“These men have turned the world upside down” (paraphrased as “These men have caused trouble all over the world”) was the false charge brought against Paul by rabble-rousers in Thessalonica. The charge was false, but it unwittingly described the impact that Paul and his band of missionaries were having on the world as Luke describes the gospel reaching Thessalonica and Berea. The world was upside down, and the good news was turning it right side up! How can the church today have an impact on a society that seems increasingly hostile? Learn from Acts 17:1-15.
Paul left Philippi and traveled west to Thessalonica. Luke’s account of his ministry there and in Berea challenges you to search the Scriptures. It focuses first on the need to understand the Scriptures. Paul followed the Egnatian Way, built for the mobility of Roman armies, westward to Thessalonica. This city had a larger Jewish population than Philippi, and Paul began by speaking in the synagogue and continued that for three successive Sabbaths. Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures. Did he use Psalm 16, unpacked elsewhere in Acts? Did he focus on Isaiah 53? Did he proclaim the messianic kingship of Jesus from Psalm 110? In any case he reasoned from the Scriptures, and explained and proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ. The methods of evangelism, the focus of building the church, has to be the Word of God. Paul did not shy away from doctrine, from digging into the Word. Even in Bible-believing churches, too often what we believed is reduced to a dozen bulleted points. A gospel that shakes up the culture has to run deep, and we don’t need to be afraid of that. The Word, read and proclaimed, is used by the Holy Spirit, and it has a powerful impact. See 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10. “As I see it, the church needs to experiment with theological maximalism in the place of its current minimalism if we are to maintain a faithful witness to Christ in our generation. A dozen doctrinal points on a website is probably inadequate for the church’s thriving, for its mission is not only to evangelize but also to teach the nations. This creed from Westminster holds out a large faith for us to own, a welcome view of the triune God and his work, and an unusually robust statement of the gospel of Christ.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. xii).
Some members of the synagogue believed, but Luke records a large number of God-fearing Gentiles and prominent women turning to the Lord. They joined Paul and Silas—in other words, they were incorporated into the fellowship of the church. Some time after being expelled from the synagogue opposition forced Paul and Silas to flee to Berea. In that synagogue he was received more warmly. Luke commends the Bereans for their willingness to search the Scriptures daily. This wasn’t daily Bible reading and devotional time, though the importance of that is an important application for you and me who have our own copies of the Scriptures. Rather, the focus is on authority—studying the Word as the final standard for what they were being taught. If Paul’s words were to be examined by that standard, how much more what you hear from any preacher today. The Scriptures are the very Word of God. “[W]e may say that the reception of the truth of God in intelligent, discriminating, joyful, and abiding faith is the effect of divine demonstration and power through the efficiency of the Holy Spirit, and that this faith consists in the confident assurance that, though the Word of God is brought through the instrumentality of men, it is not the word of man but in very truth the Word of God.” (John Murray, “The Attestation of Scripture,” in The Infallible Word, p. 50).
What is the focus of that Word? Jesus, the Christ! Paul did not merely call the Bereans and Thessalonians to improve their conduct, to stop sinning, to live good lives. Central to the Scriptures is Jesus. Paul told the Thessalonians that Jesus had to suffer and rise from the dead. Do you hear the echo of the words of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Wherever Paul went in the Scriptures (what we would call the Old Testament today), the focus was on Christ, just as Jesus in his post-resurrection time with his disciples, gave them a crash course on understanding how the entire Scriptures spoke of him.
Like the Thessalonians, understand that Jesus is the Christ—and trust in him. Christ here is used as a title. Jesus is the promised anointed One. He is the Messiah. Believe that, and you cannot remain neutral. Those who responded were joined with Paul and Silas. They, in other words, became part of the church. If you are joined with Jesus Christ by faith, you must also be connected with his body. Understand the sweeping nature of trusting in Christ. If he is the messianic King, he expects your life to be conformed to his. Trying to change your life does not make you a Christian, but if you are in Christ, your life does change to his glory and honor.
That kind of powerful change challenges the kingdom of darkness. It results in opposition. Paul had to flee Thessalonica and then Berea. But the Word took root. People came from darkness into light. Churches were planted and nourished. The upside-down world was being righted.
You live in an upside-down world. The solution is not going to be found in passing the right laws or electing the right people—important those those things may be for believers. What is needed is the powerful working of the Spirit through his Word. What is needed is believers who search the Scriptures and then live in the conviction that Jesus is the Christ.