Acts 16 concluded with Paul and Silas leaving the city of Philippi after being beaten and imprisoned by Roman authorities. As we begin our study of chapter 17, we will read of Paul preaching in three different cities and receiving three different responses from the people after preaching about the resurrected Jesus. What has been your response toward Jesus? You fit in one of these three categories and must be ready to stand before God to explain your response.
I. Thessalonica-Resisting The Word (17:1-9)
A. The Story
- When Paul and Silas arrive in Thessalonica, they find a synagogue and begin preach to the people each Sabbath, as was their custom in every city they entered. We notice how Paul and Silas preached in the city. Verses 2-3 tell us that they "reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead" (ESV). There are three things they did in their preaching: reasoning, explaining, and proving.
- This is an important lesson that all Christians must see. All of us need to be able to reason from the scriptures, explaining and proving the things in which we believe. We must develop the personal tools to be able to reason, explain, and prove the scriptures. We have to put forth some effort and time in study to be able to do this. Consider that Paul and Silas did not ask the people of Thessalonica to have "blind faith" in Jesus. Paul and Silas used logic and reason to teach the people that what happened to Jesus was necessary and that Jesus is the Christ. We must be able to defend our faith.
- Through the preaching of the message, some of them (which I think is referring to the Jews) were persuaded, along with a great number of Greeks and leading women. One would think that all is well and that we would be able to classify Thessalonica as a place where the people received the word with gladness.
- But in verse 5 we read that the Jews became jealous at the success that Paul and Silas had among the Greek people. Therefore, the Jews took some wicked men from the marketplace and formed a mob. They set the city into an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring Paul and Silas out to the crowd. The mob was looking to kill Paul and Silas. When they could not find Paul and Silas, the mob took the next best thing: Jason and some other Christians. The mob drags Jason and the other Christians to the Roman authorities of the city.
- Before the Roman authorities, the mob shouts out the charge: the men who have turned the world upside have come to Thessalonica, acting against the decrees of Caesar teaching that there is another king, Jesus. Again, we need to remember how the preaching of Jesus sounded to Roman ears. To speak of someone as a Savior of the world and the king was to refer to emperor Caesar. This is why the mob in Thessalonica declares that these men are acting against the decrees of Caesar. The message of Jesus as the king was counter-imperial. After posting bail, Jason and the rest are released. They immediately go to Paul and Silas and send them to Berea.
B. Resisting the Word
- The response of the majority of the people in Thessalonica is total resistance and fury against the message of the word of God. Even though Paul and Silas would defend the scriptures through reasoning, explanations, and proofs, the people of Thessalonica would not listen. The people violently opposed the teachings so fiercely that a mob formed.
- This can be the response of people today. Some people weigh the evidence and think that it is not for them. I can appreciate that as long as an honest study of the scriptures has been made. But many times, as it was in Thessalonica, people simply choose to be mentally shut off to the possibility that there is a God who requires something from them. There are even those today who go to great lengths to attack those who believe in God.
- I do not suppose that there are many readers of this material who are aggressively fighting against God in such a way that we see in Thessalonica. But there may be some who do not want to listen to any discussion about God. There may be some who do not want to hear the explanation and proofs for the scriptures, for Jesus, and for God. Why have such a mentality? What does truth have to fear? Should we all not want to engage in honest, open, and friendly discussion about the existence of God and Jesus and the trustworthiness of the scriptures? We should want to know the truth, even if it does not mesh with what we believe because it is the truth.
- Ignoring the truth does not change the outcome. Ignoring the speed limit does not mean that I will not get a ticket because the truth is that there is a law against speeding. In the same way, ignoring God does not change the fact that if He exists, then we are violators and will receive punishment. We should want to find the truth. Our lives depend upon the knowledge of truth and ignorance cannot help us.
II. Berea-Receiving the Word (17:10-15)
A. The story
- When Paul and Silas arrived in Berea, they went into the synagogue, as had been their custom in every city they entered. However, the character of the Bereans was far different than the character of the people in Thessalonica. The Bereans received the word with all eagerness and were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica.
- Now, you may be thinking that these were mindless drones who just believed anything and everything that was taught to them. You may think that the Bereans were not logical, educated people like we are. But notice that the scriptures do not paint these Bereans as mindless, gullible peons. The scriptures tell us that the Bereans searched the scriptures daily to see if the things Paul and Silas reasoned were true.
B. Receiving the Word
- Friends, this is all that we ask of you. We are not asking you buy everything we say or to take it as truth simply because we say something it so. We encourage an investigation of the scriptures and a questioning of our actions to see if they conform to the teachings of the Bible. We want you to be open-minded to the teachings and then examine the things taught to see if they are so.
- We need to encourage this concerning all issues surrounding the word of God. We may hold on to teachings that have been taught for years and years and find out that they may be wrong. A teaching being in existence for hundreds of years does not make it the correct teaching. Yet, we often go along with the "received" teaching on a particular passage just because "that is the way it has always been taught." We need to think for ourselves and examine the scriptures for ourselves.
- Do not think that it is a matter of simplicity to be open-minded when it comes to teachings. The Greeks had believed in a myriad of gods. It would have been difficult for them to believe that there is only one true God. The Jews had believed that Jesus was not their Messiah. It would be difficult for them to accept that their brethren had killed Jesus who was sent from God to be their Messiah. We must be willing to make changes in the face of truth, regardless of how hard it may seem to accept.
III. Athens- Ridiculing the Word (17:16-34)
A. The story
- Because the Jews from Thessalonica began to stir up problems in Berea, Paul went on to preach in the city of Athens. While Paul is waiting for Silas and Timothy to come to Athens, Paul’s spirit was moved to preach because he saw that the city was full of idols. So he continued to do as we have seen him do throughout this book: reason the scriptures in the synagogue and in the marketplace. Some of the city’s philosophers also argued with Paul, hearing that Paul was preaching about some foreign divinity. Thus the philosophers invited Paul to speak before the Council of the Areopagus.
- One of the functions of this council "was that of supervising education, particularly of controlling the many visiting lecturers" (New Testament Commentary; Kistemaker). These philosophers and intellectuals want to know more about what Paul is teaching. Paul was not on trial. The council members of the Areopagus only wanted Paul to explain what he had been teaching the people in the marketplace. Of course, Paul takes this moment as an opportunity to teach. Paul’s sermon has four key points, as far as I can tell.
- God is Creator (17:24). Paul declares that one God made it all. Paul begins by pointing out that the Athenians worship the gods as if they were distant and cannot be known. In fact, one altar was erected to the "unknown god." Paul wants to teach them that God is known and He is the creator of all things. God does not live in temples made with hands, but is Lord of heaven and earth.
- God is Provider (17:25). Paul also declares that there is one God who gives all things. We do not give to God; God gives to us. God gives to mankind life, breath, and everything. There is nothing that mankind can serve God.
- God is Ruler (17:26-28). Paul further declares that God is the supreme ruler. God made all mankind that lives on the face of the earth from one man. God has determined the boundaries of man’s dwelling places. God’s purpose in creating all these things is that man would seek God. God is near and can be found. Paul then uses the poets of the Greeks to prove that God gives us our existence and we are his children.
- God sent a Personal Savior (17:29-34). The Greeks were not to think of God is like gold, sliver, or stone that an image can be formed from. God overlooked this foolishness but now commands all people everywhere to repent. God has fixed a day upon which he will judge the world. Proof of the judgment is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
B. Ridiculing the Word
- The Greeks of Athens show another response that can be given to God concerning the revelation of what will happen. There are two separate reactions from the Athenians toward Paul’s message, but both reactions can be seen as ridiculing the message.
- Ignore the evidence. Some of the Athenians simply mocked what Paul said. They do not engage Paul in a debate about the proofs of a resurrection. They do not consider the empty tomb. They do not consider the hundreds of witnesses who saw Jesus alive. They do not consider the testimony of the Jewish leaders who realized Jesus was not in the tomb.
- Demand more evidence. Other Athenians said that they would want to hear Paul again on this matter. Some people cannot ever have enough proof. Even with a mountain of overwhelming evidence, these things are still not enough to convince. They always want to hear more, see more, and think more about the idea. I hope such people are never called to be on a jury. As a juror, you are not an eyewitness but have to make a determination based upon the evidence. If there are eyewitnesses, they will be presented. All the evidence for and against will be presented. A juror must make a determination based upon this evidence. Demanding more evidence is not an answer and is a poor excuse. The evidence has been given. You cannot ask the prosecution for more. You cannot ask the defense for more. You have it and you must decide.
- It is the same with God. You are a juror. God has presented the evidence in this world so that mankind would seek to find Him. Atheists and evolutionists have presented their evidence. It is time for you to decide. But God is not on trial. Your soul is on trial. Your eternal existence is at stake. If you reject the evidence, then you are declaring that you are willing to take the chance that when you die there is nothing. There is no accountability, there is no final reward, there is not final judgment, that there is absolutely nothing. You are saying that this life and this moment that we have right now is all that there is. If you believe this, then at best you have a few decades of life left and at worse, you will lose your life by some accident today. You better try to find all there is right now.
- If you accept the evidence for God, then you are declaring that you realize the evidence is there. You may still have some doubts, but you realize that there must be something to life more than this. You realize that our moral consciences must come from something. You realize that life and this world must have been created for no explosion creates life and order, but bring death and destruction. Your soul hangs in the balance. If there is anything after death, if there is any light at the end of the tunnel, if loved ones are waiting for us, and if we are more than just matter that goes to the dirt, then we must get ready because God says that there is a fixed day for judgment. What will you do if you are not ready?
- God has commanded all people to repent. We must seek the Lord and do as he commands. His commands are not burdensome. In fact, following God will bring you peace and true joy that nothing else in this world brings. You will be ready to stand on the day of judgment and know that your soul is spared. Why take the risk? What profit is there to ignore even the possibility that there is a God? Obey before the day comes.