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Trick or Treat

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Trick or Treat

Acts 17:1-15        October 29, 2000


Scripture Reading: 1Thessalonians 2:1-7; 17-20


          How skeptical are you?

Big Question:

          What must we understand about our options when we are presented with the truth of the gospel?

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (vv. 1-9)

          Paul, Silas, and Timothy left Philippi under duress and went on to Thessalonica.

          Luke evidently stayed in Philippi to care for the new church there.

          In keeping with a plan to take the gospel to strategic city-centers for the spread of the gospel throughout the Balkan peninsula, they pass through Amphipolis and Apollonia.

          Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia and contained perhaps 200,000 people.

          It was about 100 miles from Philippi.

          There was a substantial Jewish contingent there and as usual to Paul's policy, he took the gospel to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles.

          In fact, he reasoned with them on 3 consecutive Sabbath days.

          The preaching of Paul in Acts generally followed a proclaimed witness approach.

          We see it particularly here.

          We also see from 1Thess. 1:9-10 and 4:13ff that there were strong eschatological overtones in Paul's preaching to them.

          It was a witness that Jesus of Nazareth in the Christ, that his suffering and resurrection were in accord with Scripture, and that through his earthly ministry and living presence, men and women can experience the reign of God in their lives.

          And he is coming back for them.

          At times the proclamation was accompanied by miracles.

          But even though miracles brought quick results, reasoning, proving, and persuading have always served as the standard in preaching.

Paul uses such methods here and this implies a careful dealing with the questions and doubts of his hearers.

No doubt he used Scriptures such as Ps. 2, 16, 110, Is. 53, Dt. 21:23.

Actually, as it says here, quite a number came to faith in Christ.

Jason, who was Paul's host in Thessalonica, was probably one of the converted Jews.

Those who came to faith joined Paul and Silas probably by forming a separate congregation that met at Jason's house.

This caused the envy of the Jews because of the superiority of Paul's message that won over the Gentiles to Christianity rather than Judaism.

Paul's message was more persuasive in causing the God-fearers to make a full commitment and even many outright pagans were turning to Christ.

We see this in 1Thess. 1:9 where they turned to God from idols.

The small Jewish minority in the city used the idle unemployed of the marketplace (stirring them to mob action) in order to carry out their ends of opposing Paul.

          Once again we see the horrid result of their jealousy.

They could not oppose Paul effectively themselves so they used the weaknesses of others to do their work.

They couldn't get to Paul so they used Jason as their surrogate target.

He was responsible for his guests as if they were members of his household.

The Jews used "another king" argument to resonate with the Romanized inhabitants.

Indeed, Paul's preaching included veiled reference of Christ's kingship (1Thess. 2:5-7).

His evangelism moved naturally from Christ's teaching about the kingdom of God to the truth that Christ is the King, although as yet not politically so.

They probably stirred up fear in the city officials that there would be riots over Christianity like those that happened in Rome in 49-50 A.D. and got all the Jews evicted from the city.

          The bond that Jason was made to pay was what would have prevented Paul from returning (1Thess. 2:18 – Satan stopped us) because it was held in trust against Jason for his non-return.

          Even though the protest against Christianity was great in Thessalonica, the Christians there held there faith and witness in a manner that filled Paul with joy when he heard of it (1Thess. 3:6-10).

          Strong and healthy churches can emerge from the matrix of suffering – they are probably stronger for it.

          B.      Implication

          When presented with the truth of the gospel, we can reject it out of prejudice, feeling threatened by the opportunity for inquiry.

          C.      Illustration

          Allow me to mess with your presumptions a little.

          Turn in your bibles to John 3:16, the most well known verse in the bible.

          Tell me what any of your versions say.

They all say, "For God so loved the world ---," or something very close.

We tend to think of this verse as starting cold and only going forward of where it begins.

What if I told you that isn't correct?

You have had the truth all these years, you think, and who am I to mess with your presumption?

Since this verse is so traditional in our understanding of truth, all the versions tend to translate it the same way.

All our versions seem to tell us that God loved the world to such a degree that he gave his only Son that we might not perish if we believe in him.

Indeed, the direct translation of the original language this was written in would say this.

The problem is that there should be a different slant on its translation.

There are two words in the original Greek language of this verse that make all the difference in the world.

They are an adverb (outw") and a conjunction (wste).

Each translated individually and placed together, they imply "so much – that" or "so much – and so", referring to the degree that God loves the world and its result.

But this is the only place in the bible that these two words are used together like this and there is nothing to compare it to.

This usage does appear in other ancient literature, but with a different meaning than what we have previously understood.

When used together, these words do not imply degree but manner.

With this in mind, how should we view John 3:16?

It refers backward to the example that Jesus gives to Nicodemus of the snake being lifted up by Moses in the desert, and so in the same way must the Son of Man be lifted up. (Remember in Num. 21 that God had sent snakes among the people because of their complaining.)

God is not loving the world so such a degree that he gave his Son – he loved the world in such a way that he gave his Son.

In case you consider this just a minor point, consider it this way – God did not just expend a one-time emotion in giving his Son on our behalf (degree), he took eternal action (manner) that is available to everyone who looks upon him in faith.

God is providing a very real and tangible "way" of salvation.

When we look upon him in faith we are saved.

So how should we translate this verse?

"And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, in this way must the Son of Man be lifted up in order that everyone believing might have in him life eternal, for in this way God loved the world; and so God gave the only Son in order that everyone believing in him might not perish; rather, might have life eternal."

The way that this connects with our passage this morning is that the Thessalonians were saying to Paul, "We have understood the Scriptures our own way for centuries and we will not accept the threat of your greater understanding no matter how much proof you bring us. We have our own understanding of the Messiah and salvation and we won't allow you to tamper with it. But they did not want to investigate the truth. They were threatened by it because they placed other personal and worldly concerns ahead of God and truth.

In the same way, those who believe the King James Bible is the only correct version are seemingly threatened by such evidence as I have brought to you this morning. For instance, they discount the fact that other more ancient transcripts of the original languages have been discovered since the King James Bible was translated.

Now, I do not believe there is anything wrong with the King James Bible. But we must always be open to investigating the truth claims that are presented to us instead of cart blanche rejecting them because they call into question what we think we have always believed.

What we must understand more than anything else is that truth is never really threatened when people are open to putting it to the test. Truth will prevail anyway, no matter what.

          D.      Application

          These "religious" Jews used the very people they were supposed to be transforming into good people to do their dirty work.

          They portrayed the evangelists as men who have caused trouble over all the world. This was a severe judgment but it is true that turmoil often results when the gospel challenges people to consider truth and change their lives. Usually, the turmoil originates with those who reject the challenge of truth.

          There are six key words (all verbs – words of action) that describe the evangelism of Paul and Silas as given to us in these verses.

          They use reasoning, explaining, proving, proclaiming, and persuading which resulted in joining.

II.      Cycle Two

          A.      Narrative (vv. 10-15)

          The team of Paul, Silas, and Timothy now move on to Berea.

          Berea was more off the beaten path about 50 miles to the SW of Thessalonica.

          But here, as elsewhere, they go to the synagogue first to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

          Now notice that Paul describes them as more noble than the Thessalonian Jews because they tested the truth of what Paul was saying against the Scriptures instead of against their prejudice and pride; instead of against the political and cultural biases that seemed to be so characteristic of the Jews.

          Their nobility lay in their willingness to acknowledge their need, resulting in an eagerness to hear from God and to receive what they heard – to their salvation.

          The heart of the Christian faith is an attitude that makes people continue to go to the Scriptures in order to learn and grow.

          Just as salvation is through faith, so is growth in the Christian life.

Also notice that the more they tested the Scriptures, the more truth they found because many believed.

          Here was no mere emotional response to the gospel, but one based on intellectual conviction.

          They were eager for the truth of Scripture proclaimed.

          Whereas they tested the Scriptures daily, the Thessalonians had all they could handle on 3 Sabbaths.

          But trouble has a way of following the truth in order to attack it, and the Jews from Thessalonica find their way even to Berea to cause trouble even though they have no authority there.

          Note that the trouble was not caused by any of the Jews in Berea who had not yet become convinced.

          Since the Jews from Thessalonica had no authority, they had to resort to their previous tactics.

          The Berean brothers stage a diversion as if taking Paul to the coast to send him off, but have plans to circle him back around to Athens where he eventually meets up with Silas and Timothy again.

          And we know from 1Thess. 3:2 that Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica from Athens in order to strengthen them in their trials.

          B.      Implication


When presented with the truth of the gospel, we can receive it out of gratitude, feeling blessed by the opportunity for inquiry.

          C.      Illustration

          I read in the paper this week that the Catholics and the Muslims are entering into discussion with one another concerning items of faith.

          I must admit that when I read such things it makes me wonder why the Christian community wants to subject itself to such a low level.

          We have the truth, why should we discuss it.

          Indeed, that is the point.

          We should not be threatened by discussion with other religions if we are sure of our own.

          Truth will always prevail.

          It is when we don't believe the truth in the first place that our supposed position is threatened.

          We should never resort to imposition or manipulation in sharing our faith – and we don't need to. We should not fear open discussion. This is what Christ told us to do.

          D.      Application

          It is not east today to get people to receive a message with great eagerness or to examine the Scriptures as the Bereans did.

          Truth is viewed as subjective and people resist the idea of objective knowledge and eternal unchanging truths.

          This is an age when people are so used to receiving predigested material from television that they find going to the Scriptures to do inductive study to be something strange.

          The three Christian communities Paul founded on this trip were in a position to take the gospel westward.

          The Bereans expressed an attitude of humble receptivity that lies at the heart of faith.

          Note that Paul had to flee from all three Macedonian cities in which he ministered, which is difficult to take, but he left behind three stable churches.

          This shows the actual degree of help that they needed as the basis for the vision that God gave to Paul to go there instead of further into Asia.


Big Answer:

          What must we understand about our options when we are presented with the truth of the gospel?

          When presented with the truth of the gospel, we can reject it out of prejudice, feeling threatened by the opportunity for inquiry.

          When presented with the truth of the gospel, we can receive it out of gratitude, feeling blessed by the opportunity for inquiry.

Timeless Truth:

          The truth of the gospel either threatens us or blesses us.

          The gospel is either a trick or a treat depending upon your attitude toward the truth.

Either you know it all – or you don't know enough.

Either you are self-sufficient – or you are dependent.

Either you are threatened – or you are blessed.

Either you are tricked – or you are treated.

Either you are closed – or you are open ----- to truth.

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