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Acts 17

May 2nd, 2010 by Vic

“Closed minds, Open minds”

May 2, 2010

Last week we saw closed doors and open doors.  Today we see again closed minds and open minds.  At the end of chapter 16 Paul and Silas were escorted out of the jail with open doors in Philippi and asked to leave town.  The magistrates were embarrassed that they had imprisoned Roman citizens without a hearing.  They did not want Paul and Silas reporting unjust imprisonment to their superiors.

Paul and Silas walked 33 miles WSW to Amphipolis another 30 miles WSW to Apollonia and then 37 miles west to Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was the capital city of the province of Macedonia.  It is amazing how far we can walk in 3 days if we are motivated.  Paul and Silas may still be hurting from the whips and stocks in Philippi.  But Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia asking him to come and share the gospel.  He was looking forward to seeing what God was doing in the capital city.  He knew this is where God wanted him to be.  But soon some hired thugs plotted to kill him.  Why didn’t God just zap these thugs and let Paul continue his ministry in Thessalonica?

17:1-4

This phrase “as was his custom” was also used of Jesus in Luke 4:16.  Sabbath days were days to go to the synagogue, hear the Scriptures, sing the Scriptures, and pray.  If there was a synagogue in town, Paul attended.

Paul reasoned with them out of the Scriptures (2-3), explaining and proving (NIV), opening and alleging (KJV) that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.  This Jesus that he was telling them about is the Messiah.

The word “reasoned” comes from the Greek word ‘dielexato’ or dialogue.  It implies intellectual stimulus and was used of the Socratic method of question and answer.  Another interesting word is  (paratithemenos) “opening” or “alleging”.  It is used in Matt 13:24 when Jesus ‘set before them’ another parable.  In Mark 8:6 it is used of feeding the 4,000.  The same word was used in Acts 16:34 when the jailer fed Paul and Silas, he set food before them.  Literally it means to place along side, like setting the table and inviting everyone to eat.  In this synagogue Paul was setting the life of Jesus along side their Scriptures and inviting them to the feast.

Once it is accepted that according to OT prophecy the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise again, then it could be pointed out that only Jesus has fulfilled these prophecies.  This is the Messiah that Paul is proclaiming.

Paul does not mention the kingship of Jesus or the kingdom of God.  Those words could suggest a rival political power and Paul did not want to be misunderstood.  He was a Roman citizen and understood Roman emperor worship.  Paul’s preaching was very successful and the rabbis became jealous.

17:5-9

Notice that it was envy that hindered God’s word from being heard.  How is satan hindering the Word today?  What keeps you from reading God’s Word?

The Jews who did not believe, stirred up a riot.  They hired the vagabonds and idlers hanging around the market.  They accused Paul and Silas of causing trouble all over the world.  An interesting testimonial.

The Five Thessalonian politarchs did not want riots in their city like they heard about in Rome.  They could not find Paul so they arrested Jason until he raised bail and gave them a security bond guaranteeing that Paul would not return to the city.  Later Paul wrote back to the church at Thessalonia and said he couldn’t visit because satan stopped him (1Thes 2:18).

17:10-15

It is possible that there was an escort of Christians with Paul and Silas on this night walk 50 miles SW to Berea.  I wonder if they went directly to the synagogue the next morning to thank the Lord for traveling mercies and no beatings.

The Jews here are described as more noble than the Thessalonians.  They were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Like a child, they were simply and prayerfully seeking the mind of God.

What makes a person noble and different from the zealous Jews and hired thugs?

1. They were open-minded.  They received the message with eagerness.  They were willing to give it a fair hearing.

2. They knew the Scriptures and used them to judge the new teaching.  Open-minded does not mean gullible.  They had a standard by which to test any teaching.  They did not use the opinions or reactions of the majority to determine truth.  I wonder if they had heard that Jesus was rejected by the Jerusalem Jews.  They would soon hear that from the Thessalonian thugs.

3. They believed God was doing a new thing.  It was not just Paul’s opinion.

I talked with Ben Wright a little this week.  He is like the Bereans.  He reads my manuscript and then reads a book in the Bible.  According to this chapter he is noble minded.

The bitter Jews from Thessalonia were so sure that their understanding of scripture was right that they came to Berea and stirred up another mob of misfits.  The Christians escorted Paul to Athens.  They may have put him on a ship or pretended to put him on a ship and then walked with him to Athens.  Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea.

17:16-21

Can Paul start feeling sorry for himself yet?  Paul may have felt lonely in Athens (1Thess 3:1).  He usually had a friend with him.  Probably it had not been in Paul’s mind to preach in Athens.  This cultural center and university town knew everything about everything already.  Athens had more images than the rest of Greece put together.  Pliny states that Athens had over 30,000 public statues at this time plus those in homes.  Every entrance or porch had its protecting god.  And the population was probably less than 20,000.

But Paul’s heart stirred within him and he had to tell people about Jesus Christ.  He reasoned in the synagogue and daily taught in the streets just like Socrates had done 400 years earlier on these very streets.  The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers called him a babbler which literally means seed-picker, one who picked up trivia and scraps of undigested knowledge.

It is interesting that Plato is not mentioned.  Plato may have prophesied Jesus.  He said, “This just person must be poor, and void of all qualifications but those of virtue alone.  A wicked world will not bear his instructions and reproofs; and therefore, within three or four years after he begins to teach, he should be persecuted, imprisoned, scourged, and at last be put to death.”  I found this quote in a Funk and Wagnalls Commentary dated 1883.  I had not heard it before.

The Epicureans (materialists) taught that the highest good was man’s pleasure, free from pain, passion and fear.  Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die.  They acknowledged gods but these gods were remote and not involved in the affairs of man and did they care about man.

The Stoics (pantheists) said pleasure was evil and we must deny ourselves and be reasonable.  They were pantheistic and believed everything was god.  Everything was predetermined so we must accept what happens and live harmoniously with nature.  God was to the world as the soul is to man.

No Greek philosophy believed in the physical resurrection of the body.

They brought him (19) to the Areopagus because they thought he was talking about 2 new gods.  One was called Jesus and the other called resurrection.  For them a god did not need a body.  It could be just an idea like resurrection.  This Areopagus had 30 members (one resource said 12) chosen for life.  It was the center of democracy.  It had been the supreme court in Greece’s better days.  Since the Roman conquest it has been in decline.  But they still prided themselves in examining every new idea.  Now they heard something they had never imagined.

1. To men who make gods, it is a strange idea that God makes men.  That means we cannot divide the world into Greeks and barbarians or Jews and Gentiles.  The human race has a common origin.  God created us and made us for Himself.

2. To men who take sin lightly, it is a strange idea that God takes sin seriously.  Paul is going to tell us that it is time to repent and quit sinning.  A judgment day has been put on the calendar.

3. To men who view death as final, it is a strange idea that God raises the dead.  God will raise us from the dead and judge our hearts according to His command to love.

17:22-30

Paul does not criticize their ignorance or superstition, but complements them for their devotion and reverence.  Paul does not tear down their religion but simply proclaims the true God and explains true worship.  The Epicureans are right that God needs nothing from human beings.  The Stoics are right believing that God is the source of all life.  However there is no place for racial superiority.  All humanity has come from Adam.  There is no special people formed from the soil of Greece.  God has determined specific times and exact places where man should live.

Paul quotes 2 Greek poets.  When Minos was talking about his father Zeus he says, “in him we live and move and have our being.”  The poet Aratus, speaking of Zeus, says, “for we are also his offspring.”

In the past (30) God overlooked idolatrous ignorance because He has been more interested in repentance than in judgment.  He has always invited us to turn to Him and be saved.  Now a definite day of Judgment has been set.  The fullness of God’s revelation has been given in Christ Jesus and there is no excuse.  God is no longer ignoring your sin.

17:31-34

The results of Paul’s speech brought 3 responses.

1. Some of them sneered.  The whole idea of some Jew, risen from the dead, becoming God’s appointed judge of the world was to them a big joke.  They hugged their idols and sneered at the gospel.  They had contempt for the truth.  This is spiritual suicide.  You can laugh and joke your way to hell, but you can never joke your way back from hell.  The choice you make now determines your destiny.

2. Some of them put off making a decision.  They did not say, never, but wanted to delay a little.  They thought the message might be true, but it was not urgent.  Maybe some other time.  Procrastination is the thief of time.  The Bible says today is the day of salvation, not tomorrow.

3. A few believed.  Refusing to be intimidated by the majority opinion or the teaching of the past a few believed.  Dionysius was a member of the supreme court.  We do not know who Damaris was.  A wise man knows that only a fool will turn his back on God.  No one has ever regretted saying yes to God.  It is time to say again, “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

Some commentators suggest that in Athens Paul attempted the intellectual approach and tried to be a philosopher among the philosophers rather than preaching the simple gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is not a valid criticism, for the heart of the gospel is the resurrection of Jesus.  Preaching the resurrection was not a way to win friends and influence people in Athens.  A message of personal immortality in a disembodied state would have been more acceptable.  Paul did not water down the gospel in Athens to make it less offensive to the Greeks.  He just said there is a living God who loves us and offers us freedom from guilt and fear.

In a sense Paul was placing a feast before them of the True Bread and Wine, inviting all to come and dine.  There is a lot to chew on in this chapter.  Do you see how all the pieces of truth fit together?  Do you see how the table has been set?  Come feast on the Living Bread.

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