July 7, 2024. Sermon Title:

First Mennonite Church

July 7, 2024

The Noble Berean

Text: Acts 17:1-15

In our last study, we found Paul and Silas bleeding in a dark high-security prison; yet, they were singing praises and praying to God. After their release, the authorities escorted them out of the city.  In our passage today, we find Paul and his missionary team in Thessalonica. Paul’s unwavering commitment to preach the gospel leads him to the Jewish synagogue. There, on three Sabbath days, he reasoned with the Jews from the Scriptures, explaining and proving to them that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you,” he said, “is the Messiah, God’s promised anointed one.” His effort to expound the Scriptures and attest that God’s Messiah must suffer death and be raised from the dead convinced some of this Jewish audience. You see, at the center of the Jewish understanding of what the Messiah would do when he comes is the deliverance of the Jewish people from their troubles, not to suffer and die. But Paul showed his Jewish audience through their scriptures that what happened to Jesus, whom he was preaching, was indeed written in their sacred texts. 

Again, not everyone was happy with that biblical interpretation. Not everyone agreed with Paul’s messianic interpretation. Some other Jews incited a group of ruffians to form a mob to set the city in an uproar. The mob rushed to the house where Paul and Silas were hosted and because they were not there, the mob dragged Jason, the owner of the house, before the magistrates. Although these men were falsely accusing Paul and Silas of wrongdoing, ironically, they described them truthfully.  “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”

The gospel message can be troublesome to those who are unwilling to accept they need to repent from sin. The gospel message is the claim that Jesus is the only Lord who we must obey. To proclaim the message of the gospel is to tell people that there is only one king. There is only one person who should rule over our lives. There is only one person we must obey. Therefore, it is clear to see how the gospel can come into conflict with the world’s view on how we should live our lives and who is the ultimate master. By nature, people do not like to have someone else tell them how to live their lives, and how to use their time and money.

After paying a hefty fine, Jason was released by the authorities. And Paul and his missionary crew were led out of the city in the cover of darkness. Thus they went to Berea. Luke tells us that the Jews in Berea were more noble (Gk. eugenes) character.  They had a freer thought and lay more open to change, were willing to hear reason and admit the force of it . . . though it might be contrary to their former sentiments. They were nobler.[1]

One of the characteristics of being noble, according to this definition, is the willingness to review preconceived notions or long-held beliefs. That is a tough thing to do. It is not easy to reconsider what we already have taken to heart as truths. To open up ourselves to review what we have set as the anchor of our lives might feel like doubting our very selves, which is not something we can do with much ease. But this is exactly what the gospel constantly requires everyone to do. In the case of Paul and his audience, the issue was the long-held Jewish belief about the identity and mission of God’s promised Messiah. The Berean Jewish nobility is characterized by two describes as:  for they received the message with great eagerness, and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness.” This shows their zeal to hear and to learn from God’s word. Obviously, Paul was teaching a new perspective about the most important promise God made to his people. Devout Jews lived in constant expectations and eager anticipation of signs of God’s Messiah to appear. Their hope for liberation and the inauguration of a new era centered on the coming of the Messiah. However, when Paul tells them that Jesus is the Messiah who the Romans along with the Jewish religious authorities put to death by crucifixion and that everything about him is written in their Bible, it must have been shocking for the Berean Jews to hear. It must have been a new revelation to them although it was there in their Bible.  However, they approached this new teaching with open minds. They were willing to review their long-held beliefs with the purpose of changing their perspectives. So, along with their eager desire to hear the word Paul was preaching, they also examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying is true.

These Bible students were not gullible, but they were not digging their heels into their fixed beliefs nor were dismissive of what Paul was saying either. They were eager to listen, open to change, but also diligent to discover the truth of God’s word for themselves. This is how we should listen. This is how we should study the word of God. And this is how we grow in the knowledge of Jesus, as Paul encouraged the Colossians to do (1:9-11). Later when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he encouraged them: Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good (1Thessalonians 5:20, 21).

 So, what can we learn from this passage? Again, let me share three points.

  1. When Paul left Philippi to go to Thessalonica, he was not retreating from hardship. He went there to continue doing exactly what brought him trouble in Philippi.  Paul’s unwavering commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only admirable, but the standard all Christians should strive for. While Paul’s wounds were still raw and his body sore because of the beating he suffered, he did avoid doing the very same thing that brought him pain and trouble in the first place: he kept speaking about Jesus. That is what he meant when he wrote: For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1Corinthians 9:16). Paul did not trim back his commitment for the sake of personal safety.  He did not seek comfort by avoiding the sticky issue of a crucified Messiah as God’s means of salvation. Paul did not shrink back from proclaiming, instead through diligent exposition of the Jewish scriptures he proved that Jesus was God’s Messiah, Savior, and Lord.

Paul did not stray away from the center of his proclamation. Whenever he opened his mouth, he spoke about Jesus, not his hardship, not about Caesar’s repression against the message Paul was announcing. Paul’s goal to preach Jesus, as risen and returning Lord, despite the personal cost in doing so, is the perfect model we should try to emulate. When you speak with others, what do you talk about?

  • The accusation that Paul and Silas were turning the world upside down is quite ironic. They, actually, were turning the world right side up. For the unbeliever, the ways of the world are right. It is as the Prophet Isaiah says:

Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
    and clever in their own sight (Isaiah 5:20, 21).

Therefore, when the non-believer hears the gospel where Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.” Or where he says, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) they think, “That is weird.”

  • The Bereans were of more noble character because they eagerly received the word of God and diligently sought to prove if Paul was speaking the truth regarding the Holy Scriptures.

I want to believe that you are here willing to hear the word of God. I want to believe that you find time to search the Scriptures on your own. But most importantly, I want to believe that you are open to reconsider if needed, the long-held assumptions or even truths you have for the sake of strengthening your faith and expanding your knowledge of Christ. The Bereans were humble enough to admit they could be in the wrong about their perspectives. They were open and God illuminated their hearts to believe Jesus is indeed the Messiah, Lord, and Savior.

May we allow the Spirit to give us light. Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] BibleWorks VII, Word Analysis: Eugenes