The following is a quote from reportedly the most popular and influential pastor in the US (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IuiUOapK1w):
"He didn't create you to be average. He didn't create you to barely get by, to have all kinds of things holding you back. You've got to get the right vision. God created you to be totally free. To have peace in your mind. To walk in divine health. To have good relationships. To have plenty to pay your bills. God created us as victors... You have rights and privileges. One of those privileges is total victory."
According to Joel Osteen 'total victory' is being happy and comfortable. And the more faithful we are, the easier things are.
You have to wonder how he reads the book of Acts.
God gives us joy, He gives us peace and He does love to bless us. But, being a disciple of Jesus is not always easy. In fact, sometimes, the more faithful we are the harder things are.
That is a theme that runs through Acts and something we're going to look at tonight. More specifically I'd like us to look at 'the cost of proclaiming the gospel'.
We'll jump straight into the passage in just a minute. But I first want to make clear what we mean by the gospel. The gospel is this:
A good God made this world including us, and he made it and us beautiful. But we have rejected him as our rightful ruler. Whether you are a priest or a paedophile you're greatest sin is the rejection of God as your ultimate authority. And because God is righteous he must have payment for this sin. So he sent his perfect son Jesus, like a second Adam, to die on a cross and suffer the punishment for our sin that we deserve. After three days he rose from the dead. When we cry out in sorrow for our sin - our rejection of God, and trust wholly in that sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the Bible says a great exchange takes place. Our sin, in all it's horror, is put upon Jesus and in return we get his perfect righteousness and the hope of a resurrected eternal life.
The proclamation of this gospel is living each day in these truths. We never move beyond repentance and forgiveness - we live in it. This means our actions, words, families, homes, churches, work and lives are completely governed by the good news that Jesus has saved us and we can now live to serve him. That is the proclaiming of the gospel.
So tonight, working through this passage in Acts 17 we're going to look at the cost of proclaiming the gospel under three headings: Time and Effort Division Slander
1. Time & Effort (1-3)
1 When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.
So where's Paul?
Paul continues on his travels and arrives at Thessalonica, having passed through Amphipolis and Appollonia. Last week Dan was talking to us about Paul and Silas in Philippi. Before that we were thinking about his first ventures into Europe. That came after he had been in Derbe and Lystra, and that was after being sent from Antioch following an important meeting in Jerusalem. And this is only a small part of what is referred to as Paul's second of three missionary journeys, he is then taken under arrest from Ceasera to Rome. It's kind of stating the obvious - but Paul gets around a fair bit. It's thought that in total Paul travelled well over 10,000 miles much of which would have been by foot. That's a bit like walking from here to Australia. That's a lot of effort.
And Paul's journeys weren't like those trendy backpacking holiday packages where you pay for the privilege of apparently 'roughing it'. No, Paul really did rough it. In his own words, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, he says this (2 Cor. 11):
23 I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
But it is not just the time and effort of physical endurance but also of persistent spiritual endurance, back in Acts 17 let's keep reading from verse 2:
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.
So, as was Paul's habit, he goes to the Jewish Synagogue and spends at least three weeks 'reasoning with them' from the Bible about who Jesus was. I don't quite know how that worked in the Synagogue. But I imagine Paul spent most of the day with these guys. Going back and forth, over and over: 'What does this passage mean? Who's it talking about? What do you think the Messiah should be like? Do you not know what Jesus did? Who Jesus is? Can you not see that he had to suffer on the cross - that he had to die? But look, the Old Testament even talks about his rising from the dead - can't you see that?'
And the answer will have come back time and time again: 'No. No, Paul we can't. You're wrong Paul. What's the matter with you? What happened to you? You were a good, strict Jew and look at you now. Don't you know that people are trying to kill you for saying what you are? Give up Paul, just give up we don't want to know.'
But for three weeks Paul goes back to the Synagogue and perseveres. It took effort and it took time.
At HTG we run something called Christianity Explored, which is for people looking into the Christian faith may be for the first time. The course was developed by a guy called Rico Tice, and he recently said this (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/05/23/ its-a-matter-of-time-exploring-evangelism-with-rico-tice/):
We have learned through... Christianity Explored and other collective approaches that something powerful happens in evangelism when you invite people to a group. Many people do not embrace the gospel because of social pressures, either from family or peers. So when we take a collective approach, we invite people not only to a new truth, but also to a new family. Here the real cost is time. Love is time... if you are going to show people that you care about relationships... and that you are there to listen... all of that requires time.
That's why Christianity Explored is set up as it is, as a ten week course - because these things take time. Week after week the Bibles are opened and those attending are led through the Gospel of Mark while being encouraged to reason with its message.
Paul's method of evangelism is a good model not only for Christianity Explored but for us all in our day to day encounters. Most of the people we know and talk to we see on a regular basis. Friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, etc. Yet how often do we write-off someone's interest in the gospel after just getting to know them? These things take time and effort. And time is not an excuse for procrastination - it's an opportunity.
Why not pick one or two people who fall into that category - someone you have regular contact with who isn't a Christian, and start praying for them. Pray every day for them. Pray that you'll have opportunities not only to talk with them but opportunity, and courage, to share the gospel or invite them to church. And if they so no thank you - be a Paul and persevere.
Do not be surprised if proclaiming the gospel, living a gospel-centred, cross centred, life, takes time and effort, instead, expect it.
2. Division (4-5)
The cost of proclaiming the gospel is time and effort, secondly the cost of proclaiming the gospel is division.
Paul went to great effort to reason with those in the synagogue - and his efforts weren't in vain, so we read in verse four:
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.
So after three Sabbaths of reasoning and reading from the scriptures the results are in: