Acts 17,1-15 - The Gospel causes uproar and curiosity(2008)
The Gospel Causes Uproar & Curiosity
17 When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia,
they came to Thessalonica,
where there was a Jewish synagogue.
2 As his custom was,
Paul went into the synagogue,
and on three Sabbath days
he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer
and rise from the dead.
“This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,”
4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas,
as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks
and not a few prominent women.
5 But the Jews were jealous;
so they rounded up some bad characters
from the marketplace,
formed a mob and started a riot in the city.
They rushed to Jason’s house
in search of Paul and Silas
in order to bring them out to the crowd.
6 But when they did not find them,
they dragged Jason and some other brothers
before the city officials, shouting:
“These men who have caused trouble
all over the world have now come here,
7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house.
They are all defying Caesar’s decrees,
saying that there is another king,
one called Jesus.”
8 When they heard this,
the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.
9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond
and let them go.
10 As soon as it was night,
the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.
On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.
11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character
than the Thessalonians,
for they received the message with great eagerness
and examined the Scriptures every day
to see if what Paul said was true.
12 Many of the Jews believed,
as did also a number of prominent Greek women
and many Greek men.
13 When the Jews in Thessalonica learned
that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea,
they went there too,
agitating the crowds and stirring them up.
14 The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast,
but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.
15 The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens
and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy
to join him as soon as possible.
Today we continue with Paul and Silas on a missionary journey. And we observe in this passage that the message of the Gospel causes different reactions in people.
There are a number of things that we can learn from this passage about sharing the Gospel with others and about the responses that can be expected.
The second Missionary Journey of the Apostle Paul
begins with Acts 15:39, and concludes with Acts 18:32.
Barnabas and Mark had been Paul’s companions
on the first journey.
But Mark had deserted them.
Now it was time to continue spreading the Gospel
throughout the Mediterranean basin.
Barnabas had suggested that they take Mark with them,
because he was a very valueable associate to them.
But, Paul would not take him along
because he had abandoned them before.
And “they had such a sharp disagreement
that they parted company.
Barnabas took Mark and sailed (in the south easterly direction)
to (the island) Cyprus,
but Paul took Silas and left,
commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
He went through Syria and Cilicia,
strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:39-40).
In ch. 17, Paul and Silas are joined by a young man
by the name of Timothy
and they move on to Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens.
And we find in this account
that each city responds to the Good News differently.
In Thessalonica the Gospel stirrs up controversy,
and is rejected.
In Berea it is received with interest and curiosity.
Today, as we share the Gospel with others,
we can expect similar responses.
I invite you to come with me as we travel with Paul
and the early missionaries,
to see and take note of Paul’s strategy
for spreading the Gospel,
observing the responses of the ancient people,
and also learning a few things about the responses
that we can expect
when we engage others with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Thessalonica, was located about a 100 miles from Philippi.
It was the capital of the Province of Macedonia
and it had a population of more than 200,000 people,
including a colony of Jews (and a synagogue).
All these factors contributed to Paul’s decision to go there.
When we look at Paul’s strategy for spreading the Gospel
we notice quickly that there is a common pattern
and some stricking similarities
to all the communities where he shares the Gospel.
There is typically a “synagogue of the Jews”
in the commuity.
Paul is convinced that God’s plan of salvation
is brought to the Gentiles through the Jews,
since Jesus was also a Jew.
In Acts 13:47 he says,
speaking to the Jews in Pysidian Antioch,
“For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
And so, again on the Second Missionary Journey,
Paul looks for a “Synagogue of the Jews”
as a strategic step to begin sharing the Gospel
that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and the Son of God.
Here, Paul and Silas find themselves in Thessalonica (17:1–3),
faithfully proclaiming the Good News
that Jesus suffered and died,
and was raised from the dead on the third day.
One of the central parts of the message of salvation
was that God’s gift of Salvation
extends to all peoples and nations,
and not only to the Jews.
You may recall the first congregational meeting
recorded in the Bible.
In Acts 15 we are told that the church in Jerusalem
was wrestling with the question of inclusion.
They earnestly asked and even argued over the question,
“Who is included in God’s plan of salvation?”
Did Jesus Christ only come for the Jews?
Or did he die to cover the sins of Gentiles,
the Heathen, as well?
And, if he died and rose to save the Gentiles as well,
do they have to be circumcised?
You may recall that circumcision was the sign of inclusion,
the symbol that you belonged to the people of God
since the time of Abraham.
That was the Jewish way of knowing and saying
that “we are the people of God.”
The problem with circumcision was a big one
for a couple of reasons.
First, it was a theological question.
Abraham, the father of the faith himself,
was declared righteous before God
already before he was circumcised.
The circumcision was only a symbol
and a sign of the covenant.
So, the argument was that
you could indeed be saved without being circumcised.
If that is the case,
Then what’s the point in demanding circumcision?
The second problem was a more practical one.
It’s relatively easy to circumcise a small child
without much complications.
But, to perform the procedure
on hundreds and thousands of grown men
who came to the faith was not practical at all,
and the prospect created a real nightmare.
And so, the first Christian Church in Jerusalem
came to a decision.
In Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together
to consider this matter.
7 And after there had been much debate,
Peter stood up and said to them,
“Brothers, you know that in the early days
God made a choice among you,
that by my mouth
the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
8 And God, who knows the heart,
bore witness to them,
by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,
9 and he made no distinction between us and them,
having cleansed their hearts by faith.
10 Now, therefore,
why are you putting God to the test
by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples
that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
11 But we believe that we will be saved
through the grace of the Lord Jesus,
just as they will.”
And James, the pastor of the Jerusalem Church concludes,
[After much deliberation and prayer and discernment],
my judgment is that we should not trouble
those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
20 but should write to them
to abstain from the things polluted by idols,
and from sexual immorality,
and from what has been strangled,
and from blood”
The circumcision as a sign of inclusion into the people of God
Had been abolished.
In Acts 16:4, we now see the working out of this decision:
As they went on their way through the cities,
they delivered to them for observance
the decisions that had been reached
by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.
5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith,
and they increased in numbers daily.
Now, in Thessalonica Paul preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ
in the Jewish synagogues for three straight Sabbaths.
And the Jews didn’t like it a bit.
The message of salvation
through the Grace of God in Jesus Christ,
makes a mess of the message of inclusion by circumcision,
and through strick obedience to the Law and Order
of the Mosaic tradition.
The churches were strengthened
and the Good News of God’s love and forgiving grace
in Jesus Christ
caused an increase in the numbers
of those who were being saved.
Paul goes into the synagogue
and for three successive Sabbaths
presents the gospel from the Hebrew Scriptures (17:2).
The preaching consists of showing that it was necessary
that the Messiah had to suffer and die,
and that God raised him up from the dead,
and that the Messiah
could be none other than Jesus of Nazareth
(Acts 9:22; 13:23–38).
This is the crucial issue for Jews,
and some of them are convinced (17:4).
Although they are a minority,
they are enough to provide a Jewish Christian base
for the new group of believers.
Most of the people who accept the gospel, however,
are devout Greeks,
Godfearing Gentiles like Cornelius (10:1–48)
and Lydia (16:14–40),
a great many of them.
Then Luke, the Author of Acts,
mentions a third group worth noting
in the Thessalonian situation:
including both upper-class women of influence
and possibly also wives of leading men of the city.
They are not a few in number,
that is, quite a few (17:4).
Although they also belong to the devout Gentile class,
they are distinctive enough to be mentioned separately.
The Philippian church also had notable women like Lydia
and her friends (16:13–15, 40).
These women were a key component
in missionary efforts of the early Christian church.
Verses 5–9 tell us that unbelieving Jews from the synagogue,
are jealous and take action against
this newly converted group of Christians.
They find hooligans in the marketplace
who are easily persuaded to stir up a mob
and attack the headquarters of the group (17:5).
They want to capture Paul and his men
and bring them to justice
before the city officials and elders (politarchs).
But, not finding them at home,
they drag Jason and some other converts into court.
The charge against the men is that they have taken in
these well-known disturbers of the peace (17:6).
Paul and the other Christians are threatened with the charge
that they are proclaiming another king named Jesus (17:7).
And the accusers are right in their charge.
The new believers are indeed worshiping Jesus
instead of Caesar
and regarding Jesus as Lord,
a title to be applied only to the emperor.
What their attackers do not understand
is that they are not advocating
the overthrow of the Roman government,
but obedience to it
as long as it is in harmony with God’s law
(Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17).
They have brought a peaceful revolution
accomplished by the transformation of lives
(Luke 3:10–14; 12:25–27; Acts 2:38; 9:1–18; Rom. 12:1–2).
The uproar of the mob
and these emotionally charged accusations
are enough to upset both people and rulers
and force some kind of action against the Christians (17:8).
As in previous situations where Paul and the other Evangelists
were dragged before the authorities,
there is no formal trial,
but this time the magistrates arrange a settlement
by which the accused may go unmolested
if Jason and the church will post bail (17:9).
Luke says nothing of the terms of this “peace bond,”
but it is likely a sum of money
guaranteeing that the party will leave town at once
and not return in the foreseeable future.
This explains why Paul later
desperately wanted to return to Thessalonica
but was unable to do so
without bringing persecution upon the church
cf. 1 Thess. 2:17–20 and his statement,
“We wanted to come to you, …
but Satan blocked our way”.
So, in Thessalonica there was great opposition to the Gospel,
And Paul and Silas with Timothy are forced to move on.
However, their ministry had left a deep mark
To the extent that a church was born
and continued to grow into an outpost
for the continued spreading of the Gospel.
The Witness in Berea 17:10–14
In spite of the peaceful settlement
with the Thessalonian authorities,
Jason and company take no chances
and send the missionary team off by night
to their next place of service.
They travel west for a short distance
and then turn south on the road from Thessaly,
climbing in elevation until they reach Berea,
forty-five miles away.
There they find themselves in a summer resort area
with pleasant streams
and distant snow-capped mountains,
a town that still exists,
known as Verria and famous for its fine climate.
And what’s the first thing they do?
You guessed it,
they go to church.
They seek out the synagogue (17:10)
and are met by a receptive (more noble) group of Jews,
who welcome their message eagerly.
Berea is an ideal place for evangelistic work.
Luke tells us how they study the Scriptures daily
in their zeal for the gospel (17:11).
The result is a large ingathering of both men and women,
mostly Gentiles who are devout
and of high social standing (17:12).
Even the unbelieving Jews of the city
seem to cause no trouble.
The Bereans have a hunger for the Word of God.
They receive it with great eagerness,
And study it with great curiosity and wonder.
However, it doesn’t take long
for word of Paul’s missionary activity
to reach Thessalonica,
and the enemies of the faith from from there
head over and stirred up the crowd in Berea
to launch a bitter persecution (17:13).
And again, the Christian believers rally around the evangelists
(cf. 16:40; 17:10) and get them out of danger.
This time Paul is in the most risk,
and his converts send him off
before he is mobbed.
In the Second Missionary Journey
Paul received a distinct call to come to Macedonia
and was sure that God meant for him and his party
to preach the gospel there (16:9–10).
The new church he planted in Thessalonica
survived and become dear to him (1 Thess. 1:2–3:10).
Then later, while raising his offering
among the Gentile Christians to take to Jerusalem,
he can praise all the Macedonian churches
for being unusually generous
in giving both themselves and their means
in the midst of great affliction (2 Cor. 8:1–5).
Still later, in his letter to Philippi from prison,
he can speak of them
as one of his most beloved congregations
and rejoice greatly in them (1:3–8; 4:1, 10–18).
The persecution of Paul and Silas
and the rough treatment they received
was known also to the early Anabaptists.
While the forms of persecution have changed
from century to century and culture to culture,
illegal action against Christians still continues.
And often it is those in high office who permit such outrages
or subtly encourage and engage in them.
But, there were also significant encounters with people
That resulted in the growth and strengthening of the church.
Today, as we share with others
What Jesus Christ has done in our lives,
We will also be met with apathy,
and at times also curiosity and wonder.
May we be inspired by the example of the church in Berea
To study the Word of God with great eagerness