Study 20: Different receptions in Greece
Acts Chapter 16 tells us of the journey to Philippi, how the Lord led Paul, Silas, Timothy and the others who travelled with him to Macedonia after having tried to go to Bithynia and wanting to go to the Province of Asia. Now it is time to continue the journey and to see what happens when Paul and his colleagues visit Thessalonica, Beroea and when Paul goes on ahead by himself to Athens.
Acts 17:1-9. Paul preaches in Thessalonica
Paul’s desire to reach people to tell them of the amazing love of God for them, knew no bounds. He wanted them to have the same assurance that he had that they could spend eternity in the presence of their loving heavenly Father. Firstly, they had to come to terms with the fact that they were lost and separated from God because of what Adam had done all those centuries before. He turned his back on God and decided to run his life his own way. As a result, sin was introduced into the world and into human nature. God is holy and human beings became sinful. Holiness and sin can have nothing to do with each other, so humanity was eternally separated from God. Human destiny at creation was to live in fellowship with God in His presence for ever but, because of sin (and the author of that sin was Satan), humans exchanged this destiny of heaven for hell – a clear and disastrous choice. When God created the universe, He put laws in place protecting His creation and excluding Satan from corrupting it. When He created humanity, He wanted His finest creation to be made in His image, so He gave humans free will to follow Him or not; Adam’s choice would have an eternal effect on humanity unless a solution could be found.
The laws that God had put in place required that the sinner should die (be separated from God for ever) – each for his or her own sinful nature – unless an entirely sinless person were to die in the place of the sinner. Plainly that could not be another human being. The Bible is clear and states that, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God“. Romans 3:23. There is absolutely nothing that you or I can do. Our deepest desire is to return to God, so we try to be good. We try to do good things, but all our efforts end in failure because sin is in our nature. We don’t have to try to be sinful. It just comes naturally to us because it is already there. (See 1 John 1:8.)
God was aware of humanity’s problem, so He sent Himself – Jesus, the executive creator of the universe – to be born as a baby, to live an entirely blameless and sinless life so that He could die in our place, the sinless for the sinful, to pay the penalty for sin that the law of God required. (Just waiving the penalty would have been illegal and would have allowed Satan to cry “foul”). Jesus did not just die for the sins of one or two people; He died for the sin of the whole world. He died so that the sinful nature that had been implanted in every man, woman and child could be removed. In order to do that He became sin for us. (See 2 Corinthians 5:20-22.) Additionally, in order for this death in our place to be effective, it had to pay for the sinful nature and therefore every sin (that had ever been committed, that was being committed and that would in the future be committed) of every person who was alive at the time, who had ever been born or who would ever be born in the future. EVERY sin! That is exactly what Jesus did when He chose to go to the cross. He alone understood the enormity of what He was about to do as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, when all of His disciples, even those closest to Him, slept the time away. (Matthew 26:36-39) Humanly, He wanted to avoid the extreme horror of it – being cut off from His Father (for that was the penalty). If only there could be some other way to do this job… but there wasn’t. That was the price to enable humanity to be set free from the consequences of wilful rebellion. (Romans 5:18-20)
Jesus’ death on the cross (followed by His body being placed in the tomb) was not the end of the matter. Three days later, He rose from the dead. The stone that covered the mouth to the tomb was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Jesus had risen! This was not just a miracle. Rather, it was the celebration of the victory of what had happened at the cross. Satan was defeated. He no longer has the keys to death and hell. The victory over the grave is complete. Eternal life is available to all who want to accept what Jesus has done for them. Now there is just one thing left to do: literally to accept the free gift of God for you. (Romans 6:23)
Just like any gift, it needs to be received, accepted, opened and used. So what do we need to do about that? Firstly, we must recognise that we need this gift of salvation. These three steps help to make it easy to understand the process. We may want to really get to grips with God in one or more areas. So, let’s open it! Even if we already believe we are a Christian, it is always helpful to review our position.
1. We need to agree with God that we are sinful – we have chosen to go our own way – and to tell Him that we are sorry for doing it (this is confessing our sins – that is agreeing with God that we are sinful).
2. Then we need to tell Him that we want to turn away from our sinful nature – that’s a 180o turn – and go in the opposite direction (this is repentance – being sorry and turning away from our sins).
3. Finally, we need to thank Him for providing the payment in full for our sinfulness – separation from God – the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross at Calvary, and to ask Him to come and live in us and to take control of our lives enabling us to live as He would like us to and not as we have so selfishly done so far.
If you feel like doing that now, then here is a prayer that will help you. It is not the only one you can pray but it will point you in the right direction and if you cannot think of anything else to say, then make this your own prayer now:
Lord Jesus, I am sorry that I have been going my own way instead of Your way. Thank you for dying to take away my sin. Please come into my life and make me the person You want me to be. Amen
Now, thank Him for coming into your life as He promised He would do:
“I have been knocking at the door (of your life) and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears Me calling him and opens the door (to his life), I will come in and fellowship with Him and He with Me.” Revelation 3:20
Of course, God will never force you to do what I have suggested. He created you with free will, so whatever you ultimately choose you will have to live with! If you decided not to do what I suggested, for whatever reason, then please just don’t give up looking. God has said:
13 “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, 14 I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” GOD’s Decree. “I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you” – GOD’s Decree – “bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.” Jeremiah 29:13-14 (The Message)
Paul was explicit to those who were listening to him. He told them that this Jesus, about whom he was speaking, was the Messiah: the “Anointed One” of God; the person about whom the Old Testament writings spoke so excitedly. This person was the culmination of the prophecies. Every Jew in the synagogue would have known exactly to whom Paul was referring. Acts 17:3-5 (The Message) says:
“He opened up the texts so they understood what they’d been reading all their lives: that the Messiah absolutely had to be put to death and raised from the dead—there were no other options—and that ‘this Jesus I’m introducing you to is that Messiah.’”
4-5 Some of them were won over and joined ranks with Paul and Silas, among them a great many God-fearing Greeks and a considerable number of women from the aristocracy. But the hard-line Jews became furious over the conversions. Mad with jealousy, they rounded up a bunch of brawlers off the streets and soon had an ugly mob terrorising the city as they hunted down Paul and Silas.
The things that Paul spoke to them required a decision. He did not just let them wander away from their meeting with him without being challenged. And the results were evident and are recorded so that we do not miss them, and so that we too can emulate Paul in the way that we approach those who are searching, Acts 17:4 (The Message) The results should not surprise us; neither should the consequent opposition from those who wanted to remain in their fur-lined rut! Acts 17:5
Some religious leaders of today suffer from a similar form of jealousy. When men and women begin to be challenged by God and decide to respond to Him, the results can be astounding – and we do not have to look far to know that this is true. If you allow Him, God will transform your life, your family and your prosperity. If you don’t believe me, start reading the Bible and doing what God asks you to do, not just once to see if it works – it does! Continue to work faithfully at it and check out the results! Success in God, like success in other things, will bring on jealousy among those who believe that they have got God organized into a box.
When they found that Paul was not at Jason’s home, they arrested Jason instead and dragged him and some other believers before the city officials, Acts 17:6-7
The Jewish leaders in Thessalonica had difficulty manufacturing an accusation that would be listened to by the city government. The Romans (who ruled Thessalonica at the time) did not care about theological disagreements between the Jews and these preachers. Treason, however, was a serious offence in the Roman Empire. Although Paul and Silas were not advocating rebellion against Roman law, their loyalty to another king sounded suspicious. The city authorities and the people of Thessalonica were in a difficult situation and decided that the best way out was to not make any hasty decisions while they thought about the matter further. So they bailed Jason and the other believers to appear at another time.
Meanwhile Paul and Silas were taken by the believers to Beroea, a town about 50 miles away, Acts 17:11-12. The starting point for reaching the people of Beroea with the Gospel was the synagogue. It was the favourite starting point of Paul and Silas. We need to pay attention to this as we begin to plan a strategy for reaching people today. We need to start where they are now. It is the job of the individual to reach other individuals. It has been said that the fruit of a Christian is another Christian. It is only when we realize the desperate plight of those who are going to Hell that we can be like Rachel in a spiritual sense and beg the Lord – ‘Give me children or I’ll die!’ Genesis 30:1. It is true that there is nothing quite as exciting as leading someone else into the presence of the Lord as they give their life to Him. It is a privilege and honour beyond measure. Paul, writing encouragements some time later to the Thessalonian Christians, (and no doubt Jason and the other believers were among those who received the letter) has this to say to them, ‘For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes? Is it not you?’ 1 Thessalonians 2:19 (NIV)
The Bible says that the Beroeans were more noble than the Thessalonians. Why? Because they:
1. Received the message with great eagerness and
2. Examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
There is a contrast here between those at Thessalonica who listened to the jealousy of the Jews and rejected out of hand the life-changing message that Paul brought, and those at Beroea. Here, in contrast, many of the Jews believed. We need to encourage those we are speaking to about Jesus to read the Bible to see if what we are saying is true. Many people will reject what we have to say because they have never bothered to read the word of God for themselves. It is God’s word that will persuade, rather than any wise and persuasive arguments we make.
It is amazing how good news travels! The Thessalonian Jews heard that the Beroeans had received Jesus with joy and a delegation came to agitate and stir up the crowds! The Word had been sown into the hearts of the Beroean people and they knew that what they had heard was true, so Paul left them and was taken to the coast where he boarded a ship and went to Athens. Silas and Timothy stayed in Beroea encouraging the new believers, and when Paul arrived in Athens he sent for them.
So now Paul had some time on his hands as he waited for Paul and Silas. As he looked around the City, he could not help noticing how many idols there were on display, Acts 17:16-17. The Greeks had many gods and they made idols to them all. The entire country was awash with idolatry as people decided to make their own ways to heaven. Now we have seen in the earlier sections of this study on the Book of Acts that the way to God and is through Jesus. The finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary proved by His rising from the dead is the evidence, so Paul began to speak into this loud emptiness of error.
He had the answer to their searching, but these people were very full of their own importance and learning. The Epicureans and Stoics were the dominant philosophers in Greek culture. The Epicureans believed that seeking happiness or pleasure was the primary goal of life. By contrast, the Stoics placed thinking above feeling and tried to live in harmony with nature and reason, suppressing their desire for pleasure. Thus they were very disciplined. In some respects, very few things have changed in the world’s thinking from that day to this. We have philosophers who think along similar lines today, and perhaps as we take the life-giving message of Jesus to them, we will encounter the same responses. They were people who believed that their own brand of philosophy was the ultimate, and anything new disturbed them. Acts 17:18-19.
The great thing that came out of this encounter was that they took Paul and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus. For a time the Council or Court (here called the Areopagus) met on a low hill in Athens near the Acropolis. This was a place in Athens. its name is the Latin form of the Greek word translated ‘Mars Hill.’ It also denotes the council or court of justice that met in the open air on the hill. The council was held on the southeast summit of a rocky height west of the Acropolis at Athens. Founded by Solon, it consisted of nine archons or chief magistrates who were then in office, and ex-archons of blameless life.
As Paul stood there and spoke about the one true God, his audience could look down on the city and see the many idols representing gods that Paul knew were worthless. There were so many people wasting so much time on pointless worship of demonic and man-made gods. It was here that they began to ask what the new teaching was that Paul was presenting. Paul was well prepared to speak to this group. He came from Tarsus, an educational centre, and had the training and knowledge to present his beliefs clearly and persuasively. Paul was a rabbi, taught by the finest scholar of his day, Gamaliel and he had spent much of his life thinking and reasoning through the Scriptures.
It is not enough to teach or preach with conviction. Like Paul, we must be prepared. The more we know about the Bible, what it means, and how to apply it to our lives, the more convincing our words will be. This does not mean that we should avoid presenting the gospel until we feel properly prepared. We should work with what we know, but always want to know more in order to reach more people and answer their questions and arguments more effectively. Paul’s address is a good example of how to communicate the gospel. Paul did not begin by reciting Jewish history, as he usually did, for this would have been meaningless to his Greek audience. He began by building a case for the one true God, using examples they understood, Acts 17:22-23. Then he established common ground by emphasizing what they agreed on about God, Acts 17:24-29. Notice that in Acts 17:26, the Bible states that God arranged the times and places for us to be alive on this earth. We do not live where we do or at this time by pure chance. It is God’s plan; His purpose is that we should discover Him and live our lives with Him at the centre focused entirely on Him as our Source of supply. He knows exactly where we live and how to call us for the work He has planned for us. Finally, Paul moved his message to the person of Christ, centred on the resurrection, Acts 17:30-31. When we witness to others, we can use Paul’s approach: use examples, establish common ground, and then move people toward a decision about Jesus Christ.
We need to understand that God’s appointed day is coming. Everything in relation to man’s salvation has been completed. The price of sin has been paid by Jesus on the Cross and the resurrection – the proof that the Victory is complete – has happened. It is now up to each person to receive what has been done for them and it is up to us to help them understand. Perhaps God is challenging you and me to be bolder and to be prepared to stand up for what we believe?
Of course anything to do with what Jesus has done for us will polarise people. In this case, there was a three-fold reaction, Acts 17:32-34. When you and I share the word of God, we will always experience one of these three reactions. Some will sneer, some will be unconvinced but want to know more while others will give their lives wholeheartedly to the Lord and enter His Kingdom. We must be prepared for these reactions. Those who sneer we can leave for another day, but those who want to know more are open to the Gospel and can be followed up, whilst those who become believers need to be nurtured and encouraged to grasp hold of the entire benefits that come from knowing Jesus, and be encouraged to be wholehearted disciples.
Study 20: Different receptions in Greece – Challenge Questions
Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in God’s word, the more you will get out of it.
Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make God’s word your number one priority.
1. *Read the Notes and the Bible Verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that ‘speak’ to you and share with the group.
2. What do you think about Paul’s presentation of the Gospel and how he included the full story? Can you apply these principles when sharing with people?
3. *Are you sure of your own salvation? On what is your confidence based? Does anything shake your confidence in your eternal home?
4. Have we ever experienced the three reactions when we have shared God’s word (Acts 17:32-34). Would you like to share from experience.
Read Acts 18:1-8
5. Paul arrived in Corinth. Where were Silas and Timothy? Why were they not with Paul?
6. *Who did Paul meet in Corinth when he first arrived? Why had they left Rome? Do you think their departure would have been sudden? These people had a common profession; what was it?
7. What changed when Silas and Timothy arrived?
8. *Why do you think that the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive? What was Paul’s reaction? Explain why similar things may happen to you and me today as we preach the Gospel?
9. Paul left the synagogue explaining that in future he would go to the Gentiles – those who had never heard of the Good News (the Gospel). Where did he go, and who went with him?
Read Acts 18:9-22
10. *One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. What did He say to him? If it had been you to whom the Lord spoke, would you have heard Him? Would you have been worried by the contents of what He said?
11. Did the vision that Paul had come to pass? Did it come to pass in every respect? If God were to speak to you, would you expect what He said to happen in every respect? Personal. Would you hear Him? If not, what are you going to do about it?
12. *At the Court Hearing, did Paul have to justify himself? What happened to those who had brought the case against Paul? Can we expect God to vindicate us when we stand up for Him? What happened to Sosthenes at a later date?
13. Paul left Corinth for Syria. Where was his final destination? Where was his first stop? What did he do before he left Corinth? See Numbers 6:18-20.
14. Who travelled with Paul on the first part of his journey? Did Silas and Timothy travel with him?
Read Acts 18:23-28
15. Paul spent some time in Antioch. Check from the previous map how long do you think he stayed in Antioch? What was Paul’s real desire at this time? When he set off on his third missionary journey, where did he go first?
16. Who arrived in Ephesus? Although he had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, what was he lacking? Who helped him? How do you think this help changed his life?
17. How did Apollos help the believers in Achaia? How can you help the believers in your home town or any town to which God sends you?