship, and even in places where others died for their faith. We thank You for those who wrote the words of the hymns which express Your greatness and Your saving grace. We thank You in Jesus' name. Amen.