Open your Bible to Acts chapter 17. We’ve been walking through the book of Acts, and today we come to the beginning of verse 17. More specifically, we’re going to narrow our focus this morning on the first nine verses.
It’s baseball season, in case you didn’t know, and the Braves have won nine straight. But speaking of baseball, the Oakland A’s have been this iconic organization, right? I mean, we could go back to the seventies with the likes of Reggie Jackson, who was unbelievable; he established himself there. They were winning championships, one after another… and then they hit the skids, and they tanked.
So, this general manager came onto the scene; his name was Billy Beane. In fact, even if you aren’t a baseball fan, you may have watched this movie, and perhaps you watched the movie because you thought Brad Pitt was cute. He starred in this movie in 2011 called Moneyball, and it told the story of Billy Beane. Basically, here’s the story and the point:
In the late nineties and into the early two thousands, Billy Beane comes in, and he hires this really nerdy guy to be his assistant general manager because he really pushed the envelope and changed the perspective on what it took to build a team. He was like, “You know, I’m not going to look for the guys who just hit home runs all the time. We’re going to start looking at on-base percentage,” and he changed the metric, or the perspective, of how they built the team.
They ended up bringing guys on the team who nobody knew, or they were washed up guys like Dave Justice. After he had performed with the Braves, they brought him back in because based upon his on-base percentage and other tools he could bring, they figured out the metrics and the formula to cultivate wins.
Billy Beane really changed the dynamic, not only of baseball, but it’s now even overflowing into other sports. If you watch the metric system, people now are paying attention; they’re not so much focusing on the wins and the losses, but instead, if we focus on the little things that help fabricate those wins and losses, the W’s start taking care of themselves.
Now, why do I even tell you this story, and what in the world does that have to do with Acts chapter 17? I think it has a lot to do with Acts chapter 17, because I think what we’re going to learn today as we try to model what Paul illustrates in this chapter is that our perspective matters; even what we measure matters. I think the text today will help us see that following God does make a difference, and it may help us to view our mission from a different perspective.
I. Following Jesus should position us for intentional conversations
If you’ll recall last week, I shared from a personal story, a change or a shift in perspective that I had on a mission trip to New York City. If you’ll remember, I had this moment where somebody prayed to receive Christ, and I began to celebrate it like it was another notch in my belt. And I got, “No, no, that’s not the perspective. This isn’t a matter of wins and losses; this is a matter of being faithful and obedient to share the Good News.” And here’s what we need to understand:
Following Jesus will open doors for the Gospel.
It will happen. If we focus on following Him, the doors will open. So, the first point I want us to see from the first four verses of Act 17 is this: Following Jesus should position us for intentional conversations. Now, if you’re really astute, you might realize, “Wait a minute. That was almost verbatim a point we made last week.”
Okay, let’s put our educator hat on. If the teacher repeats something more than once, what does that mean? It’s going to be on the test. Write it down. This is really, really important, right? Because here’s the beauty of it: What we see Paul doing in response to this Macedonian call that we read in Acts chapter 16 is, now he’s just being obedient and allowing God to position him in places.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me stop and read the text, and let’s go from there. Okay, verses one through four:
Acts 17:1-4 (ESV)
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 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.” 4 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.
Remember a few years ago when the Olympics were in Athens? I can’t remember what sporting event it was, but in the background, it had the name “Thessaloniki”. This is still a city, a prominent city, near Athens today where Paul went. Obviously, much has changed in Thessaloniki (or Thessalonica) over thousands of years, but even at this time, when Paul went there, this was a booming, cosmopolitan, metropolis.
In fact, as best we know, When Paul went there, there were approximately 200,000 people living in Thessalonica. That’s more people than live in the city of Columbus (not counting the Valley). This is a major city. What’s also interesting is that we learn from history the makeup of these people. What we learn is, there were some barbarian, Germanic people who had moved from the South into the city, and they brought with them a lot of their pagan religion and culture. There were Greeks who had come from the South, and they brought with them this new, fresh wave of modern philosophy.
There were Romans who had settled there from the West, and many of them were retired soldiers who had served their time in the Roman Guard. And now they were moving to settle into this thriving, new community. And the Jews had come from the East, and many of them had settled there. They had established a synagogue by that point, and they brought with them these ideas of an ethical, monotheistic faith, and maybe even a little national prejudice came with him along the way.
And so, here we see that Thessalonica is a booming, cosmopolitan city where Paul now enters, and he begins to share Jesus. When I read that and learned a little bit about that city, this is where I landed: It sounds a lot like Columbus. It really does. It’s this booming city. It’s thriving. It’s growing. You’ve got people who are coming here from the big city with some new, fresh ideas. You’ve got some soldiers who have retired here and now are settling. It’s about the same size. It’s about the same mindset. It’s strikingly, eerily similar to this city where we live.
I think it’s important for us to recognize, Paul went there because God sent him there. And I can’t help but just encourage us to each, individually, ask this question: Why are you here? Do you not acknowledge (I hope you will just for a minute), you are positioned in Columbus, Georgia, in the Valley, on purpose?
You may have thought that PCS orders and the Army told you to come here, or you may have thought it was this job opportunity or your family settled here for you. For me, it was a hot woman who drew me here. That just happens. But you know, we come here for different reasons, but we’re here.
I love our city. Almost every time (my family probably gets annoyed with me saying it), when we walk out of Iron Bank downtown and we get across the street, I’m like, “Man, I love this city. It’s awesome!” I mean, I don’t know if you read the report that Forbes Magazine said about us, that we’re the coolest cat city in Georgia. They just wrote that recently. I mean, it’s just this growing, booming, amazing city where we are able to live.
This is not so much a time for us to talk about Columbus and how much we love the Valley where we live. It’s just simply to point out that like Paul, who had simply obeyed where God had positioned him, you and I must acknowledge, regardless of the circumstance, I am where I am for a reason. When I submit to that and I trust God with that, I may then begin to see my surroundings through a different perspective.
I really want us to ask this question: How could we submit to God’s mission, then, as everyday missionaries who carry hope to the world?
Let’s look a little more deeply in Acts chapter 17. This is what really matters the most. We talk about this a lot. You hear me say this often about the importance of talking about Jesus and having Gospel conversations.
Components of a Gospel Conversation
1. Have a Conversation
Now, in the first few verses of Acts chapter 17, we start to see some components of what this Gospel conversation may look like, and I want to unpack those for you based upon this text. Here’s the first one: Just simply have a conversation. What’s the difference between delivering a message and having a conversation? See, right now I’m delivering a message. This is one-way communication. A conversation is two-way. So, for me to have a conversation, I need to allow for two-way communication.
We see this in the text. In fact, if you’re in the habit of writing in your Bible, I would encourage you to underline or circle in verse two, the word reasoned. He reasoned, with them. This literally is translated to be the word discuss or converse. So he had a conversation. He discussed with them, which was two-way. So that means, then, he wasn’t just speaking; he was also listening.
I think any time we have a conversation, it requires us to find some common ground. In fact, I’m going to give you four areas where I think we can find common ground with people. The first one is parenting. It’s just natural, right? “Hey, tell me about your family. Tell me about your kids.” There may be a way to connect there with people.
“I have kids.”
“I don’t have kids.”
“My kids are in the house.”
“My kids are out of the house.”
“I have a new baby.”
“Oh, man! I remember those days…”
You can find connection with people through common ground with parenting. But, maybe it’s not parenting. Perhaps it’s profession, like in your trade.
“Yeah, I worked there.”
“I have a friend who worked there.”
“I used to do that.”
“I had that job when I was in high school…”
So, we may find some affinity by sharing some common interests with each other, or maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s that we share a political view or we don’t share the same political view, and we want to have a discussion about it. It could just be a landing point to begin a conversation.
But the fourth thing, the greatest common denominator, it’s not parenting. It’s not professional. It’s not politics… It is pain. Pain is the most common denominator with people. We can relate. We can find understanding. We can empathize. We can hurt together, and out of that pain, maybe we can have a conversation.
Sometimes it’s that I’ve felt what you’re feeling before. Sometimes it’s pain that we observe, like a hurricane ripping through the Bahamas, that makes us connect. We see the pain of those people, and that causes us to have a conversation because we’re mutually concerned with what’s happening there. If we want others to hear our message, we must be willing to listen. It’s pretty simple. Have a conversation.
2. Open Scripture
Secondly, we see it here in the text: Open the Scripture. What does he say here? We see it in the end of verse two, transitioning to verse three. “He reasoned with them from the Scripture, explaining…” If you circle or underline that word explaining, it literally means to open up. It comes from the Greek word Dianoigon. To open it up. -to open up the Word of God. This is the same word that we see Jesus doing on the road to Emmaus in Luke chapter 24. We open up the Word of God.
Why is this important? If we’re not willing in a conversation to open up the living, breathing Word of God, it’s just a matter of wit and logic. This isn’t a matter of me trying to win a debate. I’m trying to help you see your need for Jesus. So there comes a point when I’ve got a direct you to Scripture like, “This is what God has said. This is what the Bible says. This is my guide.” I want to open up the Scripture.
Why is this important? Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us:
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Scripture tells us of who Jesus is. Scripture offers evidence for His resurrection. We believe that God’s Word is perfect. It is without error. It is relevant to every situation that you face in life, and its message offers hope to the world. We are carrying this message as an everyday missionary.
So in that conversation, I’ve got to find a way to point to Scripture, to open up Scripture, and rather than preaching at people, I want to help them see the living, breathing Word of God.
I tell you, here is a beautiful example of this. I’m not going to call out this person’s name because I don’t want to embarrass her, but all across this campus, we’ve been talking so much about having courage, having boldness to speak the name of Jesus.
One of our students internalized this and talked to her school principal, got some friends together, took a bunch of Post-it notes, and just wrote Scripture verses on them. They went to school early and just plastered them all over the public school. So when all the kids walked into school that day, it was Scripture, Scripture, Scripture, Scripture, Scripture.
You talk about the conversations that open up from that courage to speak boldly and point people to what God’s Word says! Because God’s Word is living, because God’s word is active, because God’s work is contagious, when people see it, hear it, they’re drawn to it. Why? Not because I have to do work, but because the Spirit of God woos and draws. We talked about this last week in the story of Lydia. He opens their hearts. Beautiful example.
3. Offer Proof Over Time
The number three component of this Gospel conversation after “Have a Conversation” and “Open Scripture” is: Offer proof over time. We see in verse two that Paul reasoned with them for three Sabbaths. Three weeks he had this conversation. It was over time. It was just this continuing discussion of truth. We see in the end of verse three, it said “explaining and proving”.
That Word proving literally means to place truth before them. Luke elsewhere used this same word to describe placing a prepared meal for someone so that it’s ready to eat. So when we’re reasoning with people, we’re presenting Scripture with them, we’re opening God’s Word, we’re speaking the name of Christ, we’re having a conversation, and I need to put truth before people in a way that they can consume it, right?
It’s like you have that two-year-old, and you really want him to taste meat. You don’t throw a T-bone in front of him. What is he going to do with that? You put it in the blender and puree that stuff, right? -so he can just have a way to digest it.
I’m explaining, I’m proving, I’m putting it before people in a way that they can understand and receive it. This word is also used to describe the language of making a deposit or making an investment in someone, and I think of the beauty of this over time, over three weeks. Week One, I’m depositing truth. Week Two, I’m depositing truth. Week Three, I’m depositing truth. And I’m doing it in a way that’s digestible for you. You can consume this.
And so, perhaps in Week One, it’s really, really simple. And by Week Three, maybe it’s a little more complex, because through reasoning, through explaining, through proving, we’ve gotten to the point that we can digest a more complex idea. Do you see that process?
I think there are some principles in there for us in how we can invest time, invest talent, and invest treasure in people, through conversations where we explain and reason with Scripture and prove to them, present to them in a digestible way, truth that they can eat.
4. Point to Christ
But ultimately, number four, we see it here in verses four and five; he is directly pointing to Christ. He’s not just saying, “Man, I really care about you. That’s why I’m doing this.” No, it’s because Jesus is the Christ that we’re doing this. It’s important for us when we’re engaging with people.
“Man, why are you doing this?” “Well, care about you.” No, it’s because Jesus cares about you. I’m mentioning the name of Christ. A person in our church (I won’t single him out and embarrass him), I had asked a couple of weeks ago, “I want to hear these conversations you’re having with people.”
So, last week someone in our church came up to me and described a scenario. You’ve probably had this happen to you before, where they went to a store, had a transaction, and they walked out realizing that they intended to buy two things, but they had three things in their hand. Have you ever had this happen? And so, what do you do? This is an ethical question, right?
He did the right thing. He goes back into the store and says, “Look, I only paid for two, and you gave me three.” And the clerk asks, “Why didn’t you just keep it?” And his words (this is the moment; this is the pivot point), “Because Jesus wouldn’t let me do that.”
Do you see the difference? I mean, the good, Southern response would be, “Well, I just didn’t feel right about that.” There’s a moment to point to Christ. “Because Jesus expects more of me.” That courage to speak His name can become a catalyst, or a catapult, into a more in-depth conversation. And it’s a way in which we can show the necessity of Christ just by the things that we do and say. We speak His name because there’s power in His name.
Show the necessity of Christ by what we do and say.
How does this impact our Gospel conversation? This is the Billy Beane moment. Both personally and in the church, this is the perspective I hope to help you shift. For me personally, I described for you again, it’s not this whole “notch in the belt”. It’s not about me keeping tally and keeping score. It’s about me being faithful to present Christ. For us, as a church, it’s us needing to reconsider the things that we value measuring.
Historically, the church has counted “nickels and noses and butts in the seats”. That’s what we’ve counted. Not just at Cavalry, just church. And those aren’t bad things to count. I mean, they are metrics, sure. But I would just simply say this: If we focus on Gospel conversations, we will celebrate more baptisms. If we focus on measuring how deliberate and intentional we are to live out the Gospel, to speak the name of Jesus, to be an expression of His hope to the world around us, nickels, noses, and butts in the seats just take care of themselves.
If we focus on Gospel conversations, we will celebrate more baptisms.
This is kind of like, if I worry about on-base percentage, I get W’s. Do you see that? So I think there’s an opportunity for even us as a church. The corporate world gets this. It’s the constant debate of, Is it a lead indicator versus a lag indicator? The lag indicator may be, how are sales? The leading indicator may be, what’s our marketing plan? What are the impressions that we’re making in the community? -because we know the widgets move when people know that we have a widget to sell.
So, we get this. This is not a foreign idea, and I’m just simply saying, for us as God’s people, our mission needs to be about carrying hope to the world, speaking the name of Jesus, carrying the Gospel in the workplace and our home, in our neighborhoods, on our teams, wherever we may go, and boldly speaking His name.
II. Following Jesus should be obvious to others
Here’s the second point: Following Jesus should be obvious to others. Let’s read verses five through nine, and I’ll make a few comments:
5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
Looking around the room, I would expect to maybe see some team paraphernalia on shirts this morning. I see an Auburn shirt over there. I mean, especially here in the South, we celebrate this. We identify what team we’re on, and it becomes a connection. (Oh, by the way, it could be common ground for Gospel conversation. Anything we can make a connection on with people, can be a starting point).
But we get this idea of, by the things that you say, by the things that you wear, by the things that you celebrate, I’m able to easily recognize who you cheer for you. But let’s translate this into something that matters more than baseball, college football, or the NFL.
What matters most? It’s our reputation for Christ, and as Christians, we should look different. And here’s the question: Is it obvious whose team you’re on? Is your life lived in such a way that there is no doubt who you live for? Does our life so mirror the life of Christ that others can’t help but notice? John 17:14-16 tells us:
14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
Can I have permission to step on your toes for a minute? Okay, here’s an evaluative question for you to consider: When we’re talking about how it should be obvious who we live for, if you were to scroll back through your social media feed, is it obvious that you value the Gospel more than anything else? Some of you are like, “Ooh; that one hurt!” You do know that’s public, right? Is the public profession of what you’re broadcasting to the world shouting out that Jesus matters more to you than anything else?
Permission to get a little more personal? If I were to look at your check registry or online bank account, would it be obvious, the priority of the Gospel in your life? Ouch! Is your life, both publicly and privately, living in a way that you have a clear, identifiable reputation of who you live for?
A. Attacked out of fear
We see that for Paul. We see that here in the text. In fact, his ministry was rejected and marked by how others viewed him. Let’s look back to the text. Here’s the first thing I noticed: He was attacked out of fear. Let’s flip back, if we may, to verse number five. The Jews were jealous of him.
What were they jealous of? Certainly, I think, there is a component of them being jealous that they were taking people away from their community, but if we point back to chapter 13, specifically in verse 45, I think they were more jealous of the content of what was being preached. That’s what bothered them. So they moved, even grabbed some wicked men, these low, good-for-nothing, lazy men who they could slip a 20 to, in order to go cast pain and attack.
B. Already known by your reputation
So they were attacked out of fear because, from verse six, they were already known by their reputation. Where did they go? Immediately to the house of Jason. How did they know? Because they had already seen them there. The reputation went ahead of them.
You and I are called to be in the world, but not of the world. We are called (Romans 12) not to be conformed by the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Culture may push us one direction, but God is calling us to live counter-culturally, in the way that we live and in the things that we do and the things that we say, the things that we don’t do and the things that we don’t say.
It should be a clear, reputable, noticeable position of our heart that God is who we follow. The ancient African church father, Tertullian, in the second century said it this way: “See how these Christians love each other.” That should be a distinguishable, identifying marker of God’s people. -that we love each other.
I just want you to ask yourself this question (I’m not trying to offend. If it’s offensive, I think it’s the Spirit offending you, not me). I just want you to ask this question: How is your reputation? I think we, as a church, can honestly ask, How is our reputation? Is it one of love? Is it known for celebrating who Jesus is? Is that how we’re known?
C. Accused for making an impact
1. Impact of community
You see, they were attacked out of fear and already known by their reputation, and they were accused for making an impact. We see this in verses five and seven. In five, they were accused of making an impact in the community. It was evident that they had lived their life in a way that Jason had embraced them into his home and that others were gathered there. So it’s an infectious, contagious, community of seeing people live life together.
2. Impact of submissive loyalty
Paul and Silas were quickly assimilating into that and building that community around them, and other people noticed it. They also noticed an impact of submissive loyalty, because what were they accused of? Notice the power of their accusation. “These men, who are turning the world upside down, are coming here and now doing the same thing. And they’re saying that King Jesus is bigger and better than King Caesar.”
That’s a big statement, isn’t it? That’s a huge accusation, but I would say it’s one that Paul and Silas embraced. And if all you’ve got against me is that I’m turning the world upside down for the Gospel, bring it. If all you got against me is that I’m loving in community with other people, come on with that as well. If all you could give me is to say that our loyalty is to Jesus, rather than to anything or anyone else, I’m fine with that, too. We should be known for following Jesus.
Now, this story wraps up in an odd way. I mean, Jason was essentially required to post bond, pay these guys off, and to send them on their way. He deposited a sum of money that he had to forfeit just to give civil disobedience the rest. This means that Paul and Silas then have to leave.
And it’s interesting, when we read the letter written later to the Thessalonians, specifically in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Paul writes this statement. He speaks of Satan’s hindrance of him being able to return to the city. This is what he’s talking about right here. “I’m not able to come back because of this.”
But the church continues to advance. The church continues to grow. This community continues to explode as they live out the Gospel. They continued to be a witness of Christ in the face of much opposition.
Let’s go back to the Moneyball thing. Maybe it’s a shift of our focus, a shift of our perspective. It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about being faithful in the moment, being found faithful.
It causes me to ask, should we as a church, should we as God’s people shift our perspective and become as committed as ever to being outspoken and bold for Him? -to have Gospel conversations, to speak His name, to bring God up in public, to celebrate who He is, and then watch him go to work?
- I choose to follow Jesus and allow Him to guide my life.
- I commit to engage in Gospel conversations this week.
- I confess that my daily life should change so that I love more like Jesus.
- Read Acts 17:1-5. Paul shows us the significance of Gospel conversations. Why do we hesitate to bring God up in conversation? How can we be bold for Christ in today’s shifting culture?
- Read John 13:35. Evaluate your life and the believers you live life with. Does our love for others demonstrate loyalty to Christ? How can we better express the love of Christ to the world?
- Share an example from your life when you’ve shared the Gospel in an everyday conversation. How did others respond, and how did it make you feel?