THE BATTLE TO HEAR THE TRUTH
By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Boise, ID. August 2, 1992)
My text is Acts 17:1-14
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”
And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king – Jesus.” And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.
These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there.
I would like to draw from these two different receptions of the gospel and make some applications.
1.) The Thessalonian Jews
These Jews acted much the same way that the Jews in Jerusalem treated Jesus. They moved with envy - envy that they would lose their position of power and influence over the people. Whey then could not do anything to the apostle's group, they hired themselves thugs and liars for a false witness, grabbed what disciples they could and appealed to the Roman government that they were law breakers and disloyal to Caesar claiming another king in Jesus. They did everything they could to shut up the knowledge of the truth.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of the heavens against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
Here you have the first of 8 woes by Jesus denouncing the religious leaders of that day. This first woe is by comparison one of the most damning, because they were hindering people from going into the kingdom of God. It is the picture that the leaders were invited to come in (Paul went first to the Synagogue) but they would not go in, and then they stood against the door so that no one else could go in. Another picture is:
“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”
So, here you have the explanation of how they shut-up the kingdom from men - they held back the key of knowledge. So you have the situation of some people have the power to control other people's destiny by hindering or not hindering the understanding of knowledge.
This is the situation in most denominations today. In each one you have thousand upon thousands of people who have bought into a system of belief that cannot be supported by the scriptures. And it is a stronghold in which the members are kept ignorant of what the Bible says concerning their belief system. The authority of the scriptures is not held up to the people as important - so when someone within them questions what they say or do - the only answer that comes back is, "Because we want to." or "We want to do it that way - so what?" or "That is the way we've always believed." or support is taken from some authoritative man in their history, like the Pope or Martin Luther.
Strongholds of defiance against reverencing God in what we do and believe can only be escaped from or brought down by the truth of God's word.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
A knowledge of God's word is what should have led the Jews to accept their Messiah. But most of the Jews would not come to Jesus and Jesus tells them why.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out.
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
This is the will of the Father who sent me, that of all he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
So what we have is, the people who the Father gives to Jesus will come to him and he will accept them and raise them from the dead at the last day. But how does that happen?
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
So the Father gives people to Jesus by drawing them. And this is how they are drawn.
It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.’10 Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
Then he immediately explains that this need not be a direct teaching.
Not that anyone has seen the Father, except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.
How then should they have heard and learned of the Father? Jesus had already explained by telling them why they would not come to him - a heart of unbelief.
You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me. But you are not willing to come to me that you may have life.
“I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?
Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you – Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
So, whether a Jew came to Jesus or not, had a lot to do with whether they believed Moses or not.
Now, if these Jews who did not believe Moses turn and teach their unbelief to the general population and explain away what Moses and the prophets said about Christ, then they have effectively shut up the door to the kingdom and thrown the key of knowledge away. They would not go into the kingdom themselves and they stood against the door and hindered those that were trying and wanted to get in. They set themselves in direct opposition to the grace of God and his efforts to save man.
Paul speaks about this and the terrible judgement that thwarting God's grace would bring upon them.
For you, brethren, became imitators of the assemblies of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.
2.) The Bereans
The first thing we might ask at this point is, could not the people just check it our for themselves? The answer is, Yes. So why would they not? Because most of the Jews had their faith misplaced. Instead of putting their faith solidly on the rock of God's word, they were putting it in men and their traditions of history. But on the other hand some Jews did not and went straight to God's word - like the Bereans.
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.
This is the example of people who loved the truth and were open minded. But more than anything they loved the word of God and placed their confidence there not necessarily in what a man was telling them, but they checked it our for themselves.
This is the way we should be. We must keep a vigilant love for the truth foremost before us and a diligent study of God's word daily so that we do not fall into the same error as the Jews. There is a danger that we will become lax and start rather letting someone else do all the studying and thinking for us. And then when it is all digested into some plausible doctrine, to want to be spoon fed what we need without having to think too much.
Do you ever, not even look at what you are suppose to be studying until you get into Bible Class? I have been guilty of this as I am sure we all have at one time or another. Do not let that become a habit.
In my travels in different congregations, I have seen many Bereans and also many Thessalonian Jews. There is an attitude that some people can get to rationalize their lack of study - that is when we think, "Well, I'm the student and he's the teacher and it's his primary responsibility to get the lesson and then tell me what it means. So, why should I have to study it before class?"
I think that is a wrong and dangerous attitude. It is our primary responsibility to learn the truth. The teacher can aid us and assist us in doing that, but the bottom line for us standing before God, is that it is our responsibility to open our Bibles and study God's word ourselves.
If we should let our duty to study our Bibles be taken over completely by our teachers, it will turn into a monster that we may not like. And that is not a policy that we decide on but it is a situation we drift into and pretty soon not much is ever required of the students. Of course, the teacher is at fault too for not demanding class participation and individual study. Preachers fall into this trap when they have to please the congregation and so do not require any participation in class. The worst situation that I have seen was a class we did not have to study for, because we were not going to be asked any questions. What is more, we were not allowed to ask any questions either - especially if we disagreed.
Of course, what that will ultimately lead to is a kind of clergy - laity distinction, where only certain men who are recognized can do any thinking - and the "mass" or the rest of the congregation had better keep in their place. What we call this is preacher-itis. Where a congregation hires this young fellow to study for them and preach it real pretty on Sunday morning - and they sit back and spiritually go to sleep. What happens is that since the preacher is the only one doing any studying of God's word, he eventually becomes the only one who knows anything about the Bible.
But brethren, I am persuaded better things of you. We will be like the Bereans and receive the word with all readiness of mind and search the scriptures daily, whether the things preached from this pulpit or taught in our classes are true.
When we love the truth and love God by diligently studying and keeping his word, we will be less likely to be entrapped by majority or minority pressure put upon us to believe something the scriptures will not support. You can see this type of pressure in:
Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought him?”
The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man!”
Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
These leaders were wrong, but they stacked up their higher learning as infallibility, and the majority who did not know the scriptures went along with them. They did not put their trust in God when they perceived Jesus was right.
But although he had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
“Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
So that they might not see with the eyes,
and understand with the heart and turn,
and I would heal them.”
These things Isaiah said when he saw his glory and spoke of him.
Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
(You mean all this can happen if I don't study my Bible for myself?)
It can be worse. Church leaders can shut up the kingdom of Heaven from you. So, where should our confidence be? Not in men, certainly. Not in the preacher or the teacher for their own sake. But in the word of God.
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God which he purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Have you ever heard an elder or preacher teach error?
How did you know it was wrong?
By a "Thus saith the Lord", by a book-chapter-and-verse.
In the Old Covenant God said, "To the Law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is not light in them" (Isa. 8:19-20)
Young people who have obeyed the gospel, will, more likely than not, reach an age where they will start questioning what their parents have told them. Some kids end up leaving the church altogether. But do not let that happen to you. If you see something odd that you do not agree with - go to God with it. Open his word and find the truth and do it right. (Like Crosby, Stills, and Nash's song: "Teach your parents well.") If you begin to think your parents are hypocrites - then keep God's word yourself better than what you have seen and set the example for others.
Thus says Jehovah:
"Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
It has been said that each generation has to rediscover Christianity all over again for themselves. Young people - do not chuck the whole thing - but rediscover what God means in his word. The adults here, the preacher and your parents, don't know it all. The word of God cannot be tapped dry. There are yet vistas of understanding of the truth to which few people have attained or will attain. God's word is open to discovery, and your walk with him can be richer, more intimate and more enlightening than you ever imagined or that you ever may have seen in your parents. (which, I hope for the parents' sake, is not the case)
Jesus once answered a lawyer's question with, "What does the Law say, how do you read it?" The word of God has the answers. Do not ever let your study of the scriptures be hindered or superceded by anyone. It is a rich privilege that we can enjoy and a duty not to be taken lightly or forgotten. The church will be stronger for your study, and your walk with God will be the delight of your heart and the satisfaction of your soul.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
I have sworn and confirmed
That I will keep your righteous judgments.
I am afflicted very much;
Revive me, O Jehovah, according to your word.
Accept, I pray, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Jehovah,
And teach me your judgments.
My life is continually in my hand,
Yet I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
Yet I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever,
For they are the rejoicing of my heart.
I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes
Forever, to the very end.
Paul tells us in 1Thess. 5:12, to prove all things, test them, try them and hold fast to that which is good. If you do, no man will ever block or shut up the kingdom of Heaven from you and no man will ever cheat you out of your crown.
~ Invitation ~