Acts 17


“When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” Acts 17:1-4

In Thessalonica

In the previous chapter, we left Paul and Silas being freed from prison miraculously but they also freed a bunch of people from their sins and a slave girl who was now freed from demon possession. And they both left Philippi after spending some time with Lydia and her household.

In this chapter, we find Paul and Silas on their second missionary journey to Thessalonica. If you’re the apostle Paul and your trade is preaching, you will always know your audience and know exactly what to say and sometimes that means saying the words which are going to hurt most.

Luke didn’t tell us why Paul passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia but he did tell us that the next stop on this second missionary tour was Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.

Remember, Philippi didn’t have a synagogue so Paul and Silas went to the place of prayer but here in Thessalonica, they had one, so Paul went to the synagogue for three consecutive Sabbath days to reason with the Jews.

The very idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews, 1 Corinthians 1:23, but what Paul does here, he argues from the prophets saying that that was precisely what God had foretold in Isaiah 53.

And so, he goes on and establishes the fact that God had also planned and accomplished Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and made Him King over His people, Acts 2:22-36 / 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

In other words, all these things which were recorded by the prophets were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The scriptural evidence was supported by the miracles worked by the power of the Holy Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 1:5. There was more than enough proof that Jesus was the risen Messiah.

It was during these three weeks of teaching in the synagogue in Thessalonica that Paul and Silas worked with their own hands to support themselves, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, and the apostles received support from the brethren in Philippi on at least two occasions, Philippians 4:16.

The point is, that the combination of scriptural preaching, the miracles and the apostle’s obvious commitment to reach the lost had its desired effect.

And we know that all that proof and effort was rewarded because Luke tells us that some Jews and Greeks who worshipped God and prominent women from the community obeyed the Gospel.

And it is those people whom Paul refers to when he writes to the church that meets at Thessalonica. What a great way to be remembered as a congregation, they used to worship idols but now they have turned to God, 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

We should never forget who we used to be and where we came from and who we are now because the Bible clearly reminds us of who we were and what we have become.

We used to be dead in our sins but now God has made us alive in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:1-5. We used to look to the world for the answers to life but now we turn to the living God for those answers.

And now, just like Paul and Silas did with these Jews and Gentiles, we are persuaded that Jesus truly is Lord over everything and our life needs to reflect that persuasion. It’s only when we remember who we used to be in reference to being sinners, can we show those who are still dead in their sins the way back to life.

And so following on, what we have seen happening time and time again throughout the Book of Acts, there are those who are made alive in Christ and those who chose to remain dead in their sins.

“But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers 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.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.” Acts 17:5-9

Luke says that Paul’s words moved the unbelieving Jews to jealousy and so they enlisted the help of some troublemakers and stirred up a mob to go to Jason’s house and bring Paul and Silas out. And I guess if we can’t find the people we’re looking for, we will take the next best thing, and that’s what the mob did.

When they couldn’t find the two missionaries, the mob dragged Jason and some brethren before the rulers of the city and then the accusations began to flow. They accused Paul and Silas of being part of the number who turned the world upside down by teaching that Jesus was King.

Notice from the text, that the rulers thought the matter was serious enough to require some security. Perhaps like a property bond of Jason and the others. And this basically served as a warning to them that if any further disturbance occurred by them then they would lose their property.

And so it was during these difficult conditions that Paul and Silas were sent away by night to Berea, some 60 miles away.

In Berea

“As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also several prominent Greek women and many Greek men. When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible”. Acts 17:10-15

Luke tells us that Paul and Silas immediately entered the synagogue to teach, and rather than base their decisions on the traditional teachings of man, the Bereans carefully examined the Word of God to determine the truthfulness of the teachings they heard, James 1:22-25. The result was that many Jews believed the gospel along with honourable Greek women and not a few men.

When it comes to preaching the Word of God, those who believe humbly accept the message but those who don’t are filled with jealousy, Acts 5:17 / Acts 13:45.

And here again, Luke again reports that these jealous people stirred more jealousy among the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica who journeyed to Berea and stirred up the multitudes.

Whenever the apostles have any success and a multitude of people begin to listen to them, the unbelievers get filled with jealousy. They are so afraid that they will no longer be popular within the community. They are afraid that the apostles will take these believers away from them and their traditions.

Jealousy is one of those sins which prevents a person from inheriting the kingdom of God, Galatians 5:19-21. Jealousy is one of those sins which should have been put off at our baptism, Romans 13:13-14.

Luke tells us with the trouble coming from these jealous trouble makers, some of the brethren escorted Paul safely to the sea while Silas and Timothy continued at Berea. Then the brethren journeyed on to Athens with Paul and were asked by the apostle to send Silas and Timothy as soon as possible.

What Luke records next is one of the greatest debates we find in the New Testament with the so-called wise men of Athens, Ecclesiastes 7:11-12.

In Athens

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)” Acts 17:16-21

While he waited for the others to arrive, Paul apparently toured the city and discovered it was totally given over to idolatry. This provoked, or one might say angered him and so, he went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and devout Greeks of the city.

He also discussed the Gospel with those he met in the marketplace and this drew the attention of certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, some of whom decided they wanted to hear what the ‘babbler’ had to say. Others in the crowd thought he was talking about foreign gods.

Luke tells us that they took a hold of Paul in a non-threatening way and brought him to the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, to present his new philosophy.

This is interesting because Mars was the mythical god of war and the legend goes that Mars, the god of war was on Mars Hill for the murder of one of Neptune’s sons, that’s why it was called Mars Hill. And interestingly, a messenger for the true Prince of Peace was placed in that spot so that curious philosophers might hear something new.

Sometimes, when we’re trying to share the Gospel with people, they too find it strange. Didn’t we find it strange when we first heard the Gospel? When someone came along and said, ‘hey you need help? You need Jesus in your life!’

No wonder people think that Christians are strange, no wonder people can’t understand why we come to worship every week to remember a guy who died and was raised back to life. When we say these things to people, we are going to get a mixed reaction, some will say that sounds wise and others will say that’s stupid.

And that’s what we see happening next here, we see a mixed reaction to Paul’s wisdom.

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” Acts 17:22-25

Notice how Paul began his sermon, he began by noting that they were very religious, worshipping idols devoted to all types of gods, even an unknown God.

That’s where most of us would make a mess of it, we tend to think that because people don’t believe what the Bible teaches, because people don’t worship as the Bible instructs us to, we tend to think they are not religious when in fact they are.

Cornelius was a religious man in every sense of the word, but he wasn’t saved at that point in time, Acts 10:1-2. In other words, people can be religious but not saved.

Notice also that Paul didn’t go in there all guns firing, he went in with a spirit of gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15-16. And so, Paul seized upon their recognition of their own potentially limited knowledge and began to tell them about the true God.

And he tells them that rather than there being a series of gods, each over some small element of the universe, there is one God who created and rules overall.

He says the Creator is not confined to some building made by men, nor did He need men’s worship. In fact, Paul stated that all beings and all things are sustained by His power.

Human beings have a built-in urge to worship and if we know anything from history and today’s society it is this, if people do not worship God, they will worship something else. It could be the sun, a tree, money, or self, there are literally no limits to whom or what people choose to worship.

When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he says that the Creator made his existence known in the wonderful, obviously designed elements of the universe and that those who reject that evidence are without excuse, Romans 1:20.

And then he goes on to say that lots of people have refused to glorify God and become vain in their reasoning, with their ‘senseless’ hearts being darkened, Romans 1:21-25. He says it so bad that they even exchange the worship of the Creator for that of various ‘creatures’, such as men, birds, beasts, and even creeping things.

So Paul tells them that there are not a lot of different little gods who represent every little thing in the universe, Isaiah 44:12-17, but there is one God who created all things and rules over all things.

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by man’s design and skill”. Acts 17:26-29

Paul goes on and tells them that the God of heaven had made all the various nationalities and He worked within them in precisely the way and at precisely the time He planned.

And Paul says to these Gentiles that this divinely controlled flow of history was used by God to encourage men to seek him. Yet, the supreme God is always near since we live in him, move in him and depend upon him for our very existence.

And Paul being the educated man that he was, noted that one of their own poets said men are God’s offspring, so God cannot be stone but must be alive just as his children are alive. And it’s now that Paul gets to the point.

“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others”. Acts 17:30-34

Paul boldly stated that God would no longer overlook the ignorant worship of men but now God demands that they turn from their ignorance and serve him. This is what we would call repentance. Paul didn’t mix his words here and we should never leave repentance out of the Gospel, Luke 13:3.

True repentance means more than just feeling sorry for what you have done or said. It’s a turning, a refusal to go back to the ways of the world. It’s a conscious decision to start following God and His ways, 2 Corinthians 7:8-10.

And so Paul calls for repentance from these Gentiles in Athens and he saw such repentance as especially important. Why? Because a day of judgment had been set aside by the Divine Planner.

Make no mistake about it, Judgement Day is set and coming and on that day, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ will rightly judge all men, which is a truth which is confirmed by His resurrection from the dead, 2 Peter 3:3-14.

Because we don’t know when the Day of Judgement is going to come, there is a sense of urgency about the message. Oh, I’m sure that when we share that message with people, some like Paul’s listeners will mock our words. Oh, I’m sure like some of Paul’s listeners they will want to hear more.

But one thing I know for certain, as long as we keep sharing that message with others, a few people like Paul’s listeners will actually be moved to obey the Gospel.

Some commentators believe that Paul missed a huge opportunity here because he never once mentioned the Name, Jesus in his speech.

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