Acts 17:1-15

berea-greeceActs 17:1-15

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. 10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

Jim Elliot, writing in his journal on June 23, 1947, said the following:

Missionaries are very human folks, just doing what they are asked. Simply a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.[i]

I like that. There is a gloriously understated feeling about it, yet something razor-sharp-accurate as well: “a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.” How very true! It has always been so throughout the history of the Church. God takes a bunch of nobodies and lets them tell others about Somebody: Jesus. This was precisely what Paul and his amazing team did, and oh the adventures they had!

In the first fifteen verses of Acts 17 we continue this missionary team’s story as they go to Thessalonica and then to Berea. Their first stop is difficult and challenging. Their second stop is sweet. Even so, their approach was the same, and that is telling. They had a commission, a calling, and their calling was the same regardless of whether the waters were rough or smooth. This team had in fact by now developed certain missionary habits, and they are evidenced in our text. The habits of Paul’s missionary team were:

  1. They went to the lost and did not expect the lost to come to them.
  2. They were well grounded in the scripture.
  3. They experienced both acceptance and rejection, but pressed on regardless.

Let us consider how these play out in the verses before us. We will do so by jumping about in our text and seeing these habits acted out.

They went to the lost and did not expect the lost to come to them.

Let us first observe that in both Thessalonica and Berea, these early missionaries went to the lost and did not expect the lost to come to them.

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2a And Paul went in, as was his custom

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.

These two phrases – “And Paul went in, as was his custom” and “when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue” – should be emblazoned on our hearts. They reveal the method and the mindset of Paul. They went to those who needed the name of Jesus, not vice versa.

It is always a joy and pleasure when those who do not know the Lord come to church. This is a good thing! We should indeed invite those who are not believers to come with us to God’s house. More than that, when the lost come they should hear the gospel. But let us not deceive ourselves: many who are lost never have and never will step foot in a local church. The question is will we go them?

In their book Missional Essentials, Brad Brisco and Lance Ford draw a distinction between the “attractional” church model and the “missional” church model. The attractional model attempts to attract people on the outside to come in. The missional model sees the church going to where people are to reach them. They argue persuasively that the New Testament vision of the Church is missional rather than attractional, and say:

…the attractional posture of most churches requires those outside the reach of the church to do the crosscultural work to find Jesus. In other words, we are asking those who are far away from God to become like missionaries and cross over the cultural barriers to come to us. But it is the church that comprises the missionary people of God. We are the ones who are sent![ii]

That is a brilliant and painful insight: we are essentially requiring the lost to be missionaries (i.e., expecting them to come to us) if we do not go to them. But the gospel challenge is not for the lost to seek the Lord; it is for the saved to go to the lost and tell them about Jesus.

In a practical sense, do you live this out? Would you say that your life is marked by a knowing, intentional effort to reach lost people where they are? If not, why not?

They were well grounded in the scriptures.

It is also noteworthy and convicting to see the extensive, careful, impactful usage of scripture that these early missionaries made.

2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

In Thessalonica, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” That is no token engagement with God’s Word. This is a deep and meaningful grasp of the Word and utilization of it for the task of leading people to Christ. Furthermore, they do the same in Berea. When we are told that the Bereans “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” we can be sure that Paul was there with them in the process. For one thing, they were certainly responding to biblical arguments from Paul. For another, this likely included an element of dialogue between the Bereans and Paul. John Stott has made some interesting observations about Paul, the Bereans, and the role that scripture played in their conversion.

What is impressive is that neither speaker nor hearers used Scripture in a superficial, unintelligent or proof-texting way. On the contrary, Paul ‘argued’ out of the Scriptures and the Bereans ‘examined’ them to see if his arguments were cogent. And we may be sure that Paul welcomed and encouraged this thoughtful response. He believed in doctrine (his message had theological content), but not in indoctrination (tyrannical instruction demanding uncritical acceptance). As Bengel wrote about verse 11, ‘a characteristic of the true religion is that it suffers itself to be examined into, and its claims to be so decided upon’. Thus Paul’s arguments and his hearers’ studies went hand in hand. I do not doubt that he also bathed both in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit of truth to open his mouth to explain, and his hearers’ minds to grasp, the good news of salvation in Christ.[iii]

Indeed, there truly was no “superficial, unintelligent or proof-texting” approach to scripture in Paul’s ministry. Everything we read in our text suggests careful, reasoned intentionality and even intensity. Ajith Fernando lists six words from our passage that “describe the evangelism of Paul and Silas” along with accompanying explanations of these words.

  1. Paul “reasoned” (dialegomai) in the synagogues (v. 2).
  2. How the reasoning that constituted apologetics was done is explained in verse 3 with two more key words: “explaining” (dianoigo) and “proving” (paratithemi). Dianoigo literally means to open, and the idea behind this word is well expressed in Luke 24: 32: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
  3. Thus, to the exposition Paul added “proving” (paratithemi), which means he carefully answered questions posed to him, responded to their objections, and demonstrated the validity of his claims.
  4. Paul “proclaimed” (katangello) a clear message about Jesus Christ to the Thessalonians (v. 3b).
  5. The next two words, “persuaded” and “joined” (v. 4), describe the response to the message. The aim of apologetics is not simply discussion so that we can know what each other believes. Rather, it is to “persuade” (peitho).
  6. Conversion is also implied in the word translated “joined” (proskleroo), which appears only here in the New Testament.[iv]

The Thessalonians were less open to the gospel than were the Bereans, but Paul’s approach remained the same. He opened the Word of God and spoke it. He was well grounded in it. He knew it well enough to lead people to Christ through it.

It begs the question: can you and I do the same? Are you well grounded enough in scripture that you could take a Bible, open it, and lead somebody to Christ? Can you? More than that, if you are challenged from scripture, do you know it well enough to reason in the scriptures with somebody who may have questions?

When all is said in done, history will record that one of the greatest tragedies of our church age was biblical illiteracy. At the exact same time that radical, aggressive atheism seems to be spreading around the world, Christians seem to be less and less engaged in the serious business of Bible study. This simply cannot stand. If nothing else, the clear example of these early missionaries should challenge and sufficiently rebuke us. They knew the Word and could reason from it!

They experienced both acceptance and rejection, but pressed on regardless.

There is also a refreshing degree of resiliency and resolve in these brothers. They experienced both acceptance and rejection, but they pressed on regardless. You can see these dynamics at work in both Thessalonica and Berea.

4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

Notice that in both places some believed but many did not. And in both cases, they were eventually driven out by an angry mob. We would do well to take note of this: not all or even most of those to whom we reach out with the gospel will be receptive. To bear witness is to receive rejection. That is a given.

But what of those who receive the truth and are saved? Are they worth it? Paul and Silas and the others clearly thought so. We should remember that they were willing to take beatings and imprisonments and all manner of degrading reactions to their efforts so long as the few who would believe would do so.

Most of us are familiar with the book or the movie versions of “True Grit.” The title comes from Mattie telling Rooster Cogburn that has true grit, by which she means courage and resolve and endurance. It is probably the case that the Church today needs to gain a sense of such grit. We have, to put it mildly, become somewhat soft. We complain of any hint of persecution and, in truth, we rarely bare witness with such boldness that invites persecution.

Whether we realize it or not, we are fighting now for the future of the Church. We are fighting for the Church that our children and grandchildren will inherit. What we do know – how well we ground ourselves in the Bible and how courageously we bear witness – will be passed on to generations to come.

My prayer is that the example of this early missionary team will spur us on to boldness and to resolve. We are a people in desperate need of reclaiming our backbones. We are here because brave men and women before us did not quit, did not give up, and felt that it was a privilege to take the light into the darkness. We must go and do likewise.

 

[i] Daniel L. Akin, Five Who Changed the World (Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008), 94.

[ii] Brad Brisco and Lance Ford. Missional Essentials. (Kansas City, MO: The House Studio, 2012), p.13.

[iii] Stott, John (2014-04-02). The Message of Acts (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (Kindle Locations 4971-4977). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[iv] Fernando, Ajith (2010-12-21). Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (p. 412-414). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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