Fruit and Nuts-Two Synagogues

The two synagogues in question are in Thessalonica (nuts) and Berea (fruit). Paul traveled to these synagogues during his second missionary trip. It is interesting that Paul did not write a letter to the Berean church (that we know of). Maybe they just continued to produce good fruit.

A Little History

Synagogues are a product of the Pharisees. They came into being during the inter-testament period, and play a major role, in the life of Jews, after the Temple’s destruction in 70 A.D. Acts 17:2 states that it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogues first when entering a city. I take the habit to stem from the thought of Jew first and then the Gentile. Preaching to Gentiles was not a problem, as this is part of the mystery of the Kingdom. Part of the offerings during Pentecost were two loaves of bread made with yeast-one representing Jacob (natural children of Abraham) and the other Israel (spiritual children of Abraham).

Thessalonica

The stop in Thessalonica was the second in Macedonia, Philippi was the first. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were here over twenty-one days before being chased out of town and moving to Berea.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul said he taught Jesus as Christ and Him crucified, and had demonstrations of the power of the Holy Spirit-healings, signs and wonders, and the giving of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. I believe he did this wherever he taught. His success in winning over converts made the Jews jealous.  

The “nut” part comes from the accusation the Jews made before the city officials. Jews walked a fine line in the kingdom of Rome. They had to acknowledge Caesar as king but could pass on his worship as a god. So, the attack came from success, unbelief, and the fear of losing their pass on the worship of Caesar. Nuts have a hard shell. Metaphorically, this accounts for the attack on the missionaries in Berea. The Good News could not enter them. They also did not get to crack them the first time, so they followed them to Berea. Acts 17:6 is a very telling statement- “they have caused trouble all over the world”. You must wonder just how powerful the Way really was in the first century?

Berea 

The Bereans may have been the ancient ancestors of the “Show Me State”. They received the message but studied every day to check on Paul’s teachings. Historical facts end, more or less, in verse 15. Silas and Timothy stayed on. Maybe they took oversight of that church. It would be possible that they picked elders, as Timothy did on another occasion. Everyone wants the “noble character” moniker, so many churches and movements adopted the name Berean in order to identify themselves.

The Two Churches

As we see in Scripture many times, God starts in the dark and takes us to the light. In a black moment, for Paul, Jesus took him to Berea. This dark moment started when the jealous ones started a riot in Thessalonica and had Paul’s followers beaten. 1 Thessalonians 2:1has Paul telling those believers the visit was “not a failure”. The church in Thessalonica was not a failure and produced and stayed productive for many years. Aristarchus and Secundus are part of that fruit (Acts 20:4 and 27:2).

Many scholars put 1 Thessalonians as the first Letter Paul wrote. 1 Thessalonians 3:1 makes you think they wrote it several months after the first visit while Paul was in Athens (Acts 17:16). So, 1 Thessalonians may be the best look at what Paul taught and preached to new believers when he entered a city. It contains elements of “faith, hope, and love” (1Cornithians), the beginning of the teaching on the “armor of God” (Ephesians), and what we call end-times teaching. 2 Thessalonians really does not have a timestamp in it, but it was probably at or after his stay in Ephesus.

Acts 17-20 may only span 4 chapters, but it covers several years. Acts 20 mentions a return visit to Macedonia, which would include Berea and Thessalonica, before he traveled to Jerusalem and his imprisonment.

How much Paul traveled is open for debate because, in Titus, he talks about wintering in Nicopolis. Why would you “winter” somewhere you have never been? Nicopolis is an area on the west side of Macedonia.

Thessalonica was still active at the writing of 2 Timothy because Demas deserted Paul and fled there.

Berea also produced the fruit of Sopater son of Pyrrhus, one of Paul’s students and traveling companions (Acts 20:4).

Two cities with two synagogues produced the fruit of two churches we still study today; unfortunately, some nuts were required to get things cracking.  

Light

Light 

God said, “We will light the world, and the Spirit moved.”

Moses proclaimed, “This consuming Light loves you, worship only Him.”

Father spoke, “Son light the way.”

Mary whispered, “Shine in me.”

Angels sang, “Light has come for Israel.”

Wise Gentiles asked, “We seek the True Light.”

Jesus taught, “I Am the true way, follow My Light.”

The Hundred Twenty prayed, “Shine Your light.”

Holy Spirit breathed, “Let them be filled with the Light of Grace.”

His Ekklesia calls out, “Let us shine so the world will see The Light.” 

Day of Atonement, Passover, Epiphany

The Day of Atonement, Passover, and Epiphany may seem like three strange Feast to be linked together when talking about the birth of Jesus.  Bear with me as I explain their connection.  

I know it is a good thing that God is a “God Who hides Himself” and did not give us exact dates for everything that occurred.  “He concealed things” so we could search them out.  Luke or Matthew could have given us “better” timestamps but Holy Spirit stopped them.  But Luke did give us some very important calendar dates.

Time

Jewish timekeeping is different than Western thought, it was started by God in the Garden.  (another post on time) The Biblical day starts in the evening and goes to daylight.  This thought is consistent in the Bible as there are many examples of things going from dark to light.  The Jewish religious month is lunar-based; they would add an extra month when needed to keep them in line with the revolution of the earth.   In the Book of Leviticus, the major feasts are set in this framework of months.

Day of Atonement

This important day, for the Jews, of fasting, prayer, and repentance is explained in Leviticus 16.  In Leviticus 23: 26 its time is given as the tenth day of the seventh month.  In Luke we find Zachariah, John’s father, doing the offering of incense behind the Veil in the Second Temple.  Luke 1: 23 had him finish “his time of service” before going home.  This possibly was until the end of the month, so he was with Elizabeth in the eighth month.  She stayed secluded for five months.  (I am not trying to do days or exact times, those belong to God!)

Passover

Luke 1:26 has the “sixth month” for Mary’s visit with Gabriel.  That should be the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which makes it the first month of the Jewish year, the month of Passover!  The Father is a God of order.  It would seem fitting to “birth” Jesus in Mary at Passover. That would put Jesus’ “coming out party” with the angels and shepherds in the December/January time frame (Julian Calendar) of the month of Tevet.  (see the calendar below)

Epiphany 

From ancient times (before the fourth century) the 6th of January has carried special importance in the Church!  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Testament to Freedom, pgs. 504-5 talks about Epiphany.  I read it in a compilation called God is in the Manger.  On page 90, he talks about four events associated with that date – the birth of Jesus, His baptism, the wedding of Cana, and the arrival of the Magi. Traditions are frequently built on facts.  Some of these I will not try to defend or deny, but it sure is interesting.  (Again, I am not trying to be dogmatic in writing this.)

Tevet is the Jewish tenth month.  The root of the word comes from tov or nine.  The meaning of the word is “good”.  If you look in Psalm 119: 65 – 72, the ninth section of that acrostic psalm you will find the idea of good four times in the NIV. (I did an alternative to how Psalm 119 is written.)

Matthew, in his telling of the Christmas story, injects that the Wise Men had seen the star two years earlier (Herod killed the babies two and under.).  He gives no timestamp, but if it was on Jesus’ birthday (Passover) when they found Him, it would fit. 

Okay, I will go out on a limb here, because I know the Father is a God of order!  Jesus’ return with Mary and Joseph from Egypt should have been at the same time as the Exodus (Passover).  I will inch a little further out and say that Jesus’ baptism with John coincided with the anniversary of the “baptism” of the people in the Red Sea. 

The wedding at Cana – I am clueless!  John was writing about proofs of Jesus’ divinity when he wrote on the Seven Miracles (or the Plus One I added), not about dates and times.

For you scholars out there, in Joy To The World by Scott Hahn on page 162, he has a small discussion about Epiphany and gives references. To be honest, I have read his book several times and do not remember ever seeing this discussion.  (Rereading is never a problem.)  I like the way the times and feast fit together, and it gives me a reason to reflect on Epiphany.  One day in Heaven I will have to ask how close I was to being correct.   

 

Light and Dark – Reflections

In the series that started with Light and Dark – A Pattern to Explore we studied the idea that God may start with darkness and then reveal light. There is much written in the Bible on the topic of light and dark, I will do several more studies on specific books. At times it is clear that God is purposely hiding Himself from people for a reason. (I did crossover from darkness to hiding oneself.)  Then there are times when He uses darkness, not in anger but to get His children to seek Him out in the darkness.  The old saying “every cloud has a silver lining” holds true here – God is there right behind the darkness waiting for you. 

Deuteronomy 32: 20, Jeremiah 33: 5, and Micah 3:4 are references to times when God hides Himself because the people have sinned.  On the other side of that thought is Ezekiel 39: 29 when He says he will no longer hide Himself from those people.  Psalmist also used/complained/realized that God hides Himself – 10: 1; 13: 1; 27: 9; 102: 2; 104: 29 are just a few examples that I found using Bible Gateways’ search engine on “Hide”.

Psalm 97: 2 brings together clouds and thick darkness with the foundation of His throne and righteousness and justice.  I am going to slip back in the idea that God wants us to seek Him.  This leads me to another “dark to light” idea that Jesus did many times in Scripture – He would tell people to not talk about what He did for them.  This does not cover Jesus telling demons to be quiet and to not speak – He did not need their acknowledgments.  In part, I believe this was to maintain a layer of “darkness” about Himself so that others would seek Him out.

TAKE AWAY – No matter how dark it is, seek Him.  Maybe all you can do is raise your hands and say the name of JESUS!