DISCHARGING DYNAMITE (Acts 17:1-20)
4 ways to correctly discharge gospel dynamite/ 4 marks of faithful gospel ministry:
Imagine, on your way out this morning, the door stewards were standing there with packs of dynamite and handing a pack to each person as you exited. Imagine I told you that it’s your duty to faithfully discharge that dynamite in the world this week – not in a destructive way that blows up people and families, but in a constructive way that lays the ground for building bridges to people and buildings and dams.
This sermon, then, is 4 essential keys to correctly discharging dynamite…and I’m dead serious (excuse the pun) that each of you are going to take home with you a pack of dynamite and be expected to discharge it this week.
Paul could say in Rom 1:16 that the gospel is the dynamite of God for the salvation of everyone who believes and you and I are the dynamite squad. So as we get back to our study through Acts – listen carefully…4 essential keys to correctly discharging dynamite.
Transition/Background (1 Cor 1:18-25)
· Acts 13-14 – Paul was sent out by the first major Gentile church on the first major Gentile mission = Galatia (Map)
· Acts 15 have the Jerusalem counsel to clarify the gospel and then Paul intends to visit the churches planted in the first missionary journey and deliver the letter from Jerusalem to them. But God has other plans and he ends up being sovereignly redirected to Macedonia.
· His initial ministry in Macedonia doesn’t seem very fruitful, but it ultimately results in the establishment of the church at Philippi which became one of his major ministry partners for the rest of his ministry. So God’s plans turned out to be better than Paul’s plans.
· We pick up on the narrative in Acts 17 as Paul makes his way through Thessalonica, Berea and Athens on his way to Corinth.
· Before we turn there, I just wanted to give you a paradigm of what we are going to see there from 1 Cor 1:18-25
o In Acts 17 we have the historical record of Paul’s practice, but here in 1Corinthians we have an explanation of the biblical theology, or convictions which inform that practice. This text gives us a paradigm for what we see happening in Acts 17
o Paul is preaching to both Jews and Greeks and he is preaching the same, simple gospel – Jesus died, Jesus rose, repent for the forgiveness of sins.
o Jews want signs, demonstrations of God’s power before they will believe and Greeks wants fine sounding philosophical arguments.
o Paul says, I make it my aim not to give them what they want, but what they need – the power of God through the simple message of the gospel. This puts God’s power on display – when we trust His message rather than our impressive methods or great eloquence, to produce a fruitful response
o Some will reject this message, but to those who have been called by God – it is life giving, life transforming truth.
· So in Acts 17 we will see Paul preaching to Jews, preaching to Gentiles. We will see the mixed response that people have, some believing and some rejecting the message and we’ll see the marks of faithful gospel preaching which depends on God’s power rather than man’s eloquence.
4 essential keys to correctly disrcharging dynamite or 4 characteristics of faithful gospel preaching. Read Acts 17:1-15
1: Biblical preaching (17:1-3)
17:1 gives us Paul’s travelling itinerary. He is travelling West from Philippi along the Egnatian way which was one of the major trade routes of the ancient world. So he’s travelling along the highway and stopping at some of the major towns along the way. Thessalonica was significant city, 100 miles from Philippi, the capital of Macedonia and a major coastal commercial centre.
17:2 .Vs 2 says this was Paul’s custom, his habit, his standard practice- so I think we can learn something here from how to go about preaching the gospel from one of the churches leading gospel preachers.
17:2-3 It says that he reasoned with them from the Scriptures. Then it uses 2 participles, 2 of those words which end in “ing” in English. They tell us how he reasoned from the Scriptures 1) he explained the correct meaning and 2) he gave evidence.
· The Greek word which has been translated as “giving evidence” in the ESV, means literally “to lay beside” and probably refers to the way Paul would lay the O.T prophesy alongside its historical fulfilment in the life of Jesus much like the gospels do for us. Showing that the messiah which was foretold in the Old Testament was and is the historical Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and rose from the dead.
· That’s powerful evidence
Jesus’ life fulfils over 300 O.T prophesies, some made over 1000 years before he came. As one mathematician put it, The changes of
· 1 person fulfilling 8 prophecies: (1 change in 100 billion billion);1 person fulfilling 48 prophecies: 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power 1 person fulfilling 300+ prophecies: Only Jesus!
· So he’s explaining what the Bible means by what it says and how it all points to Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s plans and purposes.
· We see the same thing in 17:11 when Paul gets to Berea. They received the word by examining the Scriptures daily to see if Paul’s explanation lined up, were true to the text.
· 17:12 begins with “therefore” many believed. Why did many believe? Because Paul preached God’s Word and they were willing to yield to God’s Word as found in the Scriptures. If the Bible said it, that settled it for the Bereans and therefore many came to faith.
The gospel, as Paul explains in 1 Cor 15 is according to the Scriptures. If people don’t believe the Bible they won’t believe the gospel. Conversely, if they do understand and believe the Bible it will lead them to faith in Christ. So the Bible, the Word of God ,is the main content of faithful gospel preaching, rather than fine sounding arguments, and our testimony, and human experience and scientific evidences.
2: CHRIST CENTERED PREACHING (17:3)
Look at the end of vs 3. What was Paul proclaiming to them? Not a way of life, not a religious system, not a philosophical system or an ethical system. He was proclaiming to them a historical person – Jesus of Nazareth. And proving that this Jesus was the Christ. The term “Christ” means messiah or anointed one. The O.T began to focus on a saviour, a redeemer, a rescuer, who would bring to fulfilment God’s plan to rescue and deliver His people. Paul was saying the messiah of the O.T is the Jesus of history.
The gospel is an invitation to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ. It is not an invitation to a social club, or a religious way of life or an ethical standard – it’s an invitation to enter into a living relationship with the living and eternal God who sent His son to die in order to pay the penalty for our sins and who raised Him from the dead to show that his sacrifice for sin was sufficient.
The crucifixion of the messiah was a major stumbling block to Jews. How cold God’s perfect servant be killed – He was supposed to deliver God’s people from their enemies? So Paul has to show them from their own Scriptures that God’s plan had always been to save people from their sin – which is our greatest enemy.
The death and resurrection of Christ are the central, historical events upon which the gospel rests. In 1 Cor 15 Paul could say, I delivered to you of first importance, that which I received, that Christ died, according to the Scriptures, was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The gospel doesn’t rest on a philosophical system, or an ethical standard. It rests on a historical person who claimed to be God, who claimed to be the only way to God and the only saviour God has provided to rescue people from sin. Jesus was either speaking the truth or He was a liar, or a lunatic or something worse.
· There really is no middle ground. The message of the gospel is not a call to an ethical system or a way or life or a religious system, but a call to a person – to enter into a relationship with God through faith in Christ.
· Which is why the gospel is such an offence – it says that all of human works and efforts and religions amount to nothing and salvation is through faith in Christ and Christ alone – there are no other saviours, no other ways…..
· Christ made exclusive claims to be God the son and the only way of salvation. He didn’t say I’ll show you the way, He said, “ I am the way.” So all other ways and religions are thereby excluded – Christ is either true and all others are wrong, or Christ is an impositor.
· His death for sin and resurrection from the dead are the historical proof that his claims are true. To make such outrageous claims is not unusual – to rise from the dead to prove them – is…. That’s why the gospel rests on the historical fact of the resurrection – without it, as Paul could say, our preaching is useless and so is our faith.
17:18 the Athenians thought they were proclaiming “Strange deities” Jesus and the resurrection, because the Greek word for resurrection was also the name for one of the deities the Greeks worshipped. Paul’s gospel message so focussed on Jesus and the resurrection that they thought resurrection was the other god alongside Jesus. Talk about missing the point….. but at least they got that the main point of Paul’s preaching was Jesus and the resurrection.
Faithful preaching is biblical, it is Christ-centred, it is persevering or ongoing.
3: Persevering Preaching (17:2,10)
· 17:2 refers to 3 Sabbath’s which Paul went to the Jewish Synagogue and reasoned from the Scriptures. In Phil 4:16 he could thank the Philippians for sending him financial aid time and again during his ministry in Thessalonica and in 1 Thess 2:9 he makes reference to how he laboured and toiled among them so as not to be a burden to the church and he talks about how he shared with them not only the gospel but his whole life and how dear they had become to him. So he probably started his ministry there doing his trade of tent-making to support himself and then started receiving some financial assistance from the church at Philippi so that he could be more devoted to gospel ministry. All of that definitely didn’t take place in 3 weeks… so the text is most likely telling us how many weeks Paul had opportunity to preach in the Synagogue before the Jews got so reviled that they kicked him out of the synagogue.
· When that wasn’t enough to stop his ministry, they started scheming how they could get him kicked out of town completely. But by vs 10, when they succeed – a small church has already been established and it’s the “brothers” who send them away by night to Berea. So vs 1-10 is undoubtedly summarizing a ministry of a few months rather than a few weeks.
· The opposition started after only 3 weeks but Paul kept going and didn’t leave until he was kicked out.
· Jews were hardened, yet continued to minister to them. He didn’t write them off and move on to more receptive, more friendly people.
· Remember Paul’s own testimony, how hardhearted he was, how vehemently he rejected and resisted the gospel before he was overcome by it. Paul spend years rejecting the gospel before he received it, maybe so that he would remember to persevere with those who were rejected it through his preaching.
· They are beaten, imprisoned and kicked out of Philippi in chapter 16, so what do they do? Travel to the next major town and start over. In 17:10 they are kicked out of Thessalonica, so what do they do? Travel Berea and start again. When Berea follows the same route, what do they do? Start over in Athens.
· Faithful gospel preaching is persevering, it is ongoing. It’s not a once off one-time event but an ongoing commitment to put Christ before people until they prevent us from doing so.
Most people will reject the gospel many times before they believe it. Most of you sitting here today, who have responded personally to Christ, first spent many years rejecting Him and ignoring, if not mocking Christians….. Faithful gospel preaching doesn’t give up at the first rebuff, or dirty look….
If you want to win a popularity concert, you will never be a faithful gospel preacher.
4: FAITH-FILLED PREACHING (17:4-5; 7-8)
Vs 4-5 and vs 7-8 make very much the same point using very much the same language. Some were persuaded and joined, but some were jealous and rejected. Many believed but some came agitating.
There is always a mixed response to the faithful preaching of the gospel. That is the mark of faithful preaching. If everyone is believing or everyone is rejecting, something is wrong – because the preaching of the gospel divides men into two categories – those who are being called by God, drawn by God and those who are being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Our job is to faithfully preach and trust God for the response. I was involved in Campus ministry with Campus Crusade and they taught us something which I still try to remember: Faithful witnesses is taking the initiative to share Christ and leaving the results to God.
V s3 uses almost the same language as vs 12 to describe the response, some were persuaded, many believed, Jews, Greeks, men and leading women. This obviously parallels Paul’s description in Gal 3:26-28 “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith….There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Religious, social, economic, cultural and racial background is of no consequence in the church – you either believe the gospel and are saved and become members of Christ body alongside all the others members, or you don’t.
There are no better members, no superior members in the church.
We don’t become Christians because of heritage, or culture or ancestry. No-one is born a Christian, we are not raised to be Christians. It has nothing to do with your culture, or background, or race or gender. You might be born or raised a Muslim or Hindu, or Atheist but nobody is born or raised a Christian, we become Christians through faith in Christ. By grace, as a free gift, through faith alone.
some don’t believe (5-9)
Luke goes on the describe the growing opposition and the reason for that opposition. The fault didn’t lie with the message or the messengers but with the hearts of those who rejected it. They were filled with jealousy.
When people reject the gospel, it’s not on intellectual grounds, but moral and ethical grounds. People don’t reject the gospel because it’s not clear, or there is not sufficient evidence. They reject the gospel because they are holding onto sin or idols that they don’t want to relinquish to Jesus Christ.
So the Jews gather a mob and fabricate evidence against Paul and Silas. Again you can see the parallels here between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of Peter and the ministry of Paul. They were all falsely accused of treason on fabricated charges.
Vs 6, even the unbelievers can see it and acknowledge it – these men are blowing up the world with gospel dynamite…..
The charges are serious in vs 6 – these men are causing massive social upheaval, they are stirring up unrest and proclaiming a king other than Caesar. In one sense they were proclaiming a king above Caesar, but not in the sense that would result in a political revolution. These charges were punishable by death. They can’t find Paul and Silas so they grab Jason and some of the other believers and drag them before the official city authorities. Probably Jason because Paul and Silas were staying with him. This is something of mob violence, but there is a legitimate hearing in front of recognized authorities and in vs 9 they have to pay something which is not a bribe, but is somewhere between bail and a fine. Basically Jason and the brothers have to pay an amount over as security that Paul and Silas won’t cause any more trouble. If they do, they will lose their money and there will be much more severe consequences for them all. So Paul and Silas must leave town in secret. This ban would only have applied to this specific town, but it never the less prevented Paul and Silas from continuing their ministry or returning to the city.
Illustration: This is like a missionary going to Saudi Arabia, or Tunisia, or India, or Morocco to preach the gospel, but the authorities find out, deport them and prevent them from re-entering the country – there is nothing more you can do…. The window has closed for the missionary, but the believers who remain behind can continue the gospel work.
In his letter to the 1 Thessalonians 2:18 he could write about having been snatched away from them and wanting on many occasions to return, but Satan hindered or prevented them. He’s most likely referring to this ban, which remained in place as long as these rulers were in charge and which he understands to be the work of Satan in trying to prevent the preaching of the gospel and the encouragement of the church.
He could also say in 2 Cor 4:4 that Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. It’s Satan who opposes the gospel, who hinders the gospel message, who confuses and confounds at all costs – because he doesn’t want people to hear and believe.
But Paul knows that above Satan is the sovereign God. God is sovereign over rulers and judgements and human hearts and circumstances and Satan. So Paul focussed on what he had been called to do – to faithfully preach the gospel and he trusted God with the results.
We started off looking at Paul’s commentary on his own preaching in 1 Cor 1. Let us close by looking at Paul’s commentary of these exact events in Acts 17, as we find them in 1 Thess.. 1 Thess 1:2-2:8; 2:13.
Where was Paul’s faith? In his methods, in his oratory skills?
– Vs 5-6 in the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring the Word of God with power and bring true conviction from the heart.
– Vs 13 in the word of God which performs its work in you who believe.
That is why gospel ministry needs to always be steeped in prayer and why Paul asked for prayer in connection with gospel preaching more than for anything else.
– It is God alone who can transform human hearts and convince people of the truth of the gospel.
– He alone can show people the glory of Christ and the ugliness of their sin.
– He alone can convince them that Jesus is their only hope of being saved from their sin.
We can preach and we can pray. If we don’t have faith in God and this gospel, we won’t preach, we won’t pray and we won’t see results…. If we believe the gospel is an outdated toy, we’ll leave it lying in the cuboard – but if it’s the dynamite of God, which is the only hope of salvation for a lost world – we’ll be sure to discharge it.
4 marks of faithful gospel ministry – 4 ways to correctly dischage gospel dynamite:
I’m dead serious – every one of you who belongs to Jesus have been entrusted with a pack of gospel dynamite which is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes – make sure you discharge it faithfully this week