The apostle Paul, was once a promising young Pharisee named Saul. He had been educated by the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. He was in good standing with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. He was well on his way to becoming a rich and powerful member of the religious elite.
And then he threw it all away.
During his life, he was flogged at least three times. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was Stoned and presumed dead. Three times he was shipwrecked. Once he even spent a night and day in the open sea. On his travels he was constantly in danger from bandits, Jews, Gentiles, in danger in the city, in the country, on the sea. In danger from false believers. He knew what it was like to go without sleep, without food and without water. He knew what it was like to be cold and naked (see 2 Corinthinans 11:2-3-28). In the end, Paul was executed in Rome, without a penny to his name.
WHY did the Saul the Pharisee become Paul the Christian?
Well, it wasn’t for the EARTHLY paycheck. In fact, Paul refused to be paid by the churches he served.
Paul’s life changed so dramatically for one reason - the RESURRECTED JESUS appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.
Without Paul, Christianity doesn’t spread throughout the Roman world. Without the resurrected Jesus, Paul doesn’t get converted.
JESUS IS RISEN.
Before he became the apostle Paul, Saul was an anti-Christian murderer. Saul first appears in the Bible in Acts, chapter 7. This is where Stephen is stoned to death. Stephen was the first Christian martyr.
Jesus had ascended back into heaven by this time and little seedling that was the Christian church was growing in Jerusalem. There the disciples of Jesus prayed together, went to the Temple together. There they were using the Old Testament Bible to show the people of Jerusalem that Jesus really was the Messiah who had been promised.
It was working. There were literally thousands of people converting to Christianity. They were accepting Jesus as the Savior foretold. They were trusting in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.
And then that time of peace came to an end.
Stephen, a deacon of the congregation there in Jerusalem, upset the religious Jews by his preaching. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.
Saul was there. While men were hurling rocks at Stephen, Saul stood guard over their pile of cast off coats. And just so we understand fully, Acts 8, verse 1, says…
“And Saul approved of their killing him” (Acts 8:1 NIV).Saul was a Pharisee. Part of the religious elite, and he thought it was a good thing for Stephen to die. In Saul’s estimation, Stephen was a heretic who deserved to die.
Saul hated Christians. At one point he even got permission to go to other cities and hunt them down, taking them into custody in order to bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.
As you know, it was on one of these excursions, on the way up to Damascus, that Saul met the resurrected Jesus. And that meeting changed his life forever.
Saul went from being a persecutor of Christians and the ridiculous message they were preaching, to being the man who would go from synagogue to synagogue explaining what the Old Testament said about the Messiah. How it said that he must suffer and rise from the dead. And then Saul would point out that this was EXACTLY what had happened to Jesus. And then Paul would say, Jesus IS the Messiah.
The resurrected Jesus sent Saul to be a missionary. The events of our reading take place on Paul’s second missionary journey.
Acts 17:1-12 (NIV)
1When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
Paul’s example shows us how to be effective missionaries for Christ. How to be mission minded.
There are three things Paul points out here about being an effective missionary. First, go where you have an opening. Second, use the Bible. Third, expect opposition, and success.
I’d like to share a personal thought about being mission minded. I think right away we need to put away the guilt. Not many good things get accomplished powered by guilt. We’re sinners. We don’t deserve the love that God has given us, but he has given us complete and full forgiveness. Guilt should no longer ride upon our backs like monkeys.
When it comes to being mission minded, don’t be thinking, “Oh, I’ve just done a terrible job in the past, I’ve got to do a better job in the future.” Don’t let that be like your power source. Don’t try to make guilt your motivation. That’s not good motivation.
When Jesus suffered and died, He suffered and died for all of our sins, including our sins having to do with mission work. Including sins of not speaking when we should have said something, or saying the wrong thing, or not being prepared to tell people why we follow Jesus.
Jesus died for those sins too. So, if you’re still sipping on that guilt cocktail, pour it out. The SON OF GOD died in your place. His blood is bigger than all our sins put together. That’s the point. That’s the Gospel.
Our mission work doesn’t earn us heaven. Jesus earned us heaven. So let’s go back to Christ for our mission motivation. Let’s think about the amazing hugeness of the gift we’ve been given.
The Bible says that through faith in Jesus we are children of God. Heirs of heaven. It says we can call God our Father. I don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve it. But we’ve been given the gift of absolutely free and complete forgiveness. That is amazing.
Let’s let THAT be our motivation. Put the guilt away.
So, what does Paul teach us about mission work here in Acts 17? First, go where you have an opening.
“1When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1-2 NIV).This is Paul’s thing – he went where there was an open door. He went to people that he had a connection with. He didn’t just randomly knock on doors or shout in the city streets.
He went to his fellow Jews, who were meeting in a Bible class, studying the Old Testament. He went there because he could use that Old Testament Bible and say, “Here, let me show you what it says here. There’s something we’ve been overlooking here. The Messiah, we know He’s going to be all about glory someday, but look at these passages – he’s ALSO going to suffer and die and more than that, he’s going to RISE FROM THE DEAD. This is what it says right in the Old Testament. See for yourself. Somehow we’ve not been paying attention these passages – by that’s what it says!
And then Paul would say, “I know who this Messiah is. It’s Jesus of Nazareth. His life matches everything that the OT says – He IS the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for.”
Did you notice that Paul skipped over two cities before reaching Thessalonica? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that Amphipolis and Apollonia didn’t have a Jewish synagogue, and nothing else that Paul saw as an open door for his work. So they moved on until there was one.
So, here’s what I think that we should take away from this – where are the open doors in my life right now? Where is there opportunity for me to speak the story of Christ to someone in my life?
You’ll have to answer that question for yourself. I can only answer that for myself. Finding those doors and deliberately walking through them with the message of Jesus is what’s going to extend God’s kingdom and grow our church. YOU – finding the doors and speaking the message of Jesus.
Now, don’t get intimidated by this. It’s not about confrontation and winning an argument. Look at verse 2 of our text again. It says…
“…he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3 NIV).If you go back to the Greek word here for “explaining” it literally means “opening”. He “opened’ for them the Scriptures. So Paul said, “Here, here’s a passage that’s clearly about the Messiah and it says that He had to suffer, hmmmm, that’s what happened to Jesus.” Paul was opening up the scriptures so that they would understand.
It says Paul was “explaining and proving”. The Greek word for “proving”, literally means setting something in front of someone. Like laying the evidence out on the courtroom table, or serving a meal for someone to eat.
Paul simply opened the Bible to show them the Messiah had to suffer and rise. And then he put Jesus’ life in front of them.
The Holy Spirit converts people through the word of God when we bring it to people. We have to use the Bible to prove the message.
Now, this might seem intimidating because the Bible’s a big book, but you don’t need to know all of it. With a very simple selection of passages you can show what the Bible clearly teaches about sin and grace.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).Do I recommend you just recite these passages whenever you think you have a witnessing opportunity? No. The point it, it’s not that hard. You don’t have to memorize the whole Bible.
“for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV)
Go to the open door. Use the word of God.
Acts 17 shows us what to expect when we share the message of Jesus - opposition.
“5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go” (Acts 17:5-9 NIV).When the opposition couldn’t find Paul, the they took his host instead. They lied in an attempt to get them in trouble with the local government. In the end Jason had to pay some kind of bail in order to get released.
This is what happens where the message of Jesus is preached effectively. You want to know why? Jesus came to unravel the power of the Devil over us. And the Devil doesn’t want that to happen. If the Devil can keep people trusting in themselves for salvation instead of relying on Christ alone, than he wins. But where the Gospel speaks the truth, that’s where sinners become immune to Satan’s accusations.
Expect opposition if we become a mission minded church that rattles Satan’s cage and speaks the message of Christ to the world with a trumpet.
Now, there’s something else to expect when we share the message of Jesus - success.
In Thessalonica, verse 4…
“4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4 NIV).In Berea, verse 11…
“11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (Acts 17:11-12).So, what happened when Paul spoke the Good News of Jesus? A large number of people came to trust in the forgiveness of Jesus.
I don’t have much more to say. Find the open doors in your life. Use the word of God to bring Jesus’s message of sin and grace to those people. Expect opposition, and expect success.
Our church council recently started look at a manual that suggests ways of getting our church’s name out, and ways of simply sharing the Good News of Jesus.
We’re looking at these different ideas as a church body. Be part of that. Make suggestions to our council. Talk to Roger, or Joel or Eric. Tell them, or me that you want to be part of this.
Support our VBS team this year. Talk to Lauren Ewing, Sarah Gamble, Christina Gibbs and Gail Richardson. Ask them how you can support this outreach effort.
We need to be mission minded. Not because of guilt, but because we have the gold right here. We have forgiveness, life and salvation. We have restoration with the true God.
The apostle Paul once wrote…
“7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7–9 NIV)The apostle Paul had a promising life. But he threw it away to give others a promising eternity. May God move us to do the same. Amen.