Read: Acts 17:1-15
Paul, Silas, Timothy, and others continue their missionary journey to Thessalonica and Berea. In typical fashion, they start at the local synagogues as they reach out to those who are willing to discuss the gospel message they have come to proclaim. Some Jews in Thessalonica become outraged and create a riot there, then follow them to Berea to continue to stir up trouble. It’s not a great scene, but even in all the mess, solid churches are planted and the church continues to grow. The challenge from this message is applicable today as we seek to carry out the great commission of making disciples from those who are far from Christ.
It’s interesting to note that Paul’s habit is to start by visiting synagogues as he travels about.
As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, Acts 17:2
When we read Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, we get the idea that he stayed there for quite some time…a lot more than three weeks as the passage above could imply. On these three particular Sabbath days, Paul reasoned with those in attendance based on the very scriptures they probably knew quite well.
Good and Bad News
All heard the same message. Paul reasoned with them on an intellectual level with no indication of a condescending tone. Yet the result was a divided response:
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. Acts 17:4-5
The contrast is stark. How is it that some prominent people heard the explanation and are moved to submission while others respond by creating a riot? The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the word is sharper than a double-edged sword, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).
Biblical preaching can cause division, even when we preach unity. This is quite the challenge for us today. The reaction of some of the Jews in the story is one of outright anger. They sought to find Paul, but he was nowhere to be found so:
they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials Acts 17:6
Jason was being a good host. Suddenly his newfound faith is tested without warning along with others who have just become Christ followers. I suspect Paul warned Jason and the new believers of this very real possibility. Their reaction to abduction is honorable and their release was apparently secured quickly, but not without pain and humiliation. Being dragged to court in your hometown is nothing less than degrading.
When we talk to non-believers about becoming Christians do we suggest it’s easy? Just say this prayer and it’s all good. Or do we warn them that the cost of discipleship is high, that you may find yourself rejected by friends and family? The last thing we should be offering is anything that looks like cheap grace. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, comes to mind. Lord, let us not be a people that suggest there You offer cheap grace.
The riot in Thessalonica propels Paul to move on to Berea. Here we find some who are serious about searching Scripture for answers. Paul finds kindred spirits in Berea.
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. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. Acts 17:11-12
It’s always encouraging to find those of like mind. While we’re called to seek the lost, finding the few who hear the message is incredibly refreshing. Like a soothing balm, Paul is received well and many become Christ followers.
But the story isn’t over yet. Some of the Jews from Thessalonica found Paul in Berea and took it upon themselves to stir up trouble there as well.
some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea Acts 17:13-14
They just couldn’t keep from stirring up trouble!
The gospel of Jesus Christ is by its very nature counter-cultural. It stands in the face of what the world sees as good and worthwhile. It should cause trouble! I’m not advocating riots, nor should we take any pride in arguing for the sake of an argument, but we must not be surprised when logical, well-intended discussion turns to anger and resentment.
I’ve watched many, in the name of evangelism, provoke people with their form of the gospel message that puts me on edge. In their zealousness, they probably turned more people away than those who continued to listen. I am being judgmental when I say that they took pride in winning converts at the expense of those who were offended, just like the Jews in Thessalonica that stirred up riots. Their attempt to be like Paul was interpreted as being offensive enough to cause trouble. I don’t think that’s the message Luke is telling us here.
It’s not my aim to cause trouble, but I should not be surprised when my good intentions create issues. The question boils down to one of motivation. Am I trying to focus on myself or am I really working to persuade with biblical arguments?
This should come as no surprise. Jesus warned us:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Lord, help us to preach and teach Your word with You as the center of all discussion. Holy Spirit, give us the right words to say and tell us when to lower our volume all the way down to zero, to know when to shut up and when to keep on going.