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Maintaining the Same Focus

October 29, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 17:1–15

Maintaining the Same Focus – Acts 17:1–15

PRAY

Acts 17:1–15 ESV

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.

As we continue to follow the missionary work of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the author reveals repeating patterns. With his closeness to and respect for the Apostle Paul, we shouldn’t doubt that that this historical theology is also setting forth a model for us to follow: to maintain the same focus, … keep following in their footsteps.

Why do we sometimes fall into the foolish thinking that a new way of doing something must be better? In the case of following the model of the Apostles as they show us how to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we do well to follow our own corny proverb: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

We need to maintain the same focus by following the pattern of the Apostles (and their earliest disciples). Today I want to underscore four clear patterns from the ministry in Thessalonica and Berea and beyond, and how we must walk according to these patterns. 

The first repeated pattern that we must not overlook is… 

The gospel doesn’t change: Jesus is the Christ. 

Because God proved that Jesus is Lord through his sinless life and miraculous power, and climactically through his sacrificial death... and vindicating resurrection... and heavenly ascension, it shouldn’t surprise us that such is the same gospel that Peter preached… and Stephen preached, and Philip, and Paul, and every other Christ-follower who faithfully proclaims the only means to be right with God and receive eternal life. Jesus is the Christ.

[map] Paul preached the same gospel in Damascus, and in Jerusalem, and in Cilicia and Syria. And then with Barnabas he preached the same gospel in Cyprus, and again in Pisidia, and the same gospel in Iconium, and Lystra, and Derbe. Now with Silas he was preaching the same gospel (that Jesus is the Christ) in Philippi, and Thessalonica, and Berea, and the same gospel in Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and on and on—through hardship and trial, whether well-received or persecuted—the same gospel. The locations and the audiences would change, but the gospel would not. Paul would one day preach the same gospel in Rome, before the highest human authorities.

This gospel declares: We stand under God’s authority; he has proven that Jesus is Lord. We must submit to God’s rule and repent from sin and turn to Jesus for salvation. If the gospel doesn’t change, the required response doesn’t change either. (And so we find this same gospel and same expectation in Acts 17.)

[Smaller map] (At v. 1) The missionaries now leave Philippi and travel through Amphipolis and Apollonia to reach Thessalonica. Following along this Macedonian segment of the Egnatian Way (an important east-west Roman road), each of these cities would have been a very full one-day journey on foot from one to the next.

Thessalonica was the capital city for the government of Macedonia (under Roman authority, of course), and an important Roman port city along the Via Egnatia. When chased out of Thessalonica (v. 10), they go down to Berea, and there begin again with a similar pattern, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ.

We are proclaimers of the same message.

We are witnesses to the same gospel as the Apostle Paul. “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

Maintaining the same gospel is of critical importance, because we cannot alter the gospel without losing it entirely. As one author writes, “If Jesus is not proclaimed as Israel’s Messiah and Savior of humankind who died instead of and for the benefit of sinners, making forgiveness of sins and eternal life possible for sinners who come to faith in Jesus, such “news” will always be a “different gospel” than the one that Paul and the other apostles were proclaiming. And, as Paul insists, a “different gospel” is “no gospel” (Gal 1:6–7).” -Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 713. 

And so we must proclaim, explain, prove, and defend that God’s good news for us is Jesus, and this good news exposes the bad news. “It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead,” because we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1) unless he accomplishes for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

We are proclaimers of the same message: Jesus is the Christ. 

The second pattern, which is especially clear in the ministry to Thessalonica and Berea, is that…

The Scriptures are trustworthy, authoritative and effective.

The Holy Scriptures can be trusted. God’s Bible is the authority on knowing God and what he expects from us. And God’s own word will be the instrument most effective in communicating the message of Christ and allowing the gospel to have its impact.

When Paul entered Thessalonica, for three consecutive Sabbaths he is in the synagogue proclaiming Christ from the Scriptures, and reasoning from them, explaining & proving.

First we should understand these other things to be taking place in the context of proclaiming Christ, which is making an announcement, a declaration of the gospel. As part of his proclamation, though, Paul is also willing to dialogue/reason with them (converse/discuss). But he isn’t using his own ingenuity, and trusting in his passion, or his skill as a debater. He is trusting in the truth of the Scriptures to make his point. And it needs to be said, he can do this straightforwardly in the synagogue context because they already believe the Scriptures to be the authoritative word of God.

And Paul is explaining, he’s opening/interpreting clearly the contents of Scripture, and thereby also proving (showing forth, demonstrating, providing evidence) from the Scriptures that “it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead.”

According to God’s word, “It was necessary.” Jews resisted the notion of a suffering Messiah, even though there is prophetic testimony of it in the OT Scriptures (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; Zech. 12:10; 13:7). But these listeners needed to know that they could not be saved by the law because they did not (nor could not) perfectly keep the law: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself—at all times in all ways. To stumble at any point in keeping the law is to be guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10), even something such as showing favoritism (Jam 2:9). Jesus Christ, however, kept God’s law perfectly in every way so that he could become the spotless lamb—a perfect sacrifice, unblemished by sin. His perfect life and atoning death on a cross was necessary.

And it was necessary that he come back from the dead to be victorious over sin and death. By so doing God vindicates his plan and vindicates that Jesus is Lord, and vindicates that by faith in him we can truly be forgiven of sin and granted right standing with God… based on his righteousness for us.

It is the Scriptures that declare Jesus as God’s means of salvation. This word, this Bible, is God’s revelation of himself, his plan, his gospel. It is authoritative, it is trustworthy, and it is effective. Some (Jews) were persuaded (convinced to trust and obey) and joined with Paul and Silas, “as did a great many of the devout Greeks [God-fearers] and not a few of the leading women.” - In the Greco-Roman world it had become not uncommon for some women to hold influential or prominent positions, and such was particularly true in Macedonia.

Now the pattern and value of the authority of the Scriptures is reinforced in a unique way in Berea. In v. 11, Luke calls these hearers in Berea more noble because they listened well (received the teaching eagerly) and then they examined the Scriptures daily (analyzed in careful detail, studying carefully) to see if what Paul said was truly consistent with the authoritative word of God.

So too in Berea, the Scriptures are effective: v. 12.

I think there should be no question that Luke sets this example from the Bereans as a pattern for us to follow, carrying on into today with all forms of things we are taught.

We have even greater access to the same resource.

(the word of God)

One author makes the application of the principle plain for us: “As the Jews of Berea examined Paul’s teaching, testing its authenticity and relevance on the basis of its agreement with the Scripture, so Christians examine the preaching and teaching of pastors and evangelists on the same basis, with “Scripture” now including the words of Jesus and of the apostles, […] the New Testament.” … “But without such an examination, the loudest preacher, or the preacher who works with the lowest common denominator, will have the largest following, with no guarantees that what he preaches as gospel is indeed the word of the Lord.” -Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 713.

Therefore, we don’t simply profess the authority of Scripture but we study it to know and obey its content. God’s word is trustworthy, authoritative and effective, and we have access to the same resource used by Christ himself and the Apostles. In fact, we have the completed cannon—the New Testament as well as the OT Hebrew scriptures.

We should therefore make use of this same resource in our evangelism and teaching, and in our examination of what we are being told by others.

And now here’s a third pattern that’s really clear in Thessalonica and Berea: 

The gospel continuously generates aggressive opposition.

In Thessalonica the Jews are jealous. This is at least the 3rd mention of such a reaction from Jews in different places. They are jealous for their way, their version of what God has said, and their religious power and influence.

And they incite the evil men who loiter in the market, do-nothings who are easy to stir into mob violence, and they cause a riot (a disorderly disturbance) in the city. The mob positions itself at Jason’s house, evidently where they expect to find the missionaries, wanting to bring them out (Jason was probably a Hellenistic Jew hospitably hosting them in his home).

When they can’t find Paul & Silas there, they take Jason and some other brothers before the city officials. There would have been 5 or 6 of these politarchs (a very specific designation for these authorities, and a term only used in Macedonia). These officials had full governing authority over the city and only answered to Rome, and were given free rein unless they did something really foolish.

The jealous Jews with their mob accuse “these men” (referring to the missionaries) of disrupting, upsetting the whole inhabited world with their teaching. And now they’re here in our city, acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus. Now this is a particularly nefarious approach from the Jews, knowing that such would be just the right tack to get them in the most trouble with Roman authorities. - Luke often notes the way the gospel’s detractors twist the truth to make trouble for evangelists.

This approach hits its mark, and the authorities are concerned. They likely exact a security payment from Jason as a guarantee that the missionaries will leave their community.

But getting them out of Thessalonica isn’t enough for the aggressive persecutors. v. 13 - We rightly view this like “good grief,” but really…

We should expect and anticipate similar persecution.

The unique transformational power of God’s gospel generates aggressive opposition. It’s exclusive, it’s authoritative, it demands a response.

Although some are granted by God to hear with open hearts, resulting in their conversion (v. 4 - some were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas), others will hardheartedly and stubbornly reject the gospel—the good news of God’s revelation in and through Jesus. Why?

In our sin, we rage against God’s authority and expectation of us. We rage against the guilt of our sin and the specific attention concerning its consequences. 

The gospel offends because of what it demands. It demands that we accept God’s authority. It demands that we accept God’s means of making things right—Jesus’ atoning death on a cross. It demands that we accept our sin—our depravity and inability—and its consequence: just judgment. It demands that we turn in merciful pleading to Jesus to forgive us and make us right with God.

And this resistance comes from the religious and non-religious alike (a stumbling block to Jews and nonsense to Greeks). To the worldly religious it offends them that they can never be good enough, that their sense of rightness God declares insufficient. To the worldly wise it offends their self-trust and self-love, that their worldview is based on falsehood.

It is right for us to realize then that “a gospel proclamation that is never offensive is, perhaps, never authentic.” -Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 714.

With prayer and submission you can take the sharp edges off of your own demeanor, whether that be wrong motivations or attitudes or lack of clarity and preparation. In the Spirit you can better bear out the fruit of the Spirit. But you can’t take the sharp edges off the gospel, because gospel proclamation is the razor-sharp spear that God uses to pierce through our sin-loving hardened hide of self-sufficiency... right to the heart of who we are before God. Heb 4:12-13 [note especially v. 13]

Hebrews 4:12–13 ESV

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

See how this has been building… the gospel message is unchanging, the trustworthy and authoritative Scriptures are effective for proclaiming that gospel, and those who resist the word of the Lord penetrating them like surgeon’s blade are doing so at their own eternal peril.

Jesus wants to heal you and free you and forgive you. He wants to make you clean so you can stand in God’s presence. Will you kneel to him?

But it has always been and will always be that Jesus is the narrow gate leading to the narrow way; the path of destruction is wide and many are taking it. The demand of the gospel that Jesus is the only way, and that he is the ultimate authority to whom we must kneel, will always be met with some aggressive opposition.

Therefore Christ’s church abides in him, and his people stick together to serve him in the midst of harsh resistance. That’s the final emphasis for us to see this morning in this passage from Acts 17 in Thessalonica and Berea.

Christians care for one another in commitment to Christ.

(We are linked arm in arm, we are members one of another, we have each other’s backs, we fight for each other’s growth and perseverance, we love one another.)

In Thessalonica those Jews who are persuaded join with them (casting their lot in with them, associating their lives with whatever becomes of this community in Christ). “As did a great many of the devout Greeks [God-fearers] and not a few of the leading women.” - What an eclectic blend! 

But joining together with Paul & Silas proves to be of no small consequence.

Jason in particular takes a lot of heat for playing host to the missionaries (Paul, Silas, and Timothy)… and some of the other brothers with him. They have indeed bound their lives together with God’s people, persecution and all.

The believers there (most of them new followers of Christ), act swiftly and courageously to send Paul & Silas away at night to Berea. Then again from Berea the Christians protect Paul, possibly having received some hint of the mob’s intent against Paul, the primary one at risk as the vocal leader. So they send him off toward the sea.

[smaller map] Whether by sailboat or by foot along the coast, some conduct Paul all the way to Athens.

Since Silas and Timothy remained behind in Berea, it doesn’t take long for Paul to feel the lack of these men (his teammates in ministry) and to send for them to reunite with him.

We must have the same care for one another.

It will always be the case that when we are pressed by outside forces, minor differences will fade away and we will stand together.

[Conclusion - title slide]

We have everything we need, and the pattern has been set for us.

Whether we are considering our focus for ministry as a local church, or teaching those sent out from us what to prioritize, we do well to emphasize these four things again and again. ***

PRAY

 

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