Last week, we read about the conversion of Lydia, the casting out of an evil spirit from a slave girl, and the conversion of the jailer at midnight. Do you remember? Paul and his companions spoke the word of the Lord to a group of women who had met down by the river for prayer, and the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message. And she and her household were baptised.
Then, there was the girl with the evil spirit who was creating a disturbance while she followed Paul and his companions around. And Paul finally turned and spoke to the evil spirit and commanded it to leave the girl.
And then, Paul and Silas were imprisoned. And at midnight, as they prayed and sang, there was an earthquake. The jailer came in and asked what he needed to do in order to be saved. And Paul told him that he needed to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, we ended last week by noticing the change which took place in this jailor. He was once harsh with Paul and unkind. But now he invited Paul and Silas into his home; he dressed their wounds; and he fed them. And Paul and Silas explained the gospel to him and his family and all of them were baptised. And in verse 34 we read about the jailor’s joy. Now, the NIV’s translation isn’t strictly accurate. The ESV is better. It says:
he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Luke puts the emphasis on the man’s faith. He had come to believe. And he — and his family — rejoiced. We’re reminded of Luke 15 and the parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep and the lost son and how there is much rejoicing in heaven whenever a sinner repents. There’s rejoicing in heaven, and there was rejoicing in the jailor’s house that night because this man, who was lost, had turned to the Lord. And he found that the Lord was gracious and merciful and was ready to pardon all of his sins and to save him from the coming wrath.
Verses 35 to 40
In verse 35 Luke tells us that when it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the news that Paul and Silas may be released. And in verse 36, the jailor passed on the good news to Paul and Silas. Go in peace. However — and it perhaps strikes us as odd — Paul refused to leave. One of the commentators says this is the first recorded ‘sit in’, because Paul said that he and Silas were not going to leave the prison until the magistrates came and escorted them out. And Paul explains that the magistrates were in the wrong. Since Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, then it was against the law for the magistrates to beat then and imprison them without a trial.
Now, we don’t know why Paul and Silas didn’t mention earlier that there were Roman citizens. Perhaps they tried to, but no one was listening. And we don’t know how Paul and Silas could prove they were citizens. Apparently Roman citizens could carry something like a passport which attested to their citizenship, but Luke doesn’t say that Paul and Silas were carrying that kind of thing. But perhaps the magistrates didn’t want to risk it and they just took it for granted that Paul was telling the truth. In any case, as soon as the magistrates heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They could get into big trouble for mistreating Roman citizens like this. And so they rushed to the prison to appease Paul and Silas and to escort them from the prison. In other words, they went and apologised to Paul and Silas.
Of course, the magistrates still wanted them to leave. And Paul and Silas, we read in verse 40, were willing to do so, but only after they first visited Lydia’s house where they encouraged the believers.
The commentators discuss why Paul and Silas refused to leave without first receiving an apology from the magistrates. Why, they want to know, did Paul and Silas insist on upholding their rights as Roman citizens? After all, in 1 Corinthians, for instance, Paul wrote about how believers should be prepared to give up their rights for the sake of the gospel. Or, in Romans 13, he instructed believers to submit to the governing authorities. So, why didn’t Paul simply leave when told to do so? Why make things hard for the magistrates? Why did they not leave quietly, without making a fuss?
The commentators discuss it — but it’s all just guess work, because we don’t really know. All we know is that Paul expected the magistrates to protect him rather than to harm him. You see, that’s the duty of the governing authorities. They’re to uphold law and order so that all of us — no matter what we believe — are able to live in safety and without fear.
Isn’t that the problem in so many countries around the world where believers are being persecuted for their faith? And the governing authorities in those places — instead of protecting believers who are citizens of their country — are turning a blind eye to what is happening to them. Or worse, the authorities are the ones who are persecuting the believers.
But God has given us governing authorities for our good and he’s given to them the right to punish wrongdoers so that the rest of us can live in peace. That’s Paul’s point in Romans 13.
And so, we can thank God for our own governing authorities — our government and the police and all those who work in our law courts — because every Sunday we’re able to meet together for worship, and we’re able to meet freely during the week, and no one is preventing us from doing so. And if anyone was to break in to our church and rob it, or if anyone created a disturbance on Sunday, we could call the police and they’d respond to our complaint and do what they can to help us.
So, we ought to give thanks to God that our governing authorities were not like the governing authorities in Philippi who mistreated Paul and Silas for no good reason.
Verses 1 to 9
We can move on now to chapter 17 and to what happened in Thessalonica and to what happened in Berea. And I think that we’re meant to compare and contrast what happened in these two cities.
First of all, Luke tells us that in Thessalonica there was a synagogue. And as was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue and on three Sabbath Days he reasoned with the people from the Scriptures. Well, notice that he reasoned with them. The word Luke uses can mean ‘discuss’ or ‘debate’ or ‘address’ or ‘speak to’. But ‘reason’ is good, because it reminds us that he was addressing their minds and he was trying to get them to understand his message. Christians today can sometimes put a big emphasis on music and praise. Or they put a big emphasis on multi-media presentations. They want to move people with a good tune. Or they want to make an impression on someone with a particular image. But Paul wanted to address the minds of the people in Thessalonica and to reason with them.
Notice too that he was teaching them from the Scriptures. For Paul, that meant the Old Testament. For us today, it’s the Old and New Testament. But what we’re to teach is the Bible.
And then look at verse 3. Luke tells us that he was trying to explain something to them and he was trying to prove something to them. Again, he was addressing their minds and he was trying to help them understand something and to be convinced of the truth of it.
And what was his message? Well, look again at verse 3. He wanted to explain to them and to prove to them — from the Old Testament — that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He went back over the Old Testament with them, and showed them all those places where God promised to send the Saviour into the world. And the Saviour would die to pay for our sins. And he would rise again afterwards.
And then, Paul also wanted to convince them that the Saviour — spoken about in the Old Testament — has already come. And his name is Jesus.
So, Paul taught them and he reasoned with them. And he used the Old Testament as his text book, which reminds us that not just the New Testament, but the Old Testament as well is all about the Lord Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. When I was growing up, we were taught to read the Old Testament as if it was all about me and what moral lessons we could learn about being a believer. Dare to be a Daniel. Slay our giants as David did. That kind of thing. But Paul reminds us here that the Old Testament is about the Lord Jesus who was coming into the world.
There was a divided response to what Paul taught. Verse 4: some of the Jews and a large number of God-fearing Greeks (Gentiles) and some prominent women were persuaded. And they joined Paul and Silas.
But verse 5: other Jews were jealous and so they rounded up some bad characters and formed a mob and they started a riot in the city. They rushed to this man, Jason’s house, looking for Paul and Silas. But they couldn’t find them. So they dragged out Jason and some of the new believers and they brought them before the city officials. And look at the irony of verse 6: They accuse Paul and Silas of having caused trouble all over the world, but they’re the ones who have formed a mob and started a riot. The jealous Jews are the troublemakers, not Paul and Silas.
They accused Paul and Silas of rebellion and for presenting Jesus as a rival to the Roman Emperor. And so Jason and the other believers are put on bail, which perhaps means that they had to pay money as security for their own behaviour as well as for Paul and Silas who are forced to leave.
Verses 10 to 15
As I’ve said, I think we’re meant to compare and contrast what happened in Thessalonica with what happened in Berea. Verse 10: they arrived in Berea and went into the synagogue, as they had done in Thessalonica. But the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians. Why? Because they received the message with great eagerness. Sometimes I’ve been invited to places to preach and it’s clear that the people are bored and not at all interested. But these people were glad to hear Paul, and we can imagine them sitting, with their Bibles open, examining the Scriptures, we read, examining the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. They were comparing what he said with what the Bible said. Is he right in what he says? Does what he say about Jesus match up with what the Bible says? They’re listening to Paul and they’re eager to hear the truth.
And look at verse 12: Many of the Jews believed, as did a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. In Thessalonica, some believed. Here, in Berea, many believed.
But oh dear! When the Jews in Thessalonica heard what was happening, they went there too, a journey of around 45 miles. And they stirred up trouble against them. So, Paul was forced to leave. While Silas and Timothy remained a little longer, Paul headed for the coast and on to Athens.
So, what do we learn from this passage? Well, for Paul, evangelism meant preaching and teaching from the Scriptures. It involved reasoning with people, helping them to understand what the Bible says about the Lord Jesus. It meant trying to convince them that these things which we read in the Bible are true.
The Bereans are held up as examples for us. They were eager to hear the message, and they examined the Scriptures to see if Paul was right in what he said about the Lord Jesus. And so, we should come to church, eager to learn from the Bible, and to hear about the Lord Jesus. And when we have the opportunity, we should take others to the Bible and to what it says about the Lord Jesus and what he has done for us.
We’re also reminded that not everyone will believe. And, in fact, some will react with anger to what we have to say.
But nevertheless, we also see that the Lord Jesus was still building his church on the earth.