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The Tale of Two Cities
** Watch at: https://youtu.be/XGSvRuwVCGo
Now, when I came up with the title of today’s message, my immediate reaction was towards the book written by Charles Dickens back in 1879, and the two cities were Paris and London. In fact, while some of you may have never read the book, you know its famous opening sentence, or at least the first few words, because the sentence is at least a paragraph long, or 119 words, I think Dickens was going for the record of the longest sentence ever.
Dickens begins saying, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and then uses this same dichotomy through out the rest of the sentence, or the remaining 107 words, and what he was doing was comparing the character’s time in each of these cities.
But, while our minds immediately think of Dicken’s novel, the two cities that we are going to be looking at today are the cities of Thessalonica and Berea. And the tale is about their attitude to God’s word, and what we’ll address our own attitude when it comes to the Bible and what is written within, and what and how it is being taught.
Now, an English weekly publication published a letter written by a disillusioned churchgoer.
“Dear Sirs, It seems ministers feel their sermons are very important and spend a great deal of time preparing them. I have been attending church quite regularly for thirty years, and have probably heard 3,000 of them. To my consternation, I discovered I cannot remember a single sermon. I wonder if a minister’s time might be more profitably spent on something else?”
Now here’s someone that I can safely say does not have the gift of encouragement.
Over the next several weeks, a firestorm of responses came on both sides of the aisle. But then came this one response that ended it all.
“Dear Sirs, I have been married for 30 years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals – mostly my wife’s cooking. Suddenly, I have discovered I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet … I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago.”
Like food is to maintaining our overall physical health, so is the word of God to our spiritual health.
In Satan’s temptation in the wilderness, Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 NKJV)
And so, what I have found is that it is our attitude towards God’s word, and how we approach it that determines its effectiveness in our lives.
And so, let’s take a look at what happened to Paul in both of these cities!
“They (Paul and Silas) came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:1-4)
It then talks about how the Jews who didn’t believe went after them to do them harm, and so those who had come to faith sent Paul and Silas away under the cover of night to Berea, which is where we now pick up our story.
“When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. (Acts 17:10b-12)
Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia, and was its largest city and most prosperous city, and this was mainly due to its location as a hub for both sea and land travel linking the world to the agricultural heartland of Macedonia.
The church eventually grew and was quite influential in their witness for Jesus Christ, as seen in Paul’s two letters to them.
In his first letter he said how they had become great examples of the faith, not only in Macedonia, but also in Achaia (A’-kia-a), which is where Athens and Corinth were located (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
Berea, on the other hand was what we would call, “off the beaten path.” Although it was a prosperous city, it was a good 30 miles off the major highway linking the East to the West.
What is interesting, however, is that nothing else is recorded concerning this church. There is no mention of it in the Scriptures outside of what Luke records for us in Acts. It’s not anything like Thessalonica who Paul writes two letters to and commends their faith.
Yet here, Luke records that they were more fair-minded, or as in the King James Version it says they were more “noble” than their counterparts in Thessalonica.
Now, to understand what is meant, it might be helpful to look at how the God’s word was given and received in both cities.
For 3 Sabbaths, Paul reasoned with them, both explaining and demonstrating how Jesus fulfills the Scriptures. Now, what we read is that Paul’s message consisted of 3 parts.
1. He Reasoned With Them
“Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures”
The word, “reasoned,” in the Greek language means, “to discuss,” “to say something thoroughly,” or “to speak or preach.”
Paul greatly valued the preaching of God’s word as a method to reach the lost with the gospel message. This is seen in what he says to the church in Rome.
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14 NKJV)
He reasoned with them speaking, or preaching thoroughly God’s message, and allowing discussion to take place as to what the Scriptures said concerning the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
This means that Paul took them to the Scriptures, that is, what we know as the Old Testament, and revealed how the Messiah was to come. Yes, as a conquering king, as they were all expecting, but first as a “suffering servant,” one who would die for the forgiveness of sins.
And what I love about what it says is that this was Paul’s custom wherever he went. And no matter what he discussed, or preached, it was always pointed to Jesus, which is the second part of what we read.
2. He Proclaimed Jesus
“Explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead”
No matter where he was, or who he was talking to, Jesus was always the center of the conversation. Even while under Roman guard while awaiting his day in court, and I love what it says, he wasn’t discussing the unfairness of the system, or how awful or terrible he was treated. Instead, he was talking up Jesus.
“So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.” (Acts 28:23 NKJV)
Now, it says that he was “explaining and demonstrating.” The word “demonstrating,” means to put along side, or to present the evidence. Literally what Paul was doing was presenting the Scriptural evidence concerning the coming of the Messiah, and then showing how Jesus fulfilled the Scripture, that is, he put them both side by side to examine them fully and to show without a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah.
So, if you will allow me a little wiggle room here this morning, I’d like to kind of do what I believe Paul would have done, and some the Scriptures he would have possibly used.
Like where we read in Daniel 9:24-27, which is known as God’s prophetic timetable in redeeming the nation of Israel, and how after 70 weeks, or 490 years, God would redeem His children Israel and bring them into the fullness of His promises.
Now, in these verses it says that from the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, which was given by Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in 444 BC, to the coming death of the Messiah, that a total of 69 groups of these 7 weeks, or 483 years, would happen.
Now, using the Hebrew calendar they have calculated that this event of the Messiah’s coming and death would have fallen on the exact year and time that Jesus entered into Jerusalem riding on a colt of a donkey, and then died upon the cross.
Now, how do we know that the Messiah would die at this time, well it would be because of the word used by Daniel saying, “Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.” (Daniel 9:26 NKJV)
This phrase, “cut off,” in the Hebrew was used in speaking about the sacrifices and the death of an animal to seal a covenant. And here Daniel uses it of the Messiah. But also note that He didn’t die for Himself.
Well, who did He die for then? For this let me now move to the prophet Isaiah who explains.
In Isaiah 53, look at what it says who the Messiah, whom Isaiah calls “the righteous servant,” died for.
• 53:5 – “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”
• 53:8 – “He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken.”
• 53:12 – “He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
And why was this not for Himself, because He was without sin, and that’s from what Isaiah called the Messiah, “righteous.” And how does this mean the Messiah was without sin, seeing that only God is without sin, and only God is called righteous. Yet, here God calls Him righteous, a name He gives to no one else but Himself, which also points to the fact that the Messiah, Jesus, is God. And this corresponds to the only other time when God uses this designation. It is found in Jeremiah 23 when He calls the coming Messiah, “The Lord our Righteousness,”
And so it was that Jesus Himself knew no sin. Not even Pilate could find a fault in Jesus. Even the Jewish authorities had to bring false witnesses against Him, or as Psalm 35 says, “malicious witnesses.” And yet, through it all, in accordance to the Scriptures, Jesus remained silent.
In Isaiah 53:7 it says, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”
Paul may have well gone back to the Scriptures to reveal the type of death the Messiah would have endured in Psalm 22, a type of tortured death, that is death on a cross, which was unknown at the time this was written.
Paul also showed how the Messiah would have been raised from the dead from what David wrote in Psalm 16, and then what Jesus Himself prophesied concerning not only His death, but His resurrection, and how Jesus was indeed raised from the dead as witness by over 500 people.
Can you just imagine these sessions and discussions Paul would have had during that three week stay, because at Jesus’s first coming, along with His death and resurrection, He fulfilled over 300 prophecies.
(Explain Peter Stoner’s calculation and illustration)
And this leads us to the last part of what Paul was explaining
3. Paul Identified Jesus as the Messiah
“This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ”
Basically he brought them to the same logical conclusion that brought others to belief in Jesus Christ.
The Apostle John said of all that Jesus did, that “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31 NKJV)
Paul used the language of logic in what he reasoned out with them.
Premise 1 – That according to the Scriptures, the Messiah must come at the appointed time, suffer death upon the cross, buried in a rich man’s tomb, and be resurrected back to life.
Premise 2 – Jesus came in the fullness of time appointed by God, suffered and died upon the cross, was buried in a rich man’s tomb, and on the 3rd day rose from the dead.
Conclusion: Jesus is the Messiah.
And so, this is the message preached by Paul to those in Thessalonica, and it says that only some of them were persuaded.
Now, Paul then went to Berea, and as it was his custom, went to the synagogue and reasoned, discussed, and preached the exact same thing, but notice the difference between the two cities, that while only some in Thessalonica came into belief, it says of those in Berea that “Many of them believed” (Acts 17:12).
What then was the difference?
“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11 NKJV)
So, how were they more “fair-minded,” of “noble?” Let’s look three words that describe this.
“They received the word with all readiness.”
This word “readiness” in the Greek language means there was an eagerness, or a willingness. And it emphasizes both goodwill and an absence of prejudice. It is this word that I believe explains the real difference between these two cities.
In Thessalonica there were those who were so indoctrinated, or so set upon a certain doctrine or teaching, that they couldn’t even consider anything different or that might challenge their preconceived ideas. And so they not only caused a riot to stop this teaching, but also followed Paul to Berea to do the same thing there.
But this wasn’t the case in Berea. The Bereans had a good deal of integrity, as they were open to hear and evaluate the merits of what was being discussed by Paul based upon the Scriptures.
As Christians we need to be more like the Bereans, but unfortunately we’re more like the Thessalonians. And while we need to think critically, we shouldn’t enter into our conversations with others with our minds already made up.
I find this quite often, especially when I am asked to examine doctrine with others. What happens most of the time is that these people are more interested in being heard and having it their way than they are at making an honest and open evaluation.
What I get when I bring up Scriptures that speak about it differently that their position they say, “Well, the clear teaching of Scriptures say,” or “The majority of the Scriptures speak to my position,” and when I say, “Well if these others Scriptures speak against it, then what is the balance, and what would God want us to know.” But such a presentation, what I have found is that it falls upon deaf ears. It’s either their way or it’s no way.
And one last point before I move on is that being open to listen and hear is not the same thing as being gullible. It must line up with Scriptures, that is, the whole of God’s word and not that portion we like.
“And searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so”
Why do we need to search the Scriptures? I think the Apostle Paul said it best to Timothy.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NKJV)
And so, when we hear a bible teaching, we need to make sure that any teaching has a solid foundation in the Bible. But at the same time we need to acknowledge that there are some things that we will never know, that is, there exist divine mysteries.
Back in Deuteronomy 29:29, it says that “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 NIV)
And through the prophet Isaiah the Lord says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NKV)
And so, we need to examine what we are told and make sure it lines up with God’s word so that we can be equipped to fulfill God’s plans and purposes for our lives, for His church, and for this world that is lost and floundering.
“Searched the Scriptures daily”
To be like the Bereans, we need to search what the Bible has to say on a daily basis.
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2 NKJV)
Why, what’s the end result? It is to find out more about Jesus whom we’ve come to believe in, and so we can be more like Him, more like Christ. This was Paul’s goal, when He said that he are to be imitators of him, as he was an imitator of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), that is he lived his life like Jesus lived His. He even said that for him to live is to be like Christ (Philippians 1:21), and thus he could do all things through Christ who gives him the strength (Philippians 4:13).
And so, why do we search the Scriptures on a daily basis, is so we can find more about Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39 NKJV)
And so, to be like the Bereans who were more fair-minded and noble, we need to, in all eagerness, search what the Scriptures have to say on a daily basis.
As I look at these two cities, there is a positive we can take from both.
First, in our witnessing, we should be like Paul in his methodology, that is, in our witness we need make the logical conclusion evident, that Jesus is the Messiah, that He is our Savior and Lord, and it is only through Him that we can have eternal life.
Second, in our reading and studying of God’s word, we should, like the Bereans, be open minded, putting away all preconceived ideas and doctrinal prejudices, and let the word of God speak for itself, without all of our attachments.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study