In the words of the late comedian Jerry Clower, “The world is running backwards.” Our world today, as always, needs to hear a Word that will genuinely change its direction. The message of Jesus Christ as Savior turned the ancient world upside down; and since God’s Word is eternal, it will turn the world upside down even today.
Even secular thinkers like Peggy Noonan, one of the brightest journalistic minds around, wonders about a world without God in an article entitled “You’d Cry Too If It Happened To You.” It came in Forbes magazine, Sept. 14, 1992, in which 11 men and women were asked to answer the question “Why are we so unhappy?” They all agreed we were unhappy because we had lost our moral and spiritual center. Listen to what Peggy Noonan says: It is a terrible thing when people lose God. Life is difficult, and people are afraid, and to be without God is to lose man’s greatest source of consolation and coherence …” The Bible doesn’t necessarily want to simply address the modern world; it wants to create a whole new world that cannot be seen without conversion. You can no more become a Christian by simply going to church than you can become an automobile by sleeping in a garage. There absolutely must be a radical change that only God can provide. It is not the business of the church to adapt Christ to men, but men to Christ.
If the Word of God is to spread and turn the world upside down, there must be a willing messenger such as the Apostle Paul. In Acts 17:1-2 there are three challenging points to take note of in connection with God’s messenger. First, the messenger continued on for the Lord despite great opposition and terrible persecution from those who did not understand the gospel (Acts 17:23-24). Second, the messenger sowed the gospel wherever he was. And third, the messenger followed his plan. His plan was wise: he would first reach out to those who were already familiar with the scripture, to the Jews and to the God-fearing Gentiles. One major reason for the weak witness of believers in our world today is the lack of a plan. Believers need to plan for how they will discover the lost, and take advantage of opportunities provided with a planned approach to the subject of the gospel.
The content of the message is also very critical to the process (Acts 17:2-3). The content of the message is so critical because what a person believes determines everything he becomes and does. The source and authority of Paul’s message was the Scripture. Paul did not preach the ideas of other men nor his own ideas. His message did not come from man’s mind. The points of Paul’s message were threefold. First, Jesus is the Christ. Second, Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind. Third, Jesus Christ arose from the dead to provide salvation to all who would believe. People driven by the ways of the world can do some pretty impressive things. Many marvel at how Socrates mastered the art of dying; but Jesus Christ overcame death as “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). There is a real difference between the two things; the one is within the scope of human possibilities, the other means resurrection. If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed.
In Acts 17:4, the result of the message was that many believed. A real cross-section of society came to Christ. Some Jews believed and joined with Paul and Silas in following Christ. Many devout (God-fearing) Greeks and influential women also believed and adjusted their lives accordingly. In Acts 17:5 we see the world’s reaction to the message. Three different segments of society react to the gospel. The religionists, here represented by the Jewish leaders, became jealous and set out to stop the message and destroy the messengers. They were willing to make an alliance with anyone who would help them. Thus, the loafers, the idle, and the disorderly join in with the religious leaders in an effort to stop the message from going forth. They form a mob and set the city into such an uproar that the average citizens are caught up in and join the mob.
In Acts 17:6-7 the charge of “turning the world upside down” was placed against the messengers and the message. Paul had been staying at the house of a man named Jason and when Paul could not be found there, the mob dragged Jason and some other believers before the rulers of the city and made two charges. The charge was that the message was revolutionary, a message of insurrection; it turned the world upside down. The charge was true in one sense, the gospel does change lives. It turns men from sin and shame to God. It turns men from immorality to purity. The charge was false in the sense the accusers meant it. They said that the message disturbed the community and threatened the public peace, put people in an uproar and infringed upon their rights. The message of Jesus Christ does not call people to be an unruly mob, it calls them to love, joy, and peace.
In Acts 17:8-9, we see the world’s fear of the message. Very simply, the city leaders feared the loss of their positions. They put Jason under a bond that apparently was to prevent him from housing the ministers again and to see to it that they left the city immediately. When the message is true and the messengers are faithfully proclaiming that truth, the only option for the opposition is to silence the messengers. God’s word cannot be silenced by putting His messengers in jail or running them out of town. The greatest need in our world today is a clear proclamation of the Word of God that has the power to turn it upside down.