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04.29.18 Acts 17.1-9 Remembering Who’s King Sermon Summary

by on April 30, 2018

Note: this sermon was preached in first person as Jason, a 20-something resident of Thessalonica living in community with others.

My name is Jason. Today is my feast day in Orthodox Church! My name means “one who heals.” It’s a Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” I’m a Jew with Greek influences.

Recently I got in trouble with the authorities. I had to post a bail ensuring my cooperation, a promise that I wouldn’t cause any more trouble. You see there were these visitors to town. I had heard about them from my uncle Dzvezda in Philippi. You know him also? Rough guy.

These visitors were named Paul and Silas. They had a reputation of “turning the world upside down.” They were proponents of “the Way” which refers to people follow who the teachings of Jesus. Did they “turn the world upside down”? In some ways, maybe.

People of the Way shared things in common. None of them were in need. Those who had shared with—or sold off in order to share with—those who didn’t.

They also welcomed outsiders like my Greek friends. And women.

They cared for people others hated like lepers and tax-collectors.

That’s how they turned the world upside down: By loving each other in sacrificial ways.

They didn’t really do anything to hurt Caesar. Caesar still had his armies; they just refused to serve in them since they followed the Way of the Peacemaker. Caesar still had his self-worshiping rituals; they just didn’t participate. They worshiped the God of Jesus.

But nothing Christians did took away from Caesar. They simply had Jesus as their king and kept a higher allegiance to him above anyone else.

But some other Jews didn’t follow the Way. Paul used to be one of them. He wanted to exterminate the Way and its followers.

When I heard it said that followers of Jesus were “turning the world upside down,” I remembered Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of his day. There were the same kind of accusations back then—that Jesus taught we need not pay taxes to Caesar or that Jesus was setting up an alternative kingdom in which he was king. (see Luke 23:2)

Pilate questioned Jesus about these things, and Jesus refused to answer. And Pilate couldn’t force him to answer. It was like Jesus had a freedom Pilate couldn’t take away. When you have the security of the Kingdom of God you don’t have to answer. You just live.

Pilate marveled at this, and he was going to let Jesus go (after a beating). (see Luke 23:16) But the Chief Priests of Jesus’ day couldn’t allow that. They wanted Jesus dead. They didn’t want to follow Jesus and they didn’t want anyone else to either. They even pledged allegiance to Caesar! (John 19:15)

Some people can be tolerant like Pilate basically was. They don’t agree, but they don’t feel particularly threatened so they go one with their lives. But some people can’t accept that there may be another king or lord for other people. And that was the fear the Jews in Thessalonica were playing on, that Caesar might get mad and do something.

I find it interesting they framed Jesus against Caesar and not against Yahweh, our God. We are Jews after all. You’d think they would say, “There is no other King but Yahweh. Jesus is no king!” But instead they said, “There is no other king but Caesar. You politicians should do something about these people turning the world upside down.”

You know what really troubled them? It wasn’t just that they didn’t want others following Jesus or that they were afraid of Caesar. It was Paul’s reinterpretation of “Messiah.” Jesus’ death was a scandal. Here was a Jewish Rabbi who taught heresy and acted in blasphemous ways. This is what Paul used to believe until he met the resurrected Christ.

Then he realized Jesus was the Messiah. Paul began to read scripture differently. He concluded that, “it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead. Jesus is this Messiah!” That was Paul’s message.

In Jesus’ resurrection God showed that the hope we Jews had for the Messiah applied to all people. It applies to the whole cosmos, in fact. Messianic hope wasn’t just for national peace and prosperity or for political freedom. Messianic hope is for freedom from sin and death.

This is what Paul taught. “Impossible!” said the traditionalists and those with power and prestige to loose. That’s why they wanted Paul out of the picture. He preached an upside down world by preaching a world that was redeemed and transformed, where sinful systems like religious hierarchies and political oppression and economic exploitation gave way to love.

Some of us were convinced or at least intrigued. So we welcomed Paul and Silas into my house. After a few weeks the critics came looking for them, and instead they found me and my roommates. They accused me of entertaining Jesus—like “aiding and abetting traitorous people.” Now I was party to “turning the world upside down.” I got kind of nervous.

Then I remembered the people Jesus entertained. One time he was at home of Simon the Pharisee, one of those righteous religious folks. And during dinner this sinful woman came and anointed him. With disapproval, Simon noted the company Jesus kept.

Jesus told a parable about two debtors, one who owed a great amount, and one a small amount. Both were forgiven, and Jesus asked Simon which debtor would have greater love for the one who forgave them. The point was, Who loved Jesus more? Simon the host who put on the dinner? Simon the religious one? Or the guest who came with Jesus—the sinful woman?

I thought about that when they accused me of entertaining Paul and Silas. I wish I had said, “Yeah, I welcomed them! And regardless of what happens to me now, it was the right thing!” But instead, I posted bail and promised there would be no more trouble from me or my house. I guess I’m somewhere between Simon and the sinful woman. I love Jesus, but not as much as she did.

What would you have done? Would you welcome the world-changing way of Christ? Or would you compromise to keep the peace? I guess it’s a matter of remembering who’s king—is it Caesar or Jesus?—and then standing with your answer.

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