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Religious Jealousy

Acts 17:5-9
But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the market-place, 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. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: 'These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.' When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they put Jason and the others on bail and let them go. (NIVUK)

Paul's preaching in Thessalonica had been effective. Some Jewish people and devout Gentiles believed that Jesus is God's Messiah (Acts 17:1-4). But other religious people were jealous, just like those who crucified Jesus. They were frightened that Paul's teaching would make their faith redundant, their power structures irrelevant, and put their reasonably secure religious identity at risk in the eye of the Roman Empire (although Thessalonica was a free city and not under direct Roman control).

But there was another reason. Jesus is not a competitive religious leader. He claimed to be the Messiah of God, the Light of the world and a King with universal authority. That means He claims superior authority over every other authority, religious and civil. It was a spiritual challenge from God. So the jealous religionists stirred up a mob to start a riot. Jason had provided accommodation for Paul and Silas, he may have been a relative of Paul (Romans 16:21), so the mob attacked his house, but the apostolic team were not there.

So they dragged Jason to the city council, using similar arguments to those of Christ's accusers. The charge of treason was a strong weapon, causing significant anxiety amongst the civic leaders. So they decided to make Jason responsible for ensuring that Paul and Silas gave the city no more trouble; demanding a financial bond from him that would be lost, along with his liberty, if Paul and his message caused more problems. Perhaps that is why Paul felt unable to go back (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

Religion has many faces, but Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He is the ultimate challenge to every faith and secular system. Organisationally, Jesus is seen as a threat to all of them; and personally His demands threaten the self-seeking if Christ-less humanity. And yet Jesus loves all He has made (Psalm 145:9) and was willing to sacrifice Himself for all of them (Isaiah 53:10). Often the world is like a drowning man who tries to repel his rescuer. That is the gospel challenge for the church: to persist in proclaiming Jesus despite rebuffs, opposition and persecution – so that the people who hate Him may know how much He loves them. Are you willing to take up that challenge?

Loving Lord. Thank You that Jesus sacrificed Himself so that people who hate Him might be saved when they realise how much He loves them. Forgive me for being so weak in my witness, fearing hostility and loss of friendship more than fearing the Lord who has died for me. Please help me to see past my immediate discomfort to understand how You want me to work with You among the people You love but who are rejecting You now. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams