God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts, we left Paul and Barnabas as they were exonerated from the false charges against them in Philippi. They left the city and on their way out, they visited a recent convert who previously opened her heart and her home to Paul and his crew, her name was Lydia. They also took time to encourage the brothers there in Philippi, and then they left the area. In that previous post we saw how Paul (most likely) forgave those magistrates but also set a boundary with them. And we explored the connection between forgiveness and successfully setting healthy boundaries. If you’re interested you can read more here: Are You Unsuccessful When Setting Boundaries? Here’s Something I’ve Found to Be Remarkably Helpful: Acts 16:35-40.
In today’s passage we’ll look at two groups of people and the contrast between how each group responded to God’s messengers Paul and Silas.
Paul and Silas in Thessalonica–Acts 17:1-9
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.Acts 17:1-9
Paul and Silas in Berea–Acts 17:10-15
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.Acts 17:10-15
So in Thessalonica, after sharing Jesus in the synagogue, some were persuaded to believe in Jesus and to join with Paul and Silas. But there was also a group of Jews who were jealous. And this group rounded up some local men of low character, and they formed a mob. They twisted Paul’s teachings about King Jesus to mean that Paul and his crew opposed Caesar. The local authorities came to Jason’s house, where Paul and Silas were probably staying. But as it happened, Paul and Silas weren’t there at the time. So they took Jason into custody, and Jason had to post bond in order to be released.
These charges were serious, and the consequences could be severe. So the brothers sent Paul and Silas away by night. They traveled to Berea, a smaller city off the beaten path. And we read that these Jews in Berea responded differently from the Jews in Thessalonica. They listened to Paul with an eagerness to learn. And they diligently researched the scriptures, and they confirmed what Paul shared about Jesus.
So we see these two groups from two different towns respond differently. The first group is hostile toward God’s messengers. But the second group receives them gladly.
Abraham’s Biological Offspring, or, True Children of Abraham?
In John 8:39-47, the Pharisees engage Jesus in an argument. And during that argument the Pharisees make a point of telling Jesus that “Abraham is our father.”
Jesus responds, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did . . .”
And what did Abraham do?
I’m sure you remember the account of how Abraham received the three messengers of God in Genesis chapter 18. These three messengers were passing by Abraham’s tent during the heat of the day and when Abraham saw them, he ran to meet them. He bowed himself to the earth. He invited them to rest there with him and to allow him to bring the three messengers refreshment. He gave them water to wash their feet. He had Sarah make them cakes. He took one of his best calves, tender and good, and prepared it for them. Then he took curds and milk and the calf and all that was prepared and set it before them. And he stood by while they ate.
Abraham also listened earnestly to all the messengers had to say.
Abraham received God’s messengers with warmth, and gladness, and hospitality.
And when God made promises to Abraham, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)
And Abraham was committed to obeying God’s words. So much so that he even brought Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah as a sacrifice at God’s command. (When examining that passage closely, we see that Abraham had faith that God would provide the actual sacrifice, and that Abraham and his son Isaac would return from the mountain, together.) (see Genesis 22:1-19)
But the Pharisees in John chapter 8 had the Son of God, they had God incarnate, standing before them but they didn’t respond the way Abraham responded.
I’m reminded of the joke about the Christian aliens who visit earth. When these aliens arrive in their space ship we expected a war of the worlds type scenario. But they turn out to be amazing. They’re warm and friendly. So the people of planet earth put together a delegation of world leaders: political leaders, business leaders, and spiritual leaders too. Each leader is allowed to ask a few questions of the aliens.
The Pope is a part of this group and when it comes to his turn he asks, “Do you know of Jesus Christ?”
“Do we know Jesus Christ?” the aliens answer. “Yes of course we do! Jesus is just super! He changed our planet completely. Because of him we now love God and love each other, and we’re here because we even love species on other planets. Do we know him? Yes, in fact Jesus made his annual visit to our planet just a few weeks ago.”
The Pope looks confused. “Annual visit?” the Pope says. “Jesus hasn’t visited planet earth for over 2,000 years. How is it that he visits your planet once a year?”
The aliens think for a moment and say, “Well maybe it’s the chocolate. The very first time Jesus visited, we gifted him chocolate, so, maybe he comes back for the chocolate. Why, what did you guys do?”
The Pharisees’ Father
In that same chapter where the Pharisees are arguing with Jesus, chapter 8 of the book of John, Jesus tells the Pharisees that their father is the devil. (John 8:43-44) Some scholars believe that God provides us with a description of the devil in Isaiah chapter 14.
In Isaiah 14:13-14 we read:
You said in your heart,Isaiah 14:13-14
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
Notice the five “I wills” in that description?
He has said in his heart:
“I will ascend to heaven.”
“I will set my throne on high”.
“I will sit on the mount of assembly.”
“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.”
“I will make myself like the Most High.”
He said in his heart: “I will . . .” Five times he said, “I will.”
You know, I can be hard on the Pharisees. When I hear Jesus rebuke the Pharisees I can sometimes feel righteous indignation welling up in me. But what disturbs me about this passage is how I have found myself saying the same. “I will do this,” or “I will do that.”
I’m all about how “I will.”
I’m all about my will.
Who is Our Father?
So how do I respond to the Father and His messengers? And how do you respond to the Father and His messengers? What kind of welcome do we provide God, and God’s Son Jesus?
When I’m all about my will at the exclusion of His will, I’m not a child of Abraham. When I’m scheduled to the point where I have no time to love God and love people, I’m not a child of Abraham.
Another way to look at it, is to ask what we fill ourselves with. When my life is so filled with other interests that I have no room for Jesus, I don’t have the capacity to welcome Jesus the way Abraham welcomed God’s messengers. It’s like that time Kathy baked a chicken and made gravy and cooked vegetables and bought fresh baked bread and made a beautiful salad. But not long before dinner, while I was out running errands, I grabbed a couple of quarter pounders with cheese and a large order of fries and a coke. Then when I arrived home I had no appetite for Kathy’s vastly superior home cooked meal. When I fill myself that way, I’m not a child of Abraham.
I’ve been guilty of living in sin in these ways. Maybe you have too. I don’t know how you feel about it but that’s why I’m so disturbed, troubled, and distressed by the way Jesus identified the Pharisees as children of the great enemy of God.
Only those who welcome Jesus the way Abraham welcomed God’s messengers are children of Abraham.
Oh Death Where is Your Sting?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death,” Jesus said. (John 8:51)
In another part of the gospel of John, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (John 14:21 a) The husband half of a young couple I know, recently told me about their first years of marriage: “We spent those first years finding out what was important to each of us, and what bothered each of us. We worked hard to figure all that out early.” They’re an amazing example of what marriage should look like. Their love for one another is obvious because you can see how each one wants to please the other.
That’s exactly how our relationship with Jesus should be. We should love him so much that we love to keep his word, that we might please him. And if we keep his word, as Jesus promised, we’ll never see death.
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.1 Corinthians 15:55-58
Image of child praying via pxhere.com — Public Domain
Available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.