Scripture reading – Acts 17; 1 Thessalonians 1
Our chronological study of the Scriptures continues with Acts 17 and 1 Thessalonians 1. The focus of today’s devotional is Acts 17.
Macedonia, the land between the Balkans and the Greek Peninsula, was the first region in Europe to receive the Gospel (Acts 16:9). (I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, to gain more insight into the churches of Macedonia.) As you turn in the Scriptures to chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles, I invite you to first consider the historical context with a brief review of the events that preceded it.
Paul’s ministry in Philippi (Acts 16) stirred up what might be described as a “hullabaloo” (i.e. uproar, tumult, clamor). He and Silas were falsely accused of teaching “customs, which [were] not lawful…to observe, being Romans” (16:21). Those men were thereafter beaten and jailed (16:22-24). On the next day, Paul and Silas were set free and departed from Philippi (16:39-40), traveling “through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica” (17:1).
We find in Acts 17 a record of Paul and Silas’ ministry in three prominent cities of the 1st century: Thessalonica (17:1-13), Berea (17:10-14), and Athens (17:15-34). As it was his custom, Paul entered each of those cities, and on the Sabbath went to the local synagogue. Faithful to his calling, and bold in his preaching, Paul boldly declared Jesus as the Messiah (i.e., the Anointed One) and Savior (17:1-3). Time and space prevent an in-depth study of Paul’s ministry in those cities; however, I trust my amplification of some key verses will be a blessing.
The City of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-13)
We read, “Now when they [Paul and Silas] had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2 And Paul, as his manner was [i.e. as was his custom or habit], went in unto them [the Jews in the synagogue at Thessalonica], and three sabbath days reasoned [disputed; preached; conversed] with them out of [from] the scriptures [i.e. The Old Testament Scriptures], 3 Opening [explaining; setting forth] and alleging [setting forth], that Christ must needs [ought; should] have suffered [experienced pain], and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach [declare; proclaim] unto you, is Christ [the Messiah]” (Acts 17:1-3).
There were many in Thessalonica who believed, “consorted,” and united with Paul and Silas (in effect, became their disciples, 17:4). What an exciting time in the early years of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8), as “devout,” God-fearing Greeks and prominent women of the community openly identified with Paul and Silas and the Gospel they preached (17:4). Yet, there were Jews in the synagogue who rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and moved by jealousy, caused an uproar of opposition against Paul and Silas (17:5-7). Notice the character and manner of those who set themselves against those preachers.
Acts 17:5-7 – “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy [jealous over Paul’s success], took unto them certain lewd [evil; wicked] fellows of the baser sort [vulgar; good for nothing], and gathered a company [crowd], and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason [a believer], and sought to bring them [Paul and Silas] out to the people [to publicly accuse and attack]. 6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down [made an uproar] are come hither also; 7 Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees [laws; ordinances] of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”
The Thessalonian believers, fearing for the safety and welfare of Paul and Silas, urged them to flee the city “by night unto Berea” (17:10a). Yet, though driven out of one city, Paul and Silas arrived in Berea, and “went in to the synagogue of the Jews” (17:10b).
The City of Berea (Acts 17:10-14)
The reception of the Jews in Berea provides us a refreshing contrast to the wicked character of the Thessalonican Jews. They “were more noble [i.e. noble minded] than those in Thessalonica, in that they received [accepted] the word with all readiness of mind [eagerly; joyfully], and searched [examined; investigated] the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Oh, that we might all be “Berean believers,” and search “the Scriptures daily” (surely many believers would be spared error and heresy if they were dedicated students of God’s Word). Soon after, the adversaries from Thessalonica learned Paul and Silas were in Berea, and came to incite the Bereans against them (17:13). The believers urged Paul to depart, but Silas and Timothy continued in Berea, and remained until Paul requested, they come to Athens (17:14-15).
The City of Athens (Acts 17:15-34)
Known for its scholarship and idolatry, Paul journeyed to Athens and having seen the idols of that ancient city in every place, boldly declared Jesus Christ in both the synagogue and public places (Acts 17:16-17). Standing on Mars’ Hill, a meeting place of the Athenians, Paul declared, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things [everything] ye are too superstitious [religious; i.e., fearing the idol gods]” (17:22). Paul continued to reason with the men of Athens, and asserted men are “the offspring of God,” and not created after the likeness of “gold, or silver, or stone, graven [scratch; etched; sculpted] by art and man’s device [thought or imagination]” (17:29).
Raising his voice in an appeal that was an invitation to believe in God’s revelation of Himself, His judgment, and the resurrection of Christ, Paul challenged:
“30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at [overlooked; do not punish]; but now commandeth [ declares] all men every where to repent [change of mind accompanied by sorrow]: 31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge [condemn] the world in righteousness [justice] by that man whom he hath ordained [i.e. Jesus Christ]; whereof he [God] hath given assurance unto all men, in that he [God] hath raised him [Jesus Christ] from the dead” (17:30-31).
Closing thoughts (17:20-34) – Imagine the shock to the pride of those men of Athens who, in the words of the Scripture, did nothing more than want to “tell, or to hear some new thing” (17:21). Here was Paul, a man who boldly declared what they knew in their hearts, that the God of creation and heaven (17:29a) was nothing like the idols they had sculpted with their hands and worshipped (17:29b). Paul then warned, God would no longer overlook their willful ignorance, and commanded “all men every where to repent” (17:30). Like our day, there were many who mocked and rejected the Gospel (17:32a). Yet, there were some that desired to hear more (17:32b), and many who believed (17:34).
What about you? What do you believe? Is your heart ready for God’s judgment? (2 Corinthians 5:10)
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