Many Hardships; Acts 17:1-9

Why do we need to know about Thessalonica? It sounds like repetition of quite a lot that has gone before. The message preached, the opposition from jealous members of the synagogue, the threats and the ban on the apostolic team coming back. It would be easy to pass over assuming that it is just padding. But there is no padding in Acts. If it is here, Luke put it here for a reason. 

For sure there are interesting and instructive details:

  • After Philippi they went directly for the next major strategic centre. Thessalonica was the chief city of Macedonia. They didn't stop at other places en route, though they could have done 
  • We find out some more about how the apologetic to Jews worked: The Christ was prophcied to rise from the dead in the scriptures, Jesus rose from the dead, ipso facto, Jesus is the Christ (a la, John 20:21, Acts 2:36, 9:22). The whole message of the resurrection is important in itself, of course. But mainly because it proves that Jesus is the promised Christ
  • We discover that this time the message and the conversions come with "explaining and proving", without obvious sign miracles accompanying. Clearly miraculous signs are not necessary in every place. Persuasive argument itself doesn't get people into the Kingdom, but here as in many places it was clearly used by God. We shouldn't neglect being as razor-sharp in our prosecution of truth as we can be (while never neglecting soft-hearted kindness)

But none of these I think quite justify the inclusion of the episode. I wonder if it is here for two other reasons:

  • Demonstration of how the general mission into Macedonia worked out, following, and in response to, the vision from Heaven. Perhaps Theophilus expected to hear "there was a vision from Heaven, so everything went swimmingly." Perhaps we expect to hear that if God clearly leads us into a sphere of mission that it will go smoothly and well from a human perspective. I know of missionary-sending churches in other countries among whom this mindset is so prevalent that if those they send can't tally large measurable results they get recalled. Luke brings multiple examples to show that just isn't how it worked. There can be authentic visions from Heaven following which things get much worse rather than better, humanly speaking. Indeed that is the kind of time we want to hold most strongly on to clear indications we have had of God's guidance. I suspect that recalling the vision would have been extremely important in these trying times
  • To show the kind of form opposition took. Among other things the passage is a teaching on persecution. First the organised mob used violence to intimidate. There was a lynching party. When they couldn't find their chief targets they changed their approach. Dragging Jason and others before the authorities they bully the authorities with the charge that these men are (a) causing extreme trouble and (b) committing treason. Note that they got the message right - that Jesus was being proclaimed as King

This sounds remarkably contemporary. In every age it is possible to use the argument that this message and its bearers disrupt the status quo. It will always be possible to accuse of disloyalty to public institutions that claim ultimate obedience, whether it is the emperor or political correctness.

I am interested in what can and cannot be said in the public square at any one moment and why. At the moment in the UK the case is being strongly made by opponents of the gospel that Christians should not be allowed to speak about God because of the potential for offence. That we are being deliberately marginalised is beyond doubt.

Here is the thing: if you are so inclined you can use that argument almost all the time, because real faith in a living God will always disrupt the status quo. And there will always be people who hate it, and always be arguments that to allow it is dangerous to society at large. Luke simply gives us a first example. Yet another of his normative events. Yes, historical. But also an indication of the likely way we should expect it to happen everywhere. Get used to it, people.

The thing that should worry Western believers is when it doesn't happen. Because that demonstrates that non-Christian society perceives it has nothing to be concerned about. Which in turn reveals that they haven't heard us telling the gospel with any clarity whatsoever. For sure it is good to live peaceful and quiet lives. But it isn't good to so live if the reason is we have completely obscured the gospel. Beware if it all seems too simple and easy.