Acts 17:1-34

Key Verse: 17:3


“...explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’ he said.”


Last week because of those who have recently graduated we took a break from our Acts Study for a message from Matthew 25. The message was on Jesus’ parable of the talents. We learned the talents God has given us he does not want us to bury them but to go and by faith in Jesus put them to work for his glory.  In Acts 17 we will again pick up on Paul’s missionary work in Macedonia. In this one chapter Paul preaches in the cities of Thessalonica, Berea and Athens. Thessalonica was filled with very emotional people. Berea was a city filled with people who had noble character. Athens was a university city filled with thinkers and philosophers from around the world. In each of these cities Paul’s method of preaching was not robotically the same. Rather he adjusted his delivery of the gospel to fit background of those he preached to. However, the point and content of his message never changed. In each place Jesus Christ’s suffering and resurrection would be the main point. Let us now open our minds to be reminded of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us also learn Apostle Paul’s flexibility to change his style of preaching so all kinds of people can come to personally believe in Jesus’ suffering for their sins and his resurrection.


Part 1.  Paul Brings the Gospel to Thessalonica and Berea.


After Paul and Silas were released from prison in Philippi and requested to leave the city they next traveled to Thessalonica.  Verse 1 says: “When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica.”  Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia. The city had a population of about 250,000 souls. Running through the heart of the city was a great Roman road called the Egnatian Way that allowed free travel from the Adriatic Sea to the Middle East. If Christianity could be established in this city then it could become a springboard to spread it both to the east and the west. 


Look at verse 2: “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” Notice how Paul shared the gospel with these Jews of Thessalonica. He did it by reasoning with them from the scriptures. Paul repeated this practice of reasoning from scripture in Acts 17:17, 18:4, 18:19 and 26:25. Jesus said to the Jews in John 5:39,40: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” The absolute best way to testify about Jesus is to reason with people who believe Scripture is the truth of God. One young man wore earplugs to every Sunday worship because he did not want to reason with Scripture.  In so doing he was burying the talent God had given him his mind. God has given mankind the talent to think. This makes us different from animals who are only creatures of instinct. There are many things to think about. Most important of all we must always think about God’s word. For in thinking about God’s word we can find the power of God to believe, repent, obey God and come to Jesus for eternal life.


Let us read verse 3: “explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said.”  Paul’s reasoning from the scripture had a clear point. It was to prove the Christ had to suffer and then rise from dead. Many people have suffered and still suffer. But only the Christ’s suffering was foretold 100 years beforehand that he would suffer for the sins of others.  Isaiah 53:4-5 teach us: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  Jesus as the Christ came to save people not from an earthly adversary but from sin and Satan.  God’s uncompromising sense of justice demands punishment for sins. The flood of Noah’s time teaches God punishes sin.  However, before the next worldwide punishment for sin God punished Jesus with great suffering. Not because he sinned but he punished him for our sins so through believing in him we would not have to be punished for our sins.  The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.  Scripture also teaches Jesus Christ would rise from the dead. Isaiah 53:11 says this concerning Jesus’ resurrection. “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied.” For all people who choose to accept and believe that Jesus suffered and died for our sins and that God raised him from the dead,  the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of everlasting good news. No matter how bad today is as long as we hope in Jesus’ resurrection we know a much better day will one day come. Romans 4:25b teaches us: “and was raised to life for our justification.” One day God will send Jesus to be the one and only Judge. On that day justification in the eyes of Jesus will be all that matters. When we believe in the resurrection of Jesus this justification from Jesus is exactly what we will receive from Jesus when he judges us. There is no other way to be justified except by repenting and believing this good news from God that Jesus suffered for our sins and that God raised him from the dead.


            After three weeks of preaching verse 4 tells us: “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” With only three Sabbath days of reasoning from the Scripture the Holy Spirit used Paul and Silas to help many God fearing Greeks along with prominent women of the city to join Paul and Silas. This wonderful soul saving, life-changing work again ignited jealousy in the Jews.  These Jews looked very pious in all their religious clothing but they were not ignorant about where to find the bad characters of the city. Probably using money from offerings given to the Synagogue they hired bad characters in the marketplace to help organize a riot against Paul. With the emotional power of a rioting mop they rushed against the home of a man named Jason because Paul and Silas had been staying there. The men they were looking for were not in the home therefore they dragged Jason and some brothers from the home and brought them before the city officials. Shouting with loud, intimidating self righteous voices they told the officials: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” Looking at these Jews from an unemotional, unbiased view we see it is only they who caused the trouble. They rounded up some bad characters probably from some gang hanging around in the market place. Normally they wouldn’t even look at these tough guys much less ever think about inviting them to their synagogue to share scripture with them. But when it came to causing trouble they went immediately to them for help. At least it seems they didn’t hurt Jason and the other brothers other than dragging them from the home and making them post a bond. When we think of this trouble and persecution that came upon Jason’s home we are remind of Jesus’ words that warned in Mark 4:16: “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” Hopefully Jason wasn’t rocky soil. Nevertheless, what happened to him does show us when we welcome the gospel of Jesus Christ we should be prepared to weather a storm of trouble and persecution for doing nothing other than welcoming and accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we prepare our minds and persevere during this storm our faith in the gospel will become stronger and even more unshakable.


Look at verse 10 “As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.” Berea was about twenty miles south west of Thessalonica. Berea in population was much smaller than Thessalonica but in heart to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ they were twice as large. Let us read together verse 11:  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  The Holy Spirit compared the Bereans with the Thessalonians, by saying: “The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness.”  Often we are taught it is not good to compare. Maybe this is true in some instances, but receiving or not receiving the gospel is a matter of eternal salvation.  The Berean's open-mindedness, humbleness and eagerness to receive the message of the gospel are the example we must all strive to emulate. There is no question these Bereans will be eating with Abraham at the heavenly feast in the Kingdom of God.  But it was not only their great eagerness to receive the message of the gospel that made them children of the Kingdom of God but it was their personal examination of scripture that especially was important. Again look at 11b: “and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Cults and other religions that preach a different gospel are filled with people who eagerly welcome a false biblically incorrect message. Often the phrase “spongy sheep” is used to describe the perfect bible student. However, a person who soaks up what the bible teacher teaches without themselves taking the extra time to examine the Scripture to see if what the bible teacher is teaching is really true is not a good thing. We can say all of the members who burned up with David Koresh in Waco, Texas were spongy sheep who definitely never took the time to personally examine scripture to see if what Koresh taught was truly supported by scripture.


One of history’s most famous bible students was Martin Luther. Before he arrived on the scene whatever the church or the pope said was considered the truth of God. Martin Luther deeply examined the scriptures. He discovered such church practice of pushing people to pay for indulgence for the remission of sin had absolutely no scriptural support. Martin Luther was excommunicated from the church and called everything from a devil to a heretic.  Nevertheless, because of his courage to stand on scripture he helped countless souls come to know the one and only Gospel really save us from our sins. Therefore as bible students let us learn from the Bereans. If you have doubt or question whether what I am preaching here today is supported by scripture then I encourage you to examine the scriptures yourself. In this way you will come to learn concretely from scripture what is true and what is not. By the way if you do find something I shared here today is not true, please share it with me. I say this to be a little humorous nevertheless from the Bereans I see having people check our bible message or any message we share with God’s people is a good thing. Such accountability helps to assure Jesus’ sheep hear Bible messages that are supported by scripture.


As a result of Paul’s preaching in Berea verse 12 teaches: “Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”  News of Paul’s fruitful ministry in Berea was bad news to the Jews in Thessalonica. They sent people to Berea according to verse 13 to agitate the crowds there to start another riot against Paul. This time the brothers took immediate action. Verses 14 and 15 show us it is easy to despise these Jews who constantly attacked the fruitful work the Holy Spirit. However we must not forget Paul himself was once just as fanatical in trying to destroy the church of God. Moreover, we see the Holy Spirit used their hatred of Paul’s message to keep pushing Paul to preach the gospel of God to new regions throughout Macedonia.


Part 2.  Paul Preaches the Message of God to the People in Athens.


            Verse 16 shows us Athens, the site of the next Olympics, was the place Paul decided to wait until Silas and Timothy would join him. Many, many years before, Athens was the University where the greatest professors of all time taught their students. Most notably, Athens produced philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. One of Aristotle students in Athens was a young man named Alexander who later became known throughout military history as greatest conqueror of all, Alexander the Great. With Paul’s arrival to Athens, the city would now be blessed with a teacher whom God used to turn the world upside down.


            As Paul waited alone in Athens, he could have become intimidated by its history of great professors, teachers and philosophers. Or simply he could have taken a justifiable vacation to enjoy sites like the phathion and take a few classes from its leading philosophers.  Look at verses 16-17.   Paul was distressed to see the city was full of every idol imaginable but had no knowledge of the one true God and Savior. Therefore again Paul reasoned with people both in the synagogue as well as the market place. As Paul reasoned with the people he caught the attention of two very different types of philosophers. Look at verse 18.  They were Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Epicurean philosophers taught the gods were remote from the earth and did not care about anything happening on this earth. They believed death was the end. Therefore they taught experiencing as much pleasure in this life before death should be the chief end of man. The Stoic philosophy of life was quite different. They believed God was in everything and everything that happens was the will of God. Therefore, they believed the more of a disciplined life of self-denial they lived, the more righteous with God they became.  Though both philosophies were very different, both disputed with Paul.  One reason was because Paul preached the resurrection. This message carried with it judgment and hope for a new life in God’s kingdom. This message opposed these philosophies, which only taught about how to make the most of this life on earth. Unlike the Jews who would try to organize a riot against Paul these philosophers invited Paul to come and share more of his teaching with them at the Areopagus.


Look at verse 22 and 23. To this gentile Philosophers Paul did not start with Scripture, which they never heard before. Nor did he immediately judge them for all their idols. Instead he established a common ground with them by telling them the alter they called: “To an Unknown God” he would now proclaim this God to them.  From Paul’s approach to share the gospel with these Athenians we learn when witnessing with others we should try to establish a common ground with our hearers by using examples they are familiar with and then from there move to the message of the gospel.


Look at verses 24-26.  These verses begin the main content of Paul’s message. We can learn much about God the creator here. For one thing unlike the teaching of the Epicureans God is very concerned and very involved in his creation, even down to the smallest detail of determining what nation we would be born in and during what time in that nation’s history. Why are you and I here in College Park, MD today in the year of 2004? It is because the creator God determined us to be here. The next logical question then would be: “Why did God put us here? Let us read verse 27: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”  This is a very meaningful and powerful Bible verse because in it we find God’s purpose and will for creating us. When you think about it we are all either Epicurean or stoics when we go to college. Some of us come to enjoy as much fun and pleasure as possible. Others of us come here to buckle down to get a degree so we can get a good, exciting job along with building up a comfortable and secure life. Paul teaches us God’s plan and will for bringing us here is to seek him, reach out for him and find him. Jesus said it this way in Matt. 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will be given you as well.” There is no better way to keep seeking God and reaching out for him and finding him than through personal and prayerful Bible study. When I first began Bible study I had the mind of a conqueror.  I thought God through Bible study would help me become another famous mover and shaker. Now I learn God only wants Jesus his Son to receive all the glory. He wants me to seek him, reach out for him and find him.


            Look at verse 28. Paul agrees with the gentile poets that teach: “We are his offspring.” Even though the human race is filled with extremely different nationalities, all of us are still the offspring of one God.  Because we are God’s offspring, each one created by God we then must believe each person is very special. Every single person walking on this planet is special because every person is an offspring of God. God proved how special each and every person is by send his one and only Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world.

Look at verses 29-30.  In these verses Paul now shares God’s command for all people, everywhere. We should not be surprised or taken back God has given us his offspring a command to obey. Have you ever seen a loving father who does not give commands to his children he loves? Show me a father who does not give a command to his children to obey and I will show you a father who does not love his children. This command of God is for all people, everywhere. God commands us to repent.  God commands me to repent. God commands you to repent. Everyone needs to repent. We all are sinners. As long as we live in this sinful world we will sin. Sinning might be fun.   However, repenting is very difficult. This is why Paul teaches God did not suggest we should repent. He commands we should repent.  As long as we live in our sinful bodies in this sinful world God commands us to repent.


Why does God command us to repent?  Let us read verse 31.  Paul gives more meaning to Jesus’ resurrection. By raising Jesus from the dead God was giving proof to all men that he has set a day to be a judgment day. On that day Jesus will come and judge all men. When we acknowledge Jesus’ resurrection then we are acknowledging one day he will come and judge the world with justice. There is only way to prepare for that day. It is to repent and then believe and hold firmly to the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins and his resurrection.


            Look at verses 32-34.  These verses tell a few men became followers and believed.  Because the Bible uses the word “a few men” followed and believe, some bible preachers usually say Paul’s great message had little impact on its listeners. They could be right. But I feel even winning a few of these intellectual talkers and thinkers is a great accomplishment. More than that because of them we now have Paul’s message, which helps us to understand our creator’s will for our life and his one single command he wants us to obey.


            This summer whether we have a lot to do or little to do. Let us not neglect our number one purpose in life, which is to seek our creator, to take time to reach out him and find him. Lastly, let us remember to have the attitude of the Bereans who eagerly welcomed the message to repent and believe the good news that Jesus Christ suffered for ours sins and rose from the dead.