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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When faced with the graveyard shift.

“Phew, what a scorcher!”

Well, it looks like another sweltering weekend ahead, a bit more than many of us can cope with. According to the World Health Organisation, “heatwaves are among the most dangerous of natural hazards, but rarely receive adequate attention.”

Certainly in many countries closer to the equator such heat determines the daily routine. Think siesta.

There’s a fascinating footnote, not always acknowledged, in Luke’s account of the remarkable ministry of the apostle Paul as he travels through the Mediterranean world proclaiming the good news of King Jesus. This single-minded apostle is invariably on the move – unless someone throws him into gaol.

Finally he arrives at Ephesus and something happens there which causes him to stay. For over two years! Clearly he thought that this Greek city was in some way strategic and so for his first three months, much longer than anywhere else, he presented his message to members of the local Jewish synagogue.

But as Luke tells us, “some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.” (Acts 19:9).

So rather than move on to the next city, Paul decides to stay and persevere with his ministry. Remarkable things were happening.

“God did powerful things through Paul, things quite out of the ordinary. The word got around and people started taking pieces of clothing—handkerchiefs and scarves and the like—that had touched Paul’s skin and then touching the sick with them. The touch did it—they were healed and whole.” (Acts 19:11f, the Message translation)

But Paul needed a base, somewhere where he could clearly present the Gospel of Jesus. So he decides to hire a lecture hall from Tyrannus and it seems he took a block booking. This was a totally new way in the apostle’s modus operandi.

So Luke writes: “Paul took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” (Acts 19:9f)

However, there is one fascinating footnote which most English translations do not include. We learn that Paul taught in Tyrannus’ lecture hall “from the 5th hour unto the 10th”; that is, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. This period was typically when workers had their midday meal and rested from their work and the heat of the day, siesta time. In fact, two distinguished commentators, Lake and Cadbury, claim that at 1.00pm. there were probably more people sound asleep than at 1.00 am!

Paul would have worked at tentmaking during the other parts of the day, as he did at Corinth some weeks earlier. For five hours, no less, Paul would exchange leather-work for lecture-work. But the point is that he patiently taught the basics of the Christian faith during what we now call “the graveyard shift.”

As my family will gleefully tell you, I am particularly vulnerable to this graveyard shift. In fact, I once dozed off during the post-lunch address by the Archbishop of Canterbury no less. In my defence, the marquee was warm and the lunch generous.

So it can’t have been easy, in the heat of the day, for Paul or his listeners. No doubt he continued what he was doing in the synagogue just down the road, “arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8)

And as one commentator has noted: “After more than 30 years of experiences in presenting the gospel to people in other cultures, Paul put it all together for a brand new strategy – the Hall of Tyrannus – in the city of Ephesus, with amazing results.”

Tyrannus’ lecture hall, we can assume, was a neutral venue, not a place of worship like the synagogue or one of the temples devoted to the goddess Artemis. The apostle clearly had every confidence in his message and would have engaged in the traditional style of the Socratic teaching method based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.

This is the very opposite of take-it-or-leave-it preaching. Moreover the apostle wasn’t prepared simply to rely on signs and wonders – although clearly these were present. So as Luke informs us, “Paul had discussions daily” in his hired hall. And the results were dramatic, as “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour.” (Acts 19:17).

It seems that those from a pagan Greek background responded most vividly. “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.” (Acts 19:19). A drachma was worth about a day’s wages.

In fact, the apostle’s ministry was so successful that he was driven out of town but confident that the church at Ephesians was now geared for growth. Which just goes to show that you don’t need ideal circumstances for the Gospel of Jesus to take root. Sometimes the very opposite. Just a dogged commitment to the task God has entrusted to us.

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