Acts 17:1-12: SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Recently in the news, there’s the story of the actor, Robert Blake. Maybe you’ve heard about this one – a famous actor living in California – married to the wrong person. His wife is shot and killed, and now, the police say that the evidence is pointing toward the husband as the killer. It’s “déjà vu all over again,” just like OJ – a famous person on trial for murdering his wife. I wonder what the jury will think about this one? America loves courtroom drama – there’s all kinds of trial and lawyer shows on TV that are very popular right now. And when a celebrity gets put on trial, that gets even more attention. What’s the verdict going to be?
Did you know that Jesus is on trial every day? What do I mean by that? What I mean is this - the message of Jesus Christ – the fact that he lived and died and rose from the dead to take your sins away – that message is on trial every day. Every day people hear that message. But do they believe it? What’s the verdict?
Today in Acts chapter 17, we see the message of Jesus Christ on trial. We see how people react to the Gospel in different ways – there are different verdicts. There’s the verdict of unbelief, and there’s the verdict of faith. And as we look at these different verdicts, we will see ourselves, our weaknesses and shortcomings, but also how our God overcomes our weaknesses and blesses us with a strong and amazing faith.
We meet the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. He and his traveling partner, Silas, were traveling through present-day Greece. They were on a mission to share God’s Word with the people. They came to the city of Thessalonica, a big, important city in Greece. Paul went to the synagogue, where the Jews would meet to talk about the Old Testament. Back then, their Bible was our Old Testament. They welcomed Paul, and allowed him to speak for three Saturdays in a row about the Bible. But what Paul shared with them was a message they had not heard before – verses 2 and 3 tell us: “He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said.”
This is a message that they had not heard before. The people knew that a Messiah was coming. But they had always pictured him differently – not someone who would suffer and die, but someone who would live and be successful. He was supposed to get rid of the Romans, and reestablish the Jewish nation, make everyone happy. But to hear that the Messiah was supposed to suffer and die, and then rise from the dead? That idea was very different, very new. Paul spent three Saturdays in a row showing them from Scripture all the prophecies about the Messiah, and how he really was supposed to suffer and die and rise. Then he told them about Jesus Christ, and how Jesus had fulfilled all those prophecies.
So what was the verdict? Did the people believe or not? Verse 4 tells us that some of the Jews there believed, along with a large number of Greek men and women who had also been listening. For some, the verdict was “I believe!”
But that’s not how it was for everybody. Some of them didn’t believe. We’re told that some of the Jews became jealous. They didn’t like it that people were becoming Christians. They didn’t like being told that Jesus was the Messiah. For them, the verdict was, “I don’t believe.” And then they caused trouble – they went to the marketplace and found some thugs, who stirred up the people and caused a riot. They went to the house of a man named Jason, who had been hosting Paul and Silas. They couldn’t find the Apostles, so they grabbed Jason and took him to the leaders of the city. They made all kinds of accusations about treason. The leaders made Jason post bond and then let him go. That night, Paul and Silas snuck out of the city.
These people didn’t believe the message that Paul was sharing with them. Why? Because it was countercultural – the same reason people reject the message of the Gospel today.
What is the verdict, when people hear the message of Jesus Christ? Some do believe, like those people in Thessalonica. But many don’t. Many strongly disagree with the message of the Gospel. I used to know a guy who felt that way – he knew exactly what the Bible said, how Jesus had taken our sins away by his sacrifice, how he had risen, and that because of him, God offers eternal life to all. “But I don’t believe that,” he said. “I don’t like the idea that Jesus is the only way to heaven. I don’t like being told that I’m sinful, that I need God’s help. I don’t like being told that there are such places as heaven and hell. I want to believe the way I want to believe – that if you’re a good person, you do the best you can, then everything will be alright, and in the end, everyone will go to heaven. That’s what I want to believe.”
That’s how our culture approaches God and spirituality. What is the verdict when someone hears the message of Jesus Christ? For many, the verdict is “I don’t believe.” In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s countercultural – to believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. That’s not politically correct. The human ego doesn’t like that. And so many people reject the message of Jesus Christ, and reject it very strongly, just as those people did in the book of Acts.
What about you? What’s the verdict for you? You and I believe, so are we 100% safe? No. Let me ask you this – what happens to a Christian who is surrounded by people who reject the Word of God? Those people start to affect him. I see it all the time. Even though I’ve only been here for 2 and a half years, I’ve seen it here. At first, a person is excited to hear that they’re going to heaven because of Jesus Christ. At first, a person is excited about the Word of God - he studies it, comes to church, thinks about it, discusses it with others - on fire for the Word of God! But what happens when a person is surrounded by people who don’t believe? It starts to affect him. Pretty soon he stops discussing God’s Word, stops thinking about it, stops reading it, comes to church less and less. How can a Christian who is so excited about the Bible one year, never come to church the next? It’s because he’s surrounded by people who don’t care about the Word of God, and that attitude rubs off on him. The strong Christian becomes a weak Christian, and eventually, stops being a Christian, when the Word of God disappears from his life.
This has happened to people here at Beautiful Savior. I believe it’s happening right now to people you know. And I believe it will happen in the future to people who come here. What about you? Do you feel yourself slipping? Do you feel “ho-hum,” lackadaisical about the Word of God? If so, then now is the time to turn away from that sinful attitude. Pray to the God who saved you, and ask him to forgive you for having even a hint of that “who cares” attitude.
So what’s the verdict? When God looks into your heart and sees your attitude toward his Word, what’s the verdict? We know that God sees our sin. God sees how we all slip from time to time. We know that the verdict should be “guilty,” that God should punish us for our poor attitude toward his Word.
But God’s verdict is “not guilty.” How can that be? Even though you and I have sinned, God doesn’t punish us for our sins. Instead, he declares you “not guilty.” How can that be? It’s because of what Jesus Christ has done for you – 2000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross for you. Jesus knew that you would neglect God’s Word. Jesus knew that you would be deserving of God’s punishment. But he didn’t want you to go to hell – he wanted you to go to heaven. So Jesus came to down to this earth, and he said to God the Father, “Punish me instead. Instead of punishing Bill and Mike and Sue and Michelle, punish me instead. I’ll pay for their mistakes – that way, they can go to heaven.”
And so that’s what God did. Because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, God looks at you, and the verdict is, “Not Guilty.” God looks at each one of you and says, “I will not punish you for your sins, because I punished my Son instead. You are free to go to heaven.”
That’s the message that Paul shared with those people we meet in the Bible. Many of them didn’t believe. But look at the ones who did. At night, Paul and Silas went 50 miles to the next town – a little city called Berea. The people there heard their message, and look at what they did: “The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Many of them believed, we are told. Do you see how excited they were about God’s Word? They didn’t just nod and go home. Two things to note about them…
First, they received the message with great eagerness. They were excited about the message they had heard. And second, they went home, and checked out their Bibles, to see if what Paul had said was true. Do you think this upset Paul, that they checked out what they said? Shouldn’t they have taken Paul at his Word? No. They did what every preacher of God’s Word would hope for – they spent time in the Word to confirm everything they had heard. Let me say that again – they spent time in the Word to confirm everything they had heard.
It is my hope, my prayer, that the members of Beautiful Savior will become like those Bereans. That each one of you will hear the Word of God, first of all, with great eagerness. And secondly, on your own, that you’ll spend time in the Word, to confirm everything that you’ve heard. For the people of Beautiful Savior in Michigan City to become like those Bereans – to be people whose verdict is, “I believe, and I’m excited, and I want to learn more” – that’s what I hope for. That attitude is countercultural, you know.. To read the Bible, to study it – that the last thing our culture promotes – but that’s what a Christian is – someone who believes in things and does things that no one else really understands.
As you know, I spend time taking people through classes, as they grow in their faith. As I was teaching one of those classes, one man looked at me in a strange way, and I said, “Why are you looking at me that way?” And he said, “I’m just so overwhelmed at all that God has done for me. I study these lessons a little bit every day. And when I’m not studying these lessons, I’m thinking about them all the time.” That’s just like those Bereans in the Bible. To study, to think, to be excited about eh Word of God – that’s how we want to be too.
Look at the bulletin cover. It’s a picture of a bunch of mansions, based on what Jesus said in our Gospel lesson for today: “In my Father’s house are many mansions, and I am going there to prepare a place of you.” Jesus pictures heaven, as a place where every Christian has his own mansion. That mansion is yours, right now. Do you want to find out more about your mansion in heaven? Do you want to find out more about how you can help others find their mansions in heaven?
Spend time in the Word, my friends, and these blessings will be yours. What is your verdict on the Word of God? May it be for you a source of joy, a source of strength and comfort and peace. Amen.