THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART THIRTY-TWO

                                          SERMON DELIVERED ON 06-22-19   

       Last time we were together we unpacked the much quoted saying to the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”  I spent most of the sermon time discussing what it means to believe in Jesus and how such belief relates to salvation.  We concluded by seeing how Paul and Silas were identified as being Roman citizens which caused some consternation among the local governmental authorities who had them jailed.  As I discussed last time, being a Roman citizen came with certain privileges and protections.  Being treated the way Paul and Silas were treated was not in line with the protections that came with being a Roman citizen.  

       Acts 16:35-40: When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: "Release those men."  The jailer told Paul, "The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace." But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out."  The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.

       Being publically beaten without having a trial was not permitted of a Roman citizen. There had to be a determination made at a trial that such punishment was justified. Paul was showing off his spunky side here in demanding that the magistrates who had committed them to jail be held accountable.  He knew that they knew what was and wasn’t permissible under Roman law.  He knew that when the magistrates found out Paul and Silas were Roman citizens they could be in a lot of trouble with their superiors over what they did. Paul and Silas could have filed charges against the magistrates and the magistrates knew it.  That’s why we see them coming to appease Paul and Silas and request they leave the city.

       As it turns out, they didn’t immediately leave the city but went to Lydia's house.  As previously discussed, Lydia and her family had moved from Thyatira to Philippi and upon hearing Paul and Silas preach, they become Christian converts and had opened up their home to Paul, Silas and other Christians in the area.  After spending an undetermined amount of time at the home of Lydia, they left and apparently headed for Thessalonica.

       Acts 17:1-4: When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said.  Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

       Let's take a visual look at Paul's journey's to this point.

       Thessalonica was a Greek city which had come under Roman control as was true of the entire region known as Macedonia.  As was true of most Greek cities under Roman control in the first century, Thessalonica had a significant Jewish population and had a local synagogue where the Jews regularly met on the Sabbath.  As is recorded, as was his custom, Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and preached Christ to the Jews.

       As previously discussed in this series, while Paul became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, he never stopped preaching to the Jews as well. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see Paul preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. 

       In Acts 9:20 it’s recorded that after Paul’s conversion he began to immediately preach in the synagogue at Damascus.  In Acts 13:4 we find Paul preaching in the synagogue at Salamis.  At Pisidian Antioch we see Paul preaching at the synagogue on the Sabbath to both Jews and Gentiles.  We see Paul doing the same at Iconium.

       The idea that Paul abandoned preaching the Gospel to the Jews and concentrated wholly on the Gentiles is derived from what is recorded in Acts 13: 46-45.  Here it is stated that the Jews were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.  Here is how Paul and Barnabas answered.

       Acts 13:46-47: Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "`I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.' "

        Some have seen this as Paul now focusing only on the Gentiles at the exclusion of the Jews. This is not a correct perspective.  As we have seen, Paul had already been preaching to both Jews and Gentiles in various Jewish synagogues throughout the region virtually from the time of his conversion.  As we have also seen, Paul appears to continue this practice throughout his ministry.

       While Paul may have now placed a greater focus on preaching to the Gentiles and establishing Gentile churches, the Book of Acts clearly shows Paul continued to preach to the Jews as well.  So when it is said Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles, it does not exclude the Jews as it is clear he continued to be an apostle to the Jews as well.

       Furthermore, it should be noted that when it is said Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles it appears that the Gentiles he was an apostle too were largely proselytes of Judaism.  As we have observed, Paul is seen as preaching to Gentiles on the Sabbath in Jewish synagogues. These Gentiles would not have been in a synagogue on the Sabbath unless they were worshipers of the God of Israel.

       Therefore, it is apparent the Gentiles Paul preached too were already converted in that they had left the polytheism of the Roman and Greek world and had become followers of the one true God. Paul was now introducing them to the Christ event and showing them it was as significant for them as it was for the Jews.

       While there are Scriptural examples of Paul bringing the Gospel message to polytheistic pagan Gentiles, it appears that the Gentiles he initially preached too on the Sabbath in synagogues had already left paganism and were worshiping the one God. 

       As covered in some detail in a Sermon delivered last December in this series, it is apparent that when Paul is seen as bringing the Gospel message to Jews and to Gentiles in a synagogue, the Gentiles present are proselytes to Judaism.  As explained last December, there were two types of Gentile proselytes in view in NT times according to historical sources from that period. 

       First, there was the “proselyte of righteousness” who was a proselyte who became circumcised and required to keep the entire Law of Moses.  Secondly, there was the “proselyte of the gate.”  This type of proselyte was not required to be circumcised nor keep the whole Mosaic Law.  This type of proselyte was only required to keep certain Mosaic regulations such as prohibition against  idolatry, blasphemy against God, homicide, unchastity, theft or plundering, rebellion against rulers and the eating of animal flesh with the blood still in the meat.  Some have conjectured that Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch were this type of proselyte.

       Both the “proselyte of righteousness” and the “proselyte of the gate” were allowed to join with the Jews in synagogue activities, including Sabbath worship.  In reading through the Book of Acts, it appears it was these kinds of Gentiles that Paul was largely ministering too and it was in Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath where these Gentiles could be found. We see throughout the Book of Acts Paul preaching on the Sabbath in Jewish synagogues.

       It is instructive that in addition to some Jews responding to Paul’s message at Thessalonica, it is recorded that there were a large number of God-fearing Greeks that responded as well.  The Gentiles are described here as “God-fearing Greeks.”

       The term God-fearing is found several time in the NT narrative in reference to Gentiles who are seen participating in synagogue worship. This appears to be another way of describing Gentiles who were proselytes of one kind or another.  These were Gentiles who acknowledged and worshiped the one true God.  They may have been formerly polytheistic pagans but at some point had come to believe in the same God the Jews believed in and participated with them in the worship of the God of Israel. Let’s now return to Acts 17.

       Acts 17:2-3: Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said.

       It is recorded that Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.  He proclaims that the man Jesus is indeed the Christ, the promised Messiah to Israel.

       In reading how Paul taught about Christ from the Scriptures is to read about how it was that the Church began, developed and grew.  Acts 17:2-3 is a very significant passage in that it instructs as to how the Church came to be. This being the case, I want to provide some background material that shows why this passage is so important to our understanding of how Paul and other of the Apostles brought about the development of what became known as Christianity.

       The post crucifixion appearances of Jesus convinced His disciples He had been raised from the dead.  It is instructive, however, that when Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem that first day of the week after His resurrection, he felt it necessary to explain to them how what He had just gone through was a fulfillment of Old Testament (OT) Scripture.

       Luke 24:44: He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

       Jesus singles out the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms as resources that contained writings that pointed to Him and what He experienced. During His ministry, Jesus had on a number of occasions made statements to the effect that the OT Scriptures spoke of Him.

       John 5:39: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.

      John 5:46: If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

       Luke 4:17-21: The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:  "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Taken from Isaiah 61:1-2). Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  

       Apostle Peter, in addressing the Israelites of his day, made it evident that a healing he and Apostle John had facilitated at the temple was not their doing but was accomplished through invoking the name of Jesus whom the prophets had foreseen as suffering and who had foretold what was being experienced.  Apostle Paul also sees in Jesus the fulfillment of what Moses and the prophets wrote about the coming of the Messiah.  

       Acts 2:18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.

       Acts 2:24:"Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 

       Acts 26:22-23: But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen--that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."

       It is apparent that during Jesus’ ministry, His disciples did not associate the suffering servant passages and other OT Scriptures with Jesus. In the account of Jesus appearing to the two disciples walking to Emmaus after the resurrection, it is recorded that Jesus showed them from the OT Scriptures that what had just transpired in Jerusalem had been predicted by the prophets.

       Luke 24:25-27: He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

       Jesus chides these two disciples for being foolish and slow of heart to believe what the prophets had spoken.  In essence, Jesus is saying they had failed to do their homework.  They had failed to carefully study the OT Scriptures and see the parallels between what was written and the events in the life of Jesus.  Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus took the twelve disciples aside and explained to them that what was about to happen to Him was foretold by the prophets.

       Luke 18:31-34: Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again." The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

       Jesus informs His disciples that everything written in the prophets about His passion was about to be fulfilled.  It is stated they didn't understand any of this. 

       It is apparent from the Scriptures that the disciples held the common view that the Messiah would be a military leader sent by God to restore the Davidic Kingdom.  That view dominated their thinking resulting in they simply not understanding what Jesus meant by saying He would be killed, let alone raise from the dead three days later.  They didn’t expect the Messiah to be killed so they had no clue what Jesus was talking about.  We get a real feel for the thinking of the disciples in Matthew.

       Matthew 16:21-22: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"

       This is a very strong example of the paradigm that was held by the disciples of Jesus.  The idea of Jesus suffering and being killed was foreign to the thinking of these men. The disciples believed Jesus was the promised Messiah to Israel which they equated with a restoration of the Davidic Kingdom. Jesus speaking of being killed must have sounded like nonsense to them.

       First century Israelites were expecting the Messiah to appear in their life time. They understood from Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy that the time was at hand for the Messiah to appear. 

       First century Jews were anticipating the appearance of a Messiah that would restore the Davidic Kingdom and relieve them from Roman oppression.  It is apparent the disciples of Jesus were initially no different in such anticipation.  They were looking for the Christ to establish a physical kingdom on earth where they would have positions of high authority. This is borne out by various events that occurred during Christ’s ministry.

       Matthew 20:20-21: Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. "What is it you want?" he asked.   She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."

       It is apparent that those who became followers of Jesus during His ministry had expectations of Jesus becoming their king which means He would replace the Roman Caesar as their king.  When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey shortly before His arrest, He was hailed as King of Israel. 

       Mark 11:8-10: Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! " "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!"

       Luke 19:38: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

       John 12:13: They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"

       It is apparent that Jesus was being hailed by His followers as the promised descendant of David who had come to restore the Davidic kingdom.  Yet just days after hailing Him as King of Israel, Jesus is arrested, tried and crucified.

       Not only was this a blow to the close disciples of Jesus, it must have created a great deal of disillusionment among those who had just a few days earlier hailed Jesus as King of Israel.  Their hopes that this was the man who would delivery Israel from Roman oppression were dashed.  Now three days after being crucified Jesus is resurrected and over a period of forty days appears to His disciples teaching about the kingdom of God. 

       Acts 1:3: After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

       After the ascension of Jesus, it is apparent the disciples had to adjust their thinking as to the purpose for which Jesus appeared among them.  They had to adjust their thinking as to the nature of the Kingdom and just why it was that the king of this kingdom had to suffer and die and then be resurrected. This adjustment in thinking becomes apparent as we read through the book of Acts and the letters of Apostle Paul. 

       Here we find Jesus being discussed and preached not as a conquering king who would restore a physical kingdom but as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin.  We see the kingdom being discussed in association with righteous living and through resurrection being the destination of those who die in Christ. 

      After the ascension of Jesus to the Father, the disciples of Jesus had a two fold task before them. They had to not only prove to their fellow Jews that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead but also prove He really was the Messiah who was to come. This was no easy task. 

      The disciples of Jesus had to change the paradigm of those who expected the Messiah to be a physical savior who would deliver them from Roman rule. They had to give witness to Jesus being a spiritual savior.  They had to give witness to Jesus having come to deliver Israel from the consequences of sin, a deliverance that would also be shared with the Gentile world.

       How did they go about giving such witness to Jesus?  They did this by constantly invoking OT Scripture to prove Jesus was the Christ.  The OT was the bedrock of the Jewish religious system. The NT Scriptures had not yet been written.  To prove Jesus was the true Christ and not some imposter, the disciples began to show how what Jesus did and experienced was prophesied in the OT. 

       They knew what Jesus had experienced and they now had come to understand the associations between those experiences and what the OT prophets wrote.  They came to understand these associations because Jesus taught them how various events in His life matched up with OT prophecy.

       It was very important that the disciples of Jesus understood the relationship between the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus.  This understanding would play a critical role in them convincing their fellow Jews that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah to Israel.  It was the sharing of this understanding with others that would propel the development of the Christian Church.  This brings us back to Acts 17:2-3.      

       Acts 17:2-3: As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said.

       Paul, as did other of the disciples of Jesus, used the Hebrew Scriptures to prove Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah to Israel and what that meant for Israel and the Gentile world as well.  It was on the basis of OT Scripture that both Jews and Gentiles came to accept Jesus as Messiah and Savior.  It was on the foundation of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Christian Church took shape and developed.

       Next time we get together we will go back in time some 2000 years and place ourselves at the feet of Paul and see what it was that Paul very likely taught from the Hebrew Scriptures that explained and proved that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead as cited in Acts 17:2-3.