A Summer in Thessalonica Week One

For the last few years now I have sent out what I call a “weekly word” each Friday (more or less, sometimes I just don’t). The way I see, my job is to be a spiritual adviser, a mentor, who helps Penn State Berks college students grow in their faith. A central, if not the central, part of growing in faith is understanding scripture and how it applies to your life. Therefore, this summer we are going to study two letters found in the Bible, written by the pastor/missionary Paul to a small church filled with diverse new Christians in the Greek town of Thessalonica.

The goal is for you to be exposed to scripture, to let the Spirit speak to you through these scriptures. I will seek to offer comments and thoughts on what I think the scripture is teaching, perhaps also with questions for your own thought. Also, I will post these “weekly words” on my blog so you can easily find them or direct friends to them. My goal is simply to help you guys, or anyone else who comes across this, to grow in faith.

With that introduction we will begin this week in the book of Acts. Acts tells the story of how the early Christians grew and expanded through various parts of the Mediterranean world. One of the main characters is Paul. Paul (also known as Saul) was a Jewish leader (Pharisee) who vigorously persecuted the new sect of Jesus’ followers (known as “the Way”) until Jesus appeared to him in a vision (Acts 9). After this Paul became a leader in the church and traveled extensively as one of the first Christian missionaries, introducing the gospel to new peoples and places.

That is where the story picks up as Paul and his companions recently left the city of Philippi:

17:1 When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 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. 4 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.

 5 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. 6 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, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

 10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now 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. 12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

 13 When 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. 14 The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

So Paul was in Thessalonica for about one month (“three Sabbath days“) and during this time a diverse church formed: some Jews, many Greeks and a good number of prominent women.

This is one of the things that was radical about the Christian community. It brought together people who otherwise would not be together. Further, it did not just bring them reluctantly or begrudgingly together, instead such diverse people formed a family. Of course, there were problems. Most of Paul’s letters were written to deal with problems, primarily as to how traditional Jews and pagan Greeks could exist together. But exist together they did.

Paul’s work in Thessalonica led to Jewish opposition, as it did in other cities. Here they told the authorities that he was defying the emperor’s decree. The emperors, known as the Caesar’s, were the ultimate authority in the Mediterranean world. Augustus Caesar, the first emperor, had brought peace with military and political victories. To say that anyone else was the ultimate authority, to preach another king or emperor other than Caesar, was treason. Therefore, Paul’s message that Jesus is Lord and King is quite political.

These two points go together: Jesus Christ is the king and his kingdom is one in which all people, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, are brought together into a familial community (see Galatians 3:27-29; Ephesians 2:11-21). The kingdoms of the world, under Caesar, operate one way: Jews and Greeks remain separate, men are higher ranked than women, and so on. The alternative kingdom of Jesus, which Paul was preaching, had a different way of reckoning people: all are brought together and made one in Christ Jesus.

Today, the message is still political. Our ultimate allegiance is not to a king or a president or a country, it is to Jesus Christ. In an America so often divided by economic status, race, political affiliation and such we are part of a community where all such divisions are secondary. Only in the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can rich and poor, black and white, Latino and Asian, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative be united.

Are you working to make the Christian community you are a part of (CSF, your church) one in which diverse people are brought together as things that normally divide are laid aside?

Is your ultimate allegiance to the kingdom of Jesus Christ or to any kingdom of this world?

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