Posts Tagged 'Berea'

The Master Multiplier, Part 2

God is a mathematical genius. He is the undisputed Master Multiplier. As we began this series, we discovered that God is able to supernaturally take His gift to us, whatever it may be, and multiply it so that it not only meets a need we may have, but actually meets needs we didn’t know we had or that other people may have. He is able to take our gift to Him – like He really needs anything from us in the first place – and multiply it. He is the Master Multiplier.

This time, we’ll discover another aspect of this quirk of God’s character, and the verse comes from a sermon Paul preached, some would say to unspectacular results, at Athens:

And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:25 | NIV)

Paul told the brainy Athenians, “God gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” Why did he put it like that? That’s a curious way to phrase a simple statement, so let’s take a look at why Paul said what he said and what it means to us, and to all the eggheads who heard him firsthand.

Starting churches all over

In Acts 17, we see three intrepid church planters traveling from Philippi to Thessalonica, a thriving, hustling and bustling seaport metropolis, for the purpose of starting a church there. It would be a perfect location for an evangelical church. God may be the Master Multiplier, but He wants His servants to be as well, and He has called us to be “little multipliers.” By having a church strategically located in a place like Thessalonica, the Gospel could be taken around the known world by the various merchants, travelers, and tourists who stopped over there.

Paul’s custom was to start out preaching and teaching at local synagogues. He had become a sort of “rogue Jew,” but was still a highly respected Bible teacher out on the frontier. He had some very good results early on in Thessalonica:

Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. (Acts 17:4 | NIV)

But it wasn’t all sunshine and buttercups. As is frequently the case, when God moves in a substantial way, the Devil does too, trying to quash the good work of the Lord. Unfortunately for us, he is also a “multiplier” of sorts: A multiplier of evil, You’ve probably noticed that in your own life. When you begin to make progress in your faith – maybe you’re reading the Bible more and praying more; perhaps you’re more faithful than ever at church – pretty soon you face some discouragement or other spiritual roadblocks. You suddenly have issues with your kids or with coworkers or maybe even with somebody at church. Do you think those things are random? Do you think that bad things just coincidentally happen the moment God starts moving in your life? The Devil is smart; he knows the right psychological moment to throw a monkey wrench into the inner workings of your spiritual life.

Here’s what happened to Paul and his pals:

But 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. (Acts 17:5 | NIV)

That’s what they do, people who don’t like what you say, they get the “Rent-a-mob” and demonstrate. Nothing’s really changed in 2,000 years, has it? How about that poor schmuck, Jason? He put Paul and Silas up for the night and for his trouble he got hauled out of the house and dragged before the rulers, and charged with harboring people who talked treason by speaking of another king by the name of Jesus. To add insult to injury, he had to post bail to get out of jail and apparently had to agree that Paul would not return to Thessalonica any time soon.

For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. (1 Thessalonians 2:18 | NIV)

Paul knew his problems weren’t a coincidence.

On the lamb now, Paul ends up in Berea, where he did what he did best: Started another church. Of the Bereans, we know this:

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. (Acts 17:11 | NIV)

There’s not a pastor or evangelist out there who wouldn’t love to preach and teach the Bible to such a receptive audience! For people like Paul, this would be dream assignment. What could go wrong? Plenty! Remember that Rent-a mob from Thessalonica?

But 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. (Acts 17:13 | NIV)

Sometimes you just can’t win for losing! That’s an interesting saying that goes back to a 1955 issue of the Postal Supervisor, a journal of the National Association of Postal Supervisors:

You can’t win for losing, it seems. Who are our friends, and who is the snake in the grass in Congress. There must always be a villain in the plot. Will it be the outer-space missile this time?

Well, for Paul the villain in the plot, the snake in the grass, took the form of those trouble-making Jews from Thessalonica. They were determined, it seemed, to make life miserable for Paul no matter what. But really it was the Devil trying to undo the work Paul had done.  However, there’s no stopping God’s people from doing God’s work. All of this got Paul, in a round-about way, to the center of thought in the ancient world, Athens.

Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. (Acts 17:15 | NIV)

Reasoning with smart people

While Paul was cooling his heels in Athens, waiting for his Silas and Timothy to arrive, he must have been taken by the sights and sounds of that very pagan city. Idols and temples were everywhere, and opportunities to share the truth of Jesus Christ were also everywhere.

So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:17, 18 | NIV)

For as long as he was in town, Paul had a two-fold ministry in Athens. First he did what was his custom: He preached Christ in the local synagogue. Second, he “debated” with the Gentiles in the marketplace. It wouldn’t have been an organized thing all the time; frequently Paul would have debated a handful of high IQ Athenians with shoppers and merchants gathering around, listening in. Paul was very adept at using the local customs to get the Gospel message across.

As he was doing his thing, he caught the attention of two groups of philosophers. The Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans were the pleasure-seekers; pleasure at all costs. They tried to live free from any and all stress and entanglements of any kind. The Stoics were not interested in pleasure so much as knowledge and rational thought. Paul managed capture their attention by his teachings. Considering his recent encounters, Paul may have been a little worried when this happened:

Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) (Acts 17:19 – 21 | NIV)

No, these were not bullies. No Rent-A-Mob troublemakers here. These were men who were intellectually curious; they wanted to know more about Jesus. They were very religious people, these Athenians, and Paul respected that. He didn’t care much for men like Agrippa and Felix, well-known Greeks, but he respected the people, and he spoke with respect.

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23 | NIV)

That’s a fascinating verse because it not only described the ancient Greeks, but modern Americans, too. You can see objects of our worship strewn all over the place. When Paul walked into Athens, he saw their objects of worship; temples and idols. But if Paul were to walk into your home, what would he perceive to be the objects of YOUR worship? What object or objects are given prominence in your home? More to the point, what thing or person do you think most about? Like the Athenians, we may not ever be aware of what we are worshiping.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. (Acts 17:24 | NIV)

This is a far reaching verse simply by its implication: Because God made everything in the material universe – EVERYTHING – He needs nothing – NOTHING – from any one of us. We bring nothing into the relationship; He brings everything. Our buildings, our seminaries, our theologies can’t contain Him. We exist simply because He allows us to.

That’s a very big pill for some people to swallow. The proud, arrogant, self-important, ego-centric person today is the center of his universe. But whether he knows it or not; whether he acknowledges God or not, he is responsible to that God.

And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:25 | NIV)

That’s the verse that drives the secular Leftist crazy. His life comes from God Himself. He didn’t create himself and he has no right to himself. God gives life and breath to every man, meaning God sustains every human being – He keeps us alive. Somewhere, deep inside man, this truth lies. Paul quoted from one of their very own philosophers, Epimenides:

For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28 \ NIV)

The last phrase comes from the poet Aratus, referring to Zeus. Man’s heart and mind are totally corrupt by sin to the point where they ascribe to made-up gods truths that apply only to the one true God! But truth is the truth no matter who sais it, and though they didn’t know it, Epimenides and Aratus had no clue they were uttering the most profound truths any man could ever stutter out his mouth: In God we live and move and have our being. We are His. And because of that, God has ever right to call those whom He created to REPENT.

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30 | NIV)

Repentance is necessary because one day God will judge all men by Jesus, whom He raised from the dead.
Regardless of what a man thinks or how he lives or what he thinks of God, God gave that man life and keeps him alive. But one day, God will judge that man. Until then, it’s on that man to repent. God is the Master Multiplier – giving life  to all and judging all.

 


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