Men Who Upset the World – Acts 17:1-15

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

July 16, 2005

Men Who Upset the World

Acts 17:1-15

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)

Reception (1-4)


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.

Opposition (5-9)

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)

Reception (10-12)

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.

Opposition (13-15)

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.

 

Conclusions

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.

 

Sermon Study
Sheets

 

KIDS CORNER

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

Review

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

Conclusions


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