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The Grace of a Godly Witness

By Karen Hetrick
 
Friday, March 19, 2010

Scripture Verses
Acts 17:1-15

1When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that the Christ[a] had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,[b]" he said. 4Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

 5But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.[c] 6But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." 8When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

In Berea   
10As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

 13When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.


Devotion
God has blessed me with several wonderful friends.  These special people repeatedly bring grace to others.  They prayerfully consider how they can respond in ways that honor Christ.  That’s not easy when injustice occurs, when tensions are high, when people don’t always act in ways that deserve a gracious response.

Today’s scripture is a narrative of Paul’s travels to two locations in ancient Greece.  Let’s compare:

Thessalonica   

  • Paul went to the synagogue
  • Paul taught that Jesus was the Christ of the scriptures
  • Some people believed 
  • Thessalonian Jewish leaders caused trouble 
Berea
  • Paul went to the synagogue
  • Paul taught that Jesus was the Christ of the scriptures
  • Some people believed
  • Thessalonian Jewish leaders caused trouble

The author notes that some residents of Berea studied the scriptures to help them discern the truths Paul was teaching.  Verse 11 makes the value judgment that these students “were of more noble character” than their counterparts down the road.  Perhaps they were.

Rabble-rousers from one town; studious, amenable people in the other -- we might conclude that there would be a difference in the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry.  Amidst all the preaching, teaching, rioting and studying, compare the results of Paul’s visits:

Thessalonica (vs 4)   

  • Some Jews were persuaded
  • A large number of God-fearing Greeks believed          
  • Not a few (that is, many) prominent  women believed               
Berea (vs. 12)

  • Many Jews believed
  • Many Greek men believed
  • A number of prominent Greek women believed
  • Why are the inquiring minds of Berea notable? The work of the Holy Spirit in their lives as they gave Paul’s teaching respectful attention and their openness to accepting the challenge of digging into the scriptures does point to the expression of noble character.  They neither mindlessly bought into Paul’s message on his word alone, nor did they dismiss it out of hand as impossible to reconcile with their traditions.  Their example not only gives us a positive pattern to follow, but the name of Berea has long been synonymous with learning, scripture study and good character.  Churches, Sunday School classes, towns, schools, and a chain of Christian bookstores have taken their names and patterned their examples after the good folks of Berea.

    Prayer
    Gracious God, during this Lenten season, help me to seek your guidance to live my life in such a way that those who know me, and those who will one day remember me, will celebrate the fragrant grace of your touch upon my life.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.