The Noble Bereans
Key Verse 17:3
“Explaining and proving that the messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.’”
Raise your hands if you’ve taken a chemistry course before? It’s a lovely class that I’m sure many of you have just the fondest memories of. Before I decided to study chemistry in college, it was a subject that I didn’t like. It didn’t come naturally to me. I failed it in high school. And I failed it twice more in college. Eventually God gave me victory of that course. But because of my many attempts, I have a pretty good sense for the curriculum that is outlined in the intro course. So by the second or third attempt, I always knew what was going to come up ahead. They first start you off with explaining the atoms, then molecules, then compounds. From there you begin to learn about the reactions and the principles and laws that govern these reactions. And what it all boils down to it what exactly is reacting. Some things react, and some don’t. Some reactions are violent, while some are passive. Chemical reactions govern just about everything we do. It’s the reason why we use alcohol as hand sanitizer, and acetone as a paint thinner. Should we reverse the roles of those chemicals then our hands would have a very violent reaction with the acetone, while the alcohol may not do much to paint.
Why all this talk about reactions? Well this chapter is a chapter about reactions. You have them all here. You have violent, passive, fast and slow. The Thessalonians reacted to Paul’s gospel with resistance. The Bereans responded with a heart of welcome. While the people of Athens reacted with a skeptical mind. People in the world, will many times fall into one of these three categories, regarding their response to the gospel. And although this is the case, one thing is for sure. In all three cities, there is at least a remnant of believers that accepted the gospel message. And the remnant that Paul had to leave behind weren’t just a bunch of anybodies. They weren’t those who called themselves Christians by name. They were devout, sincere defenders of the gospel message. Some of which faced persecution almost immediately after receiving the gospel. But they stood strong and defended their faith, unwavering even under immense pressure. This was the kind of remnant that God worked to establish through Paul’s labor in the gospel work.
Let’s read verses, 1-3. “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2As was is custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on the three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that the messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said.” Paul had stayed in Thessalonica for three weeks. And we don’t have any record of him coming back. But we’re told that while he was there, he spent three whole Sabbath days talking with those in the synagogue and reasoning with them about the gospel. Before Paul was driven out, there’s every possibility he visited the homes of those who had become believers teaching and planting gospel faith in their hearts. Going from home to home during those three weeks, teaching and explaining the gospel faith, many great Bible teachers seem to have been raised during that short time from among the Thessalonian beleivers. It’s truly amazing what work the Holy Spirit did among a small remnant of beleivers from among the Jews and Gentiles of that city.
In his first letter to the Thessalonian church that sprang from his visit, Paul gives a heartfelt description of what God had done among them. Allow me to read this short account to you. (Reading of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10) So we can see from Paul’s account, although he received such fierce opposition from a place without a favorable response to the gospel, there still was a mighty work of God there. We may look at the Antioch church, as one of many churches worthy to model. But Paul explicitly mentions that the Thessalonians had become a model for believers everywhere. Who would’ve thought that upon Paul’s arrival there would be such a turnout from a place like Thessalonica! This should be a great encouragement to us. There may be opposition in your life when it comes to serving God’s will. Satan, your sinful nature, and others around you may have teamed up just to oppose the will of God in your life. All doors to spiritual victory may seem to close shut. But thank God that the story doesn’t end there. God’s work still continues. Because even when it seems like it’s impossible to continue in the will of God, but regardless, we remain firm to the end, God provides a way to glorify himself. Such was the story of the Thessalonians. Paul testified to God working in their lives admidst their severe suffering, even after Paul had left them.
There was a friend who I used to mentor and study the Bible with. We studied for a couple of years, and it seemed to be almost fruitless. No matter how I approached him it seemed like all he wanted to do was argue with me. Never called to see how I was doing. Never wanted to hang out. He opposed almost all of my suggestions or counsel. But nevertheless, he kept coming to Bible study (bible debates). But still, throughout our time, I knew that he loved God. Eventually he left and got married and quite honestly, I didn’t think I’d hear much from him after that. But after the first year or so he suddenly began to call and talk to me to see how I was doing. I had some pain in my heart from all the labor that seemed to be fruitless. But eventually, he apologized and admitted he should have been more humble and openhearted while he was here. We both apologized for a lot of the tension that we put each other through. Both before and after this conversation I was starting to notice some change in his heart. And that there was a genuine transformation spiritually. He became a gentle, caring man of prayer. Him and his wife constantly pray for me and Mary. They are always asking us how we are doing and how is God calling our family. In many areas, to my joy, mature and patient. I wouldn’t be too surprised if God will eventually use him and his wife towards a couple’s ministry. If you haven’t guessed it already, his name is Deante Partee. Almost every couple of weeks we’ll talk, sometimes 2-3 hours ending in prayer, and almost always ending in prayer. I can go on and on about the specifics that God has done in his life, but I thought that he is a good example, of God glorifying himself when our labor together didn’t seem like it make that much of a difference.
Look at verse 2 once again. “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” When Paul arrived, those of Thessalonica did not readily accept the gospel message. He had to survey where they stood. Think of how he would relay this message based off their understanding, their emotions and their intellect. It seemed like most of the reasoning took place around the subject of the suffering of the Messiah and the fact that he had to rise from the dead. These two topics were especially challenging for them. But like a patient shepherd, Paul started off explaining, and when they couldn’t get it he would start again and again. There was some give and take. Paul had to explain this to the Jews because they were not in any form or capacity waiting for a suffering Messiah. They thought when the Messiah would come, he would take charge, overthrow the government, and rule an earthly kingdom. Similarly, today people aren’t naturally don’t care much for a suffering Messiah who calls them to repent and who takes away their sins. They’re waiting for a Messiah who would end social injustice, get them a job, provide the best health plan and retirement package. Maybe they want a Messiah that supports their political party, or one who can fix their family problems. But so few of the Jews in Thessalonica were looking for the real suffering Messiah to atone for their sins! But many of Gentile Thessalonians were touched by the love God who sent his Son to atone for the sins of all people, both Jews and Gentiles.
According verse 4, many God-fearing Greeks, a small number of Jews, and a quite a few prominent women decided to join Paul and Silas. All of these people were overwhelmed by the love of God for them as they decided to live a life devoted to Christ. Who were these prominent women? And why does Luke mention them? In the Greek/Roman culture, many women had a voice, they had money and they had power. They were part of a higher class in society. They were known to be highly immoral. With many lovers they shopped during the day, and indulged in wine and wild living all night long. They were promiscuous, lewd and loose. And with all the luxuries of life at hand, they should have been happy and satisfied in their own lifestyle. This part of society should have been thought of as out of reach. But this was far from the truth. With all the luxury and wild living that they may have enjoyed, it is clear that that their lives were empty and still yearning to be filled with something meaningful. So when the gospel came into their midst, and they heard the gospel, even though the gospel message and lifestyle was in total opposition to the life they were living, they embraced the gospel message. Even though the gospel called for repentance and putting away of old sinful life, they were glad to do so. The words “not a few” meant a great many of them turned to the Lord giving their lives to him. It is true that Jesus is the bread of life who alone can satisfy the hunger of our souls.
Let’s read verses 5-9. “But the other Jews were jealous: so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.”
The Jews at the synagogue never expected this type of response to the gospel. They never really thought that they would lose so many to the gospel message. All of those who left the synagogue eventually became Thessalonian church. So, in jealousy at the decline of their membership and Paul’s popularity, the Jews started a riot and sought after Paul and Silas. When they couldn’t find them, they decided to make Jason, who hosted Paul and Silas, pay for it. They thought to pressure Jason to give these missionaries up to false charges. And Jason is one of the Bible’s unsung heroes, because although he was pressured in this way, he and those with him did not give up Paul and Silas up. Therefore, from its inception this church began to partake in the sufferings of Christ. When you look at the accusation brought against them, in a way there is some truth to it. The gospel message was indeed working all over the world and is indeed a source of much of its trouble. The gospel message is in fact revolutionary! It disturbs the comfort of those who are snug in their sin, and troubles those who chase after the empty way of life. The gospel message greatly disturbs and troubles the conscience. It divides relationships. And in many ways the gospel is always bringing trouble to a world that closes its heart to its message and is not ready to receive it. But while the gospel brings trouble to those who stand against it, the gospel is far from trouble to those who receive it. The gospel is life and peace to those who accept it as God’s love and mercy to troubled souls. Any soul who welcomes the gospel message into its his or her heart, also welcomes God’s forgiveness and God’s gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of his Son.
Let’s read verses 10. “As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.” So the Thessalonians who received the gospel message seem to be deeply committed to the Christian life now, as you can see. They are now suffering together with Paul and Silas. This is a difficult life that they are now sharing with those who brought them the gospel message. So, where does Paul go when he arrives at Berea? Does he go into hiding? Not at all! With a heart burdened for the lost, he marches right back into the Jewish synagogue. Synagogues may have been a comfortable place for Paul to go to. A place that would warmly receive him and offer him a chance to speak. Paul used his good standing background as a platform to share the gospel with them, even at the risk of never being welcomed back there. Today believers may have a good standing with many people. It could be with those at work, or those at school— a place where people may have seen your character, and like you. You may have neighbors who think highly of you. Or maybe it’s a distant family member that has befriended you. It’s good to form relationships with them. Don’t compromise your faith but become a friend. And use your good standing with them as a place to minister the gospel message in love. Our Lord was famed for being a friend of sinners. Some believers out there are so holy that they have no friends that are sinners. They are too busy or too involved with church life. But as busy and involved as holy as Jesus was, he still made time to be a friend of sinners. That’s what he was known by. That was the label that he was given slanderously.
I don’t have many friends like this, but I have one. We’ve been close for at least 3 years. He is very committed to his ministry. In fact, he is big leader, constantly he is asked to speak and teach. But his ministry unfortunately goes by a gospel that is really no gospel at all. And therefore, does not have the power of salvation. But regardless, we are friends, and we know that we are on two different sides of that “fence” of salvation. In many ways he displays great humility by not trying to convert me, though it is heavily encouraged in his ministry. And I’ve decided to not push the issue either, but to just love him until God opens the door. Outside the issue of salvation, we have accepted each other’s counsel. We have prayed for each other. Because of our friendship he has begun to love some of the pastors and authors who follow a stand on the real Gospel; people that I’ve introduced him to. He uses their teachings for his sermons and studies. He even confesses sins and struggles and asks for my prayers and advice. Not only is he a dear friend, but in some ways, he is like a Berean, a person of noble character. He’s asked me to restore Bible study, but I have yet to begin that with him. Please keep us in your prayers.
Let’s read verses 11 & 12. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.” What does noble mean? Is it someone who is smart? Someone of a royal lineage? Is it someone who is honest? Many non-Christians are honest, smart and do good things. But those things don’t make you noble. According to Luke, there are just two things. Receiving God’s word with eagerness and continuing in God’s word. Many hear gossip, and make their judgments based off the gossip they’ve heard. But a noble person would look at Scripture sincerely first and then make their judgment based on the truth of Scripture. Jesus once accused the religious Pharisees like this: “Stop judging by mere appearances and make the right judgment.” “You judge by human standards:” (John 7:24, 8:15) Jesus himself judged by the Truth of Scripture! That is the ultimate of what noble is. These Bereans were Noble folk. They didn’t judge by whether they liked Paul or not, or by what they had heard about him, or his teaching. They were not highly educated theologians either. They simply judged by the Bible truth! That’s what made them noble. They were humble as they also continued day after day in the word of God. That was their qualification. Even as believers we need to constantly renew our commitment in going back to the Bible and continuing in it. How else can we know what is right and what is wrong! What is good and what is evil! Human senses and reasoning sometimes deceive us. But the Scriptures, the word of God, never ever deceives us. A noble soul knows that, and continues in the word of God. May we all pray to be like the Bereans at heart.
Let’s read verses 13-15. “When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.” In a way, these agitators actually aided in spreading the ministry of God. This is an important point. Because in our lives, God has assigned to us some agitators. They are the people or events in our life that we may not like, or that give us a hard time. Yet even so, they get the work of God accomplished in our lives. Sometimes God uses them to get us to pray more. Sometimes he uses them to get us to move or wake us up spiritually. I’ve heard from many parents that their kids agitate them. In fact I’ve heard and seen it so much that I’m starting to think that it’s kids’ primary job to be their parents’ agitators, even if it frustrates their parents. Why? Perhaps so that their parents will actively love them, and pray for them and diligently raise them in a godly way. Agitators keep us on our toes spiritually because God has work to do in us, through us and around us. And such was the task of these agitators in Paul’s life.
Paul’s missionary journeys weren’t easy. He faced many trials. But wherever he and his companions went, a great work of God sprang there among those who received the gospel with a humble heart. And as we saw in the model church of Thessalonica, that church shared in Paul’s suffering for the gospel. And as we saw in the church at Berea, that church shared in his passion to study the Bible every day. We have such wonderful models for ancestors to follow in our Christian history. As we study Acts, may we not only learn about them, but learn to be like them in many ways. May God give us a heart to share in the Savior’s sufferings for the sake of spreading the gospel. And may he give us a heart to study the Scripture and continue in the word of God daily so as to remain rooted in the truth in this day and age. And I pray that we too may passionately engage in spreading the gospel as Paul and Silas did in obedience to Christ. Amen.