1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
— Acts 17:1-9, ESV
Roy Van Winkle is an American (by birth), a Southerner (by the grace of God), a Conservative (he voted for Reagan), and a life-long member of the Methodist Church (by God’s choice before the foundation of the world, his parents’ choice at his baptism, and his own choice as a regenerate teenager). Old Roy went to sleep one night in 1982, slept for 40 years, and woke up in 2022 to this woke world in which we all now live, a world which seems to most Christians to have turned upside down.
Van Winkle got thirteen channels on his television when he went to sleep, he awoke to 537. He turned on that new news channel he remembered, CNN, to see what was happening. He saw TV’s most popular anchor, Anderson Cooper, famous in part for coming out as gay, interviewing the United States Assistant Secretary for Health, Rachel Levine. But Rachel looked like a man wearing a dress, which of course he was, having transgendered some time before taking office.
He shook his head, then realized that Anderson and Rachel have not turned the world upside down. The world has always had and always will have a small percentage of people who are homosexuals, and an even smaller percentage of men who want to wear dresses. They have not turned the world upside down, they are just living in an already upside down world.
On the first Sunday of his awaking, Roy went to church. As he approached the First United Methodist Church, he noticed the flag was different. There used to be an American flag flying, one on a pole donated in the name of his uncle who had died in Vietnam. But now, a flag that looked like a giant rainbow was wafting in the wind.
He went inside and as the service began, he was a little surprised to see his new pastor was a woman, but many churches had started ordaining women before Roy went to sleep. However, early on in the service, the pastor made some references to a trip she had recently taken with her wife. Yes, the woman pastor had a woman wife. Now, Roy’s head began to spin a bit.
Upside down lifestyles have always existed in the world, but old Roy was surprised to learn they had joined the church. Then it got worse. As the worship service unfolded, he noticed the traditional Scripture Readings had been replaced with modern poetry. The crosses were gone from the walls. The sermon, which his former pastor used to deliver with Whitefield-like gospel intensity, was really not a sermon at all, just a rambling talk about accepting change and promoting diversity.
Then Roy Van Winkle knew that the problem is not the world, still spinning upside down since original sin. The problem is the typical church, be it Baptist or Catholic or Episcopal or Methodist, etc., has adjusted to the upside down world without trying to turn it right side up with the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This was not so in the beginning of Christianity. Into an upside down world went the Apostle Paul, to try to turn some people right side up. His second missionary journey took him to Thessalonica, a major metropolitan city truly representative of the old Greco-Roman world. Politics was religion, power and money ruled, and sexual sin was normalized. Sounds like the world old Roy woke up to?! So what can Paul, Roy, and you and I do?
The Church is the Compass of the World
Make no mistake about it, Paul’s missionary journeys were not meant to spread Christmas cheer, open coffee shops, or start yoga groups. Paul was in the world to plant churches, God-centered, biblical churches, which the world needs now much more than ever. The world, filled with worldly people, is going in the wrong direction, living life upside down. It needs a spiritual compass to show people the way, the truth, and the life. The church is supposed to be that compass.
This is why “they came to Thessalonica,” Paul and Silas and Timothy and Luke, a city of over 200,000 people named after the half-sister of Alexander the Great. It has a cosmopolitan flair. It has a robust economy. It had abortion, polygamy, and homosexuality. It had religion. But, it did not have any Christians until Paul came and planted a Christian church.
A Christian church is important to every community in the world because the world is upside down. God created it and its inhabitants to be good, but sin entered in and made it bad, fallen, upside down. Sin is rebellion against God’s word, the Bible, and rejection of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. No other entity in the world is equipped to battle sin and offer salvation like the New Testament church. Government is not helping anymore, but rather making our problems worse. The family is breaking down, with too many homes fatherless, motherless, or both. We need the church now more than ever, strong, Bible, gospel churches.
The Bible is the Authority in the Church
A church is not a church if God’s word is not the sole authority for faith and living. A liberal church is not a true church, having abandoned this authority. A Catholic church is a church, although they mix so much man-made tradition in with the plain teaching of Scripture, it renders them in need of reformation. Reformed, Protestant, and Evangelical churches in the world are the best hope for the world, and in Roy Van Winkle’s world they are getting harder and harder to find.
Notice how Paul began the church in Thessalonica. He searched for some common ground in the town where Scripture was revered and accepted as the word of God. You can still find many lost people in our world who do reverence the Bible. Paul, the converted Jew, found this common ground among other Jews in town, and began planting his church in their synagogue, a frequent pattern of the Apostle.
Notice also how Paul handled the Bible with those who had yet to believe in Jesus. “He reasoned with them.” In other words, he appealed to their intellect in presenting the key teachings of God’s word, trusting a changed mind would lead to a changed heart and will. He did not bypass the brain to appeal to emotion, but rather spoke the word of God with authority and clarity. Some would come to believe.
Two things are clear here. A true church cannot be built without the belief that the Bible is the authoritative, inspired word of God. And, lost people cannot be saved unless they first have a sense in which the Bible is true and can be trusted. Such lost people can still be found all around us, among Jews and Gentiles, churched and unchurched, in unbiblical churches and in an upside down world. We must go to them and invite them in, like Paul, and see if they will join us on Sundays, Wednesday, and other times we gather to “reason from the Scriptures.”
The Gospel is the Hope of the World
Now look at what Paul did next, when he had the Thessalonians’ attention and got them to open their Bibles and their minds. He made a beeline to the gospel, teaching and preaching to them about the life, death, resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul did not waste time condemning them for all the ways in which their world was upside down. He did not vehemently attack them over issues like abortion, fornication, or homosexuality, although he does discuss them frequently in his epistles to edify the churches. His message to the upside down world can simply be summarized, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” “And some of them were persuaded and joined.”
One of the wisest clichés I heard repeated as a young Christian is this, “God catches His fish before He cleans them.” God is a fisherman, after all, the supreme fisher of men. This maxim of fishing is indisputable, for it is impossible to clean a fish before one is caught. So the church needs to relearn that homosexuals don’t need the church to condemn them, transgenders don’t need the church to make fun of them, but all people everywhere need to church to preach the gospel to them.
“Some of them” will believe! Not most, not many, but some, and they’re worth it. And by the way, the ones who do not believe will still live in their upside down world, and accuse us, the Christians, of making it that way.
The World is Still Upside Down
I hate to wipe the smile off the clowns who preach the positive-thinking, prosperity-driven gospel, but we, Christians and the Christian church, cannot change the world. It’s been upside down for a long time, even before Roy Van Winkle went to sleep. It’s going to say upside down, too, until the second coming of Christ ushers in a new heaven and earth, shaking things right side up.
Paul left two things behind in Thessalonica, a fledgling church and a false accusation. Both survive to this present day. The word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ can turn a person’s world right side up, but those who remain lost will see us as making the world upside down. When you won’t heed the message, the alternative is to attack the messenger, blaming him for the problems you have caused.
We cannot change the world, but we can rescue people in the world. The word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ can turn them right side up. It has just become a more challenging project since Roy Van Winkle awakened.
In the early 70’s my parents divorced, and my world turned upside down. I leaned to like, however, that one parent will let you do things two parents won’t. My mother, for example, started taking me to see scary movies. She took me to see Jaws, The Exorcist, and The Poseidon Adventure, all of which scared me to death, especially the latter.
The Poseidon capsized, as you may remember, and up became down and down became up. The majority didn’t realize it though, and led by a minister (I think he was an Episcopalian), they went down thinking they were going up, and they perished. A small group, seeing the chandeliers at their feet, had the insight to go up by going down. In an upside down ship, they eventually made it right side up and saw the light of day.
We live in an upside down world. Let us chain this church to the word of God, and invite others to come and listen. Let us preach the gospel, to one another for inspiration, to the lost for salvation. Then one great day, we will rise to the top and see the light of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ, who will be standing right side up!