The Truth Hurts

This is a sermon on Acts 17:1-15.  Download the sermon audio and outline.

The truth that Jesus is the Christ will certainly hurt you regardless of what you believe because it is offensive and upsetting in a fallen world, but despite the pain that accompanies faith in Christ, Christians may thrive by loving God’s written Truth and hoping in God’s incarnate Truth.

IntroductionThe Boardwalk Chapel has a Heaven/Hell machine.  It’s an arcade-style true/false questionnaire that tests a person’s knowledge of biblical doctrine pertaining to salvation.  There are only 8 questions, but there are a few that most folks who take the test get wrong.  After answering each question on the machine, you submit your answers and learn your eternal destiny.  When people discover they’re headed for hell, their response is telling.  Many mock the result, some and shocked and want to talk to a staff member about it.  Some just want to know which question they got wrong.  Others want to talk about spiritual things.  Some people listen intently and ask humble questions.  Some people argue and want to explain why they are right and the machine is wrong.  Is your first instinct to answer true or false based on what you choose to believe, or to answer based on what the Bible actually teaches?  How did you feel when you got the answer right?  Wrong?  How did you feel about questions you find distasteful?  How did you feel about that other person rejoicing in the right answers to those distasteful questions?  Sharing and believing the truth about Jesus Christ will put you at risk because in the final analysis God’s enemies hate truth.  The truth that Jesus is the Christ will certainly hurt you regardless of what you believe because it is offensive and upsetting in a fallen world, but despite the pain that accompanies faith in Christ, Christians may thrive by loving God’s written Truth and hoping in God’s incarnate Truth.

I.    Who the Truth Hurts

A.    Truth haters (vv. 5-7, 13)

A developing pattern: jealousy expressed in anger aroused men to stop the gospel from advancing (cf. Acts 16:19; 19:23-28).  The Jews were losing influence among those who worshiped at the synagogue.  They perceived Paul “stealing” their members.  There is no mention of unbelievers refuting Paul’s proclamation.  Instead, they were jealous of the missionaries’ popularity and growing influence.  Their motives were jealousy, not doctrinal purity.  Truth always hurts truth haters.

Once I met a “tolerant” young man who was actually intolerant.  He expressed his willingness to defend everyone’s right to believe whatever he thinks is true, except for the person who claims absolute truth (truth for me, true for you, true for everyone for all time).  THAT person is a bigot and intolerant, and should not be allowed to share his believe in absolute truth.  The young man had not thought carefully through his position.  He thought he was virtuous and tolerant because he shunned absolutists.  But when faced with the question whether his position was ABSOLUTELY true, he became visibly upset and defensive.  He recognized that he was actually a closet-absolutist, but he wouldn’t admit it and couldn’t face it.  In other words, he hated the truth that truth is absolutely true, and he couldn’t escape it.  Truth always hurts truth haters, not because they intellectually disagree, but because they CANNOT disagree.  They want to be absolute rather than admit the truth is absolute.

B.    Truth tellers (vv. 5-10a)

The unbelieving Jews gather a mob and bring highly inflammatory charges against Paul, accusing him and other Christians of causing riots and of political sedition (“Jesus is Lord”).  But upon fair examination, the charges against Christianity were deemed false, and the city officials released the Christians after collecting bail money.  The bail collected from Jason and the other Christians was a pledge to cause no trouble and to escort Paul and the missionaries out of the city.  Perhaps this is Satan’s hindrance that prevented him from legally returning to visit the Thessalonian church he planted, which Paul later lamented (cf. 1 Thess 2:17-18)?  Paul acknowledged the determined and persistent persecution of the unbelieving Jews in his letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:14-16), and recounts the boldness required to proclaim the gospel in Thessalonica while surrounded by such opposition (1 Thess 2:2).  The truth of the gospel hurt the truth tellers when they were slandered by truth haters, when their followers were persecuted, and when they had to leave the Thessalonian church behind.  Later, the unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica pursued Paul to Berea and chased him out of town for preaching the gospel.

C.    Truth lovers (vv. 5-10a, 14)

The truth haters searched in vain for Paul and Silas.  Perhaps the Christians hid them from the mob.  But the mob still attacked Jason’s house (likely the church meeting place).  Everything that the truth haters threw at the apostles also hit the new believers.  But rather than shrinking from persecution, their love for God’s truth caused them to endure the hurt for truth’s sake.  Jesus promised it would be this way for his followers (Mt 5:10-12; Lk 21:12-13; Jn 15:20-27; 8:31-32).

II.    Why the Truth Hurts

A.    Because the gospel is offensive to the unregenerate (vv. 2-5a, 13)

1.    Paul’s mission was to proclaim, explain, prove, and defend the gospel.  He reasoned from the Scriptures using the same method of interpretation that Jesus used and taught his disciples (cf. Lk 4:16-21; 24:27, 32, 44-47).  Paul and Jesus interpret all of Scripture as centrally about Christ.

2.    What specifically did Paul proclaim and explain about Jesus?  (1) That the Christ must die according to the Scriptures, (2) the reasons why the Christ must suffer and rise again (the fall of humankind, sin and its punishment, the judgment of God, the eternal curse of sin that falls upon every sinner), (3) the sacrifice and satisfaction of Christ as an atonement for sinners, (4) that Jesus the son of Mary is the Christ.  Surely Paul also explained the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

3.    Some of the Jews were not persuaded by Paul’s arguments that Jesus is the prophesied Christ of the Scriptures.  Many Jews stumbled over the fact that Jesus was crucified.  Criminals hung on trees were cursed of God, not blessed (cf. Dt 21:23; Gal 3:13).  Christ’s suffering and resurrection would have been among the more offensive aspects of Paul’s preaching.  Proclaiming that the Christ must suffer and rise again highlights suffering and resurrection as part of the divine plan for the Christ (cf. Ps 22; Isa 53; Zech 12:10; 13:7).

B.    Because it turns an upside-down world right-side up (vv. 6-7)

Indeed, the gospel was advancing and turning the world upside down, but not in the way its enemies meant.  The gospel turns the world around by rooting out love for the world and contradicting the way of the world.  God is in the business of transforming the world through changing hearts.  The world is slowly being turned right-side up through the saving work of Jesus Christ.  He is undoing all the damage that sin causes in his world.  He is healing sinners who are selfishly turned in on themselves.  Note the irony and hypocrisy the unbelieving Jews displayed in charging the Christians with proclaiming another king who overthrows Caesar.  They knew that such a charge slandered the Christians.  These truth haters falsely accused Jesus of being the kind of messiah they actually expected for themselves!  Like the unbelieving Jews whom Jesus encountered, these Jews stumbled over the same rock of offense (1 Cor 1:23; 1 Pet 2:6-8).

A few years ago I was talking to a Christian friend who was confused about the purpose of the gospel and what kind of kingdom God is building.  He had been talking to someone in his church who was a proponent of the “health and wealth” prosperity gospel.  He proclaimed (with biblical proof-texts) that once a person’s eternal salvation is secured, then God moves to phase-two by blessing the believer with money, influence, peace, growing family, happiness, removal of pain, suffering, sickness, sorrow.  In other words, the purpose of the gospel and the kingdom of God is to bless us with our own private shiny little kingdoms!  But this is the exact opposite of what Jesus came to do.  This counterfeit kingdom is not offensive to the world—it seems right-side up (but it’s not).  God’s kingdom is offensive to the world—it appears upside-down but is really setting everything right.  But the only way to see this is to carefully read the Bible, not just a verse here and there.

III.    How to Thrive When the Truth Hurts

A.    Eagerly seek solace in God’s Word of Truth (vv. 11-12)

Contrast the believers in Thessalonica and Berea.  Those in Thessalonica believed the gospel upon hearing it, but they lacked the Scriptural foundation of the Bereans.  The Berean believers had verified the gospel message with the Bible, were eager to learn, and had thoughtfully considered the gospel message.  Thus their faith rested on a stronger foundation and they were commended for their noble attitude and effort.  The name “Berean” today stands for serious Bible study by those who sincerely seek to learn what God requires us to believe and do.  For “Bereans” in every era, the Bible is basic, relevant, and precious.

No mere human preacher or teacher can ever attain to such a level of prominence or trustworthiness that his doctrine must be accepted without examination of the Scriptures.  So many Christians are guilty of placing their favorite preacher or teacher on a pedestal of idolatry.  We all have our Christian heroes (for some we idolize our own beliefs) and many of us subscribe to the approved list of Reformed and evangelical teachers.  But we must be ever vigilant like the Bereans because only the Word of God should have the absolute voice of authority in our lives.  How to become a Berean?  Systematic devotional Bible reading.

With God’s help, test everything and everyone by the Scriptures!  It is not wrong to believe a truth which preachers and teachers proclaim and give reason to believe from the Scriptures.  Additionally, it is not wrong to believe those truths of which God persuades you and which you have the inner testimony of Holy Spirit.  For example, the gospel message you’ve heard says that sinners are reconciled to God through the grace of Jesus Christ, that your sins are forgiven through the washing of his blood which he bled until he was dead on the cross, and that there are good reasons to believe the gospel.  Christians hear this message from preachers and teachers, but they receive it from God.  But when you later read the Scriptures more thoroughly you will discover other testimonies and reasons that will help your faith, increase it, and establish it firmly.  Thus a person’s faith is increased by reading the Bible.  But if you find conflicting testimonies and reasons that cast doubt on what you believe, the Bible will still establish and increase your faith because it will correct your wrong beliefs if you recognize its absolute authority.  Searching the Scriptures for verification is an act of faith, not doubt!

B.    Confidently move ahead knowing that Truth will prevail (vv. 10, 14-15)

Being a Christian may bring persecution, especially if you are vocal about Jesus.  Paul escaped persecution many times, but he never gave up serving Christ, he never forsook his calling as an apostle because he knew that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords, and that in serving Jesus he would prevail.  Paul’s Christian friends escorted him out of Berea and on to Athens to quell resistance from the Thessalonian truth haters.  But he did not surrender to the opposition.  He sent Silas and Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on the believers’ safety and spiritual progress.  He wrote to them (at least) two letters answering their questions about matters of faith, and offered them comfort, encouragement and instruction.  Like Paul, we can be confident that Jesus (who is the Truth) will prevail.

C.    Patiently hope in Jesus who embodies Truth that hurts (v. 3)

But that does not mean the Truth will stop hurting!  Jesus was a “man of sorrows” acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by people (Isa 53:3).  He was oppressed, falsely judged, and carried away to be crucified (Isa 53:7-8).  He was counted among criminals at his death, although he always spoke truth and obeyed the truth (Isa 53:9).  Even God attacked him (Isa 53:4)!  Yet Jesus who embodied Truth (cf. Jn 14:6) willingly and joyfully endured all this hurt (Heb 12:2).  Why?  So the full weight of all the hurt he endured would not fall on you!  He carried your grief and sorrow, he was wounded and crushed on the cross for your sins, his punishment brought you peace, by his bloody stripes you are healed (Isa 53:4-5).  He did it all for his children by putting himself in their place.  His righteousness is now counted as your righteousness because he bore the sins of his children and prays for them (Isa 53:11-12).  His truthful, guiltless soul was a sacrifice for your guilt (Isa 53:10) so that the full weight of God’s wrath we deserve as truth haters would not fall on us.

Conclusion – When you see Jesus in all his glory and beauty and love, and by his grace you become a truth lover and truth teller instead of a truth hater, then the hurt becomes like a shadow.  It’s won’t be heavy, it won’t crush you.  You can endure it with joy like Jesus did because by faith you can see your glorious end—resurrection glory and life in his presence forever.  Your life will be blessed like the thriving tree planted by streams of water if you love God’s Word (Ps 1:3), and you’ll find refuge if your hope is in God’s Son (Ps 2:12).

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