Jun 26 2013 - Acts 17:1-34 – The truth shall set you free
After three weeks in Thessalonica, Paul’s preaching in the synagogue stirred up a riot that prompted the new believers to send Paul and Silas away to Berea. There we read, “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” (Acts 17:11). The message Paul was bringing them might have seemed strange, even contrary to what they had previously believed, but their main concern was to ask, “Is it true?” As Jews who believed in the Old Testament Scriptures, they set about searching those Scriptures to find out.
Jews from Thessalonica soon turned up, and Paul had to leave for Athens. There, Paul was greatly distressed to find a city full of idols. There seemed to be countless gods who received the worship on one group of people of another. Paul was concerned that these people, who seemed concerned to placate the gods with their offerings, should hear about the living God who had revealed himself in the Lord Jesus Christ. Day by day Paul spoke in the marketplace to all who would listen.
There were many in Athens quite ready to give him a hearing; many enjoyed nothing so much as a good debate about new ideas. However, when Paul spoke of the resurrection – both the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the coming day of general resurrection – those same people had no further time for him; they treated his words with scorn.
To the Athenians what Paul said seemed very strange. Instead of debating various ideas about God or the gods, he proclaimed that the God of whom they were ignorant, had revealed himself in the historical human life, death and resurrection of a particular person – a Jew. This seemed quite ridiculous to his hearers. The suggestion that this resurrected Jew would one day stand in judgment over them seemed both absurd and offensive. For all their professed desire to learn the truth they were unwilling to consider Paul’s claims. In the end, they were more concerned with ideas than with truth.
The Christian message is not merely set of ideas to be debated but a fact of history calling for faith and response. The God who made the world and who cares for all that he has made has entered history in the person of Jesus Christ. His resurrection from the dead is the beginning of the new creation, an anticipation of that last great resurrection day when all creation will be transformed and restored to all that it was created to be. The good news is that in Christ we can begin to enter now into the life of the new creation, to live already the life of the age to come.
There are many today who are happy to debate ideas but who are scandalised at the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the fact of his resurrection of the dead. Even in the churches there are many who are more eager to spend time in endless debate – even about the nature of the resurrection – rather than in living the resurrection life.
God calls us to search the Scriptures, seeking, by the help of his Spirit, to understand the purposes of God in Christ so that, through the power of that same Spirit, we might become part of those purposes.
Father God, Give me a concern for those around me who are fascinated by the spiritual but who do not yet know you. Give me the wisdom to know how to stand in their shoes, speak to them in their own terms and direct them to the God for whom they were made and whom they can know in Jesus. But keep me from foolish arguments and interminable debates. Rather, may the risen life of Jesus shine through my life in all I say and do.