"THESSALONIAN THISTLES"

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MARCH 18th, 2018                                                                                       PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      1 Thess 2:1-13/Acts 17:1-12

 

                                                “THESSALONIAN THISTLES”    

 

            The last two weeks we've spent in ancient Philippi, where the first church in Europe was born thru the refreshing waters of baptism and by the power of the Holy Spirit!  Perhaps you know someone you'd like to see baptized.   I know Calvin wanted to see his mom baptized...:

 

Calvin:            SPLOOSH!  Aaaa!  No!  Wait!  Think about it!  Wasn't that refreshing?? 

                        I need to work on my salesmanship.                                       {….Jungle Cat p. 157}

 

            How refreshing!  Calvin, in time out.  Anyway, after setting a slave girl free of the demon that afflicted her, her owners send Paul and Silas to time out – out in the Philippian jail.  After baptizing their jailor and his family and being set free the following day, they stop by Lydia's to encourage her and the other believers meeting in her home, before high-tailing it out of town. It seems whereever Paul goes, he winds up getting booted out of town.  Paul's thinking: 'I need to work on my salesmanship!'

 

            He was kicked out of Antioch, threatened in Iconium, nearly stoned to death in Lystra, beaten and inprisoned in Philippi and barely escapes further injury when he blazes a trail out of Thessalonica and Beroea, fulfilling in short order the prophetic word Jesus spoke over him prior to his own baptism: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”           (Acts 9:16)

                                                                                                                                               

            Ironically, all that opposition has only helped spread the gospel faster, as Paul is forced to flee from town to town.  Nothing's wasted!  What Satan meant to interfere God uses to further the gospel!

 

            It's the year 49 A.D., and having left Luke behind to disciple the church in Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy head out on the Via Egnatia, the Roman highway connecting Rome with Greece, Asia and modern day Turkey, to their next destination, by way of Amphipolis and Appollonia. 

 

            Amphipolis was one of four regional capitals in Macedonia and was the location from which Alexander the Great had embarked in his great conquest of the ancient world. 

            Appollonia was named in honor of the Greek God Appollo, for whom a huge temple graced the city's forum, near which would also be erected the Bema, a marble platform in honor of Paul himself. 

 

            That's a bit ironic since Paul and company were just passing thru, traveling over 100 miles in route to the synagogue in the largest city in Macedonia, Thessalonica, a city numbering some 200,000 plus residents.  Founded in 315 BC in honor of Thesaloniki, the sister of Alexander the Great, the port city was one of the wealthiest, most influential cities in all of Macedonia, and home to the Roman pro-consul, making it the center of the Roman government in the country.  It was one of our stops during our sabbatical last year.  Among other sites, we enjoyed the ruins of the Roman forum where Paul no doubt shopped and ate.   I wonder if he ate where we did – a little roadside cafe called..., Zorba's...

            [DVD clip from the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding; 55:43 – 57:40]

 

            Paul set up shop making tents here as his letter he later wrote suggests: “Remember how hard we worked among you?  Night and day we toiled to earn a living so we wouldn't be a burden to you.”

                                                                                                                        (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

            This comment reveals that Paul lived and worked in Thessalonica for some time, contrary to the assumption that since he preached on three consecutive sabbaths his stay was no longer than 4 weeks. 

                                                                                    -2- 

 

            A careful read of his first letter to the church tho' reveals a highly developed doctine requiring far more than a month to teach.  Also, a reference at the end of his letter to the church in Philippi cele-brates the fact that the church in Philippi sent its impoverished apostle financial aid numerous times: “When I was in Thessalonica you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”  (Phil 4:16)

 

            This reveals two things.  One, as noted, Paul spent a significant amount of time in Thessalonica – probably several months. Two, it highlights Luke's concise & purposeful narrative style.  It appears Luke is suggesting Paul was only there...for four weeks but Luke's merely being concise.  His purpose was to show people's initial response to Paul's preaching and the reason for his leaving.  

           

            So what was the response to Paul's preaching in Thessalonica?  Not bad actually – the best so far...! “Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”                  (Acts 17:4)

           

            Here's what we can take from this.  First, Luke is saying that as a result of Paul's preaching in the synagogue, the second church in Macedonia was born.  Some were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas.  That is, they started gathering together, to learn more..., just like the believers did in Philippi.

 

            Second, Luke is noting a contrast in numbers here: Some of the Jews...joined in contrast to many Greek men.   So, from the very start, even though Paul is preaching in the Jewish synagogue, the number of Gentiles, or non-Jews, in the church outnumber those of Jewish background.  Paul affirms this in his letter as well, when he writes: “And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia..., for wherever we go people tell us about your faith in God...and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God...!”

                                                                                                                        (1 Thessalonians 1:8-9)

            Jews don't worship idols; pagans do!  Paul's reference here reveals that the majority of the be-lievers in the Thessalonian church were not Jews but former Greek pagans. Now, it was not uncommon for there to be curious Gentiles attending a local synagogue but Luke's statement about many Godfear-ing Greek men and quite a few prominent women suggests that someone's been doing a lot of inviting!            Luke's contrasting numbers hint at a strategy of outreach – that Paul, Silas and Timothy were using Paul's tent-making business as a front to witness to the Gentiles in the city and to invite them to hear them preach in the synagogue!  Many of you have done the same – Tim, Josh, Amy...   (QFC)

 

            Luke is so concise that we miss some crucial details, such as how did all these prominent ladies come to faith when only men were allowed in the synagogue?  Luke says there were quite a few!   Did they, like Lydia, wind up playing leading roles in this new church?   What is Luke not telling us?   

                                                                                   

            The letters these three guys wrote reveal a deep connection and love they shared with this amaz-ing church full of men and women, Greeks and Jews, a church so vibrant that wherever Paul and company traveled people were talking about their love and faith and fearless witness!

 

            Of course not everyone in Thessalonica was excited about what was happening.  Some of them were jealous.  Some were self-righteous.  They were like Thessalonian thistles.  They didn't need some outsiders explaining God's Word to them.   They were men of action and few words!

 

Calvin:            I'm a man of few words.                                                         

Hobbes:           Maybe if you read more, you'd have a larger vocabulary....   !   

                                                                                    -3-

 

            Some didn't get it – but many did!  Something radical happened during those first three sabbaths - something set this community of new believers ablaze! I believe it was the Holy Spirit moving among them, creating a collective and progressive aha experience.  Listen again to Luke's concise description of the message Paul proclamed there: “As was Paul's custom...he used the Scriptures to reason with the people.  He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.  He said, 'This Jesus I'm telling you about is the Messiah.'”             (Acts 17:2-3)

                                                                                                                                               

            Paul's strategy, was to engage his listeners on familiar ground, so when speaking in the syna-gogues, he read from the Scriptures.  The gospels hadn't been written yet so when Luke says, Paul used the Scriptures to reason with the people, he was referring to passages from the Old Testament and, specifically, prophetic passages that spoke of the Messiah.

 

            There happens to be hundreds of them.  They're like jigsaw pieces in a puzzle box.  Individually they don't mean much to most but collectively a picture begins to form.  Some of these prophecies talk about his family tree, others about the details of his birth, others about the kinds of things this messiah would do, would be known for, and still others about the circumstances and purpose of his death. 

            Here's a list of 33 out of hundreds of such messianic prophecies...

                        [chart from Prepared To Answer, p. 221]   

 

            As Paul quoted these prophecies he told Jesus' story, pointing out over and over and over again how the details of Jesus' life, ministry, death & resurrection had all been prophesied hundreds of years in advance.  This meant that everyone who hears this good news, including you, is incredibly fortunate to live in an age where the prophetic puzzle pieces of old finally fit together,forming a picture, a picture of a man....whose name is Jesus!  The odds of one man fulfilling them all is so astronomically low it's like finding a piece of rice in the desert – and yet one man has fulfilled them...!   (cf. Chart above) 

 

            One of the most profound prophecies Paul would have explained would've been the one found in Psalm 22.   [chart from Prepared To Answer, p. 226]  Here David describes things he'd neither witnessed nor experienced, particularly that of a messianic figure who is mocked with the very words said by Jesus' adversaries beneath the cross, of his clothes being divided as spoils of war by people casting lots, as the Roman soldiers did for Jesus' tunic, or most remarkably of David's description of crucifixion, of hands and feet pierced by nails, hundreds of years before the Romans introduced it...

 

            Jesus not only suffered all these things, Paul said, but he died only to rise from the dead three days later to show that he was no mere man – but the hope of the world, the means by which suffering and death could be overcome by anyone and everyone....who placed their lives in Jesus'  hands!

 

            When Paul and Silas shared this message later in Berea, Luke records that the people “listened eagerly to Paul's message, searching the Scriptures day afer day to see if Paul and Silas were telling the truth.”   (Acts 17:11)  As a result, they became convinced – Jesus solves the puzzle and he's alive! 

 

            In the same way, we are called to be in the word, to search the Scriptures day after day to dis-cover the truth they convey, that God may speak to you, that you matter that much, that your hope lies not in trying harder, but in our coming to know and trust in Jesus, who lives among us today by the power and presence of his Holy Spirit!  Be like a Berean and get together with others to search the Scriptures! Learn from Paul to witness at work and to use scripture to solve the mystery of the messiah!

            Jesus solves the puzzle and he's alive!