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Acts 17:1-15: The Word is the Way Print E-mail

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If we are going to avoid being led astray, then we must be discerning as believers.  Unfortunately, many believe that the truth is up for grabs.  Our culture has long dismissed the idea of absolute truth and such thinking has infiltrated the Church as well. Another reality that feeds this problem is the growth of 'popular Christianity.'  There are popular Christian speakers and popular Christian artists and popular Christian authors, some of which are not real Christian at all.  They sound like Christians at times.  Their products are sold in Christian bookstores and heard on Christian radio.  They are discussed on Christian blogs and 'liked' by Christians on Facebook.  They are interviewed on shows as Christian people.  Thus, many assume that whatever they teach is obviously Christian.  Who needs discernment?  Who needs to really think hard about what is coming from these various voices.  I mean we may have personal preferences for certain authors or musicians, but they are all teaching the same message.

But what do we do when their message is not in agreement?  Let me see if I can illustrate the problem.  If you listen to various voices, you can come up with different ideas of motivation for the Christian life.  One popular idea today is that financial blessings or other blessings of this life is a proper motivation for obeying Jesus.  Another idea is that the blessings of the next life should motivate our obedience.  And others take another (perhaps more traditional) approach that blessing should not be a motivation at all.  We simply obey because Jesus is our Lord.  So let me ask you, which is right?  Which approach is true?  In order to answer we must have a way of discerning what we believe to be true.  We must have a way of knowing what is truly true.  How do we do that? 

Those who were hearing the gospel preached by Paul in the book of Acts had to wrestle with the same issue.  Many of them were Jews, or Gentile God-fearers.  They had been taught the Old Testament Scriptures.  They believed in Yahweh, the God of Israel.  So what were they going to do with Paul and his teaching about Jesus?  Likewise, from Paul's perspective, how was he going to convince them of the resurrection?  How was he going to be a faithful witness for Jesus?  Our passage this morning gives us insight to both of these questions.  We see again Paul's approach to witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus and we see an example of how to discern the truth. So what do we see?

An Argument from Scripture (v. 1-9)

After Paul and Silas leave Philippi, they continue the second missionary journey by continuing to Thessalonica, the capital city in Macedonia.  Once there, they make their way to the synagogue just as they have done before.  So what does he do to witness to the resurrection of Christ among these people?  Look at verses 1-3.  Luke tells us that Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.  Paul knows that he is speaking to people who believe in the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.  They know that Yahweh has promised to send the Messiah, the Christ, to save His people. 

So Paul begins with their Scriptures and explains how it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to die, and how it was necessary for Him to rise again.  Once he establishes that from their Scriptures, he makes his conclusion: 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ (Messiah).  So Paul starts with the Scriptures and shows these Jews and God-fearers that Jesus is the One that they have been waiting for.  He is the Messiah, the Promised Savior.  His argument rests not primarily on his experiences or his feelings or his logic, it rests primarily on God's Word.  He is saying to them: "You should believe in Jesus because the Scriptures point to Him as the Messiah.  His death and His resurrection for our sins is a fulfillment of God's promises to us.  And don't take my word for it, listen to what Isaiah says..."  In this way, Paul argues from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah.

So what happens?  We see again that some respond positively and others respond negatively.  We see the positive response in verse 4.  Look at that with me.  Notice the word that Luke uses. He says that some were persuaded.  They heard Paul's argument from Scripture and they were persuaded that he spoke the truth.  They were convinced that Jesus was indeed the Promised Messiah. They were ready to turn from their sins and follow after Him as Lord and Savior.  This group included Jews, Greeks, and some of the leading women.  All of these responded positively to the message.

But as we have seen continually, not all were convinced.  Look at verse 5.  Once again we see that the Jews were filled with jealousy.  They were not ready to give up their tradition.  They did not want to walk away from their version of Judaism.  And they were angry that so many did not agree with them.  So they decided to go after Paul, who was apparently staying at the house of a man named Jason.  But their plans are not realized.  Look at verses 6-9.  They could not find Paul, so they settled for Jason and some of the other new believers.  They charge them with causing trouble everywhere they go and with disobeying Caesar by seeing recognizing Jesus as King.  Of course, the charges are not entirely accurate, but they contain enough truth to get the people and the authorities upset.  After all, they really were causing a stir everywhere they went and they did believe Jesus is King, just not some earthly king like Caesar.  Instead of keeping Jason and the others in prison or beating him like they did at Philippi, the leaders agree to let them go if they will no longer house the missionaries, which they agree to do.  Once again Paul is chased out of a city and forced to go elsewhere.

An Examination of Scripture (v. 10-15) 
In the next city, Berea, we see a good example of discernment.  Paul takes the same approach with them as he has in other cities.  Look at verse 10.  Yet, Luke contrasts their response with the response of the Jews in Thessalonica.  Look at verse 11.  Just as Paul did in Thessalonica, he taught the Bereans from the Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that it was necessary for Him to suffer and be raised from the dead.  And what did they do with such teaching?  Did they accept it blindly?  Did they reject it because it did not line up with all of their traditions?  No, they went to the Word themselves.  They received it eagerly and they examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching was true.  Luke tells us that they did this daily.  These people understood that if what Paulís message was true, then nothing mattered more than turning from their sins and trusting in Jesus as their Messiah and Savior.  So they devoted themselves to examining the text.  Their approach gives us a great example of how we should labor to be discerning in what we are taught.  We should go to the Word ourselves.

And what did they conclude when they went to the Word?  Look at verse 12.  They believed.  After listening to Paulís arguments and examining his claims by Scripture, they came to see that Jesus really was the Promised Messiah.  He is the Savior that they had been waiting for.  So they turned from their sins and put their faith in Jesus as the Christ.  Their examination of Scripture led them to believe in Jesus.  When we read the Old Testament correctly we will see it pointing to Jesus on every page, just like the Bereans.

Yet, once again, Paul is pursued by his enemies.  Look at verses 13-15.  Paul was chased out of every city in which he preached in Macedonia.  After apologizing for the beating and the unjust treatment, the magistrates made him leave Philippi.  The Jews tried to arrest him in Thessalonica and he had to escape by night.  Those same Jews came to Berea and chased him out of that city as well.  We might be tempted to call his time in Macedonia a failure, but we would be wrong.  We see Paulís heart for these churches in the letters that he would later write to them (Philippians, 1&2 Thessalonians) and he holds them up as examples of how to endure suffering as believers.  Initially the rejection is hard and difficult to bear, but the Lord continually uses it to move the mission forward.  When we are convinced by the Scriptures that Jesus is truly our Messiah, that He has suffered and died to pay for our sins, and that He rose from the dead, then we can face suffering without forsaking Godís call on our life.

The Thessalonians and the Bereans needed discernment when they heard the teaching of Paul.  They needed to know if it was true.  They needed to know if Jesus really was the Messiah and if it really was necessary for Him to die and be raised again.  Just like them, we need discernment today.  We need to be able to tell the difference between truth and lies.  So what can we learn from them to help us?

First, we must be wary of holding too tightly to tradition.  Many Jews in the book of Acts missed Jesus because they could not let go of their traditions concerning the Messiah.  They were not looking for a Suffering Servant, even though Isaiah described Him as such (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).  They were looking for an earthly King and so they missed the Heavenly One.  Their Scriptures pointed to Jesus.  He fulfilled the prophecies, but He did not match their expectations.  They misunderstood the text and so they missed their Savior.  They held fast to their traditions and walked away from the Son of God.  We should learn from that mistake.  Just because a teaching does not fit our traditions or expectations does not mean that it is not true.  We must be humble enough to recognize that our traditions could be wrong.  So what do we do?

Second, we must be ready to examine all teaching according to the Word.  Just like the Bereans, we must take everything to the Word.  Just because something is popular does not make it right (or wrong).  Just because everybody says on Facebook that we should read a book does not mean that we should read it (or read it uncritically).  Nobody wants to believe that they can be taken in, but none of us are above being led astray.  So what do we do?  We dig in deep.  We start in Genesis and when we get to Revelations, we start over.  We read daily.  We hide it in our heart.  We come ready on Sundays to be taught from the Word.  And we always look for Jesus.  The Old Testament teaches the necessity of His death and resurrection and the New Testament teaches of its reality.  So we pray for the help of the Spirit and we dig in like the Bereans.  The Word is the way to discernment and so we follow it.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 August 2014 )

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