Turning the World Upside Down

Acts 17:1-15

October 9, 2021 | Brian Bill

In partnership with George Barna, Arizona Christian University released its annual American Worldview Inventory.  The results were disappointing, discouraging, and disheartening.  Out of 176 million Americans who identify as Christians, just six percent hold a recognizably Christian worldview.

Barna has a name for those who hold to a Christian worldview.  He calls them “Integrated Disciples.”  Let me begin by sharing some good news about the beliefs of Integrated Disciples…

  • 99% believe the Bible is the accurate Word of God.
  • 99% believe God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, and just Creator of the universe who still rules today.
  • 88% believe God has a reason for everything.

Now, here’s the bad news about the beliefs of this most committed group of Christians…

  • 25% say there is no absolute moral truth.
  • 33% subscribe to karma.
  • 52% believe people are basically good.
  • 39% contend the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity.

In one Breakpoint podcast, John Stonestreet calls this last finding the most troubling part of the survey.  I agree because the Bible is clear the Holy Spirit is a “Who,” not a “What.”  He is a “He,” not an “it” or a “force.”  The Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity, our promised helper, one who convicts of sin, teacher, sanctifier, comforter, and counselor.

There’s no way to understand the Book of Acts without recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit.  Some even use the title, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because there are 55 references to the Holy Spirit in Acts alone.  Because we have the Holy Spirit, you and I can now fulfill the mission mandate found in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  

I’d like to draw our attention to a phrase stated by the enemies of the gospel about the missionary team recorded in Acts 17:6: “These men who have turned the world upside down.”  That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  This small team is credited with turning the world upside down!  I’m afraid instead of turning our world upside down for Christ, many American Christians have allowed the world to turn them upside down.  This no doubt explains our limited impact in our culture today.

Last weekend we celebrated this truth from Acts 16: God uses many methods to get His message out.  We focused on how God reached a religious woman, a rejected teenager, and a regular guy.  Today we’re in the first part of Acts 17 where we will be challenged with this truth: To turn the world upside down, the Word must first turn us inside out.  

By taking note how God used the Apostle Paul and his team, we’ll see we have two primary roles if we’re going to turn the world upside down with the gospel.

  • Explain the Word.
  • Examine the Word.

Acts 17:1 tells us where the team landed after leaving Philippi: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.”  Traveling on the Via Ignatia, which was a Roman highway, they traveled through two towns to get to Thessalonica.

1. Explain the Word. 

Listen to Acts 17:2-3: “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.’”

Paul’s strategy was finding key cities, locating a synagogue, and preaching the gospel.  His approach in Thessalonica involved four key elements:

  • Reasoned.  The idea is Paul spoke back and forth, likely using the Socratic method, which involved the use of questions to engage the listeners.  Notice how he reasoned “from the Scriptures.”
  • Explained.  To explain means, “to open what was closed; to unroll.”  Paul took the time to make sure his listeners understood what he was saying.  I think of what the disciples said to each other about Jesus while on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:32: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”
  • Proved.  Paul presented compelling evidence how Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies found in the Old Testament.  My guess is he went to Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 to establish how it was necessary for Jesus to both “suffer and to rise from the dead.”  Jesus was clear about this in Mark 8:31: “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  All of Peter and Paul’s sermons in Acts are built around the resurrection.  As John Stott says, “Christianity is a resurrection religion.”
  • Proclaimed.  To “proclaim” is to “declare loudly and plainly.”  Jesus is the promised Messiah, the anointed One.

Verse 4 tells us many received the message: “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.”  Some Jews believed, along with a throng of Greeks, and many leading women.  We’re reminded again how the gospel penetrates Jew and Greek, men, and women.

Verses 5-9 reveal there were others who rejected the message: “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. 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, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’ And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.”

Because so many were becoming believers in Jesus, the Jews became jealous and decided to recruit some rabble to start a riot.  The King James is quite descriptive: “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.”  They riled everyone up and traveled as a mob to the house of Jason, who was likely a relative of Paul according to Romans 16:21.  When they couldn’t find Paul, they dragged Jason before the authorities and made this statement: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”  The missionary team had quite a testimony!  Philippi was located 100 miles away and already they had the reputation of turning the “world upside down.”

The Jews charged the team of missionaries with subversive sedition claiming they were: “saying there is another king, Jesus.”  The word “another” means, “another of a different kind.”  This reminds me of what the Jewish leaders said to Pilate about Jesus in John 19:12, 15: “Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar…we have no king but Caesar.”  This charge of treason riled everyone up so they made Jason post bail to ensure the team would not come back.

Paul and his team explained the Word clearly and compellingly.  We must do the same.

To turn the world upside down, the Word must first turn us inside out.

2. Examine the Word. 

The next stop on their journey is described in verse 10: “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.”  This is not the first time Paul had to flee a city at night (see Acts 9:35).  In a real sense, Paul and Silas were following the command of Jesus given in Matthew 10:23: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.”

In contrast to Thessalonica, Berea was off the beaten path.  Once again, the team immediately heads to the synagogue to begin preaching the gospel.  Berea was where members of the aristocracy lived, kind of like a retirement village for wealthy military, political and educational leaders.  Verse 11 tells us these “Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica…”  The word “noble” means, “refined and open minded.”

There were two traits which made them stand out as noble.

They were committed to get to the core of what was being said to determine whether it was true.
  • They eagerly received the Word.  The word “eagerness” has the idea of enthusiastic readiness and “received” refers to “accepting an offer by taking it to oneself.”  They listened with rapt attention.  This eager acceptance is illustrated in Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  Psalm 119:18 reveals this eagerness: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”  They were living out Isaiah 34:16: “Seek and read from the book of the Lord.”
  • They examined the Scriptures daily.  The Bereans were eager to hear but they also examined the evidence.  The word “examine” refers to “discerning, testing, scrutinizing, and sifting.”  This word was used of a judicial investigation done for a trial.  They were committed to get to the core of what was being said to determine whether it was true.

This was a daily discipline for them, not just something they did occasionally.  I like how one paraphrase puts it: “They searched the Scriptures day by day to check up on Paul and Silas’ statements to see if they were really so.”  They took the Scriptures so seriously because they didn’t want to be misled.  They were putting Psalm 1:1-2 into practice: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Scripture alone was their sole arbiter of what was true, and what was false.

Because the Bereans believed in the sufficiency of Scripture, they immersed themselves in God’s inspired Word, studying the Scripture scrolls daily.  They were careful and cautious about what they believed.  Scripture alone was their sole arbiter of what was true, and what was false.  To say the Scriptures are sufficient means the Bible is all we need to equip us for a life of faith and service.  Scripture is sufficient in that it is the only inspired, inerrant, and therefore final authority for Christians for faith and godliness, with all other authorities being subservient to Scripture.  The sufficiency of Scripture also means that Scripture itself is sufficient to interpret Scripture.

Incidentally, Paul wrote follow-up letters to many of the churches to correct error.  Last week, we learned about what happened in Philippi and later Paul wrote Philippians.  In the first part of Acts 17 we were introduced to what happened in Thessalonica and later he wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians to them.  Interestingly, you won’t find 1 and 2 Bereans in your Bible.  Perhaps that’s because they were so focused on the sufficiency of Scripture that there was nothing for Paul to correct.

This week I reread the introduction to our church’s Statement of Faith: “This Church holds the following statement of faith as being a summary of Christian doctrine whose authority consists only in its agreement with the Word of God.” 

Not surprisingly, the very first doctrine of our church has to do with Scripture: We believe that the Holy Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, was written by men divinely inspired and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction. That it has God for its Author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter.  That it reveals the principles of God and is the final authority for all Christian faith and life.”

In the Book of Acts, the preaching of truth causes some to be transformed while others stir up trouble.  We see this in verses 12-13: “Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.  But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.”  Preaching the gospel often leads to persecution.  

To avoid another riot, verses 14-15 tell us what the believers did: “Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there.  Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.”

Let me circle back to the American Worldview Inventory.  This study revealed the most common worldview among Americans is syncretism, which is a collection of disparate worldview elements commonly called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  Here are some of the common core beliefs:

  • God is distant from people’s lives.
  • People are supposed to be good to each other.
  • The purpose of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.
  • There are no absolute moral truths.
  • Good people go to Heaven.
  • God places very limited demands on people.

Do you have any error growing in the soil of your soul?  I’m challenged by something Steven Cole said in a sermon on this passage.

Many have a false idea that there are two optional tracks in the Christian life. One track is the committed discipleship track. This track is for gung-ho types who…give up the comforts of life, they live without many of the gadgets and toys that the rest of us enjoy, they give large portions of their income to the cause of Christ, and they devote themselves and their time totally to Jesus.

If that track is a bit much for you, then you can choose the comfortable Christian track.  Comfortable Christians usually go to church on [weekends], unless one of their hobbies has a big event that day.  They give a bit to help out the church.  They volunteer some of their time to the cause when time permits.  For them, Christ, and the church…make life more pleasant.  But Christ and the church aren’t the center of life, touching every area. These folks wouldn’t think of being inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel.  But I never find Jesus offering this second track to any of His followers.

But notice how much the Lord can accomplish with just a few committed followers! Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy were just four men traveling in an almost completely pagan world.  They left behind fledgling churches that were decisively in the minority. And yet they upset the entire world for Jesus Christ! 

I like how John Wesley said it, “Give me fifty men [and women] who love nothing but God and fear nothing but sin, and I’ll change the world!”

That reminds me of the child who came up front in a church service and perfectly quoted the names of all the books in the Bible, until she came to the last book and called it “Revolutions.”  Jesus is the ultimate revolutionary, and He calls you and I to turn our world upside down for Christ.

To turn the world upside down, the Word must first turn us inside out.  

Let’s do that by…

  • Explaining the Word.
  • Examining the Word.

In 1961, 25 students (half what Wesley wanted) drew up a Christian manifesto for world evangelism.  In part they wrote:

Literal adherence to the principles laid down by Jesus Christ would, without a doubt, result in worldwide revolution—a revolution motivated by love, a revolution executed by love, and a revolution culminating in love! 

And we are revolutionaries!  We are only a small group of Christian young people…yet we have determined by God’s grace to live our lives according to the revolutionary teachings of our Master.  Within the sphere of absolute, literal obedience to his commands lies the power that will evangelize the world.  Outside this sphere is the nauseating, insipid Christianity of our day.

We have committed ourselves in reckless abandonment to the claims of Christ on our blood-bought lives.  We have no rights!  Every petty, personal desire must be subordinated to the supreme task of reaching the world for Christ.  We are debtors.  We must not allow ourselves to be swept into the soul-binding curse of modern-day materialistic thinking and living.  Christians have been “willing” long enough to forsake all—the time has come (and is passing) when we must forsake all! 

Christ must have absolute control of our time and money.  We must yield possessions, comforts, food, and sleep; we must live on the barest essentials, that his cause might be furthered.  The propagation of the faith we hold supreme!  Christ is worthy of our all!  We must be ready to suffer for Him and count it joy, to die for Him and count it gain.  In the light of the present spiritual warfare, anything less than absolute dedication must be considered insubordination to our Master and mockery of his cause!

This is our commitment, and we will press forward until every person has heard the gospel.  We will soon be in many different countries, engaged in combat with all the forces of darkness.  We look beyond the thousands to the millions, beyond the cities to the countries.  The world is our goal!  And our primary targets are the seemingly impenetrable areas of the Communist and Moslem countries which can only receive freedom as they have opportunity to receive the Truth.  These countries will be reached for Christ no matter what the cost.  The ultimate victory is ours! (George Verwer, Come! Live! Die! [Tyndale House], pp. 14-16.)

This was the beginning of Operation Mobilization, founded by a Moody grad named George Verwer.  They now have missionaries all over the world, often in the most difficult places to reach for Christ. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?