Engaging the Word – Acts 17:1-15

by Roger McCay
16 August 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 17:1-15
Link to Audio Version

The story is told of a fellow, who was sharing, with his next-door neighbor, about a speaker he had heard the night before. He told the neighbor, “That guy said something that has really stuck in my mind. He said that all of the world’s problems could be summed up in two words: ignorance and apathy. What do you think?” The neighbor replied, “I really don’t know, and I really don’t care.”[1]

It’s a sad commentary on society, when we realize we fully understand the neighbors position. We see it all around us: complacency, indifference, apathy, “Who cares?” But this is just a defensive position. It’s a defense against anything that might affect a person’s personal peace. It’s a defense against change. It’s a defense against anything that might threaten the idol of comfort.

Perhaps this explains the position many nominal Christians have towards the Scriptures. They’ll acknowledge the Bible is important, that it is God’s Word, maybe even that it is vital for life. Yet, they don’t read it. They don’t study it. They may open their Bible on Sunday, when the pastor is preaching, but they don’t during the week. They don’t seek out opportunities to learn, when God’s Word is taught. And they don’t dig into the Word on their own.

Such apathy, such a laziness towards the Word of God, in personal study or in the various forms of its proclamation, is, in a way, a defense. It is a defense against the transformative nature of the Scriptures. Rather than have their world turned right-side up by God’s Word, they prefer to be ignorant, living in an upside-down world. This preference is expressed in apathy and laziness towards God’s Word, keeping their idol of comfortableness secure. For when one digs into the Scriptures, he finds them alive and personal. She finds herself in an encounter with the living God, disturbing worldly personal peace. Such an encounter casts down idols, like the idols of comfort and affluence.

God’s Word brings change to one’s life and even transforms one’s very being. Thus, safety is sought from the threat of change, finding security in the answer, “I really don’t know, and I really don’t care.” But such security is an illusion, a delusion, and a fantasy, providing no security at all. Indeed, it is an exceedingly precarious position.

In our passage today, we find Paul and Silas, with Timothy, moving on from Philippi. They passed westward through Amphipolis and Apollonia, along the Via Egnatia, coming to Thessalonica. The journey was about 95-miles, and they likely stopped over in each city. It would have taken them about three days by horse, or a little longer if they were on foot.

Coming to Thessalonica, they found a synagogue. There, Paul proceeded with his usual pattern: first going to the synagogue; proclaiming the gospel; and then expanding from there, with the result of many and various people coming to faith in the Lord Jesus. The Thessalonian church was planted. But, persecution quickly raised its ugly head, which was also usual, forcing the missionaries to flee the city.

From Thessalonica, they went south to Berea, where they went through all that once again. This time Paul was sent off to the coast, to then travel to Athens, likely by ship.

Our focus today, in these accounts of Thessalonica and Berea, is upon the healthy environments portrayed of active proclamation, study, and the hearing of the Word of God. From these accounts, we find some insight into the duties of the preacher and teacher of the Word, along with the duties of the hearers of the Word. We also have a testimony as to the transformation that happens in such environments and its impact upon the world.

Verses 2-4:

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

In vv. 2-4, Luke describes elements of Paul’s proclamation of the gospel in the synagogue (which would have been consistent in both Thessalonica and Berea). In the synagogue, there was an advantage, as the people had some knowledge of the Scriptures (the Old Testament). Hence, Paul’s preaching and teaching consisted of utilizing God’s Word to illustrate the truth of the gospel.