The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
GOING FORTH WITH THE SCRIPTURES
- We saw at the end of Acts 16 that Paul and Silas were asked by the magistrates in Philippi to leave town (16:39, 40).
- Acts 17:1 says they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and then they came to Thessalonica, which was about one hundred miles from Philippi.
- Later, Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica two epistles.
- In Paul's day, Thessalonica was an important city. It was the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia, an important commercial center, and a seaport.
- It had been founded three centuries earlier by the Greek King Cassander, who named it after his wife, who was the half-sister of Alexander the Great.
- When "they" (Luke was no longer traveling with them, cf. 16:16) arrived in Thessalonica, they discovered there was a synagogue of the Jews (17:1).
- You will recall that there was no synagogue in Philippi, but there was one in Thessalonica, and there was one in Berea (16:13; 17:1, 10).
- A key word in our text this evening is "scriptures" (17:2, 11). "Scriptures" means, "sacred writings," i.e., the Word of God.
- Our Lord said, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
- The apostle Paul told Timothy, "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 3:15).
- As Paul and Silas and the others (Timothy -- 16:1, and Luke), traveled, they went forth with the Scriptures.
THEY REASONED WITH THE SCRIPTURES (17:1, 2).
- It should be noted that Paul and Silas did not stay long in Amphipolis and Apollonia (17:1). Apparently they just passed through on their way to Thessalonica, which was a much bigger city.
- Paul's strategy was to evangelize and establish churches in the big cities. Then converts from the big cities could reach the smaller towns, villages, and rural areas.
- The implication in Acts 17:1 is that there were no synagogues in Amphipolis and Apollonia.
- After preaching in Thessalonica and Berea, Paul went to Athens, one of the great cities of the ancient world (17:15).
- It was Paul's custom ("as his manner was") to go first to the synagogue and preach the Gospel (17:1-3).
- As Paul reasoned with them out of the scriptures, he explained and he pointed out that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and he emphasized that Jesus is Christ, i.e., the Messiah (17:3).
- Acts 17:3 says, "Opening and alleging..." The word "opening" means to open up the Word of God so people can understand the things of God.
- We see this same word in Luke 24, in the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. "And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (24:32). That is good heart burn!
- And again in Luke 24:45, "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures."
- The same word is found in Acts 16:14, where it says the Lord opened Lydia's heart. These Scriptures all refer to the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
- We need to pray for this blessed illuminating work of the Holy Spirit!
- So Paul opened up the scriptures, and after preaching "three sabbath days" (17:2), "some of them believed" (17:4), through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
- That is why Paul said to them in I Thessalonians 1:5, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance."
- The Greek word translated "believed" in verse 4 is often translated "persuaded." For example, in Acts 26:28, Agrippa said to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
- Paul wrote in II Timothy 1:12, "For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."
- Acts 17:4 says, "And some of them believed, and consorted (joined) with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few."
- This "great multitude" (17:4) were the founding members of the church in Thessalonica. It became a strong church, and Paul told them in I Thessalonians 1:7, "Ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia."
- But the stubborn Jews, "which believed not," i.e., those who would not allow themselves to be persuaded, those who obstinately refused to believe, stirred up trouble for Paul and Silas (17:5).
- They "moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort (evil men, "riffraff"), and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar." The Scofield Bible says "vile" men (margin).
- These were men with no character: idle, dissipated, worthless, and therefore, just the type of miscreants to join a mob.
- This was the original "Occupy Wall Street" mob.
- This mob of rabble-rousers "assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people" (17:5b).
- These new believers "received the word in much affliction"...but also "with joy of the Holy Ghost" (I Thess. 1:6).
THEY TURNED THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN WITH THE SCRIPTURES (17:6).
- The Jews stirred things up for the devil (17:5, 13), but Paul and his fellow missionaries "turned the world upside down" for Christ (17:6).
- H.A. Ironside said, "Their accusation was in measure true. The apostle and his companion were indeed engaged in the business of turning the world upside down, but the reason for this was that through sin the world had been turned wrong-side up. So when the gospel was preached and men believed it, things were completely reversed."
- In other words, a world which is downside up, needs to be turned up side down!
- When the angry mob looked for them, Paul and Silas were not found, but they dragged out Jason and several other believers (17:6).
- Before the rulers of the city, they accused them of doing things contrary to the decrees of Caesar, "saying that there is another king, one Jesus" (17:7).
- This accusation was false. The message preached by Paul and the others contained nothing contrary to the decrees of Caesar.
- Jesus Christ is King of kings, but our Lord told Pontius Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
- Romans 14:17 says, "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
- This is God's program today, for this dispensation -- the church age. H.A. Ironside said, "Christ had not come to establish a kingdom in the world order, but to call on men to recognize and bow to Heavenís authority in their lives."
- Our focus now is preaching the Gospel. The Lord will return some day to set up His kingdom. Jesus is a king, but not an earthly king, and certainly not a rival with worldly men like Caesar.
- Nor do His ordinances interfere with the decrees of Caesar. Our Lord Himself said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
- "And when they had taken security (money for bail) of Jason, and of the other, they let them go" (Acts 17:9).
- The brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night, apparently afraid they would be persecuted if they were found (17:10).
- Paul referred to his hasty departure from Thessalonica in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. He wrote in I Thessalonians 2:17 and 18 that he endeavoured the more abundantly to see them "with great desire" but was hindered by Satan.
THEY SEARCHED THE SCRIPTURES (17:10-14).
- After leaving Thessalonica, Paul and Silas went to Berea, which was 40 miles from Thessalonica. As was their custom, they preached in the synagogue of the Jews (17:10).
- Acts 17:11 is a very important, and often quoted verse -- "These (the Bereans) were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
- W. Graham Scroggie referred to this as "the duty of individual research." Do you search the scriptures daily?
- The response to the Gospel was good in Berea, with many Jews and honorable (influential, wealthy, respectable) Greek women getting saved, "and of men, not a few" (17:12).
- Though Thessalonica was 40 miles away from Berea, when the Jews of Thessalonica heard that the word of God was preached by Paul in Berea, they came there to stir up the people (17:13).
- Paul was forced to leave town, but "Silas and Timotheus abode there still" (17:14).
- A key word in our text this evening is "scriptures" (17:2, 11).
The early Christians went forward with the Scriptures, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And they "turned the world upside down" (17:6)