Tarsus

We left Cappadocia and crossed the Tarsus Mountains through the Cilician Gate--a natural faultline which serves as the passage from Syria and the Mediterranean coast to Galatia. I was excited to experience this geographical aspect of Paul's journeys.

The rugged terrain of 13,000 foot peaks looks daunting. We passed through in our air conditioned motor coach, but Paul walked. No wonder he traveled with companions who could help defend from wild animals and thieves.

Paul's hometown of ancient Tarsus is mostly covered over by modern Tarsus, except for a portion of the main Roman road, Cleopatra's Gate (where she met Mark Antony) and Paul's Well, which is supposed to be the well in his childhood Jewish neighborhood. The well is 85 feet deep and still produces clean drinking water.

We took surprising detours: pictures with a bride and groom, tasted the pickled red carrot juice (that looks like it should be sweet), and local sesame cookies. We visited the Tarsus American College started in 1888 by Congregational and Presbyterian missionaries to support the local Christian minority with education and healthcare.

Paul was born here, but grew up in Jerusalem. After his training as a pharisee, his persecution of Christians and his rejection by the Christian community in Jerusalem, he returned here to Tarsus and took up his father's trade of tent making. Later, Barnabas would come to take Paul with him to Antioch.

Stan, our guide, tells us Paul's father became wealthy through tent making and was able to purchase his Roman citizenship, and his main customer for black goat hair tents and sandals was the Roman army.

If this is true, what an interesting twist. Paul returns to Jerusalem and is arrested by the same Roman soldiers for entering the temple with a Gentile. He appeals to his Roman citizenship again and again: I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. (Acts 21:39)

Paul uses his freedom as a Roman citizen to travel Roman roads and to appeal to Caesar, but Paul understands his true citizenship is in heaven. Paul values his freedom as a Roman citizen, but he calls himself a slave of Christ Jesus.There is no distinction in the kingdom of God:

in Christ there is neither slave nor free... if the Son sets you free you are free indeed... we have been born again into a new inheritance... co-heirs with Christ.

Ultimately his appeal takes him to Rome, where he is imprisoned in the center of the empire, just steps away from the Roman Forum.

Ironically, there in prison, in chains, Paul has the power to change human history. His influence the development of churches in Asia Minor through his partners, his letters and his witness to suffering were possible because this free citizen became a servant of Jesus.





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