Acts 17:1-9 | The Upside Down Kingdom
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.” 4 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. 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.
How clearly do we see the gospel?
When we see the gospel clearly, we see everything else differently.
C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
What we believe about Jesus will determine what we believe about everything else. The clearer we see the gospel, the clearer we see the world as it really is.
So how clearly do we see the gospel?
To see the gospel clearly, we need to see Jesus clearly.
So in that pursuit, my aim today to show you the gospel in two ways: 1) that Jesus is the Christ and 2) that Jesus turned the world upside down.
Jesus is the Christ
Paul and Silas are on this journey because the world looks differently to them now. The gospel has opened their eyes to who God is and what he’s doing. They realize something new has arrived – a new kingdom with a new King. So they come to Thessalonica, and go to the Jewish synagogue for three weeks to prove from the Bible that Jesus is the Christ.
Paul gets to work and verse 4 says that some were persuaded – that’s another way of saying their eyes were opened. They saw things differently now. The gospel became clear. How did that happen? Look at verses 2 and 3 and notice three words: “reasoned”, “explaining”, and “proving”. Paul reasoned with them, he explained the Bible to them, and he proved something from the Bible.
What did he prove? Verse 3: “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.”
Why does he need to prove that? Because they are waiting for the Christ to come. And Paul looks at the life of Jesus and looks at the Old Testament scriptures and he’s convinced that Jesus fit the job description.
But the Jews resisted the idea of a suffering Christ, even though it appears throughout the Old Testament. And we resist the need for Jesus to suffer too, especially if we start talking about him suffering for us. “No, don’t suffer. There’s no need. I haven’t done anything that bad,” we say.
This is because we don’t understand who we really are. We don’t see how desperately we need to be saved. We don’t think our sin is that bad, and so surely Jesus shouldn’t suffer on our behalf. We use words like “mistake” and “slip up” instead of sin. But – look at me – we are sinners, and the fact that we are gentle with our sin proves how much we love it. A single sin against an infintely holy God is worthy of eternal damnation. But God has a plan to fix it, but he can’t fix it without the suffering of Christ. It was the only way to reconcile the world to God.
So what did Paul say to persuade them? Well, we don’t know exactly because Luke doesn’t record that for us. But that’s ok because we have the same Bible that Paul had, and so we can look back into the Old Testament ourselves and see what Paul saw. Throughout the Old Testament we can see that God has a redemption plan, and it centers on Christ.
The first part of that plan included the suffering of Christ.
Christ had to suffer because sin came into the world through Adam, and spread to us, separating us from God. If he doesn’t suffer, we can’t be reconciled.
Christ had to suffer because sin requires a penalty: “the wages of sin is death." So God laid on him the iniquity of us all. If he doesn’t suffer, the penalty isn’t paid.
Christ had to suffer because true life only comes through death. Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) If he doesn’t die, the fruit of the gospel will never bud.
On the cross, Jesus absorbed all our sin and let it crush him completely, and because he did that willingly, without sin, God raised him up. Which was part two of God’s redemption plan.
Christ had to rise from the dead because death can only be defeated by going through it, not around it. If he isn’t raised, we have no life.
Christ had to rise from the dead because God cannot give us his best until our worst is killed. If he isn’t raised, we have no hope.
Christ had to rise from the dead to show us the good news of the gospel. A crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah unless he rises again. Then he’s the Savior of the world, and all things will be made new. If he isn’t raised, the gospel has no power.
The gospel is good news of a King who came and died for his people. It is good news of the King who rose from the grave to reign forever. It is good news that Jesus is better than we thought the Christ would be. God never intended to save us just for this lifetime, but for eternity.
The Resurrection proved God is more gracious than we are sinful. You cannot out sin the grace of God. Do you realize how patient God is? Luke says it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogues first when he entered a city. Why? Because God is patient with his people. If you feel far from God, like he’s about to give up on you, stop thinking. He is patient and he’s ready to prove himself to you. Just breathe and listen to him.
God’s redemption plan was a declaration to the watching world that he is just to penalize sin and merciful to forgive it. And Jesus was the center of it all.
And this Jesus is the Christ! Jesus is what the Old Testament promised him to be.
He is the seed of the woman, the new Adam, obedient that we would be made righteous.
He is Abraham’s offspring through whom all the nations are blessed.
He is the leader of the better Exodus, not out of Egyptian slavery, but out of eternal hell.
He is the manna in the wilderness, the bread of life, given daily to all who are hungry.
He is the Rock in the desert judged before his people, out of whom flows rivers of living water.
He is the one who suffered temptation in the wilderness and never sinned.
He is the fulfillment of the Law, coming not to abolish, but to fulfill it.
He is the conquering warrior who has trodden the winepress alone, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.
He is the radiance of the glory of God, the high priest whose ministry never ends, the final Word from heaven. Like the bronze serpent in the desert, he was lifted up so that whoever would look upon him would find healing and forgiveness.
He is the son of David, leading his people from the everlasting throne.
He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the many to find the one - who faces the lions in the fields, laying his life down for the lost.
He is the one who faced the shadow of death and did not shrink back because we were the joy set before him.
He is the temple of God, come down to dwell in glory with his people.
He is the wisdom of God that looks like foolishness to man, calling out from the streets the good news of the gospel, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
He is the suffering servant of Isaiah - despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. He is the one who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we were healed.
He is the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days who shatters the horns of the earthly kingdoms.
He is the Passover Lamb who was slain to protect us from the Angel of Death.
He is the one who lived the perfect life and suffered for it.
He is the one who bore the penalty for our sin on the cross so that we might become the righteousness of God.
He is the one who suffered the separation from the Father so that we never would.
He is the one who drank the cup of God’s wrath upon the cross and gave up his spirit – ushering in the new covenant by his body and blood.
He is the once for all sacrifice; the scape-goat sent out of God’s presence.
He is the one who lived the perfect life, died the guilty death, and rose to defeat sin, Satan, and death.
He is the one who crushed Satan’s head because he rose to an incorruptible body.
He is the one who faced every evil thing in this world and our hearts and came out victorious.
He is the Christ. He’s the savior - the sun of righteousness, who will rise with healing in his wings.
Look at any passage of the Old Testament, and you can smell the aroma of Christ, you can see the movement toward the Messiah, you can hear the song of the Savior.
On the cross, all the failures of the world met in the only one who ever succeeded. Jesus suffered the weight of it all, and he saved us through it. It was necessary that he suffer and rise. What looked like failure on the cross was actually victory. The life of his people is wrapped up in him – it always has been, and always will be.
Paul would have seen something like that. And some were persuaded. I wonder, are you?
This message has world-shaking implications. That’s the entire point of the book of Acts. The world pre-Jesus is not the same world post-Jesus. Everything is different because the King has come! And that’s the third part of God’s redemption plan: a kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Which leads us to our next point.
Jesus Turned the World Upside Down
Look at verses 5-7.
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.”
How can a few men turn the world upside down? They aren’t barging into cities, taking over by a military coup. They’re not like ISIS recruiting people from across the world to attack. They’re heralds of the King.
Isn’t it crazy? The men who have turned the world upside down are men that bring with them nothing but news – good news. That’s all they have. They have no power in themselves. They have no weapons. They have a message of a King who has come to die for his people and rise again from the grave. All they do is talk about Jesus wherever they go, and the world is turned upside down!
Now, how does this world turning happen? There’s a micro side and a macro side.
It starts inside the believer. Every time someone believes the gospel, their world is turned upside down.
It’s like becoming a parent. One day you’re free to sleep in, go wherever you want, have free time. Then you have a baby, and your entire world is turned upside down. You’re up all hours of the night. You're completely exhausted. The baby constantly needs you. But you don't mind it one bit because the baby has transformed you – given you new life, new purpose, new meaning. You gladly give up your rights for the good of your child.
Believing the gospel is something like that. Our world has to turn upside down before it can be built right side up. When you’re grappling with what the gospel says, and what it means for your life, it can get pretty uncomfortable. It means releasing the grip on your life and handing it over to Jesus, a man who lived and died and rose a long time ago.
But when you hand your life over to Christ you realize you haven’t given up anything but you’ve gained everything. You’ve been adopted into God’s family, and no one can snatch you out of his hand. You have peace. You have hope. You have joy that cannot be taken. You’re in a new Kingdom.
Paul saw the world as it really is. Caesar was king of Rome, but Caesar wasn’t the kind of king Jesus is. Caesar was a king of a temporal empire. Jesus is the King of an eternal universe. Jesus is the true king – an upside down King, who stoops low to bring us high. The true Kingdom is cross-shaped, where death comes before life, not the other way around.
Jesus left his throne in heaven. He was willing to have his life destroyed so that you could have his best. Like a good parent, he gave up who he once was to gain the joy of having you. He’s the kind of King this broken world needs. And he’s the kind of King we have. Believe in him and you can have all this. All it takes is small faith placed in this big God.
Paul and Silas have already endured a lot, and much more was ahead. It wasn’t easy to take the message of the gospel to a hostile world. You know, following Christ means our world is constantly being turned upside down. It doesn’t end after we believe. It’s constant, because following Jesus is an adventure. He’s on the move and he’s bringing us along.
So working out the implications of the gospel on your life is no easy task. That’s ok. Live in the tension. Jesus said we have to lose our life to find it. That means it’s not easy do to. Let’s be open to that – whatever his call is. You're going to live under some king, why not the one who’s proven his kindness: the good King Jesus?
If he sends you he’ll be with you. Trust him. He’s proven himself.
So that’s the micro upside down turning of the world. And there’s a macro side. The more individual lives are turned upside down, the more the world at large is turned upside down.
Remember what Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
The normal working of God is to take small things and grow them into big things. The kingdom of God spreads and grows, sometimes quickly, as in times of revival, but usually slowly, as a tree grows. And year after year, more and more people are saved, and the kingdom gets fuller and fuller, until one day people from every tribe and tongue and nation are brought in.
Why are we planting this church? Because our worlds have been turned upside down, and that’s what we’re praying for God to do that to Franklin. We’re asking God to send the Holy Spirit to empower and mobilize missionaries, pastors, churches, and Christians of all walks of life. The Bible says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) There is no end to this spread!
And what if it happened here in Franklin? What if the world got turned upside down?
Let’s be ready. When our neighbor’s world is turned upside down as we share the gospel, let’s be ready to help them see Jesus through the Bible. Let’s prepare our homes and our church to receive them. Let’s stay close to Jesus. By God’s grace, let’s create a gospel culture that is open to anyone who would come!
You may be thinking, “Man, I don’t know. I can’t turn anyone’s world upside down. I’m too shy. I don’t know my Bible well enough. I’m not very bold.” Well, all we need is an open heart before God. We live in an upside-down Kingdom now. He uses unimpressive people to prove his power. We don’t have to know the Bible like a seminary graduate, or have the natural boldness of Paul. All we need to be is open to Jesus and speak when he gives us opportunity.
The greatest news in the history of the universe is sitting right here in front of us in the pages of our Bibles. The Kingdom of God is at hand. We’ve been saved, not just from our sin, but into a new kingdom. Who you once were is not who you are now. You are a herald of the King!
We, like Paul and Silas, have the Bible, so we’re prepared. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
So let’s strive to see the gospel clearly, and let's spread this message that has the power to turn the world upside down. I think our world could use a good shake-up, and there's no better shake than the kind the gospel brings. Let’s be faithful. Let’s open our mouths. Let’s prepare a place. Let’s let God grow our small faith into a church for this city, and more churches for more cities. Step by step, in sync with the Savior, he will lead us where he wants us to be.
Small things change the world.
Babies turn the world upside down.