Acts 17:1-12 - The Good News Always Gets A Reaction - May 14, 2017

Have you noticed that much of what is reported as news these days isn’t really news at all? Instead of reporting the news, much of the focus is on the reaction to the news. Driving to church this morning, the reporter announced “Kim Jong-Un fires another missile – listen to the world’s reaction.” When celebrities make outrageous comments the headline reads: “Social media explodes over outrageous comment.” It’s Mother’s Day, and many of the ads you’ve seen in the past week promise that if you give their product to mom, you’ll get the reaction you’re looking for; funny, I thought Mother’s Day was about showing mom how much we appreciate her. As Christians, we are in the news business too. As Paul reports the good news in Thessalonica and Berea he shows us that the good news always gets a reaction; some will get angry and reject it, others will believe it; and we can prepare for both by keeping our minds open to Scripture.


We’re going to approach this lesson a little bit differently than the news media, though. Instead of focusing on the reaction, we’re going to first concentrate on the news itself. Paul had developed a strategy for preaching the Gospel in each new city he visited. Even though he was called by God to be the missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), he didn’t ignore his fellow Jews – he always visited their synagogue to proclaim the Gospel to them first. So when he came to Thessalonica, that’s what he did. Three straight Saturdays he reasoned with them from the Scriptures. When Paul visited a synagogue, he knew he was working with people who knew the Old Testament, and so he worked with their knowledge explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He laid the prophesies of Scripture and the facts of Jesus’ life side by side to make the point: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (The Savior God had promised.) Whenever you think that sharing the good news is a complex task reserved for highly educated Christians, remember this account. While Luke only gives us a short summary of Paul’s sermon, the message he proclaimed was so simple that any Sunday school student could stand up here and preach it. The Savior God promised from the beginning of time came and suffered and died and rose again. Why? To pay for our sins against God and to rescue us from eternal death in hell. That’s the Gospel. That’s the Good News. It doesn’t take a master’s degree to understand it.


So why are we so hesitant to share it, then? Could it be that instead of focusing our attention on the news, we become distracted by the way people might react to it? Instead of thinking “The news of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection is so important that everyone needs to hear it” we think “I’m kind of scared how they will react if I tell them why they need a Savior (Law) and that Jesus is the Savior they need (Gospel).” Has anxiety ever prevented you from telling the truth to a friend or coworker or family member? Here’s how it goes, at least in my experience: “I don’t dare tell anyone that God created the universe in six days or that the Bible is God’s Word and every letter of it is true or that Jesus was born of a virgin or that Jesus is truly God and man – they will call me a brainwashed lemming who believes things that no rational person would believe.” “If I warn them that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead and anyone who doesn’t believe in him will die forever in hell – they will accuse me of being judgmental.” “I can’t invite them to church, because if it’s a communion Sunday they won’t be allowed to join – they will call us intolerant.” “I can’t let it be known that the 10 Commandments are God’s will for all people of all time – don’t you know how unpopular God’s commands are among people – especially young people – today?” What are we forgetting when we let fear or anxiety over someone’s reaction silence our testimony? We’re forgetting that it’s the truth, right? We’re forgetting that God did create the universe in six normal days (Ge 1), that every sentence of the Bible is God’s Word (2 Ti 3:16), that Jesus was born of a virgin (Mt 1:18) and is true God and true man (Co 2:9) who will return to judge the living and the dead (Mt 25); we’re forgetting that closed communion is Christ’s command (1 Co 11) not the church’s invention and that the 10 Commandments really are God’s unchanging will for mankind (Mt 19:18) – these doctrines are true and have always been true regardless of how anyone reacts to them. Jesus himself say heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35) To put it another way, when someone asks you for directions, you don’t hesitate to give them the right directions because you’re afraid they might not like it, do you? You know it’s right and they can listen to you or not, that’s up to them. The same is true of the Good News of Christ. It is objectively true whether people like it or not, believe it or not. The good news is true – don’t ever forget that.  


And this good news will always get a reaction, be prepared for that. When Paul told the Jews in Thessalonica that Jesus had to suffer they got jealous and angry. Why? Well, Paul undoubtedly told them why Jesus had to suffer. He had to suffer because their sins were bad. Really bad. Bad enough to earn God’s judgment and punishment in hell. Jesus had to suffer and die to satisfy God’s justice. That offended them just like it offends anyone who thinks that people are generally good and can earn God’s love and favor. The Jews got angry and rejected Jesus as the Christ, not because Paul’s testimony didn’t agree with the rest of Scripture, but because they didn’t want to believe they needed this kind of a Savior – a Savior who would live in humility, suffer and die for their sins. That’s what Peter meant when he wrote: now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe…[Christ is] a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. (1 Peter 2:7-8)


The good news gets the same reaction today. It offends people. It wounds their carefully cultivated self-confidence and self-image to be told that they are not good enough to get to heaven on their own, so God had to send a Savior to suffer and die in their place. But that’s not the only thing that makes people mad. It’s also the other thing Paul proved from the Scriptures: that the Christ had to…rise from the dead. Doesn’t it seem like people are as gullible today as ever? Santa Claus – sure; Easter bunny – why not; you won $20,000 and all you need to do is hand over your SS# and bank information – awesome; the carbon dioxide we breathe out is destroying and warming our planet – only high school dropouts don’t believe that. But believe that Jesus bodily rose from the dead? That’s ridiculous, that’s foolishness. They will deny this even though the evidence is overwhelming: 1) it was predicted thousands of years beforehand (Ge 3:15; Psalm 16); 2) Jesus proved his power over death during his life (Mt 9; Jn 11); 3) he appeared to hundreds of people after his resurrection (1 Co 15); 4) Jesus’ enemies had to bribe the guards to cover up the resurrection (Mt 28) – even with all that historic and scientific evidence people still get mad at Jesus’ resurrection because they believe it insults their intelligence.

And, just like in Paul’s day, they often aren’t very civilized about their rejection either. In Thessalonica they formed a mob, started a riot, and when they couldn’t find Paul and Silas they seized Jason and a few other Christians and hauled them before the city officials and accused them of troubling the world and committing treason against Caesar. That’s what people who don’t like this good news always do. They’ll exaggerate. They’ll lie. They’ll twist what we teach. They did it in Thessalonica and they still do it today. They’ll say that Christians hate women and worship a paper God and want to take society back to the Stone Age. Don’t be surprised by it. Paul warned the Corinthians: we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1:23) Don’t expect everyone to embrace the good news of Christ crucified. In fact, expect that many people will reject it and hate you for it, because the Good News has always gotten that kind of reaction.


But you can also expect that some will receive this news and joyfully believe it. That’s the reaction Paul’s message received in the next town he visited. As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. (Note that Paul didn’t change his strategy even after his experience with the Jews in Thessalonica.) Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. In one city the good news prompts people to react angrily and violently, in another it is received with great eagerness and believed by Jews and Gentiles, men and women. But really, that shouldn’t surprise us either, should it? Paul told the Christians in Rome: I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16) The good news is believed by some, not because of who preaches it or how we share it, but because it is the very power of God.


There’s something else noteworthy about the Bereans. You know how the world loves to call Christians close-minded, intolerant, and judgmental? The word translated noble character can also be translated open-minded. The Bereans who gladly received and believed the good news are called open-minded by no less that God the Holy Spirit. They were open minded because they had open Bibles. They weren’t gullible. They weren’t brainwashed. They weren’t brain dead Neanderthals. They didn’t believe Paul’s message just because he told them it was true. They tested everything Paul told them against the one thing they knew to be absolutely true: the inspired Scriptures. This is one of the hallmarks of truth: it bears up under the most intense scrutiny. God doesn’t expect anyone to blindly accept his good news; in fact, by giving us the Bible he is basically daring us to examine it and test it for errors. (Spoiler alert: you won’t find any!)


I wonder if another reason we are not always eager to report the good news of Christ crucified is because we aren’t always like the Bereans. We don’t examine the Scriptures to see if what we hear and think we believe matches what God says in Scripture. We haven’t discovered what God says for ourselves and so the faith remains something that pastor preaches and our church teaches but that we aren’t really sure about. The truth is that we will always be shy and hesitant to share the Good News if we have little more than a superficial knowledge of the Bible. Be like the Bereans. Test what I say against God’s Word. I won’t be offended. In fact, there is no greater compliment that you can pay a Lutheran pastor than to test everything he says against Scripture. Not only will your faith be reinforced, but you will grow in courage and confidence to be like Paul – witnessing to others the truth that Jesus is the Christ, regardless of their reaction to it. You will have that confidence because when your mind is open to Scripture, God’s unchanging truth becomes your saving truth.


Much of what is reported as news these days isn’t really news but people’s reaction to the news. That’s understandable because the media depends on ratings and reactions to survive. The Christian church is not dependent on ratings and reactions. The Christian church is built on the rock-solid promises of God and is in the business of proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who suffered and died to save us from our sins. We know that it will get a variety of reactions – that some won’t tolerate it and will get angry; but we also know that some will gladly receive it and believe it. Either way, our confidence doesn’t come from the reaction but from the fact that it’s God’s truth – the only truth that leads heaven. May God open our hearts and minds and the hearts and minds of many more to eagerly receive and believe the good news of Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Amen.