Saturday, 11 August 2018

Thessalonian Thugs vs Better Bereans (Acts 17:1-15)

On Friday I had a chance to speak again to my church's Youth Group. We are currently going through a short four week series on the Bible. This series leans on Kevin DeYoung's book Taking God at His Word, in that it follows the same passages he uses to talk about the same doctrines (without using the theological technical words).

I heard later that because of how I struggle to say the "th" sound, some people thought I was saying "Thessalonian Fugs, and there were confused as they didn't know what a "fug" was... and neither do I. The slide clicker wasn't working, so maybe if one of my pictures of a thug went up it may have been clearer, or maybe I should go back to my speech therapist (or "ferapist").

Below is generally what I said, some of the sentences here were too long, so were broken up into two on the fly. The passage we were looking at was Acts 17:1-15.

Tonight, we are continuing our series on God’s Word, on the Bible.

So far we have seen that God’s Word is Enough[1]. Since Jesus has saved us from our sins, we don’t need to learn anything new. Jesus’ task of salvation is finished, Jesus has sat down (Heb 1:3). We don’t need to know anything more about how we can be saved and how we can please God.

We also have seen that God’s Word is Clear[2]. You don’t have to be some stuffy academic boffin to understand the Bible. To be saved we just need to declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we can be saved (Rom 10:9). The message of salvation isn’t complicated or hard to understand. It is clearly presented in the Bible.

Tonight, we are looking at how God’s Word is Final[3]. That is, in all matters of life we are to give the Bible the last word. In our passage we have two contrasting examples of people and their approach to God’s message.

In our passage, we have Paul and his mates visiting two towns. This is a tale of two cities. The first one is Thessalonica and then Berea. We see, as with Paul’s normal practice, when he comes to Thessalonica he goes to the local Jewish meeting place, the synagogue and three times in three weeks he teaches them from the Scriptures showing that Jesus died and rose again from the dead (Acts 17:2-3). His message was that Jesus is now the Lord, the King over everything. This is the good news about Jesus that we are always on about. Jesus is the true King of this world. He died for you in your place so that you can be with God forever. This is the simple message of Christianity.

So, the Thessalonians hear this message and some believe - but others don’t (Acts 17:4-5). Others don’t like this message from the Scriptures so much that they form a mob and caused a riot. They went after Paul and Silas but couldn’t find them so they took another guy Jason and tried to get him arrested (Acts 17:5-9). Needless to say, things weren’t going well for the disciples, these Thessalonian Thugs had caused a stir and that night Paul and Silas left town for Brea (Acts 17:10).

In Berea, their reaction was quite different. Again, they go to the synagogue and this time we are told the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians (Acts 17:10-11) - another translation we use says they were more "open-minded" than the Thessalonians. These Bereans listened to Paul and then tested what Paul was saying searching the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11). These Better Bereans[4] had it right. They saw that whatever the Scriptures said has the final word on what they should believe and how they should behave. Because of their searching of the Scriptures, some of them believed Paul (Acts 17:12) But the story doesn’t end there.

The crazy Thessalonian Thugs turn up in Berea to cause more trouble (Acts 17:13). These guys must have been nuts. They traveled over 70 km on foot or horse to stop more people from looking at the Scriptures. Because of the Thessalonian Thugs Paul leaves Berea, but a few of the disciples stay behind (Acts 17:14-15).

I think this passage is clearly showing a contrast between the two responses to the good news about Christianity and where people put the final word on their life. We see that the Thessalonian Thugs are crazy and inconsistent. They are jealous of the disciples. Either they don’t like them so they don’t like what they are teaching. Or they don’t like what they are teaching so they don’t like them. And this happens today. We don’t like someone, so we don’t like what they say. Or we don’t like what they say and so we don’t like that person. And this is because the message and the person are related.

So these Thessalonian Thugs are inconsistent because they claim the disciples teaching is causing trouble all over the world so their response is to these troublemakers is to what? To cause trouble in Thessalonica and then 70kms away in Berea. This is hardly a rational argument. Their behavior shows what happens when you rely on your own reasoning; when you don’t have a standard outside of yourself. They end up attacking people and not advancing their arguments. They claim these Christians were troublemakers, and yet they then go on to be the troublemakers.

The Bereans, on the other hand, are better. When they are confronted with an idea that they may not have heard before, they go to Scripture. They search daily to see if what Paul is saying is correct. They don’t just think to themselves and say “nar this doesn’t seem reasonable to me” or they don’t say “I feel like this seems wrong”. Instead they go to the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was consistent with it. Even if the idea was new, or controversial they were willing to say “if it is in the Bible then I believe it”.

Now, what would get someone to that point? What would make someone think like that? I think it comes down to the message and the person saying it. We believe that the Bible is God’s words to us. If God says something we believe because of who God is. The message and the person are related. 

God is trustworthy and gracious and kind. God does not lie (Num 23:19, Titus 1:2). God is the creator and owner of this universe. God is the ultimate authority over everything, so when he says something, we should give it weight, we should give it the final word in our lives, because these words are from God. The message and the person are related.

So, when push comes to shove, don’t believe anything I say, I don’t have much authority, don’t take my word for it. I love it when in discussion groups we have our Bible’s open; as we should be looking and testing to see what is been said aligns with the text we are looking at. We should always be willing to change our minds when we see something in Scripture that we previously disagreed with.

When your parents tell you to do something you don’t want to or when they say you can’t go out to a certain place and yet you have an opportunity to lie and tell them something else, do you do it? Or do you trust the scriptures which says to obey your parents?

What about if your friends want you to watch some movie or to skip some class at school? Do your friends have the final word on what you do or does the Bible?

What about when the world says “love is love” and gives all sorts of reasons for it? Do you still hold to the Bible, even when it’s not cool, even when you're outnumbered - when you are shamed into being silent and are mocked for holding on to what some an ancient document says?

What about yourself? Do you think you know it all, and that you can trust your own reason when making all the decisions in your life? Do you think your feelings are a true and trustworthy source that should have the final say in what you should do with your life?

As Christians, we believe a whole bunch of things, but if we do not put them into practice, especially when it is hard, it shows our lack of faith in what we actually believe[5].

We should be encouraged that the book we have in front of us has all that we need to know about salvation. That the book we have in front of us has a clear message about believing in the work of Jesus on the cross. And that the book in front of us is true and has ultimate authority because it comes from God who is true and has ultimate authority.

We shouldn’t be like the Thessalonian Thugs who were jealous of Paul’s message, who couldn’t see through their own personal issues and just caused trouble and stopped others from hearing Paul’s message. We should be like the Better Bereans who weighed up what Paul said with the Bible, finding out if what he said was true. The Better Bereans trusted that God’s Word has the final say in their lives.

Do you? Do you trust God’s Word to have the final say in your life?

[1] This is the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture

[2] This is the doctrine of the Clarity or Perspicuity of Scripture

[3] This is the doctrine of the Authority of Scripture - and next week we are looking at the doctrine of the Necessity of Scripture

[4] Kevin DeYoung in Taking God at His Word calls them the Better Bereans, but I am claiming Thessalonian Thugs for myself (DeYoung called them Theatrical Thessalonians)

[5] Francis Schaeffer calls not living out your belief “unfaith”, I think I took this point from him as I had just finished a book by him.


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