Friday, November 20, 2015

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday November 22, 2015

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(Teaching and learning Scriptures leads us to joy in the LORD)
(Acts 17)

   Thessalonica was a city of some 200,000 residents that was located about 100 miles from Caesarea Philippi, along the major stretch of Roman highway known as the “Egnatian Way”. In fact, the main street through Thessalonica was actually a part of that road.  This bustling city had a very large Jewish population, and also, had a Jewish synagogue there that was used for their worship services.
    After having to leave Caesarea Philippi under duress, Paul, Silas, and Timothy made this long journey to Thessalonica, and began to look for other opportunities to preach JESUS. Whenever Paul arrived in a city that contained a Jewish synagogue, he would always go there first, to preach to the congregation that was already there worshiping. This occasion was no different, and, keeping in line with that custom, he went into the synagogue and taught about JESUS for three Sabbaths in a row.   
    Many of the Jews who worshiped under the banner of “Judaism”, and the “GOD-fearers”, those Greek men and women who worshiped the GOD of Israel, as a result of Paul’s and Silas’ preaching, were immediately drawn to the Christian doctrine and were converted to include CHRIST in their worship.
    This angered the, already jealous, Jewish leaders, and they, as a result, went out into the streets and stirred up a mob of unsavory fellows to strike against Paul and Silas. They attacked the house of Jason, the person, whom Paul and Silas were residing with while in Thessalonica, but did not find them. Not being able to find Paul and Silas, they dragged Jason out, along with some other believers instead. Jason and the others were then charged with treason, and later released after posting bail.
    That same night, Paul and Silas left town and headed for Berea, about 60 miles away. There, they found the people of Berea a lot more receptive to their message. In fact, they became avid listeners, and also, searched the Scriptures each day to prove the correctness of Paul and Silas’ teachings.
    After seeing the truth of the men’s teachings, many in Berea were converted to Christianity, including some prominent Gentile men and women of the city. However, when the Jews in Thessalonica got wind of Paul and Silas’ success in Berea, some of them went there immediately to stir up trouble. The believers in Berea came to Paul’s aid and escorted him to Athens. He left Silas and Timothy there in Berea under the protection of some of those believers. When he arrived in Athens, Paul sent the escorts back with a message for Silas and Timothy to join him there as soon as possible.
    While waiting in Athens for the arrival of Silas and Timothy, Paul became deeply disturbed by all the idols that he saw throughout the city of Athens. He then went into the synagogue to debate with the Jews and the GOD-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there, and were willing to listen.
    While speaking in the town square one day, he got an opportunity to debate with some of the “Epicureans” and “Stoics”, who were two of the main religious philosophical groups in town. The Epicureans were a group that believed that everything happened by chance, and that the gods cared nothing about this distant world of ours. They believed that when a person dies, that was it, and nothing else would happen after that. They also believed that a man’s pleasure in life should be his ultimate objective.
    The Stoics, on the other hand, believed that everything was God, both spirit, and matter, and, that every person had a small piece of that spirit in them. They believed that that spirit would return to God once a person died. The Stoics also believed that, periodically, the world would be destroyed by fire, and then, GOD would start all over again, repeating the same cycle.
    And so, when Paul told them about JESUS, they scoffed at him and tried to dismiss him as a babbler who had picked up some strange ideas, or, foreign religion. They then took Paul down to the Council at “Areopagus”, or “Mars Hill” to stand before their Council, and to tell them more about his strange doctrine (Acts 17:19).
    In verse 22, we find Paul standing in the midst the Areopagus, where he is about to deliver a brilliant six-point sermon to this idol worshiping, superstitious group of pagans. Here in verse 22, as expressed in the original Greek, the word Paul uses for “superstitious” is “deisidaimonesteros” (dice-ee-dahee-mon-es-ter-os), and “it describes one who is religiously superstitious, or much more paranoid than others, and in fact, actually, faithless”.
    While walking along in Athens, Paul had noticed an altar that was inscribed with the words, “To the unknown GOD”. He then brilliantly uses this altar as a base, or beginning point for his sermon (verse 23). In order to make his teaching the most effective, a great teacher always finds a way to meet the person or people where they are in their thinking.
Here Paul decided to meet the Council where they were in their thinking, and so he uses their own “alter to an unknown god” to show them the GOD of Heaven, WHOM they did not know.
    Paul’s first point is that GOD is the CREATOR, not the “created” like their idols are (verse 24). Paul’s second point is that GOD is the “GREAT PROVIDER” (verse 25).  Thirdly Paul says, that, not only is GOD the “CREATOR” of man, GOD is also the “ORCHESTRATOR and CONTROLLER”, of all men’s lives (verse 26).
    Paul’s fourth point illustrates how GOD has placed a hunger and thirst inside of each of us, innately from birth, and the only way to satisfy that hunger or thirst, is by seeking, and ultimately finding HIM. He tells them that even their own respected poet says that “We are the offspring” of this unknown GOD, and so, if that is true, we shouldn’t think of this GOD as an idol designed by craftsmen. It is in HIM that we live and move and exist, and it is only for HIS purpose, that we were ever created in the first place (verse 27-28).
    The Fifth and final point Paul raises to the group is that, GOD will no longer overlook our ignorance in building idols, and HE has set a day of judgment for all men. Paul closes out his speech by telling them about JESUS, WHOM, GOD has appointed to be that judge. Furthermore, GOD has shown every one of us just WHO that MAN is by raising CHRIST JESUS from the dead.
    When they heard Paul speak of the resurrection, some laughed, but still, there were others who wanted to hear more. And some even joined him and became believers that day. One of those who joined, a man named Dionysius, had been a member of the very Areopagus that Paul was preaching to that day. And so you see, Paul had brilliantly used their own monument to the unknown god, to show them the real GOD, WHOM they did not know.
    For Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke, and even Barnabas and John Mark, who had gone in the other direction, the “Christian Journey” was filled with ups and downs, assaults and persecutions, people who listened, and those who mocked, those who joined the struggle, and those who dropped out due to their love of the things of this world.
    It is still that way now, all along anyone’s Christian journey, and it was that very same way for CHRIST, WHO showed us how it was to be done. We must continue to move along on our Christian journey and never waver from the trials and tribulations that we encounter. And we must always remember that we do not set out on this journey alone, but rather, we are always accompanied by, and equipped with, the power of THE ALMIGHTY GOD, through JESUS CHRIST, and the HOLY SPIRIT. 

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website

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