Sermon for Sunday Evening, May 21st, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 17:1-9 ESV] 1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
We read this text not all that long ago in our study of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. Here is the Acts is the account of Paul and Silas first coming to that city.
In some ways it is the standard fare for our evangelists. They come to a new city, go the synagogue, convert some to faith in Christ, but upset the Jews who have the city authorities arrest them. But in the end Paul and Silas are let go, free to preach another day. This is the pattern that has developed now in city after city.
But there are some details in our passage which deserve greater attention.
We’ll look at two specifically this evening.
1. Reasoning from the Scriptures
2. The World Turned Upside-Down
But first, it is interesting to me that at this point Paul had not started writing his letters. We are in the second missionary journey. The first was Paul and Barnabas. Now it is Paul and Silas. At this point they are going “in person” to bring the Gospel to the nations. Later, as Paul writes letters he is following up with the churches he helped establish. His First Letter to the Thessalonians is thought to be the first, the earliest, of all of his New Testament epistles. Probably, as a learned man, he wrote other letters too, but God has chosen only certain letters to be collected for posterity, for the church, the people of God.
When Paul writes letters it is because he can’t come in person. There are at least two reasons why he can’t come in person. First, some times he’s in prison! He writes a number of letters from prison. Then, other times, perhaps he is just too far away and it is better to write a letter.
But we see a priority of being in person. We should consider that ourselves. It is often superior to speak to a person “in person” rather than send them a letter, an email, or a text. Our own village Mayor, Mayor Martin, had called me a few weeks ago, and he said the reason he called instead of texted is that he’s an “In person person.” Certainly Paul was an in person person as well. And much of his work was unrecorded. While his epistles serve us well today, his primary effort in his life was not through writing but through personal speaking to people.
So we find here that he reasons with the Jews in the synagogue … in person.
I. Reasoning From the Scriptures
Even though he is the apostle to the Gentiles, he preaches also the Jews. And because he is preaching to the Jews, he knows that they respect the Scriptures of the Old Testament. So that is what he appeals to.
In the next chapter we’ll see a very different approach with the Gentiles who do not know the Scriptures. But here Paul goes to the Scriptures with the Jews. We should do likewise with lapsed Christians, appealing to them from the Word of God. For those who are not at all believers, we have to (with the Holy Spirit) persuade them of the truth of the Scriptures.
Now it is fascinating that he doesn’t go to the information of what has happened with Jesus in Jerusalem, his life, death, and resurrection. Maybe they had already heard wind of those events.
Instead, Paul goes right to the Scriptures showing that “this had to happen.” “It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” So don’t be surprised that this actually has now happened. Christ is Risen just as God has said He would.
The Good News is indeed that He Is Risen, but the meaning behind that statement is known only through the Scriptures. Christ’s resurrection proclaims triumph over sin, death, and the devil.
It was necessary for Christ to die, not only because the Scriptures prophesied such, but because the sins of man needed to be forgiven.
Just what Scriptures Paul brought up to the Jews in the Synagogue are not told. He may have read from Isaiah about the suffering servant, or from Genesis about crushing of the serpents head, or from 2nd Samuel about one establishing a forever kingdom. There are many passages.
But Paul didn’t just read them. He took the time to reason with the Jews about these passages. He drew out inferences, he explained them, he showed that they had been fulfilled.
“Reason” has come on hard times in our world, compromised by the relativism of postmodernism, by emotionalism, by mysticism. But we have the truth, as Paul had the truth. And the Gospel comes not by the emotions but by the mind, by the hearing of the word of God and the understanding of the message. Truth comes from God’s revealed word, not the trances of mystics, nor the ups and downs of one’s emotions. There is “true truth” and it comes from He who is Truth Himself.
So Paul “reasons” with the Jews. A good distinction that has been made throughout the centuries in the Christian church is that distinction between Magisterial and Ministerial Reason. God has given us the powers of reason, but they must be used in his service, in a ministerial role. The false Magisterial Reason questions the truth of God’s word, it puts Self as the arbiter of truth. But Ministerial Reason reasons FROM the Scriptures. It takes the Word of God and true and goes from there.
And the fact that Paul reasons FROM the Scriptures, and the fact that Jesus reasons FROM the scriptures, gives us the example to do so likewise.
My favorite of Jesus’ reasoning FROM the Scriptures occurs he makes this syllogism, this logical statement proving that there is life after death.
[Mat 22:23-33 ESV] 23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
So he has the assume premises from the Scripture: ‘
I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”
“He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
And there is the unstated conclusion:
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive.
Such is valid reasoning, using proper logic.
And so the Westminster Confession tells us:
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”
These deductions are not “adding to Scripture” but are already there, implied in the other statements of Scripture. We do well to reason FROM Scripture as Paul does with the Jews. I think we should this more often, working out more implications of God’s word.
Now, because we must reason with people, it is not sufficient merely to “show” our faith. I believe a lot of people have good intentions when they say “I’m going to preach the Gospel by living as Jesus would have me live.” I certainly wouldn’t oppose the seeking after Christ. But far too often this is used as an excuse to avoid evangelism. The reality is we MUST preach the Gospel, we must reason with unbelievers, we must SPEAK the Word of God. Living in accord with Christ will benefit your testimony, but it will not supplant it or replace it.
II. The World Turned Upside-Down
The second detail I want us to look at is this phrase “these men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
This is one of those all-too-true statements. True, but not in the way the speaker intended. The world is indeed turned up side down by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its proclamation through Paul and Silas. But the Jews have their view of the world wrong. Their view is that things were going well until Paul and Silas came in and caused trouble. They see the world as a turtle on its feet with Paul and Silas trying to push the turtle over. But the right view of the world is that it is like a turtle stuck on its back, unable to right itself. It is in trouble and NEEDS to be turned over.
The turning-the-world-upside-down of Paul and Silas is absolutely necessary. Men are dying in their sins, but now a savior has come to turn them over back on their feet.
This truth of the Gospel turned the world upside down. And it continues to do so to this day. Frankly, what would we have if not the Gospel? The heathen world is chaotic and immoral. The religions and gurus are only looking to benefit themselves at your loss. The philosophies are empty. We would be greatly depressed and despondent but for the Good News of the Gospel. It turns our world upside-down … no … it turns the world right side up. For it is truth, not error. Worshipping God is the way things should be, as God originally created the world before the Fall and as the world (the new heavens and the new earth) will one day be.