31: A Greasy Message

A Pastor’s Commentary

Studies in ActsLesson 31

“A Greasy Trip”

Acts 17:1-15

 

Have you ever had one of those days when you do so many things that at the end of the day when you sit back and think about it you think “how did I get here from where I started?” Maybe it was a day of Christmas shopping (or some other kind of shopping) or a list long list of school assignments, or whatever.

 

Well the Apostle Paul had one of those days in the course of his second missionary journey as he moved from town to town ministering to churches that he had founded on his first journey. That is the way the 17th chapter of Acts is. It consists of four different activities and relationships, each of which can teach lessons about ministry and the Christian life in general.

 

Actually, there are four major “happenings” in the chapter, which form the outline. Dr. S. Lewis Johnson used to enjoy pointing out that all of these things happened as Paul traveled through the area that is now known as Greece. So he enjoyed referring to it as a “greasy” trip.

 

The four segments in his travel can be outlined in this way, using the King James Version terminology.

 

In verses 1 through 4 we read about Paul’s Manner

 

Then in verses 5 through 9 we read about Jason’s Ministry

 

Then in verses 10 through 13 it is the Bereans’ Mentality

 

So let’s begin our study by thinking about “Paul’s Manner” in verses 1 through 4

 

We take that terminology from the statement in verse 2 and says that Paul, “as his manner was,” went in to the synagogue” he had a “custom,” or a “method” that he followed when he was preaching in a new area. And the first thing we see about that method is that it had a priority. And that priority is described in verse 1:

 

Now when they had through Amphipolis and Apolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue.

 

Notice that they passed through two other towns before they came to Thessalonica and stopped. The implication seems to be that they stopped there because as the last line says, “there was a synagogue of the Jews there.” Even though Paul eventually became known as the “Apostle to the gentiles” his priority was to preach to the Jews first. Another aspect of Paul’s method is in the first part of verse 2. Look at the persistence he demonstrated.

 

Then Paul, his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the scriptures.

 

Even though it was a part of a “method” for his ministry, Paul didn’t just “whip through” it – he was persistent, evidently staying until he thought they fully understood the subject. On this basis he could have been in Thessalonica as little as 15 days or as long as 27 days. Paul knew something that seems to be widely overlooked in evangelistic circles today and that is that it usually takes some consistent time with people to be able to bring them to Christ.

 

Closely related to his persistence is something that we find in verse 3. Look at the primary emphasis he made in his presentation:

 

Explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying “this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

 

The problem that the Jews always had with Jesus of Nazareth was that he was so badly treated in his life on earth, rather than being exalted as “king of the Jews.” And so Paul always dealt with these facts first – showing them that it had to be that way (notice the wording of verse 3 again “that Christ had to suffer and rise again . . .”)  

 

The last part of verse 2 really goes with this section – notice that it says that he “reasoned with them from the scriptures.” (Remember that the scriptures at that time consisted of the Old Testament only. This demonstrates that it is possible to lead someone to Christ using only part of the scriptures. Jesus did this same thing with the two on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Verse 27 of that passage says that beginning with Moses and all the prophets He explained to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.

 

 It would be a good Bible Study project to make a study of finding some of those Old Testament references that you can use in that way, especially if you ever hope to witness to a Jewish person.

 

But notice in verse 3 that it says that Paul “explained” and “demonstrated” the truth about Christ. Evangelism is not a matter of beating people over the head with Bible verses or scaring them with verses about hellfire. True evangelism is a careful, logical, explanation” and “demonstration” from the scriptures about the truth of Jesus Christ. Well, after all of that well reasoned and loving approach, verse 4 tells us the product that resulted:

 

And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

 

Some Jews believed, but interestingly enough “a great multitude” of Gentiles were saved also. (including a few female socialites) And there is a reason for that too. And there is a lesson in that too: Paul’s priority in using the approach that he did was to convince Jews – but more gentiles than Jews were saved.  And the lesson to learn from that is that the gospel is really the same for everybody. We may approach it from one angle with one person and another angle with another, but the bottom line is that, properly presented, the gospel will reach people no matter what their background is. Another “product” of Paul’s brief ministry there was that he later wrote two letters back to them which later became a valuable part of the New Testament.

 

Well, in verses 5 through 9 the scene changes. In those verses, we find the story of jason’s ministry. The source of his ministry is in verse 5

 

But the Jews who were not persuaded becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the market place and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

 

The basic source of this whole mess was the sin of envy. The Jewish leaders simply could not stand to see the success of the gospel! Apparently they thought that Paul and his group were staying at the home of Jason, so they got a mob together and stormed his house. We don’t know anything about  Jason – or even whether Paul and the others were staying him. But this situation gave him an unusual ministry. The substance of the ministry is in verses 6 through 9

 

It began with his capture is in verse 6a

 

But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city . . . . .” If they couldn’t have Paul they would settle for Jason and some other unknown Christians. And this thrust Jason right into the forefront of the battle!

 

And then the Jews made their complaint in verses 6b and 7

 

“. . . . crying out, “These who have turned the world upside have come here too.(7) Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.”

 

Notice the irony here – Paul and the others as they preached the gospel were actually “turning the world right side up.” But to those who wouldn’t accept the gospel, it must have seemed like it was being turned upside down.

 

The whole concept of human government is laid out clearly for us in Ephesians 6:12

 

We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand

 

Remember, we were talking about Jason’s ministry. And we have seen his capture and the complaint against him. But in verses 8 and 9 we see the cost that Jason faced:

 

And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things (9) So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

 

This decision shows the lack of backbone that the leaders had – they found the Christians guilty without them having their day in court. But the bigger issue is in these verses what is brought out in verse 9. Jason and these unnamed believers had to post some kind of bond. But the result was that Paul and the other leaders were let go.

 

Now at this point you may be thinking “now wait a minute” You said these verses were going to talk about Jason’s ministry, but here we are at the end of the section and Jason hasn’t said a word.” And that is exactly the lesson of these verses: There are other kinds of ministries than preaching sermons or Sunday school classes. By posting this bond and allowing Paul to go free, these men had a share in every person Paul led to Christ from that day forward. And in that sense, they form a picture of every person who contributes financially or in some other material way to a ministry that someone else performs!

 

Finally, (for this study at least) we see the Bereans’ Mentality in verses 10 through 14 In verse 10 we see the approach of the missionaries to the Bereans.

 

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

 

Notice how they begin their ministry in this new town: in “a synagogue of the Jews”! What’s the matter with these guys! Hadn’t they learned anything from experience in Thessalonica? Wasn’t this exactly how they got in trouble there? But you see, it wasn’t a matter of learning a lesson to avoid trouble, it was a matter of using a method that God had lead them to use – no matter what the cost.  And in this case it was well worth the trouble. Because in verse 11 we see the attitude of the Bereans:

 

These were more fair minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

 

Notice that the Bereans were “fair minded.” But notice also what the definition of being “fair minded” is: “searching the scriptures.” In fact, the King James Version translates this word “noble.” In other words, God is saying in these verses that it is a noble thing do! This is always the key to successful ministry: to use the Word of God. We don’t know whether or not Paul told them to search the scriptures in this particular case but in any case, a ministry will be more fruitful when it encourages and makes it as easy as possible for the hearers to “search the scriptures. In my own ministry I have made it a regular practice for several years to use computer software to project the scriptures that we are talking about on a screen behind me. And the failure to use such “helps” is where the cults might get a foothold – and then a stranglehold.

 

Well, as a result of the Bereans’ attitude they had a great advantage as recorded in verse 12

 

Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

 

Here is a great harvest! The “many of them” is a reference to the Jews – Paul’s first goal. But in addition to that many others believed also. And it is directly tied in the access and acceptance of the word of God. And it is directly tied in with the access and acceptance of the word of God. What an important for those in ministry to understand! This seems like a good place to end the story. But God doesn’t end it there – because Satan doesn’t. Verse 13 records that in spite of “their advantage” they also had some antagonists

 

But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

 

Remember way back at the beginning we saw that the Jews were motivated by envy? These verses show how potent “mental attitude sins” can be: not satisfied to ruin the work of Christ in their own area, these jealous Jews move on into other people’s territories as well! But there a lesson in that too: Satan is never disheartened by a great victory such as the one at Berea; it only stirs him up all the more!

 

We have certainly seen some “twists and turns” and have come a long way since the beginning of the chapter, haven’t we? But no matter what the new developments God has been faithful. And we are even going to see in the last section of the chapter that He is going to use “antagonists” from this first part of the chapter to set Paul up for what was probably one of the greatest accomplishments his entire ministry!

 

 

 

 

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