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Acts 17,1-15 - The Gospel causes uproar and curiosity(2008)

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The Gospel Causes Uproar & Curiosity

Acts 17:1-15

Acts 17:1-15

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,”

he said.

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:

leading women,

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

       And curiosity.

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