Turned the world upside down

"Look at that! Brilliant! You kill the leader and you nip the whole movement in the bud." (Click for source)

Acts 17:1-15

On Good Friday, Christianity was “down and out.”  The Christ was dead and buried.  His followers were despondent and scattered.  And that should have been that.

Yet, within a very short period of time, Christ’s people were said to be ‘turning the world upside down.’  How did such an extraordinary revolution happen?  Not through the sword, not through political machinations, not even through grass-roots activism.  The world was turned upside-down in the first century (and continues to be turned upside-down today) through the preaching of a message.

Just look at the context for this phrase…  In Acts 17 Paul and his associates go to the Greek city of Thessalonica.

“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them [at the synagogue], and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”  (Acts 17:2-3)

Here’s what was so volatile – the preaching of a ‘reasoned’, ‘scriptural’ message.   The message concerns a King – the Christ.  But this King is unlike all our expectations for kings.  He suffers and dies before rising again.  Yet it’s this upside-down message that unleashes an upside-down revolution.

You see some Thessalonians believed Paul’s message.  The Jews that didn’t, ‘moved with envy’, stirred up trouble for the apostles.  And this was their report to the powers that be:

“These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.”  (Acts 17:7)

Perhaps we think it’s counter-intuitive that a message “turns the world upside down.”  But let’s consider the impact of this message over the last 20 centuries in the areas of politics, science and economics.  The gospel of the suffering and rising Christ has made all the difference…

When people believe that the Lord of all became a servant (or, as Mark 10:45 calls Him, “a minister”) then our understanding of earthly power is transformed.  The most powerful needs to be the prime minister – the chief servant.

When people believe that the Ruler of heaven reigns as Man and even because He is now Man, then we start to believe that government should be “of the people, for the people and by the people.”

When people believe that the Logic of all creation took flesh (John 1:14) and was seen, handled, tested and known (1 John 1:1-4), then we start to study the world in a new way.  The Word who became flesh leads us to expect both Laws and empirical testing to discover those laws.  If we only believe in “laws” we will create philosophers.  If we only believe in “empirical testing” we will create technology.  But for the modern scientific method you need both.  Without the Biblical worldview it is inconceivable that science as we know it could have arisen.

When people believe that God’s riches – His grace – should not be paid back to God (as though He needs anything) but freely paid forwards to our fellow man, then we begin having a different view of earthly riches. Freed by God’s grace we stop hoarding or displaying our wealth and start paying it forwards, re-investing it.  And we begin to realise the truth of Christ’s words “freely you have received, freely give.”

These are just some of the macro-effects of the gospel message on our culture.  None of them are, strictly, part of the message.  They are simply outworkings of the gospel in a culture where this message is taken seriously.  In addition to these fringe benefits, people are brought to an intimate knowledge of the living God, set free from the powers that enslave them, cleansed from guilt and shame, and given the status, power and indeed life of Christ.  What’s more, in Christ they are bonded together into a community of grace – witnesses in the world to God’s reconciling love.  They are salt and light and the world cannot help but be changed.

What changes the world?  Not our doings, but the proclamation of His doing.  That’s the power to turn the world upside down.

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