Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Paul's Customary Preaching

Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” – Acts 17:2-3  (NET)

As the preaching of the Apostle Paul is examined, as it is presented by the book of Acts, it becomes fairly clear that his preaching of the crucifixion and Resurrection was the most important aspect of his message.  In this verse referenced above, the word “customarily” is used.  It probably has a four-fold application, in that it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue, as he did here in Thessalonica; that he addressed them from the Scriptures; that the purpose of his addressing them from the Scriptures was to explain and demonstrate that the Christ had to suffer and also rise from the dead; and that Jesus of Nazareth, the Man whose death had been ordered by Pilate, was the Christ. 

Paul preached the Gospel (Jesus is Lord).  It is the witness of the New Testament that it is the preaching of this message that changes hearts and minds.  The writings of the earliest believers and followers of Jesus seem to make it clear that in the preaching of the message that Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of all, the power of the Creator God goes forth for salvation (deliverance, forgiveness of sin, exodus, new creation, etc…).  It is insisted that it is in the preaching of this message that faith (allegiance to Jesus) is stirred and belief is established.  That is why the specific message of the Gospel is foundational.  That is why, echoing the statement from Acts, this message can be seen to be the single most important theme in all of Paul’s writing (the written version of his preaching), and why it ultimately forms the basis for one’s ability to understand the message of the entire Bible. 

For some reason (Paul insists that it is the power of God), preaching Christ crucified and resurrected, regardless of how ridiculous this may seem, is the message that persuades people.  This can be seen when one goes on to read that, following Paul’s proclamations concerning the Christ, “Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large group of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (17:4).  This, of course, is deemed to be the work of the Holy Spirit, as it is the Holy Spirit that moves one to a confession of Jesus as Lord (which is part of what the declaration of Him as Messiah entailed), as well as to a place of believing something so absurdly foolish (especially for the Greeks) as a man rising from the dead after being subjected to a Roman crucifixion.  Nevertheless, the believer is forced to realize that it is the preaching of this Gospel message, owing to the power  that lies trangely therein, that persuades and inspires this cherished, all-important belief.

Naturally, not all were persuaded, as one immediately discovers that “the Jews became jealous…and set the city in an uproar” (17:5).  After the meeting in the synagogue had disbanded, because of their purported jealousy, they went looking for Paul and Silas, but were unable to find them.  Not being able to locate those dangerous preachers, the mob instead dragged Paul and Silas’ host (a man named Jason) “before the city officials, screaming, ‘These people who have stirred up trouble throughout the world have come here too…  They are all acting against Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another king names Jesus!’” (17:6b-7) 

This serves well to point out the nature of the message of Jesus as Messiah.  This was not just a spiritual proclamation in which Jesus reigns in heaven and in somebody’s heart.  This message of Jesus as the Christ included the proclamation that Jesus was indeed King --- the King of Kings.  The Jews said this to the city officials, not because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but because they were well aware of everything that was implied by the title of Messiah, which included his being the ruler of all the earth.  Those that preached Jesus as King were presenting Him as the King of God’s kingdom that had been ushered into existence at the Resurrection, with that kingdom composed of all those that believed the message of Jesus.  Furthermore, the message was not that there was “another king,” but that Jesus was “the King,” and that all kings were now subject to Him.

Because of the uproar, and quite understandably, “The brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea at once, during the night” (17:10a).  Not surprisingly, “When they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue” (17:10b), as that was Paul’s custom.  What did he do at the synagogue?  It is most likely, again because this was his custom and his call, “he addressed them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ’.” (17:2b-3)  We are told that “These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the Scriptures every day to see if these things were so” (17:11). 

This hearkens back to the foundational message, demonstrating the supreme importance of the preaching and understanding of the pure Gospel message of Jesus crucified and resurrected and shown forth to be the Son of God (a kingly term, then applied to the Caesar) in power.  The Bereans are said to have searched the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said about the Christ, and therefore about Jesus, was true.  It appears that nothing was more important than understanding Who Jesus was, along with the fact of, and what was implied by His being raised from the dead.  Together with this, one must be sure to note the power of God that is once again on display through the singular preaching of this message, together with the searching of Scripture, as it is said that “many of them believed, along with quite a few prominent Greek women and men” (17:12).          

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