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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 16, 2005
Men Who Upset the World
This morning we return to our study of the book of Acts. Since it has been about three months since our last study in it we need to have a brief review as a reminder of important things we have already learned and set the context for this morning’s study. We have been careful about this because many have fallen into error, even serious heresy, because they failed to do the proper background study and taken Scripture passages out of context or interpreted them in contradiction to the intention of the author.
Remember that Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, is the author of Acts. He is writing to Theophilus, the same man he wrote when he complied the gospel account. Luke gives him a selective historical overview of the working of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit through the apostles to fulfill the command given in 1:8, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
In the first part of the book, Luke’s careful investigation of first hand witnesses to the various events records the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Samaria and then crossing the great divide between Jew and Gentile. The early chapters largely focus on Peter, often accompanied by John, because Peter was the most significant apostle in crossing those barriers.
The Beginning of the Church – Acts 2-7
In Acts 2 we find that Peter was the main spokesman on the Day of Pentecost when the great transition in the ministry of the Holy Spirit occurred. Previously the Holy Spirit would come upon a person, but might also leave such as happened to King Saul. It was an intermittent ministry. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended according to Jesus’ promise of John 16:7 and indwelt the disciples permanently. This was in accordance with the New Covenant spoken of by the prophets that God would give them a new heart in which His law would be written on their hearts and empower them to live accordingly in holiness.
The Holy Spirit’s coming upon the disciples in the Upper Room was manifested by the physical manifestations of a loud noise like a violent, rushing wind and the appearance of tongues as of fire over their heads. It was also manifested in them speaking other languages they did not know but which were understood by those out in the street that had gathered to find out what had happened. The disciples were proclaiming the mighty deeds of God in the native languages of these people that had come to Jerusalem from many different parts of the Roman world. Peter then preached a very powerful sermon that convicted them causing them to cry out, “What shall we do to?” Peter directed them to repent and then be baptized and over 3,000 responded.
Acts 2-5 records early ministry in Jerusalem in which new believers were being added daily. The powerful miracles being done by the apostles were giving proof to their message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The rising opposition by the Jewish religious leaders could not stop it for the same disciples that had previously run away when Jesus was crucified now boldly told their persecutors, “we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (4:20) and later, “We must obey God rather than men,” though that meant they would be scourged.
In Acts 6 & 7 we find that it was not only the apostles that were so bold. Stephen, one of the men chosen in Acts 6 to help with the needs of the widows, was confounding some of the Hellenistic Jews and then the Sanhedrin to such an extent that they ended up reacting violently and stoned him resulting him in becoming the first Christian martyr. Among those present was Saul who then led an intense persecution of the church.
The Gospel Goes to the Samaritans
Yet the persecution was even used by the Lord as it forced those who were in Jerusalem to go to the surrounding areas. Acts 8 records that Philip went to Samaria and preached the gospel there. When the report of the Samaritans turning to Christ reached Peter and John they went to find out about it. The result was that Peter and John laid their hands upon them and the Holy Spirit came upon the Samaritans in the same way He had come upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. The barrier was broken and Jewish and Samaritan believers were joined together in one church.
The Conversion of Saul
Acts 9 records the dramatic conversion of Saul of Tarsus while he was on the road to Damascus to persecute the church there. After Saul’s conversion he quickly began to proclaim his new faith explaining from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. It did not take long for the former persecutor of the disciples to be persecuted as one of them. He escaped a plot to kill him and spent several years in Nabatean Arabia. A few years later he returned to Jerusalem where he debated the Jews. A second plot was formulated to kill Saul, but the disciples sent him back to his home area of Tarsus where he ministered for several more years.
The Gospel Goes to the Gentiles
The next significant hurdle was the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Acts 10 & 11 record how God broke this barrier using Peter. It started with a Cornelius, a gentile Centurion living in Caesarea, receiving a vision to send for Peter. Just as Cornelius’ messengers were arriving in Joppa, Peter also received a vision that was repeated three times. He saw a sheet descend from heaven with all sorts of animals in it and then heard a voice saying, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” Peter refused the command because there were unclean animals. But the voice then told him not to consider anything God had cleansed as unholy. The arrival of the men from Cornelius gave Peter the understanding that the vision was in reference to the Gentiles.
Peter went to Cornelius and while he was still speaking to him and the many that had gathered with him the Holy Spirit fell upon them. This great barrier had been crossed. Peter reported all of this to the church in Jerusalem and they accepted it as proof that “God had granted to the Gentiles also the repentance unto life” (11:18).
At the end of Acts 11 While Saul was in Tarsus, disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene had gone to Syrian Antioch and ended up preaching to the Gentiles there. The result was that a large number of them believed and turned to the Lord. When the news reached Jerusalem, Barnabas went to help, but there were so many that Barnabas went to Tarsus to get Saul to come help. Together they ministered there for about a year. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. Some prophets came to Antioch and reported that there was going to be a famine. These Gentile Christians showed the genuine nature of their faith and love by sending relief to those in Jerusalem by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
At about this same time King Herod killed the apostle James and arrested Peter. The Lord rescued Peter from jail again and sent him away. The Lord then brought judgement on Herod for his blasphemy and he died being eaten by worms.
First Missionary Journey – Acts 13,14
It was not long after this that the Lord directed the church in Antioch to “set aside for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). After fasting, praying and laying hands on them, they were sent away and the first missionary journey began.
Traveling with them was Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark. They took a boat from Seleucia to Cyprus where Barnabas had grown up. Their first stop was the city of Salamis where they proclaimed the gospel. From there they traveled through the whole island to Paphos. It was here that they ran into opposition from Elymas the magician, but being filled with the Holy Spirit, Saul continued preaching after blinded him. Saul and Barnabas then continued on to Perga. John Mark left them, but they continued on to Psidian Antioch where, after preaching to the Jews and finding strong opposition, they turned to the Gentiles and those “disciples were continually filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” As Saul ministerd among the Gentiles, he becomes known by his Greek name, Paul, and he and Barnabas continued on to Iconium were they were again opposed so they went on to Lystra where the initial welcome quickly turned to extreme opposition resulting in Paul being stoned. They left him for dead, but Paul got up and went back to Lystra, then continued on to Derbe the next day. He then returned back through the same cities he had been through before to strengthen the brethren and returned to Antioch.
The Jerusalem Council – Acts 15
After they had been back in Antioch a long time there a dispute by certain men from Jerusalem regarding what was required of Gentiles to be saved. The result was a trip by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to hold a council with the apostles and elders there to answer that question. The Spirit led (15:28) conclusion of the council was that Gentile converts did not need to keep the Mosaic Law. The gospel would be a message of God’s grace and not law. This brought great rejoicing among the Gentiles.
Second Missionary Journey – Acts 16f
Soon after this council Paul began his second missionary journey. Though conflict between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark resulted in them splitting up from each other, the Lord used it to increase the spread of the gospel. Barnabas and John Mark went back to Cyprus while Paul went back tp Asia Minor with Silas who had come from Jerusalem with him following the Jerusalem council. Acts 16 records that they went through Syria, then on to Cilicia, Derbe, Lystra, where they picked up the young man, Timothy, as an additional member of their missionary team. From there they went up through the Phrygian and Galatian region, then up to Mysia and Troas. It is here Paul adds Luke to the team and also receives the vision of the man from Macedonia leading them to go to Europe. They first went to the Roman colony of Philippi.
There was not a large enough population of Jews there for there to be a synagogue, so they went outside the city by the river to a place of prayer. It was there that they met Lydia, a seller of purple who was a native of Thyatira , who became the first convert to Christianity in Europe.
While in Philippi a certain slave girl that had a spirit of divination began following Paul around saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” While what she said was true, it annoyed Paul. Having a demon possessed girl making announcements on his behalf was not helpful to the message he was proclaiming, so he cast the demon out of her. The result was that her masters became angry with Paul because they had lost a good source of income through this pitiable girl. They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates and then lied about them. They were then beaten and thrown into jail.
Even so, Paul and Silas did not let this opposition get them down and they were singing hymns of praise to God at midnight. The prisoners and the guards could not help but listen to them, and I am sure also wondered at what was to them a strange reaction to being beaten and thrown in jail. At about that time there was a large earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison and unfastened everyone’s chains. Just when the jailer was about to kill himself for fear that all his prisoners would escape and he would have to face the cruelties of Roman justice, Paul cried out to him not to harm himself for they were all present. This caused even more perplexity to the jailer and the recognition of his need to ask the question of what he must do to be saved.
Paul’s answer was that he needed to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul then taught the jailer and his family the gospel resulting in them believing and being baptized that very night. Yet again God used negative circumstances in the lives of His followers to bring others to the knowledge of the truth and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
The next morning the chief magistrate sent to have Paul and Silas released only to find out that they had beaten and jailed Roman citizens. That meant they had broken Roman law and were in grave danger, so the city officials came and begged Paul and Silas to leave, which they did, but only after they accomplished what they desired by visiting again with Lydia and strengthening the brethren there.
It is here that we pick up the story again starting in Acts 17 and the ministry Paul, Silas and Timothy had after leaving Philippi.
Ministry in Thessalonica (17:1-9)
Acts 17:1 (NASB) Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and [saying,] “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.”
The trip from Philippi to Thessalonica is about 90 miles (144km) to the Southwest along the Egnation highway. It takes awhile to walk ninety miles, and the other two cities, Amphipolis and Apollonia are probably places that they stayed along the way. Considering the nature of Paul, it is likely that they would have tried to proclaim the gospel there, but we are not told anything about it.
We have seen before that Paul thought strategically about the spread of the gospel and so Thessalonica would have been an important destination. It was not only the capital city of the district of Macedonia at that time, but also the most prosperous city in that province. It was also a major port and was linked to the other major cities of Macedonia by the Egnation highway. If a church was started there it could easily spread to other areas. His later comments in 1 Thessalonians 1:8 proved that to be true, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”
Pictures of model excavations 1 excavations 2
After they arrived in Thessalonica Paul followed his normal practice and found the Synagogue and began to teach there. The custom of allowing Jews from other areas, especially ones like Paul that had received excellent training from a well known Rabbi’s like Gamaliel, served him well in opening doors of opportunity. Over a three week period Paul carefully explained from the Old Testament the necessity for the Messiah to suffer and be resurrected. This was particularly important for the Jews to understand in order to believe the gospel. What good would it do to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection unless they understood the Old Testament prophecies related to it? While it may be popular among some evangelicals to always try to reduce the gospel down to its core elements and just proclaim that in the effort to bring people to Christ, Paul’s practice was the opposite. He carefully laid out a foundation of Biblical truth upon which the message of the gospel could be built.
As was the case during his first missionary trip, some Jews responded to the news that Jesus was the promised Messiah and joined with Paul and Silas to learn more and be established in their new found faith. And as wonderful as it was for that to happen, it was the God-fearing Greeks that had the greater response with a great multitude of them, including a number of the leading women, that believed. Remember that the term, “God-fearing Greeks” refers to those Gentiles that had interest in the God of Israel and would have followed some Jewish practices but they had not become Jewish proselytes. The “leading women” refer to those women who were either themselves or their husbands in positions of prominence in that society. But also like had happened in other places, opposition also quickly arose.
5 But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and coming upon the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6 And when they did not find them, they [began] dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. ” 8 And they stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.
Here again we find the non-believing Jews are jealous of the gospel going to the Gentiles. This is the same response as in Antioch and Iconium. They formed a mob which included men from the market place that were probably hired for the purpose. They go to the house of Jason because he was the one hosting Paul & Silas (vs. 7). At first they try to drag him out to “the people” in the effort to incite a riot that would allow them to carry out their intended evil. The idea was to get enough people involved so that the confusion of the riot would make it difficult to determine responsibility and justice afterward. That is what had happened in Lystra (Acts 14). However, they could not find enough people to form a large enough mob so they
dragged Jason before the city authorities to make formal charges.
Their charge is that “These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” The charges were a mixture of truth and falsehood, but evil people have never let truth block them from their goals. Jason had welcomed them. They would have been declaring that Jesus was king, but they would not have acted contrary to the decrees of Caesar since Paul taught Christians to subject themselves to the government (Rom. 13). And though their ministry of the gospel in other places had resulted in turmoil it was because those who rejected it sought to persecute them, but even that did not happen everywhere. And though they would have desired to preach the gospel to the world even if some would react in such a manner, they had only been able to preach in a small part of the Roman world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people would charge us, the people of this church, with upsetting the world because of our proclaiming the gospel? We hope to be doing that in other areas by supporting our missionaries, but our concentration is on accomplishing this in Wappingers and the surrounding towns in which we live.
The city officials would have been bothered by the charge that they were acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, but not enough to do any more than get a pledge, some sort of bond, from Jason and the others before releasing them.
Ministry in Berea (17:10-15)
10 And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, [to see] whether these things were so.12 Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.
The danger was apparent, so the brethren sent them that very night to Berea, a small city about 40 miles (64km) to the west of Thessalonica. Berea was one of the most populous centers of Macedonia at that time even though it was a bit secluded since it was south of the Egnatian Way which the main road. It was on the edge of Macedonian plain in the foothills on the eastern slope of the Olympus Mountain range.
Paul continued his practice of going to the Synagogue first. Here in Berea he found Jews that were of better character than those in Thessalonica for they demonstrated a greater commitment in following God. They readily listened to what Paul had to say and then they examined the Scriptures themselves to see if what Paul was saying was true. That is why many of them believed along with many of the prominent Greek men and women. Remember I said in a previous sermon that during that time period many of the upper class were God-fearers with an interest in the Jewish religion.
The example of the Bereans is still one that sets apart the noble minded from everyone else. Even among those that have some interest in the things of God, the vast majority of people do not have a serious interest in what God has revealed in His word. The result is that they can easily be swayed first one way and then the other by any good speaker, especially one that says the kinds of things they would like to hear. Many churches cater to such people which is why Paul warned in 2 Tim. 4:3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” There are relatively few that will listen and then study for themselves so that they can be sure to follow the truth, but as long as the Lord allows me to be here, this church will always challenge you to be more noble minded like the Bereans.
It appears that Paul ministered in Berea for sometime until word about it reached Thessalonica.
13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there likewise, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 And then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Now those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
When the unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica heard Paul was in Berea they went there to stir up trouble. Hatred is a strong motivation. The result was that the brethren sent them away to the sea, and Paul went by ship to Athens. Silas and Timothy would catch up later.
There are two important conclusions and commitments that come from this first part of Acts 17.
First, each of us needs to be like be more noble minded like the Bereans. It is our effort to be like the Bereans that controls much of the design of our various ministries. While we want you to worship God with your emotions, we target your mind instead of your feelings. That is why there is more teaching in the sermon than stories. That is why the sermon is longer than the music and why we still include hymns. We want you in God’s word so we emphasize Bible study and discipleship so that you will have the skills to study it yourself. And while we believe there is no more joyful life than that of a Christian and so find a lot of things to laugh about, we will never tickle your ears here. We are controlled by commitment to declare what God has said instead of manipulating you by saying what we think you would like to hear. Because of that we have had a lot of people over the years that have visited or come for a short time but not come back because they did want their ears tickled. But there have also been many like you who do want to be like the Bereans and know what God says even though that will require changes in your life.
Second, we need to follow Paul’s example and those who upset the world. In order to do that we must follow Paul’s example of faithfulness in pleasing the Lord and proclaiming His word regardless of the circumstances. Paul was sensitive to the Lord’s leading and would go and do whatever God wanted. He would not let opposition and persecution stop him, yet at the same time he was not stubborn either. Back in Acts 14 he was stoned and left for dead, but when he got back up he went back into the same city and then left the next day. In just Acts 17 alone he had to leave three different places and go somewhere else to continue the work. You cannot let fear of what someone may say or do keep you from lovingly telling the truth. Jesus told us that we would have persecution in this world. He also told us that people would lie about us and say all manner of evil against us falsely. Yet, because He has overcome the world we can press on, and because Jesus was also treated that way, we can rejoice in the fellowship of His suffering. Just keep in mind that the evil people that will treat you that way will often be religious people, even those that claim to be Christians. That was the way it was for Jesus and Paul. It will be the same for us. At the same time keep in mind that you may have to move on to other people that need to hear the gospel and leave those who oppose you to the eternal consequences of their evil. You are responsible for being true to God’s word and not their reaction to it.
Let each of us commit ourselves to being like the Bereans and also like those who were faithful to the gospel and ministry and so were accused of upsetting the world.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep count of how many different times an apostles is mentioned 2) Talk with your parents about why those men were able to “upset the world” and how you can follow their example.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What was important to you in the brief review of the book of Acts? What impresses you the most about what happened in those early years of the church? Why is Peter often the focus of attention in Acts 1-12. Why is Paul the focus of attention in Acts 13-28? What marked the coming of the Holy Spirit? How did that help in the transition of the gospel to the Samaritans? to the Gentiles? What was Paul’s normal course of action when coming into a new city? What was Paul’s usual method of presenting the gospel in the synagogues? Why did some Jews respond favorably and others so negatively? Why were the unbelieving Jews so upset with Paul when he would preach to the Gentiles? What got Paul into trouble in Philippi? How did he and Silas respond? What was the result? What turned the unbelieving Jews so strongly against Paul in Thessalonica? Why did they drag Jason before the courts? What had they wanted to do? Why are the Bereans called more noble than those in Thessalonica? How can you follow their example? What skills do you need to follow that example? Why were Paul & Silas accused of “upsetting the world”? How did they deal with circumstances? Opposition? How about you?
Sermon Notes – July 16, 2006
Men Who Upset the World – Acts 17:1-15
The Coming of the Holy Spirit – Acts 2
The Early Church in Jerusalem – Acts 3-7
The Gospel Goes to the Samaritans – Acts 8
The Conversion of Saul – Acts 9
The Gospel Goes to the Gentiles – Acts 10-12
The First Missionary Journey – Acts 13-14
The Jerusalem Council – Acts 15
The Second Missionary Journey – Acts 16
Ministry in Philippi
Ministry in Thessalonica – Acts 17:1-9
Reception – vs. 1-4
Opposition – vs. 5-9
Ministry in Berea – Acts 17:10-15
Reception – vs. 10-12
Opposition – vs. 13-15
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