Monday, September 18, 2017

Acts 17:1-15 ”The Gospel makes you Mad or Glad“

Last  time  we saw that  the apostle Paul and his travelling  companions,Silas, Timothy, and now also Luke, the writer of this epistle[1],  were  directed by the Holy Spirit  in this second missionary journey[2], as they had to abandon all their own plans , submitting to the new direction in which the Holy Spirit was now leading them sovereignly -into Macedonia and Greece!  
It must be said that that this is not the way of the Holy Spirit always directs His work. Usually the Holy Spirit works through the normal instrument of our faith. When we have prayed and have sought counsel from His inspired Word, (and sought   counsel from other mature believers) we may assume that we are in line with His will. A Christian normally lives by faith, fed by prayer and the Word, just as our bodies normally perform by regular air and food/liquid intake. In the same way the Christian lives by regular prayer and by absorption of the Word of God, acting upon their knowledge and understanding of that Word for man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word  that comes  from the mouth  of God  (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4 ; Lk 4:4)   
But there are these unusual times when the Holy Spirit may override our plans and sovereignly redirect our ‘mission’.  When He intervenes in our lives,  it will be so strong and so clear and so inescapable, that there will be no other choice, but to follow His leading. Paul and his companions had no choice but to go to Macedonia!

People have asked me at times how I landed up in the ministry. It all began of course in God’s eternal counsel. But in time God laid His hand on me, and opened my heart, like that of Lydia (Acts 16:14) and I was converted. And then,some years  further down  the road,  the Holy Spirit  strongly directed  me through  a set of unusual circumstances, to  enrol at  Seminary in Cape Town, and there He sustained us (Marcelle and I met in my first  year) through  four years  of no guaranteed income. Then He led us with a strong calling back to Namibia prior to Namibian Independence in 1990.  But, if you had to ask me whether these strong leadings of the Holy Spirit have been my every day experience, then I must say, “No!” It has been, by and large an ordinary, daily trusting in the Holy Spirit’s leading, daily prayer, daily feeding upon His Word.  I wanted to make that clear once again before we moved on!

In our text we find Paul and his team preaching the Word of God in two cities, Thessalonica and Berea. Two things stand out, as we look at this passage. Paul's message hasn't changed, and people's responses haven't changed!  The same is true for today: the old gospel message is the same, and people are the same… therefore the effects and results of the preached gospel will be the same! The Gospel makes people glad or mad.


Paul reasoned from the Scriptures (v.2) - the O.T. Scriptures. These would have been Paul's basis of authority. He explained and proved from the O.T that the Christ (Messiah) had to die and had to be raised from the dead.  For instance in Acts 13 we have seen his liberal use of OT Scriptures to proves the person and work of Christ e.g.  Acts 13:33 (Psalm 2:1-7) Acts 13:35 (Psalm 16:8 -11) Acts 13: 34 (Isa. 55:3) etc.  
In proclaiming Jesus he would have  also spoken about His birth, life, ministry,  death and resurrection,  ascension, and the Gift of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2); His present reign and future return; His offer of salvation and warning of judgement.  Paul would have given a thorough account of the saving career of Jesus from beginning to end. Paul would have made a clear connection   of Jesus with the Messiah revealed in the OT Scripture: "This Jesus whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ" (17:3)

This message (gospel) which Paul preached, is the same message which we should preach - no more - no less, if it is to be the true gospel! The true gospel needs to deal with:

1.     the original plan of God for man
2.     the fall of man
3.     what God has  done in Christ to resolve man's dilemma
4.     the importance of preaching repentance from sin and turning to God in faith
5.     the importance of preaching the Judgement that is to come!


As the gospel is preached we see two responses to the gospel!  Listeners become either GLAD or MAD.  There is no third option. Fence- sitters are also against the gospel. "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters." (Lk. 11:23)

And thus Paul's preaching as such was effective! After Paul had preached, people knew where they stood with Christ. People either came to know Jesus Christ as Saviour, or they came to hate Him and His message. Successful gospel preaching cannot be measured by everybody agreeing with the preacher. The ministry of Jesus showed that.  Jesus had thousands in attendance. Many followed Him, but when He sat them down and spelt out the implications of discipleship, many left Him (cf. Jn. 6:66). True and successful gospel preaching happens when people know where they stand with Jesus. This is what marks Paul’s apostolic preaching.

Those who are made glad by the Gospel, some Jews, some God-fearing Greeks and a number of prominent women, would eventually constitute the church at Thessalonica and Berea.

Those who  become mad as a result of understanding the implications  of the gospel , do everything in their power  to silence the gospel, and  to silence the preacher, as they did with Jesus, and here in this case with Paul and  his team. In this case the opponents of the gospel are starting a riot, and are becoming physically violent. The response depends on the setting.   In places where Christianity is accepted as a cultural phenomenon, hatred for the gospel is seen when old traditional churches   that have lost the gospel resent those churches that do preach the gospel. (Here in Namibia, some of the mainline churches resent those ‘born againers’). In another way we see it in the lives of people who attend a gospel preaching church, who are in reality fruitless, who feel attacked by the pulpit, feeling perhaps that the preacher is going at them, when in reality the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word is convicting their own dark hearts of sin.  Their reaction is then to find  some petty argument to get ‘a riot  going’ in the church, attacking the message of the pulpit, the pastor, the leaders  - everybody except themselves , and then, after having done damage through malicious speech or other actions, leave the church in a huff ! Many pastors have felt this sort of subtle hostility sorely.  Pastors must learn that wherever the gospel is preached in truth, there is opposition! Suffering is the inevitable accompaniment of a biblical ministry. Why should they be better off than their Master? 

Trouble for Paul and his team was so great that  Paul and his companions have to fear for their life, and have to leave Thessalonica undercover at night (17:10) , and eventually also Berea (17:14).
The "jealousy" here is attributed to the Jews, who refused to believe the gospel. Notice briefly how they go about seeking to destroy this message. First of all they rounded up some bad characters; then they formed a mob. Then they started a riot in the city. See how the devil carries out his plans. He gets mobs going  through agitation and misinformation, "and then fishes in troubled waters" (Matthew Henry: p.1704) .  In that process the bringers of the gospel are often made to look as if they are the divisive elements.
But what is the answer to that? How can we make sure that we do not crucify the Son of God all over again, by crucifying those who preach the gospel to us? When we hear the Gospel preached, what should our response be?
We must be eager to hear! God help us if we come to hear God's Word preached with a fault-finding, censorious and negatively critical attitude! God help us to come to church to find fault and afterwards have "Roast Preacher" for lunch! Remember that it is God's Word we are coming to hear, and if it is the gospel preacher we are rejecting we are also rejecting the God who sent them to us. Does this mean that we must accept the message that is preached to us uncritically? By no means! This is where we can learn from the Bereans. Their eagerness to hear God's Word is balanced with a questioning mind! How can we apply that to our own lives? Learn from the Bereans
1.     Be persuaded by the Word of God.  (17:4)
2.     Receive the Word with great eagerness (17:11)
3.     But do so in a discerning manner, examining the Scriptures  for yourself  to see if   what is preached is  true  (17:11b)
4.     Believe! (17:12).

When somebody preaches the Word of God let us, as a rule, be open minded, unless of course their reputation is of such a kind that it would be sinful to listen to them. The Bible warns against any association with false teachers.
As a rule do not abandon yourself to the preacher, but to the Word. Make the Word of God your Judge. Measure the sermon by the Word of God (cf 17:11). Systematic Expository preaching is probably the safest to sit under.  
One suspects that the jealousy of the Jews w.r.t the gospel message that Paul preached was not related to the fact that they could disagree theologically with Paul, but that he upset them in their religious mind-set.  They had never really thought through or prayed through the Scriptures that Paul presented to them in a "reasoning and persuasive way" ,to see that Christ was really the Messiah.   He did not fit their cultural expectations!
Now the Bereans weren't like that. They were willing to listen eagerly. But then they would go back to the Scriptures and compare what Paul had said. See the difference? There is an open heart, and an intelligent faith. The emotions and cultural bias were pressed into the background, until the message had been evaluated! Now that is how we should receive the Word. You are by no means required to believe that which is not biblical. You are by no means required to be uncritical. But - having examined the message you must come to some sort of conclusion.
And  notice that not everyone in Berea was necessarily persuaded (particularly after some of the Thessalonian crowd had come over). But, in the words of Acts 13:48, "All who were appointed for eternal life believed". Or to put it differently:  All those into whose hearts the mysterious Holy Spirit blew (like Lydia and the Philippian jailer), believed, were baptized and joined the church.

The preaching of the gospel has these two effects: It leaves you either glad or mad.  But then  in the end  we need to understand  that  when we come to deal with the Scriptures we come to deal with Christ, and when we do so, we must accept Him or reject Him. There is no middle ground! And rejecting Him means that  there  can be no  heaven for you in eternity.  

[1] Note, the ‘we, us ’ in  16:10ff.   Luke now includes himself in the narrative 
[2]  Second Missionary Journey : Acts 15:36- 18:22

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