A Study of Acts 17:6
“These that have turned the world upside down are come hither.” (Acts 17:6)
What an unwitting testimony did the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica give to the power of the gospel, when they complained thus! “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither” (Acts 17:6). There were those at Thessalonica of whom it could be truly said that their lives had been turned upside down. Paul writes to them in 1st Thessalonians 1: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake…” (1st Thessalonians 1:4-5) “And how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1st Thessalonians 1:9)
Their lives had indeed been turned upside down for all to see! Paul himself was a living witness to this saving change the gospel brings. His life as Saul of Tarsus was diametrically opposite to what it was as Paul the apostle! He was changed from a ravening wolf to one manifestly beloved of the Lord who sat at Christ’s feet.
We notice then that the effect of the gospel is to turn men’s way of thinking and behaving so that it is a reversal of a former way of life. It is a change which the unbelieving world cannot understand, although there may be a secret acknowledgment, even admiration. But such is the enmity of fallen man, the natural man, he will not recognise the hand of God in it. Indeed, the very fact of a “world being turned upside down” will bring reproach and even persecution as it did for Paul at Thessalonica, from those whose world has not been thus changed.
There are many examples of this irreversible change of which Scripture has furnished a cloud of witnesses.
Take for example the case of Zacchaeus. His way of life, before the miracle wrought at Jericho, was alien to the gospel. His main aim in life was to get rich, and to this end he abused his occupation as a tax gatherer to oppress the poor. Added to this, being a servant of the Roman occupation of Israel, he was despised by his fellow citizens. All this did not concern him so long as he could pursue and hold on to his idol which was wealth.
However, the adorable Saviour had purposes of love towards this hated figure. The impulse for Zacchaeus to run before the Lord Jesus Christ and climb the famous sycamore tree, may on his part have been mere curiosity, or perhaps there were some pricks such as those which Saul of Tarsus experienced. What we do know is that it was the appointed hour and place for sovereign grace to turn his world upside down! The surprising, personal command of Christ, and His purpose to abide at Zacchaeus’ house, was foreknown and foreordained, and in that auspicious moment his life was changed for ever.
The marks of grace were, first, that he obeyed the command to come down from the tree he was hiding in. Grace brings humility. Proud nature must be subdued. Second, that he was made immediately willing to have the Lord Jesus Christ in his house with his friends. God’s children are made willing in the day of His power. Their will is taken in hand by the Holy Spirit. Third, on hearing that the name of Jesus Christ was being murmured against for his sake, true repentance took its course. This was to remove any stumbling block to others that his newly-made profession of faith might bring to the name of our Lord. Restoring fourfold to those whom he had defrauded and giving the half of his goods to the poor all told the same story. His world had been turned upside down!
Perhaps an even more startling example of this great change was in the case of the mad Gadarene. We are told that before our Lord met him on the shores of the lake, he was untameable. Neither warnings, threats, nor chains could subdue him. He was dwelling in the tombs, and no doubt his life was a misery to himself and others. All this changed when our Lord stepped ashore and came face to face with one whom the devil had held in his clutches so long. After the legion of devils had been cast out, we find him with a threefold change. He was clothed, sitting at the feet of Jesus and in his right mind – wonderfully typical of every true conversion by the Holy Ghost. Brought to trust in Christ’s obedience as our garment, at the feet of Jesus made teachable and meek as our Lord, and seeing light in God’s light, discerning truth with the mind of an awakened soul.
One might have thought that the residents of Gadara would have been thankful to the Lord Jesus for removing the cause of this public nuisance. Seemingly more concerned about the loss of their swine and not wanting their way of life disturbed by Jesus of Nazareth, they besought Him to depart out of their coasts. We marvel at the humility of God’s dear Son in our nature. He meekly re-enters the ship that had brought Him to Gadara, but first anoints the no-longer mad Gadarene as a gospel minister to his friends. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19). It might have been easier for the Gadarene to have started a new life where he had not been known in his mad state. But the visible truth that his world had been turned upside down, preached a sermon before their very eyes, which he attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. One wonders who his friends were? Who would have wanted to be a friend when he was still the mad Gadarene? Who would want his friendship now that his world had been turned upside down? The Lord Jesus however evidently had a work for him to do. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them….”
The late Ebenezer Clark, preacher of the gospel for many years, was a soldier who had fought in the First World War. He related the following confession. Before he was called up for national service, he admitted that he was one of the ringleaders of mischief in his locality. However, while he was a gunner in France, the Lord Jesus met with him and “turned his world upside down.” When he returned to civilian life, some of his former friends thought that he would accompany them again in worldly pursuits. He cycled down to the village green where some of these acquaintances still gathered and repeated the following words from John Newton:
“Let worldly minds the world pursue; It has no charms for me;
Once I admired its trifles too, But grace has set me free.
Its pleasures now no longer please, No more content afford;
Far from my heart be joys like these, Now I have seen the Lord.”
The new-born child of God, unlike Ephraim in Hosea, has had his taste changed. His new nature teaches him no longer to savour the things which once he thought were pleasurable and to savour those things which once he despised.
It behoves us to ask, “Has our world been turned upside down?” It may have been profane, it may have been religious, but whatever it was, it must be turned upside down, that we be emptied of self and that Christ may become All in all. Then those with whom we dwell and work will say: “These which have turned the world upside down have come hither.”
Gerald D. Buss