I love the language in the translation of Luke’s description of the events in Acts 17:1-9. “they rounded up some bad characters from the market-place, formed a mob and started a riot in the city”. “Bad characters” sounds pretty down to earth, but it reads to me like an editor has sanitised whatever the originally more colourful word Luke might have used. Perhaps Luke was just a more disciplined or generous writer than I would have been.
Other translations describe these bad characters variously as “wicked men of the rabble” (ESV), “certain vile fellows of the rabble” (ASV), “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort” (KJV), or even more flowery yet euphemistically, “unprincipled loungers of the market-place” (JB Phillips).
Yet these characters, however unsavoury, are not the focus here, nor is their riot. We get an insight into the heart of this passage in the accusation that is made
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.
Hyperbole? Or had they really caused trouble all over the world? What trouble would that be? They declared there was another king, one called Jesus. They preached the gospel that Jesus is the Messiah. Why so offensive? Luke tells us at the start of verse 5. The reason they went down to the market place to find some “bad characters” was because “other Jews were jealous”.
There is a simple division here. Those who have believed and those who are jealous. It shows almost the opposite truth to the one Jesus declares in our reading in Luke 9:49-56, where in verse 50 we read
for whoever is not against you is for you
Do you see the world divided like this? In Luke, Jesus clearly sees those who are against Him, and those who are not. In Acts there were those who believed, and the jealous ones against the gospel. Yet in Acts, both of those camps were trouble makers. The jealous Jews stirred up a riot, but then accused Paul and his companions of causing trouble all over the world.
Perhaps we need to learn to see the world through eyes that see those who are for Jesus and those who are against him. Not so that we can respond with bigotry and enmity, but instead, with the same compassion that Jesus did. Note how in Luke 9:55 Jesus rebukes his disciples for wanting to call down fire on the Samaritan village that would not accommodate him. The disciples saw an “us and them” but not the heart of compassion that Jesus had. While that village may have been against Him, Jesus was still for them.
And this is at the heart of the gospel that so offends those who are against him…
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
If this gospel of love offends, and causes “trouble” all over the world, do you have the heart of compassion to be such a trouble maker? Do you see the world through the eyes of Jesus who sees those who are for Him and those who are not? Do you see your friends at work, or uni or school or in your street as needing the love and mercy of Jesus?
Lord, help me see the world as you do, seeing not enemies but people who need to hear of your saving love. Give me the courage to be a compassionate trouble maker, declaring that there is a King named Jesus, who saves.