Please Note: Due to problems with the recorder this audio lesson was recorded from a lower quality, secondary source.
The second half of the book of Acts is showing us these great pictures of God’s salvation. Acts 17 is going to show how God is saving his people and the kind of heart needed to respond. You may remember that Jesus told a parable that is the parable of the sower in Mark 4. The parable pictures a sower scattering seed across all kinds of different soils. Jesus explains that the parable as the sower sowing the word and the different soils as the different responses that happen from proclaiming the message of God (cf. Mark 4:14). So the parable is about considering if your life is guided by God’s word. Paul and his companions are going to various cities proclaiming the message of God, calling people to be guided by the word of God. In Acts 17 they come to the city of Thessalonica.
Reasoning the Scriptures (17:1-9)
I would like for us to see what Paul does. For three Sabbaths he enters the synagogue in that town and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” The first thing I want us to see is what Paul and his companions were proclaiming. They were explaining and proving Jesus by reasoning from the scriptures. Paul told the people what scriptures said and then spent time explaining and proving Jesus from the scriptures. Paul is doing exactly what he told Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 4, to preach the word at all times.
I think this is really important for us to see right now in our time and culture. Paul did not preach himself. He did not preach his ideas. He did not preach emotionally touching stories or told jokes. He did not preach what everyone wanted to hear. He did not talk about the Roman Empire and all of its problems. He did not preach the politics of the day, whether they should be zealots against the empire or workers for the empire. Paul followed the example of Jesus, taking the scriptures and explaining them and reasoning them to others. Friends, I hope we would think about this during this time of division and toxicity in our culture. We are not in the business of reasoning politics, the problems with the country, or trying to win people to our ideas about how we think the world should be. We need to reason the scriptures. This is especially important because there are so many people who think they know what the scriptures say and they really do not. They have heard what other people have said about God. They have heard what other people have said about the scriptures. But so many have not seen the scriptures for themselves. We need to tell people what God says. The apostle Paul said that faith only comes to people in one way. Faith does not come through politics. Faith does not come through arguments about our culture. Faith does not come through arguing for the way we think the world should be or the way our country should be. Faith does not through being eloquent or smart. Faith only comes from hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So that is what Paul did. He told people what God said from the scriptures.
This leads to two responses. We are told in verse 4 that some of the Jews were persuaded. But even though Paul is in a synagogue, he was able to persuade a great number of Greeks and quite a few prominent women. People that perhaps you would not expect were listening to Paul reason from the scriptures and were persuaded. But there was another response in verse 5. A mob was formed and put the city into an uproar over what they were declaring. They attacked the household of one of the Christians, and dragged them before the city authorities. Listen to what they said in verses 6-7.
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:6–7 ESV)
The attackers are trying to get these Christians in trouble with the Roman government. That is why they frame the charges the way that they do. But it is important to see that what they said was true. They were acting against the decrees of Caesar. How were they doing that? Read the text carefully. They were saying that there is another king, Jesus. Do you think these Christians were teaching this? They absolutely were. The message of the gospel is telling people that you only have one king. There is only one person who rules our lives. There is only one person we obey. We must obey Jesus. He is the true ruler that we obey. If we believe this and live our lives this way, then we are going to come up against opposition. Our allegiance to Jesus is going to bring a collision with our culture and country.
The next paragraph now wants us to see the importance of our dependence on God’s word above all else. Paul and Silas go to the next city, Berea. The Jews in Berea are contrasted with the Jews in Thessalonica. The people in Berea are described as having a more noble character than those in Thessalonica. Notice the two things that gave them this characteristic of being noble. Verse 11 says that they received the word with eagerness and they examined the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. In the prior paragraph we noted the authority of the scriptures. Paul is reasoning from the scriptures and proving Jesus from the scriptures. The Bereans had the same understanding regarding the authority of the scriptures and the power of the scriptures. Let’s think about these two characteristics.
First, they received the word with all eagerness. They wanted to hear the word. I think this is important for us to reflect on. Do we want to be in the word of God? Do we want to hear the word of God? We spoke last week about the problem of complacency as we grow comfortable with our jobs, wealth, homes, families, and possessions. With all that we have, do we even want to get into the word of God? Do we have a desire for it? But I want you to ask another question to yourself. If you do not desire to hear from God’s word, why not? What is it that is preventing you from enjoying God’s word? What is keeping you from desiring to hear? We should be very concerned if we do not desire God’s word. You might remember that God through his prophet Isaiah about their lack of desire to hear God’s word. God said that God’s word would be to them, “Law after law, law after law, line after line, line after line, a little here, a little there” (Isaiah 28:10 CSB). The prince of this world through the prosperity of our world has closed our hearts and closed our eyes so that all that we see God’s word to be us just blah, blah, blah, rule after rule. God is trying to tell us that there is something wrong with us if we see his word this way. If we do not desire God’s word then something is terribly wrong. The Bereans desired God’s word. They were eager to hear it.
Second, they examined the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. There are two important concepts we see from this. They examined the scriptures daily. They looked at God’s word carefully every day. So ask yourself if that is true for you. I can tell you that one reason you will not desire God’s word is if you do not open it. If you do not taste it for yourself, you can never desire it. It is impossible for us to desire God’s word if we are not in it every day. God’s word will turn into blah, blah, blah and rule after rule.
Why were they in the word every day? They wanted to see if the things that were taught were true. Friends, this is a very important characteristic for us. The scriptures are the final authority for our lives. There are two unfortunate traps that we have today regarding authority. Sometimes we accept what someone says because of who they are. We should be struck by the fact that the apostle Paul taught the Bereans and they did not believe what he said because he was the apostle Paul. They examined the scriptures to see if what he said was true. They did not take what he said at face value. The reputation of the speaker was completely irrelevant. If they did not accept what Paul said because he was an apostle, should you accept a teaching just because I say it and I am not an apostle? Absolutely not! The authority is in the scriptures, not in the person teaching the scriptures.
They also did not evaluate the teachings based on how they felt about what was taught. It did not matter if they liked the teachings or not. They did not take a poll and go with the majority. All that mattered was it is was true and they learned if it was true by looking at the scriptures. Too often we can evaluate teaching based on if the teaching conforms to our politics, our values, our way of thinking, our worldview, or some other value system. But we are not the deciders of truth. We do not decide truth based on if we like it or agree with it. The word of God is the standard for truth and we look to it to let it tell us what is true.
So what is this scripture trying to get us to see? The whole section is about the authority and power of the scriptures. Of all the things that this text could be teaching as we see the gospel spread in the first century, the truth that God is showing to us is the need for his word to be the priority in our lives. First, Paul reasoned from the scriptures, explaining them to the people. We must approach people with what God says, not our opinions, values, perspective, politics, or anything else. The world needs the word because it is only through the word that people will come to faith.
Second, this means we need to know the scriptures ourselves. We will be considered virtuous and noble if we desire God’s word and examine them daily. If you do not desire to know the scriptures and spend time listening to God’s word, ask yourself why this is the case? What has happened? Jesus said in his parable that something is choking out the power of the word in your life. What weeds are covering over your spiritual root so that you are not desiring God and his word? Would you pull out those weeds in your heart? Do we need less entertainment? Do we need less technology? Do we need less time on our devices? What is blocking you for enjoying Jesus? The Bereans were in the word every day. Would you start that today? There are 168 hours in a week. How many hours is God getting from you? The character God wants for us are lives that are guided by God’s word.