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Study Notes:

Acts 17:1-15

Turning the World Upside Down

Summary: The message of Jesus is disruptive and some people embrace it, but others resist it violently.

If you’ve been with us recently you know we’re following the history of the second missionary journey. Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy are traveling across Greece sharing the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done in various cities. This morning we’ll see them arrive in Thessalonica and Berea and we’ll notice that the message of Jesus is disruptive, it turns things upside down. Some people embrace that radical reordering, but others resist it violently.

Acts 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

Acts 17:5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7 Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.” 8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. 9 So when they had taken security [posted bail] from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. 14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.

So Paul preaches the gospel in two different cities, some people respond positively, some people do not, and he’s run out of town each time.  This morning I want to consider Paul’s method, his message, and the people’s response and then also consider what we can learn from it.

So let’s talk about his method. 

In both cities, Paul went to the synagogue.  That would be like a church for Jews, where they gathered weekly for worship.  Paul shows up and meets with these people who already know the Jewish Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and he says, I’ve got good news for you – the Messiah that God promised has finally come. 

And in each city, he would open the Scriptures with them and point to certain passages that spoke of the Messiah, the coming Savior promised by God, and he would tell them about Jesus, about His life and teaching and miracles.  And then he would tell them about His crucifixion and death and resurrection and he would tell them: Jesus is the Messiah!

He would persuade them with reason and evidence.  He would say, look here, what does the Scripture say?  And then consider this, what did Jesus do?  And he would ask: do you see how Jesus is the Messiah? 

And notice what is said of the people in Berea, they went and checked out what he said.  They’re commended for being more noble, more fair-minded, than others because they didn’t blindly receive what they heard, they fact-checked him.  They were open to listening as long as he could prove it.

Well, this was Paul’s method, and it’s still a good method for us to use in sharing the gospel today.  Point people to Scripture.  Let them read it for themselves and then offer to help explain things if necessary, make yourself available to answer their questions.

If you’re listening to this and you’ve got questions about God, about Jesus, about Christianity, the Bible, or the Church, I encourage you: read the Scriptures.  Reason from them. There is logic here, there is argument, it’s not fantasies and mythology. 

If you’re looking for a place to start, begin with Luke or John, they’re biographies of Jesus and they’ll get you off to a good start.  If you have more specific questions, let us know and we’ll point you toward specific passages.  There are answers in this book and you can find them – but be forewarned, they’ll turn your life upside down.

As a side note – I hope you understand what a privilege it is to have a copy of the Scriptures for yourself.  That no one holds special religious power over you because they have some sort of secret knowledge.  Everything we believe as Christians is found here in Scripture and my copy is the same as yours.  You get to hold me accountable and I get to persuade you and reason with you from what we all have access to. I don’t get to make stuff up.

So we’ve spoken of Paul’s method, but what about his message?  What was he trying to persuade people to accept?  Well, first, he explained and demonstrated that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead and second that Jesus did this and third, he called people to respond by confessing their sins and submitting to Jesus as King.

This was surprising to some people because while they all knew God had promised to send a Savior, they were expecting a political savior like the judges and kings God had sent before.  They were expecting someone like Moses who would lead them out from under Roman occupation, or someone like King David would drive the Romans out militarily.  They were expecting someone who would reestablish Israel as a regional power.

So Paul had to work hard to point them to the Scriptures that said no, actually, God has said all along that the Savior will suffer too.  He could have taken them to passages like Isaiah 53 which says the Messiah:

Isaiah 53:3 ​​He is despised and rejected by men,

​​A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

​​And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;

​​He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 ​​Surely He has borne our griefs

​​And carried our sorrows;

​​Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

​​Smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 ​​But He was wounded for our transgressions,

​​He was bruised for our iniquities;

​​The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

​​And by His stripes we are healed.

6 ​​All we like sheep have gone astray;

​​We have turned, every one, to his own way;

​​And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

They didn’t understand that even though they were God’s chosen people, they were still a nation of religious rebels who didn’t love God or obey Him in the ways they should.  They were guilty of disobedience, defiance, and simple dereliction of spiritual duties and that guilt has consequences.  They didn’t understand that the biggest problem we have in life does not stem from our relationships with other people, or even our own circumstances, no the biggest problem in any of our lives, ancient or modern, black or white, Asian or Caucasian, Latino or Navajo, is our problem with God.

It’s a problem we’re all born into and it’s actually the root of every other problem we face in life.

You see, the Bible, the Scriptures that Paul reasoned from, says God created the world good.  Everything about it was good.  Well, actually, everything but one. He made the sun and the stars, the mountains and the forests, the birds of the air, fish in the sea, all the animals, fruit that grows on trees, vegetables that grow in the ground.

Have you ever, ever, stopped to consider that you take a tiny little seed, put it in the ground, and it begins to grow. It pokes up through the soil and keep growing. It sprouts some leaves. It pushes it’s roots down deeper into the dirt and starts growing some branches. And if things go well, you get a tomato plant that stands 6-10 feet tall, and produces 20lbs of tomatoes or more. And you eat those tomatoes and you live. Your life comes, in part, from eating something that came from that plant that came from that seed. And yet – all the dirt you planted the seed in is still there. There’s no plant sized hole in the ground. There’s not even a tomato sized hole in the ground.  So, where did this thing come from? It captured water, nutrients from the soil, energy from the sun, and made it all into something that keeps you from dying and being in the ground yourself. 

Life is amazing, because God made it that way.

And so, it was all good.  God said it was all good, except for the one thing He said was not good.  It was not good for man to be alone.  He had created Adam and there was nothing else like him on earth.  And so, God created woman to be with the man, to complete him.  They belong together and God gave them work to do – to explore, develop, and enjoy the world He had made.

There was only one rule – there were all these things you could do, but only this one thing you could not – don’t eat from this one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

But you know the story – the woman was tempted and she called her husband over and they let themselves believe that God, who had done so much good for them, was actually keeping something from them.  They knew what He said, not to eat from this one tree, but they figured they knew better than God and so they did what they wanted to do.  They decided to make their own decisions.  Exercise their own sovereignty, to be their own king and queen.

And what happened?  They changed one setting and wrecked everything.

They rebelled against God.  They started a war with the One who loved them and made them and gave everything good to them.  They disrespected Him and intentionally chose to defy Him.  The Bible calls this sin and it separates us from God.

We understand that, it’s been the central message of evangelism for decades ever since Bill Bright developed the Four Spiritual Laws as a gospel tract with its picture of God on one side and us on the other and in between is this great gap with no bridge to get us across until God sends Jesus to be the bridge and make a way for us to come to God.  So we understand that sin separates us from God.

But we don’t often talk about the fact that sin also separates us from each other.  Because we don’t just sin against God, we also sin against other people.  When God confronted Adam and asked what had happened, He blamed it all on his beautiful wife and then blamed God for giving her to him.  And we continue to do stuff like that today – I don’t care how much you like somebody, or how much you love somebody, give it long enough and you’ll sin against them and they’ll sin against you. 

Parents say and do hurtful things to their kids, kids say and do hurtful things to their brothers and sisters.  Friends hurt each other. There is no one alive on the planet who, given enough time and circumstances will not sin against you and hurt you.  Pull back a little bit and you can see how animosity, prejudice, and oppression can build up between entire nations, tribes, and ethnic groups.

And that’s not all.  When God came looking for Adam to talk with him about what he had done, Adam hid from God.

Now think about that – because you know, there are lot of people re-enacting that scene right now.  God is looking for you, coming for you, calling out to you, and you’re hiding.  Why? For the same reason Adam was hiding: he was embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid.

But think about his life up to that point. Before he rebelled against God, before He broke God’s rule, what did he ever have to be ashamed of?  What did He ever have to be embarrassed of?  What reason did he ever have to be afraid and fearful of God? 

He was suffering all this psychological trauma, and he had brought it on himself.  So too today – when we are not in relationship with God, or when we allow that relationship to grow cold and distant, fear, anxiety, shame, and all sorts things creep in and smother our joy, peace, and hope.  Dark clouds fill the skies of our lives.

So, sin ruptured our relationship with God, it fractured our relationships with other people, it creates psychological strain and trauma inside us individually, and then, the fourth area it affected is the world around us.  The perfect Creation God made now experiences death, disaster, and disease.  God told Adam: thorns and thistles will grow now in what used to be a garden – your work is going to be hard, and things are going to be broken.  You’ll be able to fight them, you’ll discover vaccines and vitamins, but then another novel virus will come along.  Friends we have to understand: life wasn’t meant to be this way, but sin made it like this; choosing self over God and others made it this way. 

So what did God do?  Did He zap Adam and Eve and start all over from scratch?  No.  He had given them the chance to rebel.  He was the one who put the tree there.  He was the one who gave them the option to disobey.  They took it, and now there would be consequences, but He would still do good for them. It wouldn’t be easy, there would be pain and suffering along the way, but He would make it possible for us ask for forgiveness and find restoration.

The story of the Bible is the story of God working through history to eventually bring that restoration by sending His Son to seek and to save us by calling us back into a right relationship with God. 

All this rupturing and fracturing, all this distancing and separation began when we pulled away from God stripping Him of authority and priority in our lives.  So now Jesus comes and offers us healing, renewal, and restoration but it all comes through submission, by re-ordering, re-prioritizing, life around His instruction again.

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Me.

Jesus made it possible for us to come to God through His death on the cross, suffering as a sacrifice for us – taking all our guilt and giving us all His perfection.  And then He calls us into restoration.  First with God – He calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Stop resisting God, stop ignoring God, stop valuing other people, other groups, parties, or platforms, over God.  Stop valuing other things more than God.  Love Him first, love Him most. Turn your life upside down and get back to the way things were always supposed to be.

When you do that, the Holy Spirit comes inside and begins to reorder your thoughts and feelings.  You’re reunited with God who tells you not to be afraid then makes that possible by promising He has forgiven us and He is with us.  God tells us not to be ashamed because we’re His.  And he tells us not to be embarrassed because He’s already accepted us and He’s cheering for us.

And now, because we’re right with God and beginning to get reorganized internally in our hearts and minds, we’re in a better place to begin dealing with others, so after telling us to Love God, then we’re told to love others.  To offer help to those in need, to use the gifts we’ve been given to help others.  First we receive love and acceptance and strength from God then we reflect what we have experienced to others and make their lives tangibly better.

And finally, while the world is falling apart, the Scriptures tell us to be salt and light.  Salt is a preservative, we’re to keep things from spoiling, from getting worse than they are.  And light fills the darkness – we’re supposed to be shining lights exposing what is done in the darkness. So make a difference in the world, push back against the darkness and decay, be a force of justice, renewal, and discovery.  Make it better until God finally makes it all new.

All of this begins to happen when you accept Christ as King.  When you turn your life upside down, by reordering, reorganizing, rearranging your priorities to put God first.  And all of this was Paul’s message, because it’s the gospel message – the message the church has been sharing since the beginning – that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”  And He is King.

So, this was Paul’s method and his message.  What was the reaction to it?

Well, obviously some people didn’t like it.  They felt threatened by it.  They were envious of Paul’s influence and the way people listened to him and followed him, so what did they do?  They plotted against him and charged them with turning the world upside down by proclaiming Jesus is King.  Is there any truth to that?

Yes.

At least there should be.

We, as Christians, should be known, first and foremost, for our allegiance to Jesus. This is what Christianity is all about.  We have reordered out lives around God. We are citizens of His Kingdom.  And so, we should not be known primarily as republicans or democrats, libs or cons, blues or reds, we should not be known by the donkey or the elephant, but by the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the purple of His royal robes.

And so, yes, absolutely, 1000% we proclaim another king than Caesar.  A better king than Caesar.  But, we also proclaim a king that tells us to obey and pray for Caesar.

Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

1 Tim 2:1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.

We proclaim a King who calls us to work for the good the nation, and the good of the people – to engage, to serve, to make things better.  To be loyal citizens on earth in light of our citizenship in Heaven. 

But that means we have to do hard things at times.  It means we have to call out sin and injustice.  It means we have to search the Scriptures and then examine our own hearts and ask: do I look and sound more like my party and my people or do I look and sound more like Jesus?

And I’m telling you, if you’re comfortable you’re not asking the question.  Because it’s going to take you to uncomfortable places.  God has always had a heart for the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor.  God has always had a heart for the outcast and the underdog.  Jesus said your neighbor is someone who is not like you and stunned His listeners with the story of the good Samaritan.

If you’re fed up with the state of American politics, if you’re fed up with the division, the anger, the party lines, I want to encourage you to stand with King Jesus.  The Christian faith is not the same as either political party, it is above them both, outside them both, it can work within them, but they are temporary, our King is forever.  He is a superior king.  A better King.  And He must be our main political identity even if it seems to turns the whole world upside down.

Well, we’ve seen Paul’s method, his message, and the response, let’s see if we can pull out a few lessons to learn from it all.

First, it’s not all bad news!  It’s easy to read this passage and all you remember is the bad, but there’s actually a whole lot of good that happened too.  What caused all the ruckus in the first place?  Some hardline Jews were envious because so many people were responding to the gospel. 

Friends, in both Thessalonica and Berea there were many who came to faith – Jews and non-Jews alike, and many of the prominent women.  So, the early Church was diverse because people from all sorts of different backgrounds and upbringings realized – this God is real and they worshipped Him.

Friends do not be discouraged by all the bad news today, there is good news too.  Right now, in our current cultural moment, people are turning to God, they are turning to Jesus as Christ and King, they are praying and fasting and submitting to God.  There are good things happening and I expect we’ll see more because they’re looking for more than this from life.  They’re looking for more than just people yelling at each other, they’re looking for hope, they’re looking for comfort and peace and you can find all of that when you turn the world upside down and come to Jesus.

Second, look at how Paul responded to the bad things that happened.  Loving God, serving Jesus as King did not make Paul’s life easy.  In fact, it made it hard.  He sought to reason with people in the synagogue, he tried to persuade them peacefully from Scripture.  But when he faced resistance, when he faced angry crowds, how did he respond? With more anger of his own, shouting down his opponents, organizing counter-protests?  No, but with de-escalation and departure. 

There is a time and place for protest and counter-protests, but it’s not a long-term way of life.  When things got violent, Paul didn’t argue, he didn’t fight verbally or physically, he left town.  He didn’t thrive on conflict.

And third, look at how he left town – in each case it was the brothers that sent him.  These aren’t biological siblings, they’re brothers and sisters in the faith.  In this case, they’re new Christians.  But one of the things we have seen over and over again in the book of Acts is Christians helping each other through difficult times.  They open their homes to each other, spend their time with each other, help and comfort, listen and talk to one another.  They pray for each other, and do good deeds. 

The same should be true today – we still love because He first loved us.  We receive from God and reflect to others.  We should be talking to each other, checking in on each other, helping each other in practical ways, carrying each other’s burdens, caring about the things our brothers and sisters in Christ are concerned about.

Life isn’t always going to be easy, but we can be there for each other because God is here for us.  He so loved the world that sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him might be saved.  Jesus came, He suffered according to the Scriptures because He is our Messiah, our savior and salvation, our rescue and refuge, and He rose from the dead because He is our King.  The world seems to be turning upside down all by itself right now, and if anything, it needs to see the love and peace and hope and power of King Jesus turning it right side up.

It all begins by reconciling our personal, individual, relationship with God, who then heals our inner trauma – reorders the way we see ourselves and the world, calls us to love others, and sends us out to make a difference.

So let’s turn to God and ask Him to have His way in us today.

Let’s pray.

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