In our series on intentional evangelism, we come to the point today where we recognise that … in spite of the responses you MIGHT get … the religious need evangelising too.There can easily be a tendency to think otherwise.They won’t necessarily appreciate it.And reaching out to ‘out and out’ pagans a secularists seems more ‘sexy’.I was told recently that the Valleys are utterly ‘godless’ because they have the highest percentage of people putting ‘no religion’ on the census form.But some of the worst of the sinners Christ ever berated were the hypocrites adhering to churches.I was told the Valleys are the hardest because the people know nothing about God … just as many in and around the chapels of CefnGwlad do … but up here you’re not dealing with the unknown, but the unknown they don’t realise they don’t know!Where people state ‘no religion’ there’s a known, perceived void – Augustine’s ‘God shaped hole’ … a neat, ready parking berth that the Gospel just readily slots into.But here there’s no parking space because the interloping religion of the ages … ‘not Christianity’ fills all parking places!Now we’ve said for some time that the ‘ways in’ to our local culture with the Gospel look like the four ‘R’s, rugby, ruminants, renewables and religion … except ‘religion’ is a wall not a way in.We’ve said it because ‘not Christianity’ occupies the spaces and we need to stand out separate from it – that’s not us!That still seems to me to be still true locally, but we need to be careful.And we need to be careful because of Acts 17 …
What happens here?A church is planted in Thessalonica, out of mission team sheep stealing around the synagogue?!
Let’s take a very quick look at Thessalonica …Thessalonica was an important trading centre on the Via Egnatia …The Via Egnatia was constructed in order to link a chain of Roman colonies stretching from the Adriatic Sea to the Bosphorus. The termini of the Via Egnatia and the Via Appia, leading from Rome itself, were almost directly opposite each other on the east and west shores of the Adriatic Sea. The route thus gave the colonies of the southern Balkans a direct connection to Rome. It was also a vital link to Roman territories further to the east; until a more northerly route across Illyria was opened under Augustus it was Rome's main link with her empire in the eastern MediterraneanSo, from Philippi Paul and Silas along with Timothy took this historic road towards the ferry connecting it to the Via Appia and Rome.They seem to have overnighted at Amphipolis, then again at Apollonia (although they’d surely have needed horses to be travelling at that rate) then at Thessalonica (about 62 miles west of Philippi) they put in a rather longer stay.It was a provincial centre.It warranted that.So just WHO were these people the team were intentionally evangelising?As was his usual practice in the absence of a Christian church, Paul took himself off on the Sabbath to Synagogue, and (having probably been invited as a visiting scribe to address the congregation … much as previously in Psidian Antioch) he expounded the OT scriptures over the course of the next three sabbath days.How does he express intentionality?Paul wears the robe of the scribe, the custom is for a visiting scribe to be invited to speak, so for as long as he can Paul will do that.There’s something interesting on this in 2 Timothy 4 … “Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.”There’s Paul’s Jewish evangelism kit: cloak, scrolls and parchments.English commentators tend to suggest Paul is in prison and feeling the cold, because in the UK a cloak is a thing to keep warm with.(And is he going to start a fire with the parchments?)No! There’s something else going on here!Here is how Paul finds a congregation for his preaching, ready-made every Sabbath day!He turns up dressed like the scribe that he is, and the synagogue’s president asks him to preach!What sort of people’s he preaching to?
Of course, some of them were Jewish.But that’s far from all there was to it.Three groups are identified here … gathered around though not part of the synagogue itself.JewsGentile God-fearersInfluential (‘prominent’) womenThe majority of Paul’s converts in those early days at Thessalonica weren’t Jewish at all, but the God-fearers around the edge of the synagogue that the Jews had hoped would join Judaism but were drawn away by Paul’s preaching into Christianity.So what WAS it that Paul was reasoning for with them?
And as he stood to intentionally evangelise, Paul’s CONTENT was all Old Testament Scripture.If we’re talking to the religious around churches and chapels, the content of our message is the Scripture they’re supposed to believe – but whose significance they may not yet have seen.Very clearly Paul does NOT take such a tack before the Areopgaus in Athens, as described in the second half of this chapter.But here before those who ought to believe, but as he knows secretly do not, he presumes that they do until they admit it!There’s a methodological lesson hidden here for us to learn from.Paul takes what they SHOULD believe and treats them as if they do believe it and produces a Jewish form of argument known as pesher where he points to something in scripture and something they can see in real life and as he points he says ‘this here is THAT’.In the OT – see? The Messiah was destined to suffer.(Their teachers had made out He wouldn’t, but the Scripture would have told them all otherwise … and they were scandalised and offended by Christ, the Messiah Who was hung on the Cross, bearing sin’s curse - and suffered).In the OT – see? The Messiah was destined to die and be raised. The Jewish authorities were trying to argue Christ wasn’t.These scriptures stood fulfilled in Jesus plus NO-ONE … so now came the killer punch … the One Who did what the Messiah was destined to do is the One Whom we know now as Jesus.That was the content of Paul’s message with them … to reason the One Who fulfilled the OT prophecies was the One He’d met on the Damascus Road (but not a word of that gets said in this setting - the authority they’ll respect as a synagogue congregation is not Paul and his experience but the Torah.)Paul’s saying ‘the significance of the stuff you DO believe, on the basis of historically observable fact, will be THIS.’
So Paul stays there and preaches this for three weeks.
I fear the thing we most dread about intentional evangelism which keeps us from diving into it with Biblical relish is getting a Biblical response to it.The response Paul gets in the synagogue of Thessalonica is nothing if not thoroughly ‘Biblical’!
In the first place Paul’s ministry reveals that there are people in that ϋber-religious setting who are seeking to submit to the Lord in His Word.v. 4 “Some of the Jews were persuaded …”More than that, they were not only persuaded intellectually, but were prepared immediately to act on that PRACTICALLY …v. 4b “ … persuaded and joined Paul and Silas.”It is NOT enough in our intentional evangelism, knowing the fear of the Lord to attempt to persuade men.Persuasion must result in practical following.People are not won for Christ until they’re following Christ WITH HIS FOLLOWERS … the call to follow Christ is to walk with His people.Our intentional evangelism must aim to bring people along not with me but with Christ and His people where they can be discipled and grow with His people.The first response to Paul’s intentional evangelism was that people were persuaded to become followers together.The second is the one we must never allow to colour our mood nor control our responses.
The second response was born of feeling threatened and being jealous.Look what Paul and Silas had done.They’d taken the most promising hopes for becoming proselytes and they’d persuaded them away into Christianity.Away, because the synagogue authorities had decided they had too much to lose and stepped away from acknowledging the authority of God’s Word over their lives.When you get threatened, it’s not good for you.You may think you’re defending your interests, but honestly, you really are not!EXPECT to get jealousy NOT from the religious but from the religious who won’t listen to Jesus.
The point is made by the contrast at Berea.The unjust accusations and fuss raised by the impenitent religious at Thessalonica left Jason (the name a lot of Jewish Joshua’s took in the Gentile world) bound over to keep the peace, leaving the apostolic team no practical choice than to leave town.Taking a left off the Egnatian Way they headed South down the road towards Achaia, to Berea … a place described by Cicero as an ‘out of the way town’.
Here the missionaries’ message was tested faithfully by being brought to the acid test of Scripture.Again, around the edges of the synagogue there were what Wales would call ‘tidy people’ … trying to turn from the corruption of their times and the sinfulness of their own hearts.They were eager to search the Scriptures to see if what the apostles were saying was true, and “…many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”There was quite an interest in Jewish monotheism amongst upper class (pagan) Graeco-Roman women – putting up with so much as a result of the immorality of upper class Graeco-Roman men and disillusioned with the situation it put them in.Even Nero’s mistress (then later, wife) Poppaea was said to have strong Jewish sympathies.Immorality brings its own disillusionment, and the apostles found that it brought them to the synagogue to try to find refuge in the safe haven of Jewish ethical monotheism.There they were left unsatisfied by the strong emphasis on Law, but were satisfied by the glorious liberty of the sons of God … given birth by the awesome grace of God in the Gospel.Paul took his intentional evangelism to the synagogue, in order to bring that Gospel to bear with them.
SynagoguesPicked up fringe people in numbers … not so much stealing sheep because there were no shepherds there – not so much stealing sheep as growing grass!Opinion divided … trouble started … apostles not deterred or deflected by thoughts of their own safety – only others … men like Jason at Thessalonica.We need to be distinct from manifestations of nominally Christian religion which plug the God shaped hole in the people around us and turn them away from the true God and His Gospel, but the apostles were not averse to evangelising in those settings.The way they did so was to reason with people from the Scriptures, showing them that ‘that there’ is ‘this’!Paul reasoned (v. 2), he explained (v. 3b) and proclaimed (v. 3c).And the criticism and false accusations they deflected … all the while drawing disciples looking for God in His Word away with them.And that is the Biblical practice.
Acts 17 vv 1 15 Relating to the Religious
Welcome to Grace!“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ” 1 Corinthians 13: 6-7
Acts 17:1-15• Introduction• Thessalonica Synagogue – The place
Acts 17:1-15• Introduction• Thessalonica Synagogue – The place – The people
Acts 17:1-15• Introduction• Thessalonica Synagogue – The place – The people – The message • Messiah’d to suffer • Messiah’d to be raised • This Messiah is JESUS
Acts 17:1-15• Introduction• Thessalonica Synagogue – The place – The people – The message – The strategy
Acts 17:1-15• Introduction• Thessalonica Synagogue – The place – The people – The message – The strategy “As was his custom, Paul went into the • Three weeks synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he • REASONED reasoned with them from the – Explaining & Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the – Proving Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said.
Acts 17:1-15• Introduction• Thessalonica Synagogue• Response(s) – Persuaded – Threatened/ jealous v. 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.”
Acts 17:1-15• Introduction• Thessalonica Synagogue• Response(s)• Berea Synagogue• Response(s) – Met DAILY – Examined Scripture – Upper class Greek men and women & Jews believed – Disgruntled Jews came over from Thessalonica to disturb things