Be a Berean - Acts 17:1-15

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 4th January 2009.

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I wonder if you received any unusual Christmas presents this year. The giving and receiving of Christmas presents can either be very safe or very risky. We all know the safe gifts to pass on to other people. The pair of socks, the scarf, the gloves, the CD, the DVD or the voucher. Other gifts are more risky and take more courage to pass on to other people.

This year I received many safe gifts, for which I am very thankful, but I also received a most unusual risky gift. One of my relatives decided to buy me the A-Z of Modern Manners. How to behave on aeroplanes, how to eat apples at the table, how to get in and out of the car, what to do if you forget someone’s name, how to use a napkin (never to be called a serviette!), how to behave if you meet a member of the royal family and I think my personal favourite, shooting: “It is important to remember that shooting is a dangerous activity, so know the local rules and obey them. Don’t make the mistake of claiming expertise that you don’t have – shooting is too dangerous for vanity…Wrap up warm and try to be waterproof. Wellington boots, a wax or quilted jacket, and a tweet hat or fedora are essential.”

The reason I mention this book is because it has been written to produce more and more people with noble characteristics. The authors do believe these are virtues to be copied. However, although the book has 287 pages, it never once mentions the two noble characteristics we read about in verse 11 of Acts 17. Did you spot them when I read the section earlier?

This is what Luke, the author of this book of the Bible, records for us in verse 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.”

I don’t know if you have already made any new year’s resolutions. I don’t know if you have already broken some. But as I’ve been pondering verse 11 this week, as I’ve been considering the attitude of these folk from Berean, I’ve become more and more convinced that these two qualities are exactly what we need if we want to have the best 2009 possible. And this is the case whether we are currently living with Jesus at the centre of our existence of whether we are still making all the decisions ourselves.

Believer or unbeliever, I put it to us, that if we want to have the best 2009 possible then we need to be just like the Bereans. We need to become like them in two important areas. First of all, we need to receive God’s word with great eagerness, and, secondly, we need to examine the Scriptures ourselves to see if what is said by others is true. And I put it to us that if we develop these two qualities more and more than our life will never be the same again.

For the rest of the sermon we’ll look more closely at these two Berean attitudes.

The first thing they did was to receive the message spoken by Paul with great eagerness. They were eager to hear from the God who made them and so they listened with great eagerness to someone who claimed to speak the words of God.

Do you have this attitude?

If we want to make progress spiritually then this is the attitude we must have.

I understand why many people would rather not listen to the voice of God. We don’t like other people telling us what to think or how to live. We still like to hear other opinions but for many listening to the voice of God is different because his words are not just the starting point for human decision but also the end point. I can understand why those who want to live at the centre of decision making would rather not hear the voice of God.

I can also understand why many spiritual people would rather not hear the voice of God. You might think this is rather strange but how convenient to be a spiritual mystic rather than a spiritual listener to the clear voice of the living God. Much more convenient to construct a God who conveniently gives you want you want and allows you to be spiritual and yet still remain at the centre of our your life.

However, these attitudes do not describe how the Bereans behaved. They received the word of God with great eagerness. The question is why? Well, consider with me some of the advantages of hearing God speak to us directly and clear. Think of the advantages of God using words we can understand and interpret properly. 

We can know God properly. Not just guess about who or what he is like.

We can know clearly what God thinks of us and not remain in our own delusions.

We can have a relationship with God. What is integral to all good relationships? Communication. Words are spoken in both directions.

There is normally great joy and happiness when communication is received. I remember when Vicky and I were engaged and the joy of receiving a text message from her. Actually, it’s still the same today!

If we want to make spiritual progress this year then can I urge us all to copy this attitude of the Bereans? Let us have an eagerness to listen to the voice of God.

Where will God speak to us?

If we lived in the Old Testament then we would hear his voice through the written word of God and the authorised prophets of God, who actually spend a great deal of their time applying the written word of God to the lives of the current generation.

If we had met Jesus then we would have been confronted with the voice of God.

The same too if we had met his chosen apostles. This is why the Bereans were so keen on listening to Paul. He was claiming to be one of God’s spokesmen.

Or indeed, if we had met anyone who was communicating the message of Jesus or his apostles.   

Today if we want to hear the voice of God clearly spoken then what we need to do is turn to the written Scriptures.

Isn’t this brilliant? It is a book written by over 40 different authors but it is all inspired by God and so when understood properly we are hearing the voice of God to us.

How do we show our keenness to hear God’s voice? We listen attentively whenever we have opportunities to hear the Bible explained.

What will this look like in practice?

Listening to the Bible read and the sermon preached. What do we think is going on when the Bible is read of explained? God has different accents depending on the preacher but he is the voice behind all faithful bible teaching.

Do you follow along? Do you open your bibles and look with the preacher? Do you believe that these words are God’s words for us? These are exactly the words we need to hear regardless of whether we think they are relevant or not.

Every part is relevant for our Christian life because God has caused all these words to be preserved for our spiritual growth.

The first quality for us to work on is our keenness to hear the voice of God communicated to us. That’s one of the things the Bereans are famous for in the Bible. However, it’s not the only quality held out to us as something to copy because remember they did something else. Not only did they receive the word of God from Paul with great eagerness, they also checked what Paul said against what God had already revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Or in the words of verse 11, “they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

We discover what kind of things Paul would have said to the Bereans at the beginning of Acts chapter 17.
After travelling through Amphipolis and Apollonia Paul and his travelling companions received the major city of Thessalonica. This is not unusual. Throughout Acts Paul is strategic with his time and energy.

Look at what he does in verse 2. “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

This was Paul’s custom and so we can be sure what he did in Thessalonica he repeated in Berea.

It’s good for us to slow down and focus on the words used to describe Paul’s approach.

•    Reasoned. This word can also be translated as dialogue. Not just one way. He proclaimed by there was interaction.
•    He did this from the Scriptures. This meant the Old Testament.
•    What exactly did he do?
•    He explained and proved that the Christ had to suffer and rise again.
•    Explained means to open up.
•    Proved means to put something alongside another.

o    Two columns. On one he put what had to happen to the Christ. Particularly his suffering and resurrection.
o    On the other, he put the events of Jesus life and showed how they matched.

This is also what he did when he came to Berea and this is why the Bereans could examine the Scriptures for themselves to see if what Paul said was true. They didn’t take his word for it, they checked it out for themselves.

What was the result? Look at what we are told in verse 12, “Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”

Because of this two-fold attitude, of keenness to hear the word of God and also a keenness to check things out for themselves a large number of people became Christians.

This is what we need to see again if we want to see a large number of people put Jesus at the very centre of their lives. They must be prepared to really look into the evidence for themselves and find out if the Bible really does prove that Jesus is the promised Christ.

This is why we run courses like Identity. People need a place to ask questions. There is dialogue. People also need to be shown from the Bible the evidence that Jesus is the promised Christ. They need a place and the time to investigate for themselves.

If you are an unbeliever, will you make the time to come and investigate the truth for yourself?

Think about what Paul was doing in Thessalonica and Berea. Proving that Jesus was the Christ. Have you ever seen how the profile fits Jesus perfectly?

•    The Christ would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
•    The Christ would be a descendent of David (Jeremiah 23:5).
•    The Christ would also be the pre-existent one (Micah 5:2).
•    The Christ would be anointed by the Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2).
•    The Christ would have a forerunner (Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1).
•    The Christ would begin his ministry in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1).
•    The Christ would have a ministry of miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6).
•    The Christ would enter Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
•    The Christ would be silent before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7).
•    The Christ would be crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12).
•    The Christ would have his garments divided (Psalm 22:18).
•    The Christ would have his side pierced (Zechariah 12:10).
•    The Christ would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9).
•    The Christ would be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:8-11).

If you are a believer and want your friends to become Christians then will you take advantage of the next Identity course and bring them along with you?

This is also an attitude for believers. To be those who are serious about checking out what is said for themselves. I know this is harder in our pre-packaged culture, where so much is done for us. But if we are serious about growing in our Christian faith then can I encourage you to copy this attitude of the Bereans.

How can we examine the Scriptures for ourselves?

•    Check out what the preacher is saying. Check out against the Bible not another teacher or book you have read. We are always trying show you why we say things rather than just saying them.
o    My sermon on Revelation 21. Is what Lee saying really what the Bible is teaching?
o    This means we need to listen and engage.

•    Home groups are a great opportunity to do this for yourself. What is the point? Not really to get the right answer to the question but to dig into the scriptures and to discover for yourself what is true.

The Bereans examined the scriptures daily.

•    Reading the Bible on your own.
o    God speaking to us.
o    How bizarre if you only listened to your partner on a Sunday or Wednesday evening?
o    Why don’t we read the Bible every day?
•    I don’t have time. How is your discipline? Are you really lazy?
•    It’s not important.
•    It’s hard to understand.
•    Husbands don’t lead the spiritual life of the marriage.
•    It may change my life. I’m comfortable as I am.
o    Why not take this chance in the New Year to begin again?
•    Explore notes.    One month trial.
o    I’m not trying to be legalistic. I’m just saying that what a delight we miss out on if we don’t do this.

In 2009, let’s be serious about growing spiritually.

Let’s be keen to hear the voice of God and let’s be keen to examine the Bible for ourselves.

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