Between now and March, we’re going to be in the Greek resort of Thessalonica. Still a happening place, and the second city of Greece - a sort of Manchester with olives - it was the place to be way back in the year 50AD, when Paul wrote his first letter to the young church there. That’s the letter we’re going to get stuck into as a church, and one we’ve got so much to learn from.
Acts 17 gives us a feel for the background. Paul and his friends had walked the 90-odd miles from Philippi (remember that, last year?), bruised and beaten, but still going. The next major stop was Thessalonica. As usual, Paul found the synagogue for his starting point for telling people the good news of Jesus. For three Jewish Sabbaths, that’s what he did, “explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead” - telling them that that “Messiah” was Jesus.
Some of the Jews believe. So did a whole stack of the local Greeks too - people who’d been interested in the God of the Jews. Also, quite a big stack of VIP ladies - wives of some of the city big-shots, maybe.
Naturally enough, most of the Jews got pretty cheesed off. Most of the Greeks they’d influenced suddenly went off after this ‘new’ teaching! Their church was emptied by it! So they got a lynch-mob together to do Paul and friends in. They had to do a quick night-time bunk, and leg it to the next city, Berea.
Would this new bunch of believers in Jesus keep believing? They had every reason not to - Paul had gone; they were getting beaten up by the Jewish establishment, and not popular with the city authorities either; they could have put Paul’s message down to a new fad, given by a hit-and-run preacher. But they didn’t. They knew what Paul had said made sense and was true. And they kept going, in spite of such a quick and difficult start.
The letter was Paul’s first opportunity to get in touch. He’d heard that amazingly, they were still going - but of course, there were loads of things to iron out. The main point is, though, they needed reassurance. They could be sure that they were safe in God’s hands; nothing else could explain how they kept living for Jesus.
I’m sure Paul’s letter to Wellfield Church in Leyland would have had it’s own things to say. But the assurance he gives this bunch of young believers is just what we need to hear at the start of 2014. I can’t wait to hear what he says!