Summary: This continues in my expository series through the book of Acts.
What is it about the bad that seems much more tantalizing to us than the good? Mark Twain said that a lie could travel halfway around the world while the truth was still putting on its shoes. And the old maxim is that while good news travels, bad news travels fast. The mainstream media has been much maligned over the last several years because it sure seems as though it delights in telling us all the bad things going on in Iraq, with little seeming interest in reporting the good. What is it about the bad that seems much more tantalizing to us than the good? I think it’s a reflection of our fallen nature as human beings, created in the image of God, but fallen into sin, marred to our core by our sinfulness. And we’d rather hear a juicy bit of gossip than something good and wholesome; we’d rather find out the bad about someone—and spread it—than to share something good. We’re prideful and sinful and all of those things—and thus, bad news travels fast! But good news travels, and that’s exactly what’s happening in today’s narrative, the gospel—which means “good news”—traveling to two different cities and finding different receptions in each!
Paul and Silas are again traveling in territory that is unfamiliar to us; hopefully, the PowerPoint slide will give us a little grasp on where they are as they make their way through what we know as eastern Europe. One town the Bible mentions is Amphipolis; here’s a statue that was standing in Amphipolis when Paul came through; chances are his eyes gazed on it as do ours now. But we don’t have record that they missionaries did any evangelizing in either Amphipolis or Appolonia; rather, they passed on through to get to Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia, the largest and most prosperous city in all the region. It lay almost exactly 100 miles southwest of Philippi. By the time Paul got there, it was a city of perhaps 200,000 people, a diverse cultural center much like Atlanta, attracting people from varying nationalities. Since it was a center of commerce and an influential city, Paul and Silas must have considered it to be strategic to planting the gospel of Christ on the entire Balkan peninsula.
As was their custom, they went to the Jewish synagogue, and the Bible says that for three days there, they told the story of the Good News Gospel of Christ. Note
An Upside-Down World marginalizes Jesus, but
I. The Gospel Centers on Jesus Christ
They told the story of Jesus, and they further used what we call the Old Testament to attempt to persuade their Jewish listeners of this truth: the Messiah, for Whom you’ve been looking, is Jesus. These predictions, these prophecies, made hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, were fulfilled perfectly in Him alone.
We read earlier the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Messiah.
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Jesus used a similar apologetic:
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Question for the Jews: if not Jesus, Who? Sadly, most Jews who are devout today are still looking for that Messiah, still waiting for the One promised by God.
Look at the words used for what Paul did: “reason”, “explain”, “prove”. Proclamation and persuasion are the two elements of good preaching.
What is the difference between proclamation and persuasion; more importantly, what are some criteria that we should use, when sharing Christ, to help determine how persuasive we should attempt to be?
“Proclaiming” Jesus involved telling the story of His life from beginning to end. Then, he connected the dots, from the Old Testament prophecies to the life of Christ.
But the closer Paul got to Athens, the more society was influenced by Greek philosophers, and the more a different method for sharing the gospel was needed. Paul didn’t merely tell the truth, but he reasoned the truth. He fielded questions; he engaged in back-and-forth, in give-and-take, and as such sought to persuade his hearers. “Persuasion” is based upon the conviction that what we believe is true, that other approaches to God are not, and that there are eternal consequences to the decisions that we make. Some shy away from persuasion; they evoke images of intolerance and even disrespect of others in the minds of some. And yet, think about it: persuasion is at the heart of 10,000 messages we see each day; persuasion goes on all around us. As I was preparing this message, I sat in Atlanta Bread Co. There was a card on the table with messages all over it. “Put down your salad fork”, said one, urging me to indulge in a chocolate chip cookie, or a caramel brownie, or a sweet cinnamon roll, or a slice of fresh Key Lime pie. Another panel attempted to persuade me to grab a specialty coffee drink, or a 100% fruit smoothie. There was a banner trying to persuade me to purchase an Atlanta Bread Co. gift card for someone. The sports newspaper sitting on the hearth suggested that a book autographed by Richard Petty was a “must have racing collectible”. Again, an attempt to persuade! And if I know that someone who will live forever in either heaven or hell is clinging to some false belief, a belief that will send that person to hell, then persuasion is appropriate. Sure, we need to be wise and loving as we go about it, in a way that reflects respect for the person and his current belief system, but at the bottom of things, persuasion is necessary, and if I care about a person, a simple, “here’s the facts, take ‘em or leave ‘em” approach simply will not do. I want, as I share the Word with you week to week, for your mind to be changed, and for your heart to be changed, and for all of you to be changed, and for me as well; “the story will be told in the lives that are changed”, and we are seeing that very thing take place here at Red Oak, and I couldn’t be happier!