August 23, 2019

August 23, 2019

August 23, 2019
Acts 17:1-9
by Samantha Johnson
Laity of Tennessee Valley District

Turning the World Upside-Down
Prior to this chapter, Paul received a vision to go to Macedonia, cast out an evil spirit from a young slave girl, and he and Silas were beaten and jailed for spreading the Gospel.  Right there, in the middle of their incarceration, in the absence of despair, they were singing hymns when an earthquake occurred and their chains were unfastened and the doors swung open. Paul presents to us an example of rejoicing in the midst of our suffering. It shows us that they prioritized Kingdom work ahead of their discomfort and distraction.  Thereafter, they were sent out of town during the night. Traveling over sixty miles and passing through two sizable cities in Macedonia, they were on their way to Thessalonica, the second largest city in the region.

Thessalonica was the epicenter of Christian persecution at that time, with Jews coming from the east and Romans from the west. Christian persecution was common and Paul and company were well accustomed to being told to leave the synagogue as well as the towns in which they ministered.  One could say they wore out their welcome and were run out of town, sometimes in the middle of the night. The message of the Gospel was so incredibly counter-cultural that it caused some of the unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica to incite a politically motivated riot.  Paul and Silas were accused of “turning the world upside down” by claiming Jesus was king instead of Caesar. When the mob couldn’t find Paul and Silas, the target of their hatred and jealousy shifted to someone else, Jason, a believer, who had been hospitable to them. It’s possible that each of us could cite examples of this type of behavior within our own current culture.

Many times in the New Testament, we hear Paul talk about rejoicing in the midst of our suffering.  In this life, persecution and suffering are inevitable whether it is at our own hand or beyond our control. As the proverbial saying goes, we can allow it to make us bitter or make us better.  Suffering amplifies our words and actions and shifts our priorities to that which is most important.  It refines our character and severe suffering refines us at breakneck speed.  It is during these extreme times that we make the decision to either allow the Great Surgeon to perform surgery on our character or allow it to create an ugliness in us toward others.  Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4 “...we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…” 

We have hope when our faith firmly rests in Jesus.

Beloved friends, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a game-changer and it does turn the world as we know it upside-down, or better yet, it turns things right-side-up! In looking at the methodology that Paul employed in each city, he first went into the synagogues, presenting Hebrew scriptures and providing evidence that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.  He preached the prophecy behind Christ crucified, arguably the crux of the Gospel, which we must never, ever forget. That’s right, he used Old Testament scripture to connect the dots as evidence that Jesus Christ was, in fact, the Messiah. He wasn’t just arguing on blind faith, he was reasoning with the Jews and providing evidence to support his claims. The method was effective and in Thessalonica, the scripture tells us it was effective with some of the ethnically Jewish people, devout Greeks, and quite a few of the city’s leading women. God-fearing Gentiles were also found in the synagogues.  This is the start of the church in Thessalonica, and is the suffering church plant to which Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians about six months later, somewhere around AD 51.

Prayer:  Holy and Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word and work in us.  You are worthy of all our praise. Breathe your Holy Spirit into us and ignite a fire in us of passion and thirst for your ways.  Make us a people who rejoice and worship you in the midst of our distractions and suffering.   Remind us that our earthly circumstances are temporary, Your Kingdom is at hand, and it is of utmost priority.  In Jesus’ Name - Amen