Something Old, Something New
Text Acts 17
Proposition: In preparing people to receive the gospel of everlasting life in Christ Paul uses Old, New and Borrowed to ready their hearts.
Introduction: If you’ve ever helped in the planning of a wedding you’ve likely heard that old rhyme that goes, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” The rhyme originates in England around 1898. It describes what a bride should wear on her wedding day to protect her from the Evil One. The old and new were meant to confuse the evil eye as to her identity, the something borrowed was meant to confer fertility on her from another woman who had given birth. It was folklore, superstition, yet even today it is seen as a tradition to follow. When Paul was trying to establish churches in Europe, he often had to deal with these same kinds of belief systems. Sometimes they were locked up in the old, sometimes all they wanted was the new and sometimes they only had borrowed bits and pieces that needed to be connected. One thing for sure, there is nothing new under the sun and what Paul encountered in his day we still encounter in ours. Have a look at Acts 17 as Paul travels to three towns, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens.
I. When You Open and Prove the Word of God What’s Old Becomes New.
Paul, Timothy and Silas come to Thessalonica, it appears that Luke is left behind at Philippi as the writer again adopts the third person to describe what is happening. The three come into a town that has some Jewish presence, there is a synagogue and for three weeks Paul lays out a persuasive case for Christ. When we seek to lay out a persuasive case for Christ what obstacles would we expect to encounter? Is there really a God? Why should I believe that? What makes you sure you are right and others are wrong? The premise that there is one true God is built around faith, yes, but it’s also built around evidence. There is the general evidence of the intelligent design inherent in all creation, living and non living. Then there is the special evidence of an archaeological record of man chronicling his origins, history and response to God... the Bible. If it is the word of God, if it is to be considered trustworthy in all respects then it must pass several tests. There is the test of time, have those who have gone before us, as brilliant and perhaps more insightful than we, have they regarded it with credibility? There is the test of content, has what it proclaimed come true, does it’s historical record stand up to today’s scrutiny? There is the test of authenticity, how can we be sure it hasn’t been tampered with by men, how can we be sure this has God’s signature upon it? For three weeks Paul spoke at the synagogue in Thessalonica “explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” Historically there is nothing like the Bible, written over a period of 1900 years by over 30 different people in three different languages, on two continents and yet with one central theme that defies all probability, Jesus is the Christ. The reproduction of the original was done so meticulously that today we have more copies of the original writings than we do of any other historical documents. We have only 13 copies of the speeches of Julius Caesar, we have over 3000 copies of the various portions of the Old and New Testaments. The very first nation to devise an alphabet, the Hebrews, God used to write the words that He wanted men to use to describe Who He is and who they are. From the beginnings of Scripture God has an ongoing illustration of the two ways that people will respond to Him and the two ways that God will respond to man. From Cain and Able, Issac and Ishmael, Jacob and Essau, God demonstrated the need for faith. Always He was pointing to the remediation of man’s greatest wound, a wound called sin that perpetuated itself in every person in every generation. God used examples or types to be a shadow of what that remediation work would look like. He used Noah as a picture of rescue, Abraham as a picture of sacrifice, He used Joseph as a picture of provision, Moses as the deliverer from slavery, He used Joshua as a picture of courage, He used Jonah as a picture of resurrection. He used people, places, animals and fish to consistently bring the picture of the Redeemer into an ever clearer focus. He had Daniel lay out very specific timelines for when the Redeemer would come, He had Isaiah describe how the Redeemer would accomplish His work, He used sacrifice, ritual, Law, poetry, historical record, geography, all to demonstrate man’s hidden terminal disease of sin and the body and blood of Jesus Christ which had been sent to all mankind for all generations to absorb the effect of that sin. When Paul went to Thessalonica that’s what he did, he opened or explained the Word of the Old Testament and then demonstrated or proved how it pointed to Jesus Christ. So the point is simply this… open and prove the Word of God, speak to objections, meet logic and invite others to use that logic, persuade them towards the gospel.
II. When the Fair Minded Search the Word There Is a Readiness to Receive.
Paul, Silas and Timothy come to Berea and it says the people here were more fair minded or noble. They had the bits and pieces but had never connected the dots before. These ones didn’t just listen to what Paul preached, they went and looked for themselves. People like to believe they are fair minded but the acid test for that is do you just have an opinion or do you have a conclusion that comes from doing the searching yourself for the truth? Be a Berean, hear what is proclaimed and then go after it to prove it is so. Our minds are like Teflon, so smooth that it’s hard for truth to stick to it unless we do the hard work or searching it. Interestingly in both Thessalonica and Berea the people that were the most receptive to the gospel were those who were already in a place of change. They were Greeks who had become Jewish, they had left many gods to believe in one God and now they were about to become believers in The God. Being ready to receive means you want to know the truth even if that means it will change your views and values and life. The gospel is all about eternal life. Someone has defined life as “the active response to one’s environment”. What then is eternal life? It must be a never ending active response to the greater environment of heaven and earth, body and spirit, human and divine that is the kingdom of God. If you are fair minded you need to search for yourself what the Scripture says about eternal life in this kingdom of God. It’s the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price that makes everything else pale in comparison.
III. When New Becomes a Thirst, It Creates a Place For the Unknown God.
Paul leaves Timothy and Silas at Berea and goes to Athens, the capital city of Greece. As Paul walks along the streets seeing all these Greek idols, he comes to a place where there is a pillar with nothing on it, just an inscription, “To the Unknown God”. It becomes to him a vivid picture of a culture trying to be religious by being all inclusive. When the Greeks hear Paul preaching about Jesus, the Son of God crucified for the sins of man, they are intrigued. He is invited to come to the Areopagus, a rocky hill just northwest of the Acropolis. Sometimes known as Mars Hill, it was the place of debate, justice and knowledge. Paul is invited to the Areopagus because he is saying something new. We all want to hear something we have never heard before, it’s what makes the news the news. Now there’s good news for those who would consider themselves religious. If you want to be upright, fair-minded, inclusive, cutting edge then I would say that you are religious. In that sense we are all people of belief. The good news for the religious is that now they can add truth to the practice of their belief. Look at what Paul says in verses 22-31 that is new truth:
1. There is only one God, He created the world and all in it.
2. God doesn’t need us, we need Him. “He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”
3. God created man and determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings. In other words, nations are God’s idea, not mans.
4. God’s intent is to be known so that all people should seek Him.
5. God’s Divine nature is not something we can create or shape for our own purposes. We have been made in the image of God, we come from Him, He doesn’t come from us.
6. God has overlooked our ignorance but will not always do so. It’s time to repent from the godlessness that characterizes your lives because time is running out.
7. God intends that all men would have one standard of righteousness, it’s called absolute perfection, nothing else will do. He will judge those who fall sort of this.
8. God has created a way for people to be saved from this great loss, it is in a Man whom God has ordained to take your place. The proof of this is that this man, Jesus, has been raised from the dead. Sin has been paid for, perfection provided.
This Jesus is The Unknown God! Paul used something old, something new, something borrowed and from it made something true, the gospel of Jesus Christ.