Coney Hill Baptist Church

Demonstrating God’s Love Together

Turmoil in Thessalonica

Acts 17:1-15

Intro:

This is a story about a famous city and a pretty unknown individual... 

Paul and his companions moved west from Philippi, probably taking 3 days to arrive in Thessalonica, the distance from Philippi to Amphipolis, from Amphipolis to Apollonia, and Apollonia to Thessalonica was each about 30-35 miles, a days travel on horseback. 

The individual we know little about, he’s only named here and as a co-worker with Paul at the end of Romans.  Tradition has it that he became Bishop of Tarsus and a missionary himself to the island of Corfu. We know him only as Jason.

 

But...

The City:

The journey though, apart from the distance, was a move from one very distinct city to another. Thessalonica was the capital of the whole province of Macedonia.  Whereas Philippi was a ‘little Rome’, whose inhabitants were granted Roman citizenship and which enjoyed all the trappings, and restrictions, of a Roman military centre, Thessalonica had received different privileges. It was a ‘free city’, granted licence to indulge in a whole range of practices outside the normal parameters of a respectable city of the Empire.  As such, it had become a centre of culture as well as commerce, ideas as well as institutions.

In this perhaps it has some things in common with our own, secular, society.  Recognising the existence of a whole range of beliefs and lifestyles, society is set up around some basic ideas, of freedom, choice and tolerance, and the competing claims are allowed, within reason, to battle it out and make their own claims within that.  This meant that in Thessalonica, like in London, Paul had to make his claim a little differently than he did in Jerusalem, or Antioch, or even in Philippi.  He couldn’t just say, well this is how it is, this is how you are supposed to do things, this is where the tradition inevitably leads us. He had to make more fundamental claims    

 

The Message:

The most important of those claims was that what he was saying was simply true.  Not only historically accurate, but philosophically coherent and in line with actual, lived experience.

Yes Paul and the others, as was their custom, despite their experience at the hands of the Jews in Philippi, started their mission in the local synagogue, but three key words are used to describe the way in which they went about the business of opening up the faith here; ‘reasoned’, ‘explained’, ‘proved’.

I’m sure Paul lost none of his power or passion, or his dependence on the Spirit, in fact 1 Thessalonians 1:5 emphasises this, yet what is focussed on here is his thoughtfulness. 

Paul was concerned with communicating matters of reality, true facts, rather than merely offering emotional comfort.  What is ‘reality? "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." - Philip K. Dick  He believed absolutely that faith could, should, be based on available, accessible truth, and so he debated and discussed, as well as proclaimed, with both patience and enthusiasm.  

 

The ‘Audience’:

To whom did they speak? Again, pretty much anyone who would listen, and, as before, the sheer breadth of their audience was emphasised.   Jews, Greeks, women ... as well as the Berean’s, who, we are told, were more noble and eager than the Thessalonians.  And then, this guy Jason.

There were those who believed, those who disbelieved, those who opposed, violently and, no doubt, those who ignored too.  This was a message for everyone, relevant to everyone, true for everyone.  As always in these journeys the gospel message was a great unifier, as well as a source of division, a bringer of equality under God, male or female, slave or free, Greek or Jew, rich or poor. And so it remains.

Conc - The Decision:

This wasn’t an intellectual exercise though, a mere debating game.  The physical threat they faced made that obvious but so to did the challenge they issued. 

When the text says they were persuaded and ‘joined Paul and Silas’ it literally read they ‘cast their lot with them’, they made a made a decisive switch, they changed sides, from Caesar’s to Christ’s, with very real consequences.

So it was with Jason; he gave his home, his allegiance, his commitment and it cost him, he stood in Paul’s place, in Christ’s place. He did what he needed to do, given he had made his decision, taken his stand.  Last week we spoke about doing what was necessary to be saved, believing in Jesus, and the inevitable consequences.  Jason, though hardly famous, is a good example, and challenge, for us.