The Word Of God Bears Fruit
1. The missionary journey of Paul and his group continues. They departed Philippi and proceeded west on the highway called Via Ignatius. From here on the word "we" will not appear in the text for a long time. The author Luke probably remained behind in Philippi. Paul and Silas, though it is not written here, headed for Thessalonica along with Timothy. It is written that they only passed through the large cities Amphipolis and Apollonia along the highway. Perhaps they were probably heading straight for Thessalonica which was the capitol and had many Jewish settlers.
2. In Thessalonica there was a Jewish synagogue. It seems that the synagogue was the center for the Jews of that region. Paul used the same springboard for preaching in the Sabbath worship services in the synagogue here as he did in the other towns and cities. The text says the following. "As always Paul went into the places where the Jews were gathering and while spending three Sabbath days he quoted the scriptures, reasoned with them, explained and offered proofs that 'The messiah was to suffer hardships and raise from the dead,' and that 'This messiah is Jesus who I have been preaching to you.' Then the people among them believed and followed Paul and Silas. Many Greeks who feared God and a considerable number of the leading women similarly followed them both, also," (verses two and three).
3. As the third Sabbath came to pass Paul proclaimed Christ based on the scriptures. What he did was the same as on the other occasions. It is recorded here in particular that he spoke on the suffering and the resurrection of the messiah and that Jesus himself was the very messiah. The center of his preaching was the cross of Christ and the resurrection. Even to this very day what the church has done is the same thing, [i.e. preach the cross and the resurrection]. And the results are written as "Then the people among them believed and followed Paul and Silas. Many Greeks who feared God and a considerable number of the leading women similarly followed them both, also." It appears from the way this is written here that there were a lot of people who believed from among the Gentiles rather than from among the Jews. Furthermore, "the leading woman," that is, the wives of powerful citizens had converted. But, as we have had so far, a disturbance arises even at this place. Verse five says it like this. "However, the Jews were jealous of that and won over some of the people who were grouped together in the market square and started a riot, caused chaos in the town, attacked Jason's house, and sought to bring them both before the crowd of people," (verse five).
According To Jealousy And Prejudice
4. Today I read to you up to verse fifteen. In verses ten onward are recorded the events from Berea. However, in verse thirteen the Jews of Macedonia appeared on the scene again. In other words, the verses from then on are not a separate episode but Luke has recorded them as one chain of events linked together. So, the Jews of Berea and the Jews of Thessalonica are given in contrast. Therefore, we understand that the important point of today's passage is that they are different from each other. What in the world are their differences? What is the significance of those differences?
5. What immediately draws the eye at this scripture location is the words of verse five, "However, the Jews were jealous of them." This word has shown up repeatedly so far in The Acts Of The Apostles. In verse five, when the chief priests and the Sadducees their associates seized the apostles it was because "they burned with jealousy," (5:17). Then, in Psidian Antioch we see a multitude in which Jews had gathered and abusing him with a foul mouth they resisted Paul's preaching. In other words, their opposition was not because they knew the contents of Paul's sermons well, and it didn't take place because of their having studied it sufficiently. Luke declares it was based on "jealousy."
6. How unreasonable their opposition was is stressed in today's passage. They started riots by winning over lowlifers to their side, who were in groups in the market square and caused chaos in the town. They attacked the house of a character named Jason who let Paul and his group stay over. But they didn't find Paul and the others. Subsequently, they hauled Jason and a number of believers to the town authorities and made an accusation with loud voices and said, "This group which has caused a ruckus throughout the world has even come here. Jason has hid them. They have disobeyed an imperial decree and have another king called Jesus," (verses six and seven). They didn't make an issue of the veracity of the contents of their sermons. They substituted the gospel which Paul was preaching for treasonous political ideology. Their purpose here was indeed to accuse Paul and his group. For that reason they came up with as many excuses as possible. Humanity often times operates things like that.
7. Certainly, the use of an excuse that he was a politically dangerous character was effective. When the Jews accused Jesus we can recall how they used the same charge. We know that their accusation to the authorities was with insufficient evidence. Often times outsiders understand the truth precisely. In the case of the accusation on Jesus, the text says, "They knew that the chief priests handed over Jesus out of jealousy," (Mark 15:10). In this scene, the authorities will ultimately acquit Jason. But, even though the charges are dropped we cannot treat this lightly. At that point they collected from them some bond money. They probably made sure that Paul wouldn't come back and cause such a disturbance a second time. But, the absurd and frenzied actions of the Jews from Thessalonica did not end here. They continue in the next story in Berea. Please look at verse thirteen. The text says, "However, when the Jews of Thessalonica heard the word of God was being proclaimed by Paul in Berea as well they came thronging down there and caused an agitation of the multitude."
8. The really interesting thing is the depiction of the Berean Jews who are contrasted with them. Luke expresses it like this: "The Jews in this place are more meek [teachable] than the Thessalonian Jews..." (verse eleven). The word translated here as "meek" is a word that means they had no prejudiced narrow views. Therefore, the problem of the Thessalonians seems to be that they were caught up in narrow mindedness.
9. Then, this kind of narrow mindedness is very much likely to happen. It is not so much that we calculate and weigh the contents of a situation in so a detached and cool manner but that we are very likely to be motivated by jealousy and prejudice. As far as reactions to the gospel go, the kind of thing that happened in Thessalonica still happens today. As far as this situation dealing with salvation, even though you would expect [some] very severe problems in which the truth of it comes under question, often times it is rejected without taking issue with any of its contents at all.
10. For example, I often meet people who say, "I dislike the Bible because it enumerates only simplicities." But, when it comes to people who say such things, they have never even read the Bible. Or there are people who say, "I dislike church because it's full of hypocrites." But, it doesn't even seem like they have attended church barely one year. Or simply, there are cases where people have actually never even once heard the message of the gospel but say, "I dislike Christianity." The reason (they say "I dislike Christianity,") is sometimes for no more a reason than they know some unkind Christians. In many cases prejudice affects one's thinking more than the truthfulness of the subject matter.
11. A few days ago I received a cassette tape of a preacher from England. What he said on it left an impression on me. When he matriculated into the university, he said he utterly detested Christianity. He stated that "I used to think Christianity was nothing more than crutches for weak people." But, later he realized and said, "In truth, I really don't think my problem was with any cane. I had to take up the issue of whether the truth was in Christianity or not. If it were true, it would work as a walking stick for weak people and for strong people. If it were not true, it was no more than a waste of time."
12. As the speaker in the tape felt, jealousy and prejudice and other insignificant emotional quirks, or possibly trivial inconveniences around one end up shutting a person out from the serious decisions and commitments related to a person's salvation. This is a very saddening thing, but it can and does take place.
By Understanding, Weighing, And Accepting
13. Then, as the problem with the Thessalonian Jews is seen like this, another factor is also seen in which Luke intentionally makes an emphasis. Here Luke writes that concerning Paul's messages, over three Sabbath days he "reasoned together with them quoting the scriptures," and "he explained and gave proofs." And he wrote that some persons "believed ... and followed." This word "believed" is not normally the word used for "faith, believing." Rather, it is a word that could be translated "having agreed." It means they understood and accepted it. How was it with the Berean Jews? The text says, "they received the Word very fervently and examined the scriptures daily to see if what it said was what [Paul] said," (verse eleven).
14. Of course, the preaching of the gospel is more than explanations and proofs. Therefore, Paul speaks as follows in The Epistle To The Thessalonian Disciples. "Our gospel, which was handed over to you, was not merely based on only words, but was based on the Holy Spirit with power and strong conviction," (First Thessalonians 1:5). However, at the time Luke recorded the messages given in Thessalonica he used words dealing with the intellect or reason as "explanation, proofs, agreement." Paul was talking about the substance of what people carefully examine and can decide. The persons who heard weighed Paul's speech with their own intellects and then received it. In other words, receiving the gospel and living it does not first consist of sacrificing the intellect. Not sacrificing the intellect was not important back then when there were varieties of faiths and counterfeit superstitions in abundance in the public arena. Even today such conditions haven't changed a bit. Today I think many people easily believe in faiths so blindly. But, the faith which the Bible speaks of is not like that. Instead the world of faith is based on seeing the figure of humanity in a true sense with composure and precision and sees honestly just as things are without the distortion of change, even the reality that we have a need for salvation from sin and death.
15. This matter is important as far as for understanding The Acts Of The Apostles. We can see in this book that a large number of signs and wonders go together. Many people probably gathered at those events of healing. It was the same with the preaching events of Jesus. Therefore, it certainly seems the gospel from Paul frequently stirred up a frenzied and unreasonable crowd and we think what arose naturally was that he brought a stigma upon "his colleagues which caused a ruckus through out the world." It's believed such conditions were the same about the time Luke wrote Acts. Better still, the stigma that had been attached by their prejudice had probably increased. However, no matter what period of time it has been, the church has not only treasured the various phenomena visible to the eye, but even more has cherished preaching based on the Word. That's what it says in what we have seen thus far in Acts. Making preaching the Word as the essential matter of the church has been of the uttermost importance. Understanding and [good] judgment go together at this point. In the world of faith understanding and [good] judgment go hand in hand. We are not some fanatical mass of people who are only attracted by [observable] phenomena and appearances alone. Instead, we are persons who oppose when one has acted frenzied and shown unreasonable conduct. Luke is talking about this very thing. It says on this topic that the Berean Jews who investigated with all their might into whether the words they heard were true were used as models.
16. Therefore, we can see here the figure which we ought to have. More than anything we must be a church which honors the preaching of God's Word. I would like to have a church that seriously tackles the Bible in study. Miracles certainly take place even today and healings do occur. [But,] with a miracle we have the meaning of that miracle. However, what causes faith in a person is not the miraculous event visible to the eye, but it is God's Word. Society is in a period where speed rules everything. But, the church is not like that. We should not neglect the hard work to expound correctly the Bible as the word of God and the hard work to listen right to the word of God, to use good judgment, and to understand it.
17. As it is thus first preached and heard the proclamation of the Word becomes more than simple explaining and demonstration of proofs. Even after hearing a sermon and accepting it, it is more than intellectual understanding. Please listen to the message Paul wrote and sent later to the Thessalonian disciples. "For this particular reason, we incessantly give thanks to God. Because after you heard the word of God from us you did not take it as a message from man but received it as the word of God. Truly it is the word of God and it is really working among you who believe," (First Thessalonians 2:13). He says the word of God is alive and at work.
18. With his faith Jason in no time at all was treated harshly. But, his name was recorded in The Epistle To The Roman Disciples in chapter sixteen and verse twenty-one. He continued to live as a believer. The disciples at Thessalonica must have met up with much persecution and hardships after he departed them. But, in regards to these Thessalonians, here's how [Paul] wrote in The Epistle To The Thessalonian Disciples which I just offered as an example. "The word of God has come out from among you and not only has sounded out in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia, since it is being handed down from the places where your faith in God has reached, there is no need for me to add anything about it," (First Thessalonians 1:8). Paul has departed. But, we know for sure the word of God is truly working among them. Furthermore, it has borne abundant fruit. It is even the same today. The word of God is still working among us and is able to bring forth the same fruit.