“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 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.” 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. 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. 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, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.” (Acts 17:1-9 ESV)
We have reasons for everything we do. Sometimes those reasons are very shallow, and sometimes they are much, much deeper. For example, I like this brand of coffee over that brand of coffee, or I’ve remained in my current job for over thirty years because I have a deep sense of God’s calling to its mission and purpose. There’s always a reason for those choices or decisions. We get something out of them, some satisfaction, pleasure or meaning. I get a good tasting but inexpensive cup of coffee from that brand along with the a much needed early morning caffeine boost without paying the five dollars my wife does for a national chain brand, and I feel fulfilled and tied to a larger sense of purpose because my work helps educate and prepare Christian young people for God’s purpose and mission for their lives. Some shallow, some deep but reasons nonetheless.
We also have reasons for our religious faith, or lack thereof. Sometimes shallow reasons, sometimes deeper, much deeper reasons. Whether you have Christian faith, or are just exploring the various religious traditions or beliefs you will develop personal reasons for your faith or you will adapt and adopt cultural reasoning for accepting or rejecting those beliefs. Today, we will see how Paul used “reasoning” to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Thessalonica and then we will explore some reasons for you to have faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
As Paul and his team left Philippi, they began moving south, through what is now modern Greece. They passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, but didn’t spend much time there because there wasn’t a Jewish presence in those towns. Paul has a strategy of reaching the Gentile communities by finding and engaging the local Jews and Gentile proselytes (a non-Jew who believes in and worships the Lord God). His strategy is not only wise, but effective. Find those who already have a belief in the one, true God and then engage them with the Old Testament scriptures on how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises and the Old Testament scripture’s prophecies. It is at this point, that I want to present the first “reason” for faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
One of the biggest cultural challenges to faith today is the simple denial that truth exists or, if it does exist, whether truth can be known. To be honest, I don’t really believe that our culture denies the existence of truth deep down in their souls. They question the existence of truth from a pragmatic perspective. In other words, they might say truth doesn’t exist but it seems this may simply stem from a rejection of those “truths” that make them uncomfortable or challenge their beliefs and actions. Let me explain… We expect, even demand, truth in every area of life except morality and religion where we settle for “that may be true for you, but not for me.” We aren’t seeking truth in morality or religion because we are simply seeking affirmation of our own choices, desires or affections. We would never settle for such nonsense if we were talking to our doctor, investment counselor, mechanic, judge, legislator, employer or our spouse.
We want and expect truth in those “important and critical” aspects of our lives (doctor, mechanic, etc.), but too many of us just settle for opinions or preferences in the most important and most critical aspect of life, the existence of God, our faith in Him and our eternal destiny. For these areas, we question the reality of truth or relegate it to relative truth, true for you but not for me. Let me state emphatically, truth is exclusive by definition. For something to be true, the opposite MUST be false (example: the ball is red, the opposite is NOT and the ball is blue because it could be red and blue, the opposite is and the ball is not red). So, for Jesus to state “I am the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE and the ONLY way to the Father” is to state that every other way is false, and does NOT lead to life (see John 14:6). We want the truth from our doctor. We want the truth from our mechanic and financial counselor. We want the truth from our legislators and our employer. We want the truth from our spouse. We need the truth from God, but we often reject His truth or deem it unimportant.
What does this have to do with today’s passage? Paul was reasoning with them from the Old Testament scriptures regarding the truth of Jesus. Those scriptures had prophesied of His coming, suffering, sacrifice and resurrection but the Jews had reasoned away their truth and applicability, similar to our culture’s ability to reason away the truth of scripture regarding Jesus and his exclusive truth claims. The Jews who recognized these aspects of the Messiah had misinterpreted them and applied them to the Jews as a nation by reasoning that they (the Jews) were the “son of God’s love” and their personal suffering was what God was predicting. In essence, they began to see themselves and their ethnic identity as the source of their own salvation. God wasn’t going to send a Messiah/Savior, they were to become their own Messiah/Savior.
Our culture, in essence, has done the same thing. We believe we can achieve a state of scientific, political, moral and cultural accomplishment and that causes us to have a false confidence that any problems we face can be eliminated by a cultural awareness and our technical advancement and expanding scientific knowledge. We have become our own personal saviors. Basically, what God promised to accomplish through Jesus many modern people believe they can accomplish themselves. We don’t need God, we can solve our own problems and save our own world. Or as Marx put it, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”
A part of Paul’s reasoning was that the Messiah must suffer, but why? Why do Christians teach that it was necessary for Jesus to die? Precisely because we are unable to truly resolve the issue that is at the heart of our struggle or unhappiness, a heart corrupted by sin (see Romans 3:23). G.K. Chesterton (British author and arm chair philosopher) once wrote that the doctrine of original sin was the one theological doctrine that didn’t require any additional proof or evidence. He said that all one needed to do to prove this biblical doctrine was to ready the daily newspaper. Yep, the evidence for the doctrine of sin is on every page of the daily newspaper (or in every article on the digital news web site – in our case).
Ok, sin might be real but surely God could just forgive everyone? Right? Well, you might be willing to agree with that idea until you or someone you dearly love is the victim of some horrible crime. You see, we also know deep down inside us that justice is a universal standard we all truly desire. We really do believe that people should be held responsible for the wrongs they do, the sins they commit. At least, we believe in justice and accountability until it comes to our own personal sin. Then we begin to hope for forgiveness and mercy. Right? And that’s how we circle back to the central fact in Paul’s reasoning. Scripture says that sin brings death, our own death (see Romans 6:23). But, Jesus came, suffered and paid the sacrifice for sin but not his own sin for he didn’t have any, but for our sin (see Romans 5:8).
That brings me to my last reason for faith in Jesus, today. Once Paul had reasoned with these men regarding Jesus as the Christ (Messiah/Savior), some believed while others rejected Paul’s arguments and became jealous. These jealous men invaded Jason’s home, where Paul had been staying, with the intention of dragging Paul before the city authorities. When they didn’t find Paul they took Jason and some of the other Christian brothers before the city authorities claiming they were turning the world upside down with their religious claims. Their accusers also said, “they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
Jesus a king that defies the decrees of Caesar? When asked about this, Jesus said: “Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:19-21 ESV) Paul and his companions weren’t calling for these men to rebel against Caesar, he was calling them to rebel against the real king of their own lives, themselves. That’s why the rule of Christ is so radical, so rebellious and so culturally challenging. His goal is not to unseat Caesar, but to unseat YOU!
This is the challenge we really need to hear in our culture, today. We like to place blame for the current cultural issues and challenges on the left or the right, the democrats or the republicans, the liberals or the conservatives, depending on just where you see yourself standing in this mess. That’s the problem, we want to blame anyone or everyone but ourselves. Until we begin to see ourselves as a part of the problem, we too will seek to silence “these men who are turning the world upside down with their teachings.”
Jesus didn’t come to radically transform our form of government, as surprising as that might be to some of you. He didn’t come to unseat Caesar, or Trump, or Obama, or anyone else (see Romans 13:1 – if you don’t believe me). He came to radically transform you and me. So, why is that a reason you should believe in Jesus as the Christ? Because He knows where the real problem lies AND where the real potential for cultural transformation lies, within you and me.
There’s an old comic strip from when I was a kid that pretty much sums it up. The strip was about a possum named Pogo and his friends in Okefenokee Swamp. One very memorable strip shows Pogo and his friend Porkypine “walking” through the swamp. Porkypine comments, “Ah, Pogo, the beauty of the forest primeval gets me in the heart.” Pogo replies, “It gets me in the feet, Porkypine” as he steps carefully over something. In the next frame Pogo and Porkypine are looking across the swamp littered with trash and junk. Porkypine laments, “It is hard walking on this stuff.” Then Pogo utters those prophetic words, “Yep son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”
Yep son, We HAVE met the enemy, and HE is US. The biggest issue in our world is US and what Jesus came to change is US. If He changes us then He has begun to change the world in precisely the way it must change, through transformed people – one at a time. I know, I know… you think that’s too slow, but that’s the only way it will work – one transformed life at a time. Maybe you’re thinking about someone you know who called themselves a Christian but didn’t seem to be very much like Jesus. Maybe they took the label without letting Him be Lord of their life and transform their heart. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you an automobile.
Let’s end by thinking about this claim by Paul’s enemies: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…” Isn’t that an amazing statement! Our world needs to be turned upside down, doesn’t it? Yep son, turned upside down by the incredible love of God. Doesn’t yours? That is a great reason to believe… why don’t you let Him turn your world upside down.