Saturday, November 21, 2015

Turning the World Upside Down

Scriptural Reading: Acts 17:1-4, 10-12, 22-25, 28
Devotional Reading: Psalm 47

As children I will never forget riding Greyhound Bus from St. Louis to Mississippi. We did not understand there was an element of prejudice in the world that could harm us. We were very curious, many things were different throughout the trip, and we continuously asked Mom throughout the trip, “Are we there yet?”

We are in Unit III – “Spreading the Gospel” of the three units of the quarter. This is the fourth lesson of a five-lesson study of the further growth of the community as the Gospel was proclaimed in faraway places. (Acts 1:8) Today’s lesson is centered on a time during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:1-15). Last week we studied how Paul and the mission team crossed over to the continent of Greece to the area known as Macedonia. In the leading city of Philippi, after nearly causing a riot, Paul and Silas were flogged and imprisoned. Later they were asked to leave. Ps 47:7-8 indicates, “For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.” (NKJV) It was God’s plan to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem the world and offer believers an everlasting life and renewed access unto Him. (John 3:16-18) Paul and the mission team did not give up to the adversary because of the element of prejudice against them. They did not question God. They did not fail, were not discouraged, and knew they had not completed His will. The missionaries were determined to preach to all nations and turn the world upside down with the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our lesson last week we saw the mission team consisted of Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke, (See Acts 16:10-12) This week it appears one member may have left as indicated in Acts 17:1 as follows, “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.” (NKJV) The personal pronoun of “we” seen in the Acts 16 has changed to “they” which makes the readers assume the author of the book, Luke, is no longer part of the mission journey accompanying Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Their rough treatment in Philippi only made them stronger through the higher power of God. They passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, meaning they did not stop to rest but they did preach the Gospel while there. The seed of the Word was planted for other ministers to be sent by God. Paul, Silas, and Timothy continued further to one of the most important cities in Macedonia, Thessalonica. It had a population of approximately 200,000 and a Jewish synagogue. It would also seem that Paul and his companions did not stay in the other two cities because of the lack of a Jewish synagogue and Jewish presence.

It was always the manner of Paul to preach to the Jews first. If they refused, he would go to the Gentiles. The Jews would then have no one to thank but themselves if the Gentiles received the Word of God. For three Sabbaths Paul reasoned with the Jews as Luke recorded in Acts 17:2-3, “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’” (NKJV) Paul reasoned with the Jews. They agreed to speak with him about the Old Testament as long as they were on the same mind. Paul used a question and answer dialogue with them, using the Old Testament Scriptures as proof that Jesus was their Messiah. Reasoning is not a competition game or it might be destructive, but it is to explain and apply the Scripture. We don’t know how long Paul and the mission team were there. However, we do know that he reasoned for three (3) Sabbaths or a minimum of two weeks. Paul had to show Scriptures of the prophesied sufferings of Christ (i.e. Is 53), His Resurrection, and His glory. The Jews expected the Messiah to come, but they were looking for a powerful military-style leader who would reestablish Israel as a great nation. They had a problem understanding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by the Romans and the Resurrection.

How successful was Paul’s strategic preaching ministry on these occasions to the Thessalonians in the synagogue? Luke excitedly reports in Acts 17:4, “And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.” (NKJV) Paul had a powerful message and it was delivered very successfully. The results of those who believed were surprising. A multitude or large number of Gentiles believed, a good number of the prominent or leading women believed, but only some of the Jews believed. Also it is recorded at 1 Cor 7:16, “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (NKJV) It was good that Paul had planted the seed of belief unto salvation. In verses 5-9 the Jews who did not believe stirred up a mob. Paul and Silas left Thessalonica. It does not mention whether Timothy was left behind to assist the new converts. A few months later Paul penned the letters of I and II Thessalonians to address some of his teachings and concerns.

Paul and Silas did not slow down because of the persecution against them in Thessalonica. Luke recorded at Acts 17:10-11 how God used this band of bendable believers to preach the Word in yet another mission field. God was their protector in moving them to another fertile ground for preaching His Word as stated, “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (NKJV) The Thessalonian believers assisted Paul and Silas slip away by night to the city of Berea. When they arrived in Berea they once again appeared in the Jewish synagogue. However, the reaction of the Jews is much different. Paul did not have to have a question and answer dialogue session with the Jews. They simply pulled out their Word of God and listen. The Jews in Berea did not allow any preconceived ideas stop them from listening to what Paul said. Then they searched to make sure it was the truth. Timothy recorded at 2 Tim 2:15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (NKJV) They did what each of us should do when a minister approaches us with the Word of God. Look in the Scriptures for yourself and make sure it is the truth.

Because they were ready to receive God’s Word and because they searched Scriptures daily for its truth, the result of Paul’s preaching was different in Berea. Luke excitedly recorded in Acts 17:12, “Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.” (NKJV) Just think of the joy these evangelists are experiencing. Many Berean Jews believed as compared to those in Thessalonica, many Gentiles believed, and many prominent women and men believed. The Scripture is specifically letting us know of the social status and not the nationality. God is no respecter of persons. He will save all who believes in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Paul is not able to stay in Berea. Jewish Thessalonians have decided to agitate the missionaries as if they were commissioned by satan himself. Their mission was to stir up the people and turn the world upside down for their purpose. So they show up in Berea, Paul leaves, and Silas and Timothy remain behind for the time being. Some Berean believers escort Paul all the way to the next fertile ground the Holy Spirit has led him to go – Athens, a distance of 300 miles away. Upon his arrival in Athens he commands both Silas and Timothy to join him. (Acts 17:13-15)

A scholar would love to be in Athens surrounded by people of learning. It was a city of culture and education. However, Paul is a scholar and has learned this is vanity as compared to what you receive from God. From what he is observing his spirit is vexed because everywhere he looks there is some type of idol worship. So while he is waiting on Silas and Timothy to arrive he goes into the Synagogue to begin reasoning with the Jews and Greeks. He would also preach Christ in the marketplace. Curious as to what the well-versed Paul was speaking, certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers invited him to address the Athenians on Areopagus (Mars Hill). This was located on a rocky hilltop near the city’s temple to the goddess Athena, the famous Parthenon.

Epicureans believed pleasure was the greatest good. This led them to tranquility and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain. Give the body what it wants. At death they believe their soul dies because they only existed of physical atoms during life. The Stoics, on the other hand, believed in keeping their body in control. They taught that destructive emotions came from the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will that is in accord with nature. It was best to see an individual’s philosophy not through what he said but how he behaved. At death they believed they ascend to the uppermost sphere and continue consciousness.

Paul is not in the Jewish Synagogue delivering the Word of God to Jews now. He is on Mars Hill and has to take a much different approach, but the Holy Spirit will be with him in his delivery of the Word. He begins by acknowledging the Athenians are concerned about spiritual matters. They were church members who did not realize they needed a Savior. This is perhaps one of the most important recorded addresses Paul delivered. Beginning with Acts 17:22-23 Paul states what he has noticed, “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.” (NKJV) The Athenians were very religious, but they did not know who to worship. It was Paul’s goal, through the help of the Holy Spirit, to enlighten them. In touring the city he had seen many altars for the worship to pagan gods. But the one that really caught his eye was the one TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. It seems to be the Athenians way of making sure that no god is left out.

It is Paul’s intent to establish the fact their unknown god is God, the Creator God, and Savior. Paul continues his address as recorded in verses 24-25, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is LORD of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” (NKJV) As the created, what can I give to the God who created heavens and earth, except praise and uncompromising love? Paul stated He was the Creator of all things in the world. The Epicureans believe that the world was made by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, which, having been in motion perpetually, at length accidently jumped into this frame. Paul went against the Epicurean argument by stating it was God who Created the world through His infinite wisdom and power in the beginning of time, the origin of which was not eternal matter (atoms) but His eternal mind. He is therefore the LORD of the heavens and earth. He is the rightful owner of everything and everyone. God need not live in temples like the ones they made for their idols. God, the Creator and Savior is self-sustaining and independent as He is from eternity to eternity – timeless. Humans can’t begin to imagine what requirements He would have, if any. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere. We are insufficient to believe we could fulfill His requirements, except to praise and provide Him unconditional love.

On humanity’s relationship with God at verses 26 and 27, Paul stated we all flowed from one blood, the created Adam, and that God had planned all events in everyone’s lives from eternity past to eternity future. Our times are in His hands. Paul now quotes two pagan authors in Acts 17:28 to support his teaching. He states, “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” (NKJV) The line "For in him we live and move and have our being" is from Epimenides of Crete, a sixth-century BC philosopher. He was also quoted by Paul in Titus 1:12. The second quotation, "We are his offspring", is from Aratus, a third-century BC Greek poet who had spent time in Athens. In this manner Paul is saying that even some of your own learned men have figured out the identity of God.

Paul concluded by telling his listeners they could not shape the Divine Nature out of gold, silver, or stone. It was time to repent of their ignorance and accept Christ. He preached the resurrection of the dead because of the Resurrection of Christ. Some mocked him, others said they would come back later, while he had a few believers. Once again Paul departs having planted the seed of the Gospel to turn the world upside down for Christ.

When you travel around the world today either physically or mentally, think of the mission God wants. Ask yourself the question, “Are we there yet?”

Written by Deborah C Davis

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