As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
Today we’re continuing in our journey through the book of Acts. And — as you heard read at your campus — the text we’re looking at today is going to reveal to us two ways we respond to God’s Word — meaning both the gospel — in particular — and Scripture — as a whole. And by we — I mean — people in general. But I want you to keep yourself in mind throughout this sermon —throughout the sermon keep asking yourself, “How am I responding to God’s Word?” So — you may be wondering — “What are the two ways we respond?” Here they are. We can receive what God’s Word teaches us or we can reject what it teaches. Receiving or rejecting — these are our options. We either welcome what God’s Word says or we oppose what it says.
But here’s the sneaky danger for all of us. There’s no middle ground. Meaning, a lukewarm reception of the gospel and God’s Word — for example — where you receive some of what Scripture teaches while rejecting other things it teaches — is actually to reject all of it. And this is fairly common in our culture today. Most people readily accept what’s found in Psalm 23 and the comfort of God being a shepherd — or First Corinthians 13 — the “love” chapter is still read at weddings of Christians and non-Christians alike.
But then there are other passages rejected by many. Passages that define marriage as being between one man and one woman or verses calling us to repent of our sin — are a few examples. Now — to be sure — there is a growth process in our understanding of God’s Word. So the lukewarmness I’m talking about — isn’t the idea of someone needing time to grow and learn and understand what Scripture teaches. I’m talking about the flat out, “I understand exactly what God’s Word says about — pick a topic — and I disagree” — kind of response. If you do this — no matter what other parts of the Bible you like — you’ve rejected all of it — because you’ve taken the position of being an editor of God’s Word. You’ve crowned yourself to be the final authority of what is and isn’t acceptable for God to say to us. And — in doing this — you reject God too — as we’ll see in our verses. So — there’s a loving warning for all of us today — be aware of how you respond to God’s Word. And — remember the question to ask yourself— “How am I responding to God’s Word?”
REJECTING GOD’S WORD
Let’s see what it means to reject God’s Word. Turn with me to Acts chapter 17 — beginning in verse 1.
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 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.”...5 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. 6 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, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.” (Acts 17:1-3, 5-9 ESV)
And skipping to verse 13 — where we’re in a completely different city now — Berea — we read, “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. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 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 17:13-15 ESV)
The first response to God’s Word — that we’re looking at — is the response of rejection. But — before we get to it — let’s first acknowledge and appreciate the reputation Paul and his merry band of companions have. Now — there’s some exaggeration by their opponents as they hope to make life difficult for them — to be sure — but the accusation against Paul and his friends is that “they’ve turned the world upside down.” Imagine that being our reputation as a group of believers. Where our faith in Jesus has so influenced who we are and what we do — both individually and corporately — that people would say, “Those Gateway people are a group who’s turning the world upside down.” I don’t know about you — but I kinda think that’s what our world needs right now. What would need to change in your life — the way you spend your time, and money, what you do as a family — for people to think that those Gateway folks are responsible for turning the world upside down for Jesus?
But — back to our verses. Paul and his crew travel from Philippi to Thessalonica which is about a 100 mile journey. So this isn’t a day trip — thus there’s the two difficult to pronounce towns included on the itinerary. They traveled about 30 miles to the first town — another 30 miles to the second town — and then made it the rest of the way to Thessalonica. The trip would’ve taken them three or so days to get to Thessalonica which — by the way — was the second largest city in Greece at this point in history. It had a population of over 200,000 (John Polhill, Acts (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2001).) and was the capital of Macedonia.
There’s one other thing you should know to understand why there’s such a strong reaction in this city. One scholar writes that there was a “growing imperial theology…in the [city]. The essence of this theology was that the emperor was the universal savior whose [gifts] and aid should be proclaimed as good news throughout the region…Local officials would be expected to enforce loyalty to Caesar in order to maintain peace and help the city stay in the good graces of the emperor.” (Ben Witherington, III, Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 503-504.)
So here’s the deal — Paul brings a message that’s in direct opposition to the beliefs of the people in Thessalonica. They believe that the emperor is their savior. And the good news to spread is how the emperor takes care of his people because — in doing so — you stay on his good side. Now you can imagine the conflict, right? Because Paul comes in and proclaims that Jesus is the only Savior. And he spreads the Good News of how Christ — through his life, death, and resurrection — has taken care of our biggest needs — to be rescued from Satan, sin, death, and Hell. And he tells people that you can only have one Lord and Savior — either Jesus or Caesar — there’s no middle ground. For to receive one is to reject the other. And — now that you understand the situation — you see what they mean by “Paul’s turning the world upside down,” right? Paul’s message brought more than a little bit of disruption to the city.
Once in the city, Paul heads to the synagogue and begins to reason with the Jews — from the Scriptures — why they should receive Christ as their Savior. Paul would’ve used the Old Testament as evidence to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. And there would’ve been some back and forth between Paul and the Jews. Discussion. Debating. Questions asked. Responses given. And — based on what we read — the crux of the discussion was focused on why the Messiah had to suffer and die.
Now — though not exactly the same as dialoging in a synagogue — a way we try to promote dialog with you is by providing you the opportunity to send in any questions you have about the sermon, the Christian faith in general, or whatever spiritual questions you have — which we do our best to respond to on our church podcast. If you don’t know, you can send your questions in from the church app or our website. If we’ve had a similar question to yours — in the past — we’ll direct you to the episode that covers your question. If we haven’t had one similar to yours — it’s put on a list that we’re working our way through. And — when we answer your question — someone contacts you so you know to be watching for the episode to be released. And — kids — this week we’re recording an episode with your questions. I think we’ve done two episodes with questions from our elementary age kids and this will be our third. Keep sending in your questions.
But — back to our text — and one way that people respond to God’s Word — by rejecting it — that’s what we see happening here in Thessalonica. The people reject God’s Word — as spoken through Paul — because they were jealous — our text tells us. So jealous they get some wicked men to start an uproar in the city. And they send the mob to go find Jason — he was most likely hosting Paul and his companions —and they target Jason in order to force him to hand over his guests.
Now — let’s pause and really look at how far their rejection of God’s Word has taken them. They drag Jason and some others before the city council — because they can’t find Paul — and accuse them of getting citizens of the city to reject Caesar as king. Jason has to pay a security deposit — this was like a bail payment — in order to go free — most likely with the condition that Paul and Silas have to go — they’ve got to leave the city. Which is what happens. Thus Paul and Silas head to Berea.
Now — after Paul and Silas share the gospel with the Bereans — having gone to the synagogue in this town just like they did in Thessalonica — but experiencing a better response in this city — look who hears about it and takes it upon themselves to travel over 40 miles to Berea. The folks from Thessalonica who had rejected God’s Word. Talk about a strong response of opposition to God’s Word! These folks weren’t satisfied with Paul just getting kicked out of their town — they want him kicked out of a town 40 miles away! That’s some determination.
And their opposition works. Paul ends up having to leave Berea. And he begins the 200 mile trip to Athens. A trip long enough to give him time to reflect on all that had happened in both Thessalonica and Berea. In fact — as we progress through Acts — we’re going to see Paul adjust his strategy as he sees this response — of rejecting God’s Word — being the norm among the Jews — he’ll change his strategy and start focusing on the Gentiles — non-Jewish people. He’s realizing that a different approach — of sharing God’s Word is needed — especially if he wants to stop getting kicked out of every city he visits.
RECEIVING GOD’S WORD
We’ve seen one way people respond to God’s Word — by rejecting it. Now let’s see what it means to respond to God’s Word by receiving it. We’re back in Athens — where we’ve already seen a group reject God’s Word — and in verse 4 we read...
“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.” (Acts 17:4 ESV)
And — beginning in verse 10 — we read…
“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 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. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” (Acts 17:10-12 ESV)
Earlier we saw what Jason — and some others who received the Word — we saw the troubles they experienced. These are some real heroes of our faith and — other than Jason — we don’t even know their names. And be amazed by this — they most likely had just believed in the gospel and received Jesus as their Savior and King — Paul hadn’t been in the city very long — and yet — under difficult persecution — they persevered. They don’t fold. They don’t renounce their faith in Christ.
The next time you find yourself reading Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians — think of this moment — think of Jason and these unnamed men and women — remember their steadfastness. It makes Paul’s words all the more sweeter. Words like, “We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. 3 As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ…you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 6 NLT)
They received the gospel with joy in spite of the severe suffering they experienced because of it. What a God-honoring reputation.
And — then — as we move to Berea — we see more people respond to God’s Word by receiving it. The people here are described as being more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica — meaning — they were more “open-minded or free from prejudice.” ( F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, 327.) They heard Paul’s message and received it with eagerness — examining the Scriptures to verify if what Paul was teaching was true or not.
Do you remember the question I told you to keep in mind? “How am I responding to God’s Word?” Another way of asking the question is, “How receptive are you to God’s Word?” Or how receptive are you to God’s preached Word? What’s your immediate reaction when God’s Word confronts or challenges something you believe? Christian or not — how do you respond? If your first reaction is to reject God’s Word — ask yourself, “Why am I not open to seeing where this may lead me instead of rejecting it so quickly?” Ask yourself, “Why am I so sure that I’m right and God’s Word is wrong?”
Now — when it comes to God’s preached Word — and listen to me closely here — don’t ever take what I say to be true just because “Pastor Josh has said it.” Now I do hope that you trust me — but my greater desire is that you would be people who examine what’s preached with God’s Word. And — not just what I preach — but what your favorite internet or TV preacher says. If you’re reading a Christian book, have your Bible open to compare what you’re reading with God’s Word. And — beyond Christian preachers, teachers, authors, YouTubers, and bloggers — like the Bereans — my hope is that you will examine all things with Scripture. What your favorite politicians says — examine it against Scripture. What your favorite news source says — compare it to God’s Word. Make God’s Word the standard by which everything else is examined so that you don’t allow everything else to be the standard by which you examine God’s Word.
And — here’s what I know. This isn’t what people in our country do — even those of us who are Christians. Here’s why I say this. The American Bible Society released a report called “State of the Bible 2021” (American Bible Society, “State of the Bible: USA 2021”) which focused on our — US citizens — relationship with the Bible. The report found that 16% of Americans read the Bible most days of the week — that’s 16%. The majority of the remaining 84% read the Bible less than once per year or never. Another study found that 26 million Americans stopped reading the Bible regularly during the COVID pandemic. (Adam Macinnis, “Report: 26 Million Americans Stopped Reading the Bible Regularly During COVID-19,” April 20, 2022.) In response to these findings, the American Bible Society said, “The state of the nation and the state of the Bible in the nation are inextricably linked.” What does that mean? It means — dear Christians — if we don’t like the state of our nation, we need to examine the state of the Bible in our lives.
Now — those statistics make it obvious that — you can’t examine what I or anyone else preaches or teaches or writes or says on the Internet — with God’s Word — if you’re not reading God’s Word. And though there may be a difference between out right rejecting God’s Word and being someone who doesn’t read it — I don’t know if the difference matters all that much practically speaking. Never reading God’s Word and rejecting it outright essentially end in the same place. And it’s a very dangerous place to be. How so? For you — if you’re more of a trusting person — you won’t know if you’re being led astray by a false teacher. And for others — who trust themselves more than others — you won’t know when God’s Word and your beliefs are in conflict.
Now — I hope — all of this will encourage more and more of us to open God’s Word and begin reading and studying it. But one warning is in order — or think of this as helpful advice: When you study God’s Word — remember that you’re not the one making a judgment on it. The Bible passes judgment on us. Similar to looking in a mirror, when you read the Bible you’ll find that it will reflect your true nature and show you who you really are. And — sometimes — we don’t like what we see in the mirror, am I right? I keep thinking, “Where’d all of this gray hair come from?”
Now — there will be much that encourages you in God’s Word — for example, you’ll read of God’s love for you — but there will be much in the reflection that may make you squirm in shame or reject in anger. It’ll be tempting to think of others — as we look in the mirror of God’s Word — and let their image be what we focus on rather than our own reflection. Some will see others who are better than us and be discouraged. Others will see people we think we’re better than and have a false sense of security. But the reflection we must focus on is our own. Let God’s Word reveal to you who God truly is and who you truly are. In doing so — you’ll find that you’re more undeserving of love and forgiveness than you ever imagined, but more loved by God — in Christ Jesus — than you ever dared to dream. The bad news is overwhelmed by the Good News that Jesus is Savior and King. How are you responding to this news right now? Christian or not — what is your response when you hear of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ?
Now — for those of us who consider Gateway to be our church — if you listen to our church podcast — we recently wrapped up a group of episodes based on a book the staff and elders were reading together. Well — we’ve begun a new book titled The Compelling Community (These application suggestions are found on pages 96-97.) — and episodes on this book are coming soon. I’d encourage you to get a copy of it and read along with us and send in any questions you may have about what you read in the book.
In a chapter focused on preaching — the authors suggest some responsibilities the congregation has when it comes to the preaching in their church. “Wait what? We’re responsible for the preaching?” That’s right! Well I thought these application points fit nicely with the idea of receiving God’s Word. So what are your responsibilities — as the congregation — when it comes to the preaching of God’s Word?
First, you’re responsible for what preaching you support and listen to. Now this definitely includes the preaching at Gateway — and I’ll be clear — my — pastor Josh’s preaching. But — in the day and age we live in — this would include all of the sermons you listen to on YouTube, podcasts, or wherever. Don’t just blindly consume preaching and Bible teaching. There’s good, faithful Bible preaching and there’s bad, unfaithful Bible preaching. And — like the Bereans — you should examine the Scriptures to see if what you’re hearing preached is in accordance with God’s Word. That’s true for my preaching and true for any preaching you hear. You’re responsible for what preaching you support and listen to.
Second, you’re responsible for changing — or aligning yourself — according to the Scriptures as you hear them preached. Matt Heft — one of our elders at Gateway — mentioned this in his sermon a few weeks ago. It’s not enough to just hear the Word of God preached — or to even feel bad or guilty because of something you hear that you know needs to change in your life — change must occur. James — the younger brother of Jesus — writes, “don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:22 NLT)
He then goes on to write — and see if you notice a familiar imagery in these words — “For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” (James 1:23-24 NLT)
Earlier we reflected on how God’s Word is a mirror for us. And we either use it as a mirror to examine our lives — or we use something else — usually others — and often others that we view ourselves as better than — to compare ourselves to. Well James says that even with God’s Word as the mirror you can still walk away and be unchanged. How? By not responding to the Word by receiving it and changing because of it.
Now — in addition to preaching — here at Gateway — we have Equip classes that are offered to help you understand the Bible better — because — you have to understand what the Bible teaches first — so you can be changed by it. If you haven’t signed up for an Equip class — be sure to sign up for one of the classes we’ll be offering this Fall — registration will be opening up soon.
Another resource we provide is RightNow Media. Think of it as sort of a Netflix of Bible teaching and related resources. And you can have access to all of the thousands of resources — for free — if you go to our website — scroll over the media tab — and click on RightNow Media. Immerse yourself in learning and understanding God’s Word so you can be changed by it.
In addition to these, there are many wonderful Bible studies that Gateway folks organically do together. We’ve got businessmen who meet for breakfast to study God’s Word. There are women meeting together to study God’s Word in homes throughout our community. Some of these groups meet weekly. Others happen monthly. There are all kinds of formal and informal opportunities for you to grow in understanding God’s Word. Take advantage of these opportunities.
Finally, you’re responsible for helping others change according to the preached Word of God. The preaching of God’s Word is a corporate affair. It’s not just me up here and you sitting there. Preaching is an “all of us — together” — undertaking. Two ways this plays out. First, preaching is a partnership because I can’t do everything at Gateway. I can’t be up here preaching, and serving in Kidway, and helping park cars, and serving coffee in the cafe — at both of our campuses — you get the idea. I’ve said this before — when you serve — you give me time to prepare and preach God’s Word. So everytime God’s Word is preached — know that you’ve played a part in helping the sermon be prepared and proclaimed — preaching really is a partnership.
And — second — you helping others change — according to the preached Word — plays out in our Life Groups. Many of our Life Groups discuss the sermon — they discuss how the preached Word of God is to be applied in their lives. “How should we now live — having heard God’s Word preached?” — that’s what Life Groups wrestle with together. Now there are some Life Groups who discuss God’s Word in other ways — a book study, a Bible study, and so on — but if your Life Group’s primary focus is something other than God’s Word and what change should be taking place in your lives — then you’re missing the point of why you’re gathered together. For sure — catch up about life, talking about the latest game, or whatever — but make sure you get to God’s Word.
Yet — gathering together to talk about the Bible — but not how you should be changed by it — also misses the mark. This is what makes Christian community distinct — we come together to be changed — and to help each other be changed — by the Word of God.
So — if you’re not in a Life Group — how and where are you helping others to be changed by the preached Word of God? This is a “look in the mirror” moment for you — so be aware of how you’re responding. Why not respond by signing up to join a Life Group right now? If you have our church app — click the “get involved” button at the bottom. The option to “join a life group” is right there for you to sign up for more information. And — if you’re in a Life Group already — regardless if you’re the leader or not — how can you help direct your group so the focus is you all helping each other to be changed by the Word of God? Why not commit to this purpose for your group? Why not commit to making attending your Life Group a bigger priority than it was last year because you want to be changed by the Word of God and want to see others changed as well?
For years — Christians have asked — and many still do today — “What would Jesus do?” Actually — we know what Jesus would do because it’s written down for us. We know how he responded to God’s Word while he was here on earth. He didn’t reject it — but he received all of it. He fulfilled it. He lived according to it. And — our hope — if you believe in Jesus — is that Christ had such a high view of Scripture that he fulfilled it all on our behalf. And now — having believed in him — we’re to follow him and his view of Scripture. For — as someone has said, “It’s not simply ‘What would Jesus do?’ That’s often too abstract and distant to be of much use. [The question is…], ‘What would I do, if I were full of Jesus?’” (Joe Rigney)
If you believe in Jesus — you are full of him and the Spirit of God. And both the Son of God and the Spirit of God have a high view of the Word of God. And the man or woman, boy or girl, married or single — all who are filled with the Son and the Spirit will desire to respond to God’s Word by receiving it. Reading it — studying it — wanting to know it so well — so they can examine everything else by it. My prayer for us is that we’d all be a people who long to know and study the Word of God so that we honor the Father, Son, and Spirit by being changed by the Word. Honoring the Father, Son, and Spirit by helping others to be changed by the Word. Honoring our God by us — together — living according to his Word. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for being a speaking God. You haven’t left us to figure out things on our own. You haven’t left us in the hopeless situation of being unable to know you — who you are, what you’re like, the truth about us — for you’ve told us. For this we thank you.
Spirit of God, thank you for inspiring the authors of Scripture to write your word down. Thank you for the inspiring life change you did in those unnamed newbie Christians in Thessalonica. What supernatural courage we’ve seen in them. A supernatural change because of your Word. A supernatural change that’s possible in all of us.
And — Jesus — thank you for having a high view of God’s Word. You received all of it, lived according to it, fulfilled every promise and command of it — even when it cost you your life. And — in having believed in you — you lead us in receiving all of it, living according to it, and bless us with all of its promises being ours because of your faithfulness. What an undeserved gift.
Father, Son, and Spirit — use your Word in all of our lives as a mirror. Showing us who we are, who you are, so we know both how undeserving we are of your love and — amazingly — how loved we are by you! We pray all of these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
May you all go responding to God’s Word by receiving it — allowing it to change your life for the glory of God. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.
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