Robert Wurtz II
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.” (Acts 17:6–7 NKJV)
Moreover, you see and hear that not only at Ephesus but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. (Acts 19:26 NKJV)
It is hard to picture the boldness with which Paul preached repentance from sin and idolatry. It was a throwback to the ancient Prophets who were stoned and sawed in pieces for their services. The testimony of unbelievers is replete with details of Paul’s message suggesting that his doctrine had spread through the Roman Empire like wildfire. In fact, the silversmiths at Ephesus were losing business to the point that they formed a union against Paul lest they lose their livelihood altogether. Clearly, people were hearkening to Paul’s message. As the people repented the enemy flew into a rage and set the pagans and unbelieving Jews in array against him.
To preach that Diana or Artemis were false gods would be the modern equivalent of saying the same about Allah, Budah, Hinduism, or Atheism. Try preaching that in parts of the world where these religions are sincerely practiced. How long do you think you would survive? Yet this is exactly what Paul was doing. He went into these communities and thundered the word of repentance taking his personal safety into his own hands. He was beaten and nearly killed on numerous occasions.
Not only was it dangerous to preach against the false gods of the land, but it was dangerous to preach Jesus as Lord and King. In those days the Ceasars were deified in order to control the people. This is another form of idolatry that we have come to know as an Imperial Cult. These cults have existed in Egypt, Rome, China, Japan, North Korea, Tibet, and other parts of the world for thousands of years. Where ever these imperial cults are found, preaching Christ is difficult if not deadly. Why? Because you can’t serve two masters.
Angering the Unbelieving Jews
When Stephen preached that God would destroy the Temple (Acts 6 -7), an accusation made by the unbelieving Jews, it was an affront on how the Jews expressed their faith. Their whole lifestyle was being challenged because the Temple (lifeless though it was) was an essential tool for practicing their faith. The glory was departed and the Ark of the Covenant had been missing for centuries. What happens? People get stuck and are averse to change even when God is clearly leading a different way. Paul, Apollos, and others boldly and mightily preached Christ and the Kingdom of God to the people, but the unbelieving Jews would not repent and turn loose of their identity or the way they expressed their faith. They resisted the dealing of the Holy Spirit and were eventually lost.
Paul loved them enough to die and at times be accursed for them, but that alone will not do the job. Breaking through rebellion and religious barriers requires boldness and zeal that can only come from being full of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts’ sense of the words. Spirit-filled by logical deductions and prooftexts don’t get it done. For starters, a person needs the fullness of the Holy Spirit in order to exemplify Godly character under extreme conditions (such as preaching to hostile crowds). Stephen preached a strong word, but he also showed mercy when they were stoning him. Anyone can rail against something they don’t believe in if they are angry or fed-up. This is not what the Apostles or men like Stephen did. Preaching in the flesh or in anger would have been vain at best. The apostles preached in the power of the Holy Spirit and when persecuted they took it patiently and in love.
Turning the World Upside Down
If we are ever going to experience a “turning of the world upside down” as we find in Acts 17:6f, we must return to the doctrine and reality of being full of the Holy Spirit. Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 gives some valuable advice to those who wish to be full of the Holy Spirit. He sites Isaiah 66:1 and then tells them that they “always resist the Holy Spirit… even as their fathers’ did.” Nobody can resist the Holy Spirit and receive Him at the same time, though people have tried it. Isaiah 66:1-2 tells us that God rests in people who are humble and who tremble at His word. Taken together this is three keys:
1. Stop resisting the Holy Spirit and His dealings.
2. Humble yourself before God as a little child.
3. Hear the word of God and obey.
A simple exercise of going through the book of Acts and highlighting times when the saints were either full of the Holy Spirit, praying for boldness, and then received the Spirit, will reveal how the early church turned the world upside down by moving in the Spirit’s power. Not a lip-service or a token gesture to tick a doctrinal box, but full of the Holy Spirit in such a way that God provides the boldness and the utterance we need to get the job done.