Ministry is not for faint-hearted

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Acts 17:1-9

Ministry is not for the faint-hearted

When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.  As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.  “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said.  Some 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.

But 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.  But 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, and Jason has welcomed them into his house.  They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”  When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.  Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.


inisters who avoid confrontation and conflict likely are also avoiding the truth of the gospel.  The Apostle Paul is an example of how ministers should have confidence and conviction amid conflict.  It is in this passage that Paul goes into the synagogue in Thessalonica and proclaims that Jesus is the Christ.

Christianity is controversial—if it is real!  If at the end of your ministry you can look back and say, “I have avoided all controversy,” you have probably avoided dealing with the truth.  You have avoided proclaiming the gospel, and physically and metaphorically you have avoided the synagogues.  Confrontation is certain if the strongholds of unbelief and gospel resistance are addressed with biblical truth.

The Message that Emancipates Also Infuriates —It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…  You, my brothers, were called to be free [Galatians 5:1, 13].  The message of Christ leads to freedom.  Perhaps you will recall that in His first public sermon, our Lord announced that He had been sent to proclaim freedom for the prisoners [see Luke 4:18].  The promise of freedom which resides in Christ as Lord is that You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

…I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed [John 8:32, 34-36].

All who are in Christ have been set free from sin [cf. Romans 6:18, 22].  Those outside of Christ are yet in darkness and enwrapped in chains of their own making; they can never be free.  The child of God lives without fear because he is free of condemnation.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man [Romans 8:1-3].  It is this message of life which gives freedom.

Wouldn’t you imagine that this message of emancipation would bring great joy to all who hear it?  Wouldn’t you think that just hearing of freedom in Christ—freedom from guilt and freedom from condemnation and freedom from the power of sin—would elicit joyful praise to God who gives such freedom?  Such is not always the case.

Christians who dare speak of freedom before God will be proclaiming a gospel that is anathema to a post-modern culture.  Those children of the Living God who are afraid of confrontation will go through their lives living in fear and failure and falsity.  Conviction is essential.  Conviction is the bedrock of our confidence.  If indeed there is a ministry that is marked by a lack of confidence, it must be marked by an absence of conviction.  We are living in an age that is particularly lacking in conviction.  Conviction is lacking in many pulpits, and conviction is lacking in the pews as well.  The true preaching of the gospel—in all of its simplicity (and) in all of its wholeness—is unacceptable in many sectors.  It is simply too abrasive a truth.  It is simply too audacious a claim.

For a minister to have confidence and conviction, his ministry must be grounded in the truth of God's Word.  Paul is such an example.  We are told that among the Jews in the synagogue, he reasoned with them from the Scriptures [Acts 17:2], and there again we have the apostolic model that Christian ministry is a Scriptural ministry.  The Word of God is the authority by which we speak and that same Word is the authority we preach.

One truth which I must stress at this point is that we Christians preach a message which is reasonable.  It is irrational not to believe this message.  Before Agrippa and Festus, Roman governmental authorities, the Apostle proclaimed that the message of life was true and reasonable [see Acts 26:25].  Christianity does not consist of a “leap in the dark” or of a blind faith exercised in an unseen God.  The Faith of Christ the Lord is confidence in the truth of God.  Man is sinful.  This is fact.  Try ever so hard to be good, yet each of us is sinful—focused on self and concerned with our own interests.  Should someone be so foolish as to deny that we are sinful, I need but remind that individual that perfection eludes him since death is the lot of each of us.  The evidence that we are imperfect (and thus sinful) is that we die.

Why should God accept us on our terms?  Are we, as a race, united in defining what terms we would present to God?  Isn’t it rather true that we are each so consumed with our own self-interests—nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom—that we could never fully agree to conditions advanced by others?  Thus, it is only rational to confess that if we will be accepted by God, it must be on His terms and not on ours.  Were we able to perform some task to propitiate the Living God, then we would be at least as great as that God in the area in which we laboured.  Since God is infinite and beyond our greatest comprehension, we cannot atone for our own sinful condition.  We need a mediator—someone to reconcile us to God.  That someone must Himself be divine.  That someone must be perfect if He will serve as our mediator.

There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men [1 Timothy 2:5, 6].  This is the message of the cross.  God sent His Son—holy and without fault—to provide Himself as an infinite sacrifice in the place of sinful mankind.  Without our effort and solely by faith in this Jesus we may be set free of guilt and condemnation. 

Were Jesus but a sacrifice, it would perhaps be reasonable to question whether His sacrifice was sufficient.  However, this Jesus, the crucified Son of God, refused to stay dead.  Forever He destroyed the power of sin by raising from the dead.  He did not remain in the tomb; but rather this Jesus has been declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead [cf. Romans 1:4].  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God [2 Corinthians 5:21]. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15:56, 57].  Amen!

Throughout his apologia in the synagogue, the Apostle underlines without equivocation the centrality and the necessity both of the cross and of the resurrection.  Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.  “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said [Acts 17:2, 3].  He explained to the worshippers in the synagogue that the Christ—the Messiah—had to suffer and rise again from the dead.  If Scripture is the basis for our service before God, then confrontation and conflict will inevitably come.

Jesus startles us with His stunning challenge.  Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn

a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

[Matthew 10:34-36]

The message of the cross divides mankind.  We are either saints or ain’ts.  Either one is alive in Christ the Lord or one is dead in sin.  There is no middle ground on this issue, thus the message of the cross either scandalises us because it condemns our own efforts as futile, or the message comforts us because it exalts the mercy of the Saviour and the grace of God.

When Paul preached the message of the cross, some of those listening were persuaded.  Some Jews from the synagogue embraced the message of life, as did some proselytes from within the Grecian community and a few prominent women who also heard the message.  In contrast to these who believed, we read of another group which was confronted by the message of life who rounded up ruffians [nrsv] from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot [Acts 17:5].

Consequently, rent-a-mob is not a new phenomenon.  While unthinking rioters wreck Seattle, trash Washington or loot Quebec City in supposed concern for the poor of this earth, you may be assured that those same mobs are willing to rent themselves out to resist that congregation which begins to make the demands of Christ central in this day.

Let a church insist that Christ is Master of life and people become uncomfortable.  Let that church begin to publicly proclaim that the presence of the Son of God in the life of the sodomite will transform that individual into a clean living, monogamous heterosexual and see if a mob doesn’t shortly show up to howl its displeasure.  Stand for righteousness resisting the wickedness of churches which long ago compromised the Faith, such as the United Church of Canada or the Anglican Church, and you will shortly discover that the leisure crowd is scandalised.  Resist the wicked attempts of thoughtless Christians to unite all in strange forms of worship and the mob will soon bellow out its rage against the Word of God.  The intolerance of contemporary mobs is justified by their screams for tolerance, and the unthinking world accommodates them by giving them publicity.  That such does not often happen in this day is to our condemnation as creatures without conviction.

Someone has aptly said that Paul’s presence in a city would result in either riot or revival.  He might have been well advised to have checked into the local gaol since one way or the other he was certain to soon have been incarcerated.  The message of Christ does not permit neutrality.  Man must choose and we who are Christians, when we represent Christ will be either embraced or resisted.  Ministry—living the Christian life—is the most exciting adventure imaginable.

The Scandal of the Saviour — The narrow claim of the Christian Faith scandalises the unthinking.  God’s Word clearly declares that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:3].  The message of the cross leaves no room for Jesus and works.  The message of the cross cannot accommodate a message of Jesus and church.  The message of the cross will not permit a message of Jesus and religion.  The message of the cross demands that we must submit to Jesus alone as God.  Thus, the Christian Faith is revealed to be exceedingly narrow and that very narrowness insults the pride of fallen man.

Perhaps the Jews would not have been offended had Paul attempted to accommodate their view that Moses was equal to Jesus.  Had the Apostle perhaps offered to agree to dialogue with the Jews about whether circumcision was an acceptable means to holiness, they would not have started a riot.  The Cross of Christ will not permit such dialogue, however.  It demands that man accept the testimony of God that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus [Romans 3:23-26].

In the contemporary marketplace of ideas, the Christian Faith stands alone in insisting that all mankind is sinful and incapable of pleasing God through our labours.  The Christian Faith uniquely insists that faith in the Risen Son of God must forever condemn our efforts.  We are not good people—we are sinners.  There can be no dialogue with Muslims, as though Christ were a prophet equivalent to Muhammad.  There can be no dialogue with Buddhists as though Christ was simply pointing a rout to Nirvana, as does Buddha.  There can be no accommodation with contemporary thinkers who consider that Christ is at best a truth, for we are convinced that He is the way, the truth and the life [see John 14:6].

Permit me to be pointed for a moment.  In this post-modern world, the Cross of Christ is viewed as one of many concepts revealing how man may find his way to God.  Contemporary thinkers would not consider condemning other concepts, for all have equal validity.  The claims of the Good News of Christ are, however, not nearly so broad as contemporary thought.  Thus, we dare not claim that the Faith of Christ the Lord is just another religion, much like other religions.  This is the Faith which leads to life.  This is the only hope given to fallen man.

Some, even some among us, have questioned why we cannot unite with all the other religions in this town and gather in one great group to worship and to pray.  I ask, “Worship whom?  Pray to whom?”  When a Catholic priest claims that salvation is by faith and through keeping the sacraments, what do we share in common?  The Christ I preach cannot permit accommodation of that man’s insistence on doing something to atone for his sin.  In good conscience, I say that we do not worship the same God.  Catholic rioters burned an evangelical church in Chiapas, Mexico in May of 1999, part of an ongoing persecution in that land.  In March of that same year evangelical Christians in Las Margaritas were arrested, beaten and run out of town with Catholic sanction.  Shall I say that we share in the Faith of Christ the Lord?

Should I lead this congregation to co-operate with our local Anglican churches?  When Bishop Lobogo of the Church of Uganda received Christ and was biblically baptised, Anglicans rioted and burned the homes of those who were converted.  Where was the censure from our Anglican Church of Canada brothers in August of 1999 while these things were happening?

As the Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia, Peter Carnley, implements the blessing of lifelong homosexual “friendships” has the Anglican Church of Canada condemned this outrage?  Indeed, this Church cannot speak against it because the Bishop of the Archdiocese of New Westminster favours full ordination of homosexuals, though he is too cowardly to accept the sixty-one percent vote of his diocese to implement his sin.  Last week (2001 06 13) the Archbishop of York declared homosexuality to be “divinely ordered.”  Before you seek to unite our church in worship with the Anglican Church of Canada, ask what Jesus that religious society worships.  Ask if He transforms sinners or if He is content to leave them in their sin.  Ask why the Jesus they worship tolerates grave sin in the pulpit.

Shall we embrace the god of the United Church of Canada?  The god they worship seems to be a god without either power or inclination to transform and in appears to have little concern whether people are redeemed or not since his/her/its major concern is social justice as defined by the latest fad theology.  What would we share in common as we pray together with the United Church pastor?  If the message I declare is truth there is no room for the possibility that God is content to leave the sinner in his/her sin and to enshrine wickedness within the holy precincts of the Church through ordination of sodomites.

I have difficulty agreeing to co-operate with those who emphasise feeling against faith.  Truth is fixed according to the Word of God.  Jesus, praying to the Father, declared, Your word is truth [John 17:17].  Just so, that Word is eternal, standing firm in Heaven [see Psalm 119:89].  Thus, there are no new revelations given in the various charismatic assemblies throughout the land.  Truth is settled by appeal to the Word or God and not by what I feel or think about a given subject.

Paul speaks of the scandal of the cross [literal translation of skavndalon tou` staurou`] in Galatians 5:11.  This is that offence which outsiders take against the Saviour by His exclusive claims.  We who have discovered the truth of Christ the Lord cannot ever again embrace error in the mistaken thought that a little tolerance will lead the blind to see.  Those who have felt embarrassed by our failure to unite with all the other churches need to ask whether we would be even more embarrassed to compromise the command of Christ to be pure.

I am concerned that we obey the words Jesus spoke as He appointed His Apostles.  Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven [Matthew 10:32, 33].  This Faith we proclaim, this Christian Faith, is exceptionally narrow, and it does not permit any admixture to faith.  However, faith in the Risen Son of God, when exercised, will forever transform the one holding that faith.  It is this insistence upon faith alone in the Living Son of God which offends so deeply the pride of fallen mankind.  It is this insistence upon change as result of faith which is odious to the world.  It is this insistence upon the narrow claims of Christ the offend religionists.

Controversy comes when a minister claims that Christianity is the only true faith.  There is no controversy and there is no confrontation in going into the marketplace of ideas and competing gospels in this culture and saying, “I have another worldview to put alongside what you believe.”  The confrontation comes in this culture when you say, “I proclaim to you that this Jesus is the Christ.”  The confrontation comes when we say, “There is no other name under heaven and earth whereby men must be saved.”  The confrontation comes when we say, “This is not a truth.  This is the truth.”

I am not seeking approval from other religions, not even from other Christian communions.  Neither am I seeking your approval at this moment.  Rather, I am declaring to you that the Faith of Christ the Lord must exclude all efforts to appease God, resting instead upon His grace and upon His mercies.  I make this declaration in order to prove faithful to Him who appointed me to this office and to warn you against falling from your secure position as His holy people.  This Faith which we hold must be truthful in excluding any hope of recognition of error as though such recognition were a good thing or as though such recognition might result in fortuitous conversion to the truth for those who now hold to error.

As Christians we do not seek to stir up opposition to ourselves, but in holding to the Faith which presents Christ as Lord and which insists that salvation is by faith in Him we know that opposition shall be raised to the message we present.  The message of Christ is an insult to wicked man.  The message of Christ demands humility before the mighty hand of God.  The message of Christ offends every human effort.  This is the scandal of the Saviour.  It was this scandal which generated a riot in Thessalonica.

There were some in the synagogue crowd who were offended by Paul's message of salvation through Christ.  Although a large number of those in attendance were persuaded by Paul's message, a group of Jews became jealous and started a riot in opposition to Paul and Silas.  The mob searched for the two men, saying, These men who have upset the world have come here also.  Paul faced Jewish resistance and Roman emperor worship, and yet he did not trim his sails, he did not accommodate the gospel, he did not try to market the truth.  Instead, he proclaimed the gospel in all of its simplicity, in all of its glory and in all of its truthfulness.

Note one aspect of the riot.  As Jason and the other brothers were dragged before the city officials, the mob was crying out, These men who have caused trouble all over the world have come here [Acts 17:6].  Christianity is a troublesome faith.  The world is challenged and if the Faith of Christ prevails (as it must) it will destroy the world.  That thought is captured in Eugene Peterson’s translation of the passage.  These people are out to destroy the world, and now they’ve shown up on our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear![1]

Make no mistake!  Christianity will attack all that is held dear by this dying world because it will redirect our attention to that which is real and which lasts forever.  Listen to the writer of Hebrews as he ponders this truth.

You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.  If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain [Hebrews 12:22-26].

The Basis for Bitterness — Why would the Jews attack Paul and Silas?  Why would any Christian minister oppose this message which we present?  Is it not because the declaration of God’s saving grace demonstrates the paucity of their message?  Is it not because they are enraged at the thought they might be exposed as hypocrites and liars?  Is it not because they fear they will be left without any foundation for all that they have preached and that they will lose what respect they currently enjoy?  The Word of God is careful to state that the Jews opposed to Paul and Silas were jealous [zhlovw - Acts 17:5].  Their spirit was pricked and their message challenged.

Today's world is similar to what Paul faced, since today's Christians face secular indifference, moral and doctrinal laxity, New Age nonsense, the post-modern worldview and generalised confusion.  I would suggest to you this morning that we are not called to avoid confrontation.  As a matter of fact, the Bible in both the Old and New Testament is full of confrontation.  True ministry is so often seen not in avoiding controversy but in allowing controversy for the sake of the cause of the truth and gospel.

We desperately need a generation of Christian troublemakers.  I speak the truth when I say that I would rather bail you out of jail [for preaching the gospel] than counsel you out of compromise.  Christian ministry is not for the faint-hearted, but for the those who are ready to put their all on the line for Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for the sheep.

We need a generation of Christians who have heard and accepted the warnings of the Master.  If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin.  Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.  But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason” [John 15:18-25].

Churches of this day are dying for lack of godly men and women who have embraced the apostolic warning.  Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work [2 Timothy 3:12-17].

Ministers today need to be bold to warn those coming into the Faith that we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God [see Acts 14:22].  It was the Master Himself who warned disciples that in this world you will have trouble [John 16:33].  In no small measure, those troubles we must face will result from standing firm in the Faith of Christ the Lord and insisting on the narrow claims of the Gospel.  The opposition is not so much “out there” as from within.  I have less concern about the opposition from government lackeys and rent-a-thug than I have of opposition arising from fellow saints.  If the people of God are left in a state of ignorance concerning the demands of the Gospel and concerning the impact of the Faith, they will resist the truth and find themselves surprised when assaulted by their own kind.

An American military recruiter was recently quoted as saying to a preacher of the Gospel, “We've been in such a time of relative peace … that I don't think [recruits] really [believe] anymore that someone is going to shoot at them.”  Christians, though, and especially those who are called to serve as ministers of the Faith, should not have such an attitude.

I wonder how many of those who respond to the gospel call of ministry service realise that someone is going to shoot at us.  It may not be real bullets.  It may be a lot worse than that.  The ministry is going to bring conflict.  I wonder how many who are members of the church would continue as members if they thought membership would cost them stature in the community and standing among their peers?  I wonder how many of us who share this service today would continue in this church if we thought the cost of being Christian might be bitterness from other religions.

I hope to see God build a great church in this place.  I pray that we will see many people won to faith in Christ Jesus the Lord.  I long to see the day that we make an impact for the cause of Christ, not only in Dawson Creek but throughout the whole of this Peace Region.  In my heart, I know that there must be a cost when this occurs.  Part of that cost has already begun to be extracted as some saints pout and cry at the thought that they may lose esteem in the eyes of casual Christians.  I only ask whom you serve—Christ or man?

When John wrote those strong words in his second letter, did you suppose they had no meaning for us in these last days?  Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world.  Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.  Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.  Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.  Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work [2 John 7-11].

There is a conflict now going on.  As a Christian, you are called to enter into the conflict.  Service in the cause of Christ is not for the faint-hearted.  Service for the Master requires courage and commitment.  Isn’t it time that we again saw men and women committed to service to the Master?  Isn’t it time that we once more saw men and women willing to pay any price if only Christ might be glorified?

What would it be were each of us to invest time before the Lord in the coming week, asking whether He is pleased with our service?  What would result were each of us to inquire of the Risen Son of God how we might serve Him?  I suggest that revival would result, and with the revival would come the riots.  However, they would result in more souls won to the cause of Christ is only we will stand firm.  Amen.


[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English (NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 1993) pg. 276

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