Reading: Acts 17
One Paul. Three locations.
In chapter 17, Paul takes the message of the gospel out to three distinct places, Thessalonica, Berea and Athens. Each receive him very differently.
In Thessalonica, he is met with hostility and rage due to his insistence on proclaiming the name of a King other than Caesar, and the whole town is ‘thrown into turmoil’. Before long Paul, Silas and the other believers are labelled as ‘these men who have caused trouble all over the world’ (v6), and the whole episode quickly descends into a full on riot with angry mobs, burned-out cars, and smashed-in windows at the local Dixons. Some poor guy called Jason takes most of the heat, ending up with a police search and interrogation before eventually being let out on bail, while Paul and Silas clamber over the back fence and off to Berea.
‘You’re welcome’, Jason mutters to himself, as he fiddles solemnly with the electronic tag around his ankle.
As Christians, we tend to be a fairly mild-mannered, polite bunch. Most of us anyway. Well some us. We don’t like to cause upset or disturb the peace. But the truth is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a mild-mannered message. It’s a message that says:
‘This is the only way’.
‘If you’re not living for Him, you’re getting life wrong. You’re missing the point. You’re on the wrong path’.
And that doesn’t sit well with our relativist society that says ‘if it feels right for you, you go for it’, ‘you have your truth and I’ll have mine’. And so the temptation is to water it down, to smooth the edges a bit until our truth fits in better with the other ‘truths’ around it. But we are called to stand out. To be a light that cannot be hidden. And sometimes that light will be appealing to people, and sometimes it will anger and agitate them.
I’m not suggesting we go out looking to cause a riot, but we should never be surprised or discouraged when opposition comes. It’s to be expected when the message we carry with us is so bold, so life-changing, so explosive. The challenge that comes to us here is do we, as individual believers, live out and speak out a message that would be enough to ‘cause trouble’ or do we tone it down to a more comfortable, more peace-keeping level?
We are called to be an influence in the various places we spend our time. We don’t influence by following the crowd, going with the flow and maintaining the status quo. We influence when we demonstrate that there’s another way; a better way; the only way.
And just to remind us that the challenges of living out the gospel in an unbelieving, secular society are not new to our generation or to our culture, let’s look back to Paul’s continuing adventures in Chapter 17.
He arrives in Berea, delivers the good news about Jesus, to a much better reception this time, (barely a flaming torch or strongly worded placard in sight). People respond to the message and many become believers. But pretty soon the Thessalonica crew show up on the next bus – all angry, shouty and offended – and disrupt the good work Paul is doing. (v13)
Frustrating really, just like all those times you and I get a breakthrough and then immediately afterwards a bunch of distractions and upsets appear just to try and throw us off course. Again, don’t be discouraged. We need to stay focused on our purpose and our calling.
Finally, Paul makes it to Athens (v16); a place of learning, philosophy and fierce academic debate. A people in relentless pursuit of the next ‘new idea’. A city caught up in the worship of idols. A community in which knowledge is prized, and yet God remains ‘unknown’. And into this culture, which sounds very reminiscent of our own, Paul speaks of a God who loves us, who knows us and who, above all else, wants to be known. (v27) Known by you, known by your family, by your colleagues, by those people on your street, by the people you’ve given up hope of ever getting through to.
However it’s received, whatever trouble it might cause along the way; the gospel of Jesus is
a message worth declaring and a message worth demonstrating.
It’s a message worth travelling for, worth sacrificing for, worth facing opposition for, worth stepping up to new levels for.
Contributed by Ps Paul