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A Noble Response to the Gospel

When Paul preached a three-week series to the Jews in Thessalonica, before He could announce Jesus as the Christ, he had to re-work their understanding of the Messiah from the ground up. Everywhere he had gone before, the Jews had rioted against Paul’s preaching of the cross, and so here in Thessalonica, he tries to prepare the ground beforehand by showing how the Old Testament Scriptures have a Jesus-shaped hole that can only be filled by a Messiah who suffers and rises from the dead.

But the Jews had been expecting a glorious, conquering Messiah who would exalt the Jews and humiliate the Gentiles. Moses was a hero because he defeated Pharoah and the Egyptians, David was a hero because he beat Goliath and the Philistines, and the Messiah would be a hero because for overthrowing the Gentiles. But then Paul comes, preaching about Jesus, who offered God’s blessings to the Gentiles during His life, was put to death by Gentiles, and was instructing the Jews to welcome the Gentiles as full members of God’s covenant people without first submitting to the Jewish laws.

Having prepared the ground, Paul’s preaching that Jesus was the Christ had a little success among the Jews, but since most of the Jews clung to their preconceived idea about the Messiah, Paul’s preaching about Jesus sounded like defeat, not victory. What sort of Jewish Messiah would hand everything over to Gentiles? With friends like these, who needs enemies? It didn’t help that a number of Gentiles who had been worshiping with the Jews eagerly converted after hearing this news. Their conversion fired up the jealousy of the Jews, and so they persecuted the newborn church in Thessalonica, rioting throughout the city and bringing charges against the missionaries and those who offered them hospitality. In a powerful confirmation of the missionaries’ preaching, the charge against them was the same one that Jesus faced: turning the world upside down by announcing the arrival of a new king.

Because of the rioting and unrest, Paul and Silas were sent away in the middle of the night to Berea, an event which Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians as being “torn away” from the Thessalonians. But in Berea, Paul and Silas find people who have a better response to the Word they preached. The Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians, because they compared the preaching about Jesus with the Old Testament, and were thereby convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.

We should learn two lessons from these events: First, suffering and death is the way the gospel advances in the world. What happened to Jesus will happen to you. Expect the Church to suffer before she succeeds. Expect public mockery of the claim that Jesus is the world’s true king, as well as a rejection of the laws of the King, especially of God’s sexual ethic (look at 1 Thessalonians 4). Expect to be persecuted and chased out of your jobs in bakeries, florist shops, and fire departments. Expect the enemies of God to riot, and then make you pay for the damages. Expect suffering, but because Jesus really is king, preach anyway.

Second, we need to have a noble response to the Word of God. The Thessalonians compared Paul’s preaching to their own ideas, and rejected it. The Bereans were more noble, because they eagerly compared the Word about Jesus to the Scriptures, and when they saw that Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s expectations for His Messiah, they believed.

So when you run up against parts of God’s Word that you don’t like, when you hear preaching that steps on your toes, when Jesus says something that challenges you, examine what goes on in your heart. What is your response? Do you jealously protect your idols, or do you nobly submit to Jesus? It’s not enough to say “I don’t like that. I could never believe in a God like that.” Jesus doesn’t need to bow before your preconceived ideas about what is good and right. You need to bow to Him. Don’t reject the Messiah for an idol that only exists in your imagination.

Following Jesus means imitating the noble Bereans by eagerly coming together as God’s people to study the Scriptures and submit to King Jesus the Messiah, who suffered and was raised from the dead to bring salvation to the world.

Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2015 by CJ Bowen