Last we left Paul, he was sharing the Gospel of Jesus in the city of Philippi. A time in his mission work that is filled with amazing stories:
About a woman named Lydia who heard that there was more to life than some riches and expensive clothing – that Jesus died to clothe her in the divine riches of eternal righteousness. About a young slave girl who was also possessed by a demon. Paul met her, and by Jesus’ power that spirit was driven away from her giving her FREEDOM from evil itself. About a jailer who lived his life in fear at the hands of the Roman government. After hearing Paul sing hymns when he was in prison and not escaping when an earthquake freed him, the jailer asked about the reason for his confidence – and heard about how Jesus gives FREEDOM from fear, because he conquers everything: sin, guilt, and even death.
Today we’re going onto the next part of the missionary journey. Surely, there are more amazing stories in store, right?
Before we begin, let’s pray: OLord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Volatility of Thessalonica
Acts 17 describes where Paul journeys next: When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. (17:1)
If you look on a map, Philippi was in the middle of Macedonia about 30 miles from the coast. Paul left and headed about 30 miles to Amphipolis which was along the coast. From there, he went another 30-some miles to Apollonia along the coast. Finally, he gets to Thessalonica, another leading city of the ancient world.
Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. (17:2-3)
A few notes:
The Synagogue was the worship center for the local Jews. Since Paul was a Jew, it was a logical place to start because he would immediately have a connection with them: “You’re from the North Side of Jerusalem? So is my aunt. They’ve got good Matzah balls there. What are your thoughts on the Jerusalem Mudcats upcoming baseball season?”
Once making a connection, he reasoned from the Scriptures. The Old Testament (the same one that we have today) had already been collected and was read every Sabbath in worship. These people knew about God. They knew about the Messiah. They knew about the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament.
That’s where Paul started. He used the Scriptures to explain and prove that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.
Maybe he read from Psalm 22, a Scripture written around a thousand years before Jesus:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (v.1) A message attributed to the Messiah and quoted verbatim by Jesus on the cross. I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. (v.6) Jesus was despised. That’s why they put him on the cross. All who see me mock me… “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him”(v.7-8) Which is exactly what the people said to Jesus as he hung on the cross. I am poured out like water. (v.14) Which is what happened to Jesus after they plunged a spear into his side. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. (v.15) Jesus gets thirsty and receives a drink of vinegar wine soaked into a dirty old sponge. They pierce my hands and my feet. (v.16) Which is what happens in a crucifixion with nails and what happened to Jesus.
And then Isaiah 53, about 600 years before Jesus: We considered (the Messiah) punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (v.3) But he was pierced for our transgressions…Again, Jesus was crucified. He was crushed for our iniquities… In his crucifixion, Jesus died as his lungs were crushed. The punishment that brought us peace was on him. (v.4) And crucifixion was the capital punishment of the Roman empire. He was cut off from the land of the living. (v.8) That meant the Messiah would die. Jesus died. But after he has suffered, he will see the light of life. (v.11) That meant the Messiah would rise. Jesus rose.
And that’s not the only one. Look at Psalm 16: You will not let your faithful one see decay. Faithful Jesus didn’t see decay. Three days later, his body’s blood was pumping again! You make known to me the path of life. For Jesus, his path went out a stone sized, grave door.
After three weeks of Paul’s teaching, some Jews believed. So did some Greeks. Some… were jealous. (v.5)
Who does this guy think he is? Telling us what the Scriptures say. I’ve been studying it my whole life! And we’re supposed to follow this Jesus? Some carpenter? Nah-uh. I look more religious than him before I’ve had my morning coffee. And don’t tell me I’m a sinner. Don’t tell me that I need a Savior. I am my own savior. I’m good enough.
So, here’s what they did:
They rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace: Hooligans, a few gang members, a couple of drunks from the bar, some guys who like to fight. They formed a mob. “Be sure to scream and shout obscenities as we march through the city. There’s no better way to prove morality than obscenities!” They started a riot in the city. Breaking flowerpots, knocking down lamp posts, setting a few bushes on fire. They rushed to Jason’s house (a new convert and friend of the missionaries) in search ofPaul and Silas to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (v.5-7)
In short, the city was thrown into turmoil. (v.8)
Hmm… Not exactly the incredible reaction of Philippi. Why the volatile reaction?
(1) God’s Holy Word + Unholy Hearts = a Volatile Reaction
Chemicals mixed with other chemicals cause some interesting reactions. There’s the classic science fair volcano mixture of baking soda and vinegar – it leads to a bubbling eruption. Hydrogen peroxide and potassium iodide produce this brightly colored toothpaste big enough for an elephant. Place some gummy bear into a tube of potassium chlorate and suddenly the gummy bears will be dancing at a late-night disco club.
Here’s the truth: When God’s holy Word mixes with unholy human hearts, there is a volatile reaction.
Think about it. Sin is opposed to good. God is good. Therefore, sin is opposed to God.
And… Sin comes from sinful heart. Sin is still opposed to God. Therefore, sinful hearts are opposed to God.
And quite frankly… God is opposed to sin.
That’s what happened in Thessalonica. God’s holy Word connected with their hearts and there was a volatile reaction.
Now you might be thinking: Good thing I don’t have an unholy heart. My heart…is pure?
But… Has it ever happened like this:
You’re sitting down for your morning coffee. You open your phone. You’re doing some quiet reading in the morning.
Then… Something convicts your heart. A Bible reading. A social media post. An email from Pastor…
Don’t tell me that I’m sinning sexually. That’s my business. Stop showing me my greediness. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t tell me to forgive. You don’t know what I’m going through. Stop calling out my unbelief. I’ll believe what I want to believe, when I want to believe it.
When God’s Holy Word mixes with unholy human hearts, there is a volatile reaction. And if there’s a volatile reaction in your heart… Then, there’s unholiness there, too.
(2) A Volatile Reaction does not Invalidate God’s Word
Even though the Thessalonians formed a mob and rioted, it didn’t invalidate God’s Word. They were still sinners. They still needed a Savior. Jesus still was that Savior.
He still lived. He still died. He still rose triumphantly.
No amount of “raising a stink” can invalidate the truth of God!
I remember my wife once told me that I had a stain on my shirt. Because it was an expensive shirt that I liked a lot, I got upset. I told her. “No, it isn’t. It’s just fine.” She said, “Umm…no there’s a stain.”
I said, “The shirts ok. I can wear it.” She said, “No, there’s a stain.
I said, “Just leave me alone.” She said, “I can do that. But the stain will still be there.”
If no amount of my complaining and volatility invalidates the truth of a common ketchup stain, then, no amount of our complaining and volatility invalidates the truth of God’s Word.
(3) A Volatile Reaction Cannot Stop God’s Word
When the mob made their way to ransack the place where Paul and Silas were staying, they weren’t there. Maybe they were out at the grocery store to pick up a few onions for soup that night.
But this was no coincidence: God was keeping his Word safe.
When Paul and Silas do leave, God’s Word doesn’t. Jason and the other new believers remain and keep sharing the message of God’s Word: God’s Word can’t be stopped.
Here’s the truth: You can whine and complain all you want, but you won’t be able to stop God’s Word. Because the Gospel comes from God. People can’t stop God. Because…it’s God!
In fact, your volatile reaction? The only thing that is does stop? Your salvation.
II. The Nobility of Berea
The volatility didn’t stop the Gospel. That night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. (v.10) They weren’t downtrodden. They didn’t quit. They didn’t give up. They brought the Gospel to the next town and did the exact same thing.
And there’s still a reaction. Only this time, the reaction is a bit different: Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (v.11)
Paul’s sermons must have affected them similarly. (They were sinners too.)
Only instead of rioting, they began reading. Instead of forming a mob, they formed a nice collection of highlights in their Scriptures. Instead of ransacking the host’s home, they ransacked the collection of scrolls.
The Messiah was supposed to suffer? I don’t know about that. That seems wrong, yet…That’s what God’s Word says. The Messiah would be rejected? How could people do that? I don’t know if that’s true, yet…That’s what God’s Word says. The Messiah would rise from the dead? That’s impossible. It can’t happen, yet…That’s what God’s Word says…
It must be true.
Here’s a key truth: Careful Examination of God’s Word Confirms Its Truth.
Because God’s Word comes from God. God is truth. His Word is truth.
The truth is that the Messiah would suffer; Jesus did. The truth is that the Messiah would die; Jesus did. The truth is that the Messiah would rise; Jesus did – eyewitnesses confirm it!
The truth is that the Messiah would take away our sins; Jesus did. The truth is that the Messiah would remove our guilt; Jesus did. The truth is that the Messiah would defeat death; Jesus did.
The truth is that the “whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life…” The truth is that the if you believe, you will have eternal life.
When you think about it, there there’s just as much a volatile reaction in Berea as there was in Thessalonica. Just…different.
Because as they study God’s Word… Doubt goes up in smoke. Fear is exploding into thin air. The power of the devil is destroyed. Grief evaporates.
This is the power of Jesus. This is the power of his Word.
III. What Now?
(1) Don’t Assume that You are Right-Side up
Toy Story 4 just came out about two weeks ago; I think it’s ok to give a spoiler…for Toy Story 1. It’s about a space toy named Buzz Lightyear who thinks he’s a real spaceman. Even though the other toys tell him: “The blinking light isn’t a laser. You aren’t in contact with the intergalactic space fore. You can’t fly.” Buzz doesn’t believe.
Until about halfway through the movie, when a younger sister gets ahold of him, dresses him up in dolly clothes and refers to him as “Mrs. Nesbitt”. Then, his world is turned upside down. Even though he’s been wrong the whole time. He is a toy and that’s the truth.
When the Thessalonians were in the middle of their uproar, they said about Paul, “He’s turning the world upside down.” That’s interesting language. Because they were right in assuming that their world was being flipped.
Only… It wasn’t being flipped upside down. But…right-side up.
Don’t be a Thessalonian. Don’t be Buzz Lightyear. Don’t assume that you’ve got your life perfectly together so that when God’s Word tells you differently, you assume that it’s being ridiculous.
Your heart is sinful; not God’s.
He’s right side up. Because he’s right. Always.
(2) Ignore the Gut Reaction
Sometimes you might do something based on a gut reaction:
I got a feeling about this guy, so I’ll say yes to a date. My gut is telling me to go ahead and say yes to that job. My gut is telling me that…I probably shouldn’t eat a 13th hot dog.
In some instances, it’s fine. But when it comes to God’s Word. And it tells you to do something you don’t like.
Don’t trust your gut. Your gut is part of sinful you. Trust his Word.
Be nice to my enemy? My gut is telling me not to. But God’s Word says YES. I’ll do it. Say that racist thing? My gut is telling me it’ll be funny. But God’s Word says DON’T so. I’ll forget it. Sex with that person I’m not married to! My gut…my whole body is telling me yes, but God’s Word says WAIT. I’ll wait till marriage.
Ignore the gut reaction and follow God’s Word. Because God’s Word comes from God. And God – is holy.
(3) Be a Berean
Did you know the Bereans are the only group of people during the missionaries’ journeys that the Holy Spirit guides Luke to say about them: “NOBLE?” It’s a compliment, one directed at them because when they heard Paul speak and were unsure about his message, they didn’t trust their GUT.
They trusted God’s Word.
They didn’t trust a scientist. They didn’t trust a friend. They didn’t trust an article on Facebook. They didn’t trust a tweet. They didn’t trust a blogpost. They didn’t trust what society says is acceptable.
They trusted God’s Word.
So, they examined it. The implication? It was more than just a 10-second read. It was more than just “Alexa, tell me if this is a good thing or a bad thing?” It was more than just a 30-second perusal of #IsThisSinASinOrNot?
They examined God’s Word. They poured over it. They spent about as much time trying to decide if Jesus is Messiah or not as you might spend trying to decide if the critics really liked the ending to Game or Thrones or not.
They spent time examining God’s Word… And it was worth it.
I met someone recently. He asked if we could meet because one of our church members had directed him to talk with me. We met up for coffee and he explained that he had been an atheist for most of his life. Then, some things happened that made him question whether he was on the right path. He examined various teachings:
Buddhist. Hindu. Judaism. Islam.
But when he got to the Bible. When he began reading God’s Word. When he started reading the Gospel,
As he was talking to me, he was talking to me as a believer – I didn’t do anything. He simply “examined the Scriptures” and… An amazing reaction.
Doubt destroyed. Faith created. Salvation was his.
God’s Word is powerful. Trust Jesus. There’s nothing more noble. Amen.