When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining 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. 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. 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. But 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, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 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. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
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. The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
Note: This morning I'm drinking some delicious Ethiopian coffee sent to me from my friend Alex from Second Breakfast in Hannibal, MO. I highly recommend it.
Sometimes I read sections in the historical narrative of the Bible, shrug my shoulders, and think, “Interesting,” and move on.
Other times I think, “Well, how about that? That is really helpful.”
Either way, something that is really important in understanding the Bible is being aware of what genre you're reading. Too much can be made from the historical narratives. They are history and primarily descriptive. We have need to be careful that we don't make the descriptive prescriptive.
I'm struck by the description given of Paul, Silas, and Timothy in Thessalonica, “They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, on called Jesus.”
You see, when the early Christians began proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, there was no question in anyone's minds that the ramifications of this were not just religious, they were political too. Following after King Jesus means that our allegiance will primarily be found in him. I am learning, often the hard way, that many people who call themselves “Christian” have Jesus somewhere down the list on their authority ladder.
You see, when we place Christ above the powers of this world we will inevitably come in conflict with those powers. This means that we won't find a home in the politics of the day. It means that we will challenge the status quo of the way that this world does its business.
Our way of viewing society will be through the lens of a cross and a resurrection. It will necessarily challenge the authority, systems, and structures that claim self-seeking and self-serving power.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy were not ushered out of Thessalonica because they were trying to take power and demanding a seat at the table. They were ushered out of Thessalonica because they had the audacity to speak of a king that wasn't concerned with power, but was concerned about reconciliation, grace, and love.
As I have taken this perspective more seriously over the years what I am finding is that my friends who place their political ideologies ahead of all else find me noxious.
They believe me to be some silly pastor with his head in the clouds and disconnected from reality.
They believe that my ideals are foolish and ridiculous.
They try to inform me of the “real world.”
They tell me that those thoughts are nice for Sunday but they don't have a place in the real world.
They tell me that grace might save their souls but it has no role in the day to day life society.
It strikes me, that when we get serious about grace, love, justice, and mercy then we experience something similar to Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
To be sure, as I seek to live, teach, and preach this way there are no riots springing up. But what does happen is a gentle roll of the eyes and a quiet dismissal.
Honestly, I'm not sure which is worse.