Acts 17:1-10a Christ into the City, Part 4: Thessalonica

If you would like to hear this sermon….

Text: Acts 17:1-10

Christ into the City, Part 4: Thessalonica

Big Idea: When we bring the good news of Christ into the city, success often comes hand in hand with hostility.

I.          SUCCESS can be expected when Christ is shared clearly with open-minded people. 1-4

A.        The content of our faith: the good news of Jesus Christ 1-3

1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

1.         Paul reasoned from a common source with the Jews: the Scriptures

a.         Scriptures taught that the coming Messiah would have to suffer (cf. Isa 53, Psalm 22:1, etc.)

b.         Scriptures taught that the coming Messiah would have to rise from the dead. (cf. Psalm 16:10 For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.)

2.         Paul asserted that this very same Jesus that he preached was indeed THE Messiah predicted in the Jewish Scriptures

B.        Many, diverse people were converted to faith in Jesus 4a

4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.

1.         They were persuaded by Paul’s logic and reason = The belief (“persuasion”) that Jesus is one’s Messiah; one’s Savior from sin is in itself the essence of saving faith.  Note: this was not an emotion-based faith, or one of religious performance.  It is simply the state of being personally convinced of the nature and trustworthiness of the Word of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ.

2.         They joined themselves to Paul (!) = The allegiances of those who believed in Christ Jesus were suddenly changed, and they gladly declared their loyalty and friendship with the person who had brought them the wonderful good news that saved them–Paul.

“them” = the Jews of the synagogue

“God-fearing Greeks” = Greek citizens who worshiped in the synagogue, but had not formally joined the Jewish religion, which would have required adherence to the Mosaic Law, including circumcision, kosher diet, etc.

“a number of the leading women” = It is a challenge to describe the degree of power and authority exercised by these particular women in Thessalonica.  The loss of such worshipers would have to have been perceived as a terrible blow to the health and popularity of the synagogue in Thessalonica.

FF Bruce: “If Macedonia produced perhaps the most competent group of men the world had yet seen, the women were in all respects the men’s counterparts; they played a large part in affairs, received envoys and obtained concessions for them from their husbands, built temples, founded cities, engaged mercenaries, commanded armies, held fortresses, and acted on occasion as regents or even co-rulers.”

II.         The success of our faith often provokes HOSTILITY from those who reject it 5-10

A.        As with the synagogue leaders, Jealousy is often the motivator when believers are persecuted 5a

5 But the Jews, becoming jealous = They felt that Paul’s success was their loss, as many prominent attenders and members allied themselves to the gospel, and Paul, rather than the synagogue.

B.        Intimidation…5b

1.         They hired trouble-makers…

and taking along some wicked men from the market place, = these were troublemakers who routinely loitered around the marketplace, and were available for hire to harass political opponents.

2.         They gathered a mob…

formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.  = the mob sought to impose its own discipline on Paul, but not finding him there, the crowds settled for Jason, and decided to drag him before the civil leaders of the city.

C.        Misrepresentation… 6-9

6 When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. = To accuse someone of “turning the world upside down” was to accuse them of sedition—a particularly relevant and dangerous accusation at that particular time, just a couple years after Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome over the (allegedly) seditious activities of a “Chrestus.”  While Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was overtly concerned with preaching and teaching of the imminent return of Jesus Christ to the earth, it was NOT a politically driven one of attack on the government, or Caesar.

D.        Marginalization: Financial mistreatment  removal from the public square, expulsion from the city                

9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. 10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, = levying a bond on Jason and others to insure that Paul would soon leave town, the city-rulers imposed an arbitrary, expedient decision to keep the peace of their city.  The result?  Paul could no longer teach or lead the Thessalonian church, and the precedent was set that this new (apparently) Jewish sect that worshiped the crucified Jew from Nazareth did NOT receive the blessings of the local government!

CONCLUSION:  So, what does this passage have to say about Grace Bible Church today, in Portland, Oregon, 2013?

In the same way that the gospel of Jesus came to Thessalonica 2,000 years ago, and comes to a city today…

1.         We should not be surprised when people believe the gospel—they will, by the grace of God!

2.         We should not be shocked or devastated when people are hostile to the gospel—and some will be hostile to it!  

3.         We must boldly and clearly share the gospel if we expect to see people accept the gospel—and they will accept it!

Acts 16:25-40 Christ into the City, Part 3: Philippi

Ken in the ruins of ancient Philippi
Ken in the ruins of ancient Philippi
Philippi Ruins (30)
The most prominent ruins in this picture are the remains of a Byzantine era Christian basilica.

Well….we didn’t get an audio of last week’s sermon, sorry!  I’m going to put down the bare bones of the sermon, the third in our series, “Christ into the City.”  This series will cover Paul and Co. as they enter Europe with the gospel, going to the major cities of ancient Greece in their effort to extend the good news of Jesus Christ to the “ends of the earth,” as they’d been commanded!  (Matt 28: 19-20)

Text:  Acts 16:25-40

25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. 35 Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have  thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” 38 The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40 They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they e encouraged them and departed.

This portion of the story of Paul’s ministry in Philippi tells the story of a divinely sent earthquake that shakes the foundations of the jail where Paul and Silas were incarcerated, but also topples the doors–and (here’s a miraculous thing!) causes the very chains on the prisoners to literally become “unfastened.”  Earthquakes certainly shake buildings and knock doors off of their hinges, but have you ever seen an earthquake that picks the locks open on a lock and chain?  Hmmm.

We discovered at least three important truths in this account that we hope will encourage us and even inform us as we seek to extend the gospel (Good News) of forgiveness and life found in Jesus to our own city, here in Portland, OR.  What does this passage teach us about Suffering, Salvation, and God?

Concerning Suffering, if we Christians possess a greater concern for the extension of the gospel into our communities than we are concerned for our own comfort and safety, we just might find ourselves being used by God in some wonderful ways to share His love.  Paul and Silas sang hymns of worship in prayer to God, at midnight, in a dark jail–and they were heard by their fellow prisoners.  Jails are not nice places, they do not resound with joyful songs of hope and praise, but often echo sounds of despair, anger, and hopelessness.  Paul and Silas could have easily succumbed to the outright pain and discomfort of their circumstances, but they did not succumb to that temptation!  And they were used by God, not only to sing His praise in a horrible place, but also to extend hope and genuine care to a distraught jailer who intended on committing suicide as he saw his livelihood as the town’s head jailer go up in smoke–or so he thought!  Further, because Paul and Silas kept their heads in the game of God’s will, not their comfort, they were able to seamlessly move to the jailer’s home, interacting with his family–who all became believers, too!

Concerning Salvation, anyone, anywhere, at any time who simply and only believes in Jesus for salvation will be saved.  Period.  The marvelous, blessed simplicity of the gospel is immediately embraced by the jailer and his family.  They believed, and were saved–immediately.  And, from all that the text implies, they KNEW they were saved–didn’t have to prove anything, didn’t have to “wait and see” how serious they were about the faith, or whether or not their faith was deemed “genuine” by any other Christians, as we and our leaders often do to the gospel today.  (Sigh.)  The jailer and his family had the audacity to simply trust that it is impossible for the Lord Jesus to ever NOT save someone who trusts in Him to save them.  Apparently Paul either forgot to tell them they needed to repent of sin, join a church, really want to change, etc., or those issues simply were not a part of the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  There were certainly many, many things that the Philippian jailer would be challenged by the Lord to address in his life–but, first things first, the first thing is the main thing: Believe in Jesus to be saved from sin and its judgment.  For us today, we must never settle for a complicated, performance based, behaviorally authenticated gospel–but insist on the singular truth that believing on Jesus Christ alone for salvation always saves–every person, every time, for all eternity.  God doesn’t play games with this issue, nor should we!

Finally, concerning God, this same loving God who broke Paul and Silas out of prison that night also broke INTO the prison of the jailer’s heart to free him from a life of sin, loss, cruelty, and hopelessness.  Sure, God sent an earthquake that could have simply been the occasion of a jail break, but more than that, He broke INTO the jail first.  It appears that this amazing God we read of in this text will move heaven and earth to get to the one voice that cries out for salvation.  Is there any reason to suspect that God has changed?  Jesus did not shake the heavens and earth so that Christians could blissfully skip out of the often painful, hard realities of this life, but He did break INTO a darkened, lost world to set people free from themselves, and their own sorry, doomed state before God.  God is still in the business of shaking foundations, flattening locked doors, and picking the locks that hold fast the chains that hold our souls–He comes into the darkest, most despondent places on earth to do it.  And He invites us to join Him in the mission!

Missions Update: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hello Everyone! This is Leanna posting. Pastor Ken granted me Admin status here on the blog so I could post updates on my missions trip. However, the trip is almost over and this is only my first post so I guess we can file this one under the “failure” category. Oh well… at least I’m getting one in!

As many of you know, I am currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Myself and 9 other team members spent the past week doing prep work for an evangelical summer camp that will be attended by kids from all over the country. It was a blessing to be back at the camp after serving there 2 years ago.

Some of the jobs we worked on at the camp this year include pitching tents, setting up a cafe, weeding around the camp site, moving lots and lots of mattresses and bed frames into the new house, cleaning bathrooms, cleaning bed rooms, cleaning kitchens, taking care of the piles of garbage all over the camp site, painting boards for a patio roof, and anything else that the camp director asked us to do.

Our time at the camp ended yesterday and we are now in Mostar. There are 2 Christian churches in Mostar and they both meet in the same building, one in the morning and one in the evening. Our team attended both services.

During the service that met this morning, I had the opportunity to share a brief testimony of something that I had learned while serving at the camp. This is what I shared:

The day we left for Bosnia (June 21st), I had that scratchy feeling in my throat that comes when you are about to get a cold. By the time we arrived, I had a fully operational snot factory set up in my sinuses. Once we started working I quickly discovered that I wasn’t capable of being around dust of any kind due to the cold, which was very limiting considering basically everything at the campsite was covered in dust. It was frustrating to say the least. My head felt heavy, I was congested, my throat hurt, and I just wanted to lay down and go to bed. Not exactly peak condition for a missions trip.

Right as my cold was just starting to go away, I had another medical problem pop up. I won’t go into all the gory details, but basically I got an infection in my body that was causing me a lot of pain and discomfort. Pretty much any movement was painful and, once again, all I wanted to do was lay down and not do anything. By this point I was extremely frustrated… frustrated to the point of tears and anger.

I was laying on my sleeping bag crying and I asked God, “Why is this happening to me right now? Why couldn’t You just have waited until after the trip was over?” It was a classic God, why are you doing this to me? moment. I felt angry and upset that my short time in Bosnia was being affected by my weak body… by something as simple as a cold and an infection that chose the worst possible time to show up.

As I was laying there crying and feeling bad for myself, I opened my Bible and landed in 2 Corinthians 12. This is what I read:

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

As I read these verses, I knew instantly what God was trying to tell me. This trip is not about what I can do in my own strength, it is about what God can do. I am nothing but a vessel – an instrument for God to use for His purposes – and God can not and will not be limited by the weakness and frailty of my flesh. Often I depend too much on my own strength and rely on my own abilities and forget that it is God who works through me, not me working and allowing Him to tag along. Sometimes I need Him to remind me who the true Craftsman is, and I think that this was one of those cases.

And to answer that Why now? question I had, I realized this morning that if I had gotten sick in America, I would have laid on the couch, watched TV, and eaten ice cream until I felt better. What good would have come from that? Nothing. But when I think of all that I was able to accomplish at the camps in spite of my crummy health, I am humbled. I know I did not get as much done as I might have in perfect health, but in this scenario I can give the credit to no one but my Father for what I was able to do with His strength.

Healthy Leanna might have said: “Look at what I did at the camp!”.

But Sick Leanna says: “Look what God gave me the strength to do at the camp!”

God’s timing truly is the best timing, isn’t it? We don’t always see and understand it at the beginning. It can be a frustrating process. But once you realize in the end how God orchestrated the whole thing, there is nothing to be done but to stand in awe of Him.

So thank you, Lord, for your timing. Thank you for my cold, thank you for the infection, thank you for teaching me, and thank you for loving me and using me in spite of my weakness.

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Want to see the pictures from my trip? You can check them out here… I think. If it doesn’t work I’m sorry! https://www.facebook.com/leannaburrows/media_set?set=a.10151739419517292.1073741827.774782291&type=1