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Paul’s ministry in Corinth was boosted by a promise of protection from the Lord Jesus. When faced with difficulty, Jesus made a way!

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Jesus Makes A Way

Posted: March 24, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 18:1-17, “Jesus Makes A Way”

An old song by Don Moen says, “God will make a way, where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me.” We sing it & we say it, but do we believe it? Do we really believe that God will make a way? There are times that life is simply hard. Not necessarily hard physically (though physical suffering is always difficult!), but hard emotionally. There are seasons that life is tough. Business goes down, and bosses struggle with their employees – or, the employee is doing his/her job, but the boss never lets up. Or we get blindsided by personal conflicts and there’s nothing we can do except trudge through it. Those times are tough – they’re discouraging, and there’s no other way to describe it. In those times…does God still make a way? Do we really believe in those times that God is working out His plan, or has the phrase become a trite cliché without meaning?

God does make a way. The Bible tells us that God is sovereign over all things, and that He is in control. Don’t misunderstand: the Bible never once promises that life will be easy…but it does promise that God is sovereign. Just ask Joseph. Life certainly wasn’t easy for him! Hated by his 10 older brothers and sold into slavery, Joseph went from bad to slightly better to terrible when he went from slave, to being the chief slave of his master, to being falsely accused by his master’s wife, thrown into prison, and forgotten. Yet God was still in control. God’s plan was to raise Joseph from that place of suffering to being 2nd in command of all Egypt & being the instrument through whom God would save the family of Israel. Joseph had every reason to be discouraged, but he had faith in the Sovereign God. God always has a plan at work – even in our seasons of discouragement. We can trust that Jesus makes a way.

Paul experienced this firsthand. He had his own difficulties and seasons which would have been discouraging to anyone. We see it in Acts 17-18. At the time, Paul was in Greece (Achaia). He had begun his 2nd missionary journey among the churches in Galatia, revisiting the places he and Barnabas had originally gone, but the Holy Spirit clearly led he, Silas, and Timothy to Macedonia, where they soon met Luke. Though there was no doubt God’s will was for the team to be in Macedonia, they experienced difficulties from the outset. In nearly every city, the story was the same. There was ministry among the Jews until expulsion from the synagogue, and then ministry among the Gentiles until the Jews got upset enough to instigate persecution in some way. From Philippi to Thessalonica to Berea, the pattern was virtually identical. To be sure, many people (both Jews and Gentiles) were saved along the way – but there was no denying that things were tough.

So tough, in fact, that Paul had to go to Athens by himself. Silas and Timothy remained behind in Berea for a bit to disciple the new Christians in the city, but Paul needed to get out of town for his own safety. So to Greece, he went. As might be expected, Paul soon began sharing the gospel in Athens, and he was called before an official council (the Aeropagus) who would determine whether they would extend permission to Paul to teach the doctrines of Jesus in the city. Although he gave a textbook presentation of the gospel to the Athenian Gentiles, the mention of the resurrection of Jesus was a stumbling block to them. They interrupted him, mocked him, and brushed him off. It wasn’t everyone (there were at least a handful of people who believed), but it was enough to deny the apostle permission to preach. The bottom line was that the Athenians were less than receptive to the message, which was surely a bit discouraging to Paul.

So on one hand, he had openness in some cities to preach, but he’d have to leave in a hurry when persecution arose. On the other hand, in Athens he didn’t face physical persecution, but he didn’t have permission to preach & thus, no reason to stay. Put it together, and it would start to make one wonder: was there anywhere he could preach and teach longer than a few days and weeks? Was there any place he’d have freedom simply to do what Jesus called him to do?

These sorts of difficulties can lead to discouragement. It was faced by the apostle Paul, and it’s faced by us, too. How many times have we tried to do the right thing, only to face problems? How many times have we tried to do something for the Lord, only to run into obstacles? We want to get going, but it feels like we’re trudging through quicksand. It’s enough to make us want to give up and go back to sitting on the sidelines.

Don’t give up! Paul didn’t. He kept going, and he received quite a gift from Jesus while in Corinth: simple freedom and protection. What happened? Paul served Christ, Paul heard from Christ, and Paul trusted Christ…and Jesus made a way.

Serve Christ – Hear Christ – Trust Christ. Why? Because Jesus will make a way!

Acts 18:1–17

  • Paul’s faithfulness in ministry (1-8). Serving Christ.

1 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.

  1. Remember that Paul had been alone while in Athens. Although he was accompanied by some brothers from Berea, they returned to their hometown where Silas and Timothy had remained behind. Everything Paul experienced in Athens was by himself, and now he had to continue alone. Denied permission to preach the gospel in Athens, Paul had little choice other than to leave, so he went to the next major city: Corinth, roughly 50 miles west. Like Philippi, it was a Roman colony, thus what happened within was as if it happened within the city of Rome itself. Corinth was highly influential among the cities of Achaia (Greece), as well as highly corrupt, being home to much idolatry. A famous temple of Aphrodite was there, home to a thousand consecrated prostitutes. “The very name to Corinthianize meant immorality,” (Robertson). Even so, a large number of Jews lived in the city, and it was a logical place for Paul to go when requiring a new place to preach until Silas and Timothy could arrive.

2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.

  1. Although people often think of Nero being the Roman Caesar at the time of Paul, Nero did not ascend to the throne until October 13, 54AD. Prior to Nero was Claudius, who reigned from January 24, 41AD until his death on October 13, 54AD (it’s unclear if he was poisoned or died of natural causes). Claudius opposed any proselytizing outside of the Roman state religion, and the Jew had special attention paid to them. In 41AD, Claudius prohibited the Jews from gathering together, and by 49AD had expelled the Jews from Rome. (Apologetics Study Bible) The Roman historian Suetonius lists the reason: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome,” (Life of Claudius 25.4, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Claudius*.html). Apparently the Jews in Rome followed the examples of Jews elsewhere regarding Christians among them, and began causing trouble of some sort. The emperor Claudius dealt with it by expelling them all from the city.
    1. As a historical note, this provides extra-biblical evidence of the impact of Jesus upon the world outside of Israel. Although some of the so-called “new atheists” try to downplay Jesus’ historical presence or even claim He never existed, the record is clear. Even the Romans acknowledge a man known by the title of “Christ,” who stirred up large passions among the Jewish population, barely 20+ years after Jesus’ crucifixion in Judea (under the emperor Tiberius ~ Tacitus, Annals 44.28).
    2. The clear historical facts are that Jesus did exist during the days of the Roman empire, that He was crucified exactly when the Bible says He was, and that people at the time did believe that He is the Messiah/Christ because of His resurrection from the dead. This was not a legend that developed over the centuries – it was not some imaginative story pushed upon impressionable ignorant people; it was/is the historical truth. What the Bible records about Jesus is factually true. What you decide to do with those facts is up to you.
  2. Among the Jews forced to leave Rome by the edict of Claudius were Aquila and Priscilla. This husband and wife team become very influential within the church, and are mentioned in three of Paul’s letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy). Interestingly, Priscilla (sometimes known as Prisca, 2 Tim 4:19) is often listed as the first of the two – something highly unusual at the time for a woman. Some theorize that Priscilla had a higher, more noble class of birth than Aquila – others suggest that although both were active in ministry, perhaps Priscilla had a larger role. At this point, Luke describes them only as Jews, with no mention of conversion to Christianity. However in verse 18, the two remain with Paul when he leaves Corinth for Syria, which indicates their commitment to Christ. Although some scholars believe that they were already Christian believers when they met Paul, there’s no doubt that they came to faith at some point along the way.
  3. By way of occupation, both Paul and Aquila were “tentmakers,” and this seems to have been how they all met – perhaps among the trade guild in Corinth. This the only use of the word in the NT, and its precise meaning is debated. Potentially, it refers to a leather worker, which certainly could relate to the construction of tents (a necessary business in an age where tents were common among nomadic peoples!). The exact trade isn’t as important as is the fact of a Paul had to work for a living. Rarely was he financially supported by the church, as were other ministers and apostles (1 Cor 9:3-14, 1 Tim 5:17-18). That’s not to say that Paul was never supported by others (Phil 4:14-16, Acts 18:5), but his usual situation was to work with his own hands and avoid any accusation of a conflict of interest.
    1. Many pastors today are “tentmakers,” or bi-vocational. Is it a biblical requirement? No – again, Paul himself teaches the need for congregations to support their pastors (1 Tim 5:17-18). Sometimes it’s a preference – sometimes it’s a logistical necessity. What is biblically required is for pastors to be free of greed and pure monetary motivation. Men (and women) who get into the ministry for the money are misguided at best, and dangerous at worst.

4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

  1. From the outset, we see the normal pattern of ministry. Paul served Jesus as he always served Jesus: going first to the Jews in the local synagogue, telling whomever would listen of the Messiah. As Acts repeatedly demonstrates, the Jesus we worship is the fulfillment of promises God made to the Jews. Jesus is first presented as the King of Israel & Son of David, before He is shown as being King of kings over all the world. So Paul “reasoned” with the Jews about their King. He patiently opened the Scriptures with them (week after week: “every Sabbath,” implying more than one), showing them prophecy after prophecy fulfilled in the life & ministry of Jesus, pointing them to their need for salvation from the wages of their sin (death). This had been done in numerous cities before, and Paul continued it in Corinth.
    1. Why? Because people in Corinth needed to be saved! Just like people in Athens, in Berea, in Thessalonica, in Philippi – just like people in Tyler, in Whitehouse, in Bullard, and (sure enough!) in Athens. The need for Jesus is the same everywhere, regardless of the city. Does the method of sharing Jesus change from place to place? Yes, if needed. We speak differently to a group of 6th graders than we do adults – we have a different conversation with people in the Bible belt than we do with people on the East Coast. But the basic message remains the same. People are still lost, having greatly sinned against their Creator God, and earning the wage of death. And Jesus is still a great Savior, having died as our substitute on the cross, rising from death, and offering the gift of gracious life. That message (no matter to whom it’s preached) never changes – and the people to whom it’s preached have the same need to hear it. So we preach it. Again and again, as often as it takes with as many opportunities as we have.
  2. And there was fruit! He “persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” God-fearing Greeks were in the synagogue, along with the Jews. They all heard the gospel preached by Paul, were persuaded from the Scriptures, and came to faith. Praise God! 
  3. Some might look at this and say, “Okay, we’ve got it. Paul preached in the synagogue among the Jews & Greeks. Enough, already.” Is the same thing repeated from city to city? Is it a bit redundant to read? Perhaps…but don’t miss the point. The point is faithfulness. What Paul did in one place, he did in every place as he had the opportunity. He didn’t serve Jesus in the beginning only to fade away later on; Paul was faithful every step of the way. You see it sometimes in races: people take off running as fast as they can, only to realize that the distance is further than they expected & they slow down dramatically or drop off entirely. You see it other times with Bible studies: people start off enthusiastically and by the dozens, but by the end only a handful of people remain. When it comes to our service to Christ, there are only two things required of us: (1) availability, (2) faithfulness. Yes, we need power, but the Spirit provides power. Yes, we need doctrine, but God teaches us by His word. Yes, we need grace, and Jesus gives it in abundance. But what God leaves to our own freewill are our availability and our faithfulness. Are we available to be used by Christ? Are we available to keep being used by Christ? That’s what God seeks from us. Many people start & sputter out; few keep going. It was told to King Asa that the eyes of the Lord roam to see those people whose hearts are loyal to Him (2 Chr 16:9)…to seek out the ones who remain faithful to God. Even Paul wrote of the importance of consistent faithfulness, knowing that there was a race to be run and won: 2 Timothy 4:7–8, “(7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” How long did Paul run his race? From the moment he got saved until the moment he died. Every step along the way, he was faithful to serve Jesus with the opportunity he’d been given.
    1. Are you being faithful? Am I? How do we use the opportunities we have to serve Christ? Do we make ourselves available to Jesus & keep ourselves available to Jesus? We can’t do anything about the past, but we can certainly do something about the present & the future! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be faithful…so let us purpose to be!

5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.

  1. Finally, Silas & Timothy arrived, rejoining their friend and co-worker in the ministry. Can you imagine the relief of Paul & his joy? He remained active, even when alone – but there was only so much he could do by himself. Now he was running on all cylinders again and the evangelistic ministry ramped up to full speed.
  2. Question: How was Paul “compelled by the Spirit” to preach, if he was already preaching the gospel in the synagogue? This is one area that a difference in the Greek manuscripts makes a bit of difference (τῷ λόγῳ vs. τῷ πνεύματι). Other translations refer to Paul being absorbed or compelled by “the word,” (ESV, NASB) or “in preaching,” (HCSB, NIV) rather than “the Spirit,” (NKJV, KJV). This makes far more sense in the context. Once Silas and Timothy arrived on the scene, Paul no longer had to work as a tentmaker to provide daily food & shelter (or at least, he didn’t have to work as much). At this point, he could devote himself more fully to the preaching of the gospel message (the word of the Holy Spirit concerning Jesus) that “Jesus is the Christ,” i.e, the Messiah, the Son of David, Son of God, Savior of the world. The message could be boldly proclaimed, as Paul had all the time in the world to reason with the Jews and rabbis in the synagogue.

6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.

  1. Paul had done his best. He had told them the good news of Jesus, and warned them of the bad news that came with rejecting Jesus. The good news is that each and every one of them could be saved, if they only turned away from their sins & trusted Jesus alone as their God, King, and Savior. The bad news is that if they rejected Jesus, they remained in their sins & thus remained lost. As a fellow Jew, Paul longed for his countrymen to turn to Jesus as the Messiah, and he passionately warned them against rejection. What they did with his warning was up to them; for his own part, Paul had been a faithful watchman. The role of the watchman was to stand on the city wall and warn people of coming danger. They’d look out to the horizon, and if they saw anything approaching, they could sound trumpet as an alarm, giving the people time to gather their defenses. If the watchman sounded the trumpet, but people did nothing, their blood was on their own head – but if the watchman failed in his duties, then the watchman was himself responsible for the death of the people. Spiritually speaking, the prophets of God were considered watchmen, with God telling Ezekiel: Ezekiel 33:7–9, “(7) “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. (8) When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. (9) Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”
    1. Thankfully, Ezekiel was faithful in his duties – as was Paul. What about us? We are not all prophets & evangelists in our spiritual giftings – but we all have been given a word from the Lord to our people & been commissioned by Jesus Himself to speak it. Be faithful to speak – be faithful to serve! Sound the alarm when needed, telling people of the danger they face. What they do with it is up to them, but we dare not be silent to warn.
  2. Along the normal pattern of ministry, once opposition from the Jews increased, Paul was forced to leave the synagogue to go preach directly to the Gentiles. And he did…he just didn’t go very far. There was an opening next door, and he took it. 

8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

  1. How amazing is that? Only when the gospel moved next door did the “ruler of the synagogue” come to faith in Christ. It may have seemed like the opportunity for Crispus closed when Paul left for the Gentiles, but it was exactly what was needed for his salvation. Such is the marvelous plan of God! 
  2. And Crispus wasn’t the only one to come to faith. “Many…believed and were baptized.” Things were off to a great start, and it seemed to only be getting better. Of course, it seems that’s often when the bottom drops out! As good as the days were, Paul seems to have been quite nervous, wondering when things were going to go haywire. Luke doesn’t mention it, but Paul himself does in his 1st letter to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 2:1–3, “(1) And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. (2) For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (3) I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” When Paul first arrived in Corinth, there wasn’t any record of miraculous healings, demon exorcisms, or anything else. There wasn’t a recorded debate with the philosophers or toe-to-toe matches with the local Jewish scholars. It was just faithful service to Jesus, being in the trenches, doing what God called him to do. And it worked. As nervous as Paul may have been, the people heard the message of Christ, and responded in faith to the power of God in the gospel.
    1. Patient ministry leads to fruit. It may take time & it may seem as if you don’t have anything in yourself to give. But if you are faithful with what God has entrusted to you, at some point there will be a result. 
  • Jesus’ promise of protection (9-11). Hearing Christ.

9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”

  1. Why did Jesus speak to Paul in a vision? Think back through Paul’s missionary experiences. What normally happened at this point in the pattern? Paul would enter a city, preach in the synagogue among the Jews & God-fearing Gentiles – some would come to faith in Christ; others wouldn’t. He’d leave the synagogue & preach among the Gentiles – some would come to faith in Christ; others wouldn’t. And then what? Then the unbelieving Jews in the city would get upset, start a riot or find some other way to physically persecute Paul. No doubt Paul was getting a bit nervous at this point. He recognized the normal pattern & saw the writing on the wall. Granted, things had been different in Athens, but Athens was just different overall. There, he didn’t have the same opportunities as he did in Corinth. Yet Corinth was looking much like Berea, Thessalonica, Philippi, Lystra, Derbe, etc. Persecution was just around the corner, and it would be easy to start to get nervous, discouraged, or fearful, or all of it put together!
  2. That’s when Jesus spoke to Paul in this comforting vision. As with so many other people in the past, God told him to fear not: “Do not be afraid.” Just as God was with Joshua and with Elijah, and with Jeremiah, so Jesus was with Paul. Don’t miss that! For as much as Jesus promised regarding the people (His people) in the city & the protection that would come as a result, that wasn’t the best part. The best part was that Jesus was with Paul in the city. “I am with you.” This is emphasized in the Greek. If it were John writing & not Luke, it would be the normal construction for the several “I AM” statements of the gospel of John. Luke doesn’t necessarily use the words in the same way, but the general idea remains true. Jesus, God the Son, God in the flesh – Jesus Himself was with Paul, and that was the greatest comfort of all!
    1. Jesus is with us! Day or night, we are not alone. Our Savior is with us, and He never forsakes us. He promised to be with us, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). God the Holy Spirit literally dwells within every born-again Christian, we having become His temple on earth (1 Cor 3:16). There is no place we can go that God will not be, and there is nothing that we endure what we endure alone. Our Jesus dwells with us and He is with us.
    2. Christian: Do you believe this? Do you really believe it? One of the reasons we often get so discouraged is because we think we’re alone. We face all our difficulties & trials, and we shut down because that’s all we can see. But we are never alone! Our God knows us, loves us, and is with us. He is right there in the midst of it with us, and He will guide us through by His grace.
  3. How will God do it? God has a way because God is in control. He is sovereign. This was the point Jesus made to Paul by telling him of all the people Jesus had in the city. Paul obviously knew of the people who had gotten saved, but Jesus was telling Paul of people Paul had no clue about. There were all kinds of people in the city who would be used in the plans of God, because God is sovereign over all people at all times – not just the few who serve Him in faith and truth. Think of it: God used pagan nations to accomplish His purposes with the people of Israel, taking them into Babylonian captivity & also removing them from captivity & restoring them to the land. If God could use pagan kings for His purposes, then surely God can use anyone else in His plan. For that matter, if God can use us, what stops Him from using anyone else? Nothing! God is sovereign.
    1. Question: What is the only way that this promise of Jesus would bring comfort to Paul? How does the factual truth of God’s sovereignty comfort someone who is discouraged? Only if Paul heard Jesus and believed Him. It’s one thing to be told facts about Jesus’ power & authority; it’s another thing to hear it with our hearts and believe. We have to do more than merely memorize the promises of Christ; we need to truly hear them & have faith. 

11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

  1. 18 months! Although it’s difficult to know precisely how much time Paul spent in some of the other cities, the fact that Luke highlights this the way he does indicates that this was far and away the most time Paul had spent anywhere abroad. 18 months gave Paul time not only to preach evangelistically to help bring people to faith in Christ; it also gave Paul time to preach and teach discipleship to help the new Christians grow in their faith in Christ. He had the chance not only to preach the gospel, but to teach “the word of God among them.
  2. Can you imagine what it would be like to have the apostle Paul as your pastor & discipleship leader? What an amazing opportunity! Even so, it’s interesting that out of all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, his sternest are reserved for Corinth. There is correction given to other churches (particularly the Galatian churches), but no discipline is as severe as what is seen in 1-2 Corinthians. For all the spiritual pedigree the Corinthians had being discipled by Paul, it was no guarantee against their own error.

Put it together so far: For a year and a half, Paul remained in Corinth, having a truly active ministry, being comforted after hearing the promise of Christ Jesus. Yet at some point, that promise would have to be tested. If Jesus said “no one will attack you to hurt you,” then surely there would have to at least be the appearance of danger at some point. After all, it’s easy to rejoice in God’s promises when things are easy. It’s when God’s promises are put to the test that our faith is truly seen. It’s during those times that we have to make the conscious decision to trust Christ, and Paul was about to face one of those times himself.

  • Gallio’s usefulness by God (12-17). Trusting Christ.

12 When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”

  1. The current proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, had quite the pedigree and reputation. He was the son of the rhetorician Seneca and brother of Seneca the philosopher (NET), and was well-liked by the establishment of Rome. The fact that Luke notes him as the proconsul seated in Corinth helps date this event with quite a bit of precision, as he was only there from 51-52AD. When the Jews brought Paul to Gallio, it was likely the late summer to early fall of 51.
  2. The charge was quite serious. Because Claudius did not approve of proselytizing, combined with the fact that Corinth was a Roman colony where only approved religions were allowed meant that the Jews accused Paul of preaching a new, unapproved religion with the specific purpose of persuading people to believe. And on one hand, the charges were correct. Paul did preach something new, even in the ears of the Jews, for he told them of the Messiah crucified and risen from the dead. And without question, Paul preached to others hoping to persuade them from false idolatrous beliefs to real faith in the real God. This moment could have easily have meant imprisonment again (just like in Philippi), with the exception that it would not be only done by order of the local officials, but by the command of the man in charge of the entire region of Achaia. This would drastically change Paul’s future, and threaten the bulk of his ministry.

14 And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, …

  1. Don’t miss this part! Paul was prepared to defend himself, but he didn’t have to. Jesus had promised him protection, and Jesus delivered in a big way! Before Paul could say a word, the Roman proconsul himself spoke. God used Gallio at just the right time in just the right way. God, in His sovereignty, had a plan to continue to use Paul on the mission field and God had no problem using a pagan proconsul to get His work done. All Paul needed to do was rest in the protection and promises of Christ!
  2. Do you trust God to work? So often we think we need to come to our own defenses and get into fighting position. All too rarely we remember that God is our stronghold and our defense! That’s not to say we’re never to be proactive and that we’re to do absolutely nothing. After all, sometimes that’s what God desires of us. But no matter what it is we think we should do, the first thing we need to do is remember the promises and word of God. What has God told us in His word? What are the promises of Jesus? What does the Spirit say in the Scripture? Look to that first, then act accordingly. Paul was prepared to speak, but he already had a promise that Jesus would protect him. We may not have individual visions and promises from the Lord, but we have every promise contained in the Bible. Hold to that! When attacked by the devil with lies that you haven’t been forgiven, remember the promises of Christ that you have been cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). When doubting your decisions and what to do, remember how God promised abundant wisdom to all who ask (Jas 1:5). When faced with lies and opposition from other people, remember how (like David) God is your rock, your fortress, your deliverer, your strength, your shield, and the horn of your salvation (Ps 18:1-2). Before you take any action, first stand on God’s word & trust what He says!

… “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. 15 But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.” 16 And he drove them from the judgment seat.

  1. From Gallio’s perspective, this wasn’t a new religion at all. This was Jews arguing among Jews about Jewish law; not Roman law. Rome did not permit new religions, but Gallio didn’t see Christianity as a new religion. It was a continuation of Judaism, which was already allowed. Scholars have suggested that one of the reasons Luke included this account was to establish legal precedent. If the esteemed proconsul of Achaia (the Gallio well-respected by all of Rome) did not view Paul’s gospel preaching as being illegal or a threat to Rome, why would anyone else?
  2. What about the question of proselytizing? New religion or not, there’s no question Paul tried to win people to Christ. Gallio’s silence on the matter speaks volumes. He simply didn’t see it as a problem. Whether he disagreed with Claudius’ view on the matter, or if the Lord intervened and blinded his eyes on it, is unknown. What is known is the result: God got involved, and Jesus’ word proved true!

17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.

  1. With the Jews cast away from the judgment seat of Gallio, the Greek mob picked up where the others left off. The Greeks of Corinth, ready for some kind of judgment, took out their frustrations on the Jews themselves and “Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue” bore the brunt of it. Perhaps a replacement for the newly-converted Crispus, Sosthenes was taken and beaten by the crowd. “Gallio took no notice” – not because he didn’t care about mobs or injustice, but because it was a matter for the local authorities of Corinth. Gallio was the proconsul of all Achaia; he wasn’t the appointed mayor of the city.
  2. Interestingly, this is not the only mention of a Sosthenes in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 1:1, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,” Who is listed as a potential co-author (or at least transcriber) of the letter along with the apostle Paul? None other than Sosthenes, a fellow brother in the Lord. Granted, it is theoretically possible that the Corinthian church was aware of another man named Sosthenes, but it seems unlikely. Just like Crispus before him, the new leader of the synagogue Sosthenes (the one beaten for his failure in having Paul beaten) also came to faith in Christ. Trust Christ to do miracles! Anyone can come to faith and be saved!

Conclusion:

For weeks and months leading up to Corinth, Paul had experienced difficulties. Yes, he had successful ministry elsewhere, but things were hard. Trials wear on anyone, and even the apostle Paul was no exception. No doubt he was weary, likely discouraged, and it looked like things were going to start all over again. For Paul, the difficulties hadn’t stopped him from serving Jesus (as it might us!), but they were still things he needed to endure.

Jesus knew the fear & trembling in Paul’s heart (just as Jesus knows the thoughts of our own hearts), and He gave Him a word of comfort. Jesus would be with Paul in this city (just as He was with Paul everywhere else…just a bit more tangibly this time), and Jesus would make a way. Paul served Christ, Paul heard from Christ, and Paul trusted Christ…and just as He promised, Jesus made a way.

Christian: Maybe you’re discouraged today, facing your own trials and difficulties. Be careful not to let those things sideline you from what it is God has called you to do. You have those difficulties, but you do not face them alone. Our Lord is with you, just as He was with Paul. Keep serving Him faithfully, relying upon the Holy Spirit for strength. Keep hearing Him, listening to His promises in faith as you read His word. And then trust God to work exactly as He has promised to work. He is sovereign over all things, and He will make a way…just wait and see.

In Acts 17:24-34, we continue with Paul’s message to the council in Athens. God is the Sovereign Creator, the Righteous Judge, and the One to whom we must respond. How can we know? Because Jesus is risen from the dead!

Acts 17:24-34, “Agnostic Athens, part 2: God Made Known”

Question: How do you tell someone of Jesus, who has never heard of Jesus? How do you teach the truths of the Bible with people who are unfamiliar with the Bible? On one hand, this seems like something we would never encounter. After all, we live in East Texas. If there is any place that can be considered the Bible Belt, this is it! There isn’t a person on the street who’s never heard the name Jesus, and we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t at least know something about Him or what the Bible says about Jesus being the Son of God who died on the cross.

That said, people know far less than what we might think. No longer do we live in a Christian society; we live in a post-Christian culture. The ideas once widely accepted by our parents & grand-parents are now largely rejected by the masses, to the point that few people truly understand what it is they are rejecting. They don’t know much of what the Bible says about Jesus – all they know is that they don’t believe it.

Our East Texas culture has far more in common with the people of ancient Athens than what we might think! If we want to share the good news of Jesus with the people around us, then we need to find a way to speak to them in terms they understand, and bring them to the truths of Scripture…even if they don’t realize at the time that they’re listening to the truths of Scripture. We need to do with them, exactly what Paul did in Athens: declare to them the God they never knew.

Remember that Paul wasn’t necessarily in Athens by choice. He was there after a series of persecution in Macedonia forced him to leave the area until Silas and Timothy could rejoin him. Things had been difficult for Paul elsewhere in terms of physical persecution (beatings & imprisonment in Philippi, and riots in Thessalonica & Berea) – in Athens the difficulty wasn’t physical, but mental & emotional. Paul was mocked by the Athenian philosophers for preaching something as “outlandish” as the resurrection. (Never mind the fact that Athens was completely overrun by idolatry, with literally thousands of idols scattered throughout the city!) In addition to the mockery, others implied that Paul might be guilty of criminal charges in his proclamation of so-called “foreign gods.” He was thus taken to the council responsible for deciding which doctrines and philosophies would be allowed to be taught in the open marketplace: the Aeropagus / Mars Hill. They gave Paul an open invitation to share his message with them, and he took it & ran with it! Beginning with engaging terms, Paul noted their spiritual awareness & their honest recognition that there were some things they did not know. They were agnostic on certain things about God (who isn’t a “foreign” God at all!), and Paul declared to them that he would tell them the truth. He would make known to them the God they previously did not know. More than that, Paul would give them proof. At that point, they choice would be theirs as to what to do with it.

In all of this, Paul set forth an example that has been followed by Christian missionaries and evangelists throughout history, showing how the gospel can be explained to groups of people unfamiliar with Him. Although some have criticized Paul’s message as being ineffective, the Biblical record is far different. Granted, there were not 3000 people saved in Athens, as there were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost – but that isn’t a far comparison. [Apples & oranges!] Peter preached to a bunch of people actively expecting the Messiah of God only 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion and very visible & well-known resurrection. Those were people ripe for the picking! Paul preached to a group of people almost totally unfamiliar with the Old Testament, yet even out of this group, there were still people saved. Why is that? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation…no matter what your background might be!

How did Paul do it? In a nutshell, he addressed three main points that crosses over to every culture in the world: Knowing God, hearing God, and responding to God. It makes us ask the questions:

  • Do you know God?
  • Do you hear God?
  • Will you respond to God?

When faced with proof that makes known the God you never knew, what will you (or anyone else) do? How should we respond? The Bible calls us to repent & to believe. The good news? Jesus makes it possible for us to do exactly that!

Acts 17:24–34

  • Sermon: God, the Sovereign Creator (24-28). Knowing God.

24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.

  1. Remember the immediate context: Paul was standing among the council of the Aeropagus, which was likely in full view of the famed Parthenon (the great temple built for the Greek goddess Athena, the patron of Athens) on top of the hill known as the Acropolis. The Acropolis had monuments for Athena, but also for many other Greek gods and goddesses, and statues of these various gods & goddesses were scattered throughout the city. Among all of the idols and altars seen by Paul, one was dedicated “to the Unknown God” (vs. 23), or “to the God of our agnosticism/ignorance.” Out of everything the Athenians claimed to know & to pass on to the rest of the world in their intellect, they admitted there were still some things of which they were ignorant. This God, was the God Paul said he was preaching in the marketplace & declaring to the council. This was the bridge Paul used to move from ignorance to the truth, so now all that was left was to declare the truth.
  2. Who is God? First, He is the omnipotent Creator. As general (and perhaps obvious) as this might sound to us, it was very specific and unusual to the ears of the Greek listeners. In Greek mythology, there wasn’t just one God; there were many. Even in their (incorrect) understanding of creation, there were at least three gods & goddesses, and it was from their procreation that the other gods and goddesses sprang. Yet the Bible declares all of that to be false. There is only one God, and that God created every single thing in all the universe. From every subatomic particle to every far-flung galaxy, God created it all. As the apostle John wrote about Jesus in His role as God the Son (the Logos, the Word), “nothing was made that was made,” (Jn 1:3). The Bible makes this clear from the very 1st page: Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Foundational to a correct understanding of God is that He is the creator – and not only is He the creator of some things; He is the creator of all Why is this so important? Because not only is it the truth (something sadly & easily forgotten!), but it establishes God’s authority. It is because God made all things that He rules all things: “He is Lord of heaven and earth.” We owe God our allegiance and worship because He brought us into existence. God did not come from afar and impose Himself upon us; He brought us out of nothingness and gave us life. We are to worship Him because He is inherently worthy of our worship – not being a god of our imagination, but the true God who gave us our lives and everything we see.
    1. It ought to be no wonder why the Biblical idea of God-driven creation comes under such attack! If mankind can eliminate the idea of a Creator, then it eliminates the idea of accountability and owed allegiance. If mankind can do away with a Creator, then mankind can simply worship itself. (Which is exactly what many people do!)
    2. As much as this is the lie men and women try to sell to themselves, the world around us testifies to something very “The heavens declare the glory of God,” (Ps 19:1) – all we need to do is look around and see evidence of intelligence and planned creation. If we look at a car being driven down the road, we neither believe the car is driving itself, nor that a tornado threw a bunch of random parts together. Its design is obvious and logical. How much more the human body? Or the ecosystem of our planet, the laws of physics, etc.? It takes far more faith to deny God than to come to obvious conclusion that He created the world.
  3. Second, He is the omnipresent God. This again, was something different & unique to the ears of the Athenians. They worshipped gods that dwelt “in temples made with hands,” requiring a physical location for their home and their worship, being limited to certain lands on the earth. This was the common thought among many nations outside of Greece, including the Gentile neighbors of Israel. Their gods were regional deities, having power only in the areas where they were worshipped. Not the God of the Bible, the God of all creation. This God required no temple for worship, and was not limited by any national border.
    1. Objection: “What about the temple in Jerusalem? How was that any different than the temples in Athens?” Simple: the Jerusalem temple was an offer of grace to Israel; it was not an essential requirement for the worship of God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., all worshipped God in truth long before the temple was ever given. Even Moses and Israel worshipped God in truth before God gave them the instructions for the tabernacle. The purpose of the tabernacle (and by extension, the later temple) was God’s offer of grace to His people, promising to dwell among His people in a special way. It was a gift to the people; not from the people to God. Even Solomon, after building the first temple, acknowledged that God was not contained by the temple, because all the heavens cannot contain Him (1 Kg 8:27). Jesus affirmed the same thing to the Samaritan woman at the well, saying that it didn’t matter where someone worshipped God, as long he/she worshipped “the Father in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:23)
  4. The overall picture painted by Paul is that of a God far larger than anything the Athenians had ever known. The true God is a God truly worthy of worship, and Paul went on to describe this God further…

25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

  1. Third, He is the self-sufficient Sustainer. Again, how different than the gods of Athens! Those gods and goddesses required the interaction of their people, becoming petty & jealous when they didn’t get what they wanted. They needed statues built of them, in order for people to be able to worship them. Not so with the true God of the Universe! He is not “worshiped with men’s hands,” needing no statues or idols or temples. For all the sacrifices required of the nation of Israel, not a single one was needed in order for God to eat. He needs no food, no water, no ambrosia, no nectar, no place to lay His head, no bathroom, no sexual consort…none of the things needed by the gods of the Greeks or any other culture. God is self-sufficient – fully capable of sustaining each and every one of His desires. We cannot even say God fulfills His own needs, for He has “need” of nothing! Humans require oxygen; God does not. Humans require food & water; God does not. The false gods of Athens were more like people than deities; the true God lacks absolutely nothing. In fact, not only does God not need anything from mankind; God provides everything to mankind! “He gives to all life, breath, and all things.
  2. The key idea here: we are dependent; God is independent. To put it simpler terms: God doesn’t need us, but we need Him…desperately! We need His mercies just to wake up in the morning. If God did not actively will us to exist each and every day, we wouldn’t – we would cease to be. Paul said it this way to the Colossians, regarding Jesus in these same terms: Colossians 1:16–17, “(16) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. (17) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Again, Jesus (as God) is Creator of all things, and He is also sustainer of all things. “In Him all things consist.” If Jesus did not will that the atoms of our bodies stay together, they wouldn’t. We are dependent upon Him for each and every day of our lives – how much more the many provisions He gives us for food, clothing, etc.!
  3. Just take those first three facts about God & put them together: God is the omnipotent Creator, the omnipresent God, and the self-sufficient Sustainer. If those three things were the only things we knew about God, it ought to be enough to drive us to our knees in worship! The God who can do all things, who exists over all places, and who sustains all life as we know it – that is a God to be feared. That is a God whom we must acknowledge, and to whom we must bow. That is a God we cannot afford to ignore. (We do so at our own peril!)
  4. Paul gives one more fact about this God…

26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,

  1. Fourth, He is the Lord of humanity. Again, God is not limited to any national boundary. Although God declared Israel to be His own special people (just as He does the church!), all people were made by God, and all people are to know Him, worship Him, and obey Him.
  2. Paul demonstrates this in several ways. What has God done with humanity?
    1. He made us of one race. We (all men and women) have been “made from one blood,” one man – the original man & woman: Adam and Eve. Every single human in all history from every nationality has a common origin. It is not found in Lucy the ape (or any so-called “missing link”); it is found in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. From one, came “every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” We have a common ancestry & common humanity.
      1. What does this tell us about racism? It tells us that it is downright wicked & evil. Those who treat other people differently based on skin color, sex, or national background do so in defiance of the plain teaching of Scripture. The Bible teaches there is one race: human. Christians need to stop seeing each other in terms of race & start seeing each other as brothers and sisters made in the image of God…period.
    2. He put us when He wanted us. God “has determined [our] preappointed times.” You and I are not accidents of history! God knew exactly the men and women He wanted in 33AD and 2019AD, and He caused us to be born at exactly the right times. He knows what empires and nations will exist, when they will rise, and when they will fall. Paul, speaking to the Athenians, was speaking to a group whose heyday had come & gone. Sure, Greek culture was still used all over the Mediterranean world, but it was the Romans who ruled. But even the Romans would not rule forever. Nor did the British empire – nor will the American one. 
    3. He put us where He wanted us. Not only do we exist as individuals by the will and grace of God, we exist as nations by the will of God. The earth is His, and He distributes it as He sees fit. This is why God could (and did!) give the land of Canaan to Israel as its inheritance forever. God is the One who establishes the borders of the nations, and He knows every individual who inhabits them.
  3. Bottom line: God is sovereign over all peoples at all times. He is the God of Israel, but He is not only the God of Israel; He is God over all the earth. He knows us by name, and is sovereign over every detail of our lives. Again, combined with the fact that He is all-powerful, ever-present, and all-sustaining, it underscores the point that He is the God all people should worship. That’s the point Paul drives home…

27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

  1. What is God’s desire for humanity? That we seek Him and find Him. The God who created this universe, Who is everywhere in this universe, Who sustains this universe, and Who is sovereign over every person & every nation – the one Who knows every person on the planet wants every person on the planet to know Him. We are the special creations of God, above every animal, bird, fish, and tree. Even beyond the angels, humans are different and special in the eyes of God. Men and women are made in the image of God, and our God wants us to know Him. He wants us to seek Him out, even when it is like groping in the dark to find what you’re looking for.
  2. Is it possible to know God? “He is not far from each one of us.” Remember that all of creation testifies of God, as the heavens declare His glory. Paul, when writing of mankind’s addiction to idolatry, put it this way to the Romans: Romans 1:19–20, “(19) because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” Although we should look into the night sky and be amazed at God’s vastness, wisdom, power, and glory, we tend to worship things we think we understand. That’s why rebellious Israel wanted to worship God in the image of a golden calf – it’s why Athens was filled with 30,000 idols – it’s why people today imagine God in their own image rather than fearing God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. Yet we are “without excuse.” Not only is it clear that Creation has a Creator, it is clear that this Creator is far greater than anything we can imagine. This alone ought to cause men and women to grope around, seeking the truth, even with the limited knowledge we might have. All people have come from God (being “His offspring”) and all people are sustained by God (we have “our being” in Him), so all people should seek God, know God, and worship God.
  3. That said, we can only know God when we go to God in the way that He has chosen. God is not far from us, but that doesn’t mean that God is easily found through any method of man’s own choosing. Not once in all of Paul’s sermon does he imply that “all roads lead to heaven,” or that all religions are just different perspectives of the same truth. [blind men and the elephant] On the contrary: although the general revelation of creation points us in the direction of God, we still need special revelation to lead us to the truth of God. General revelation tells us of God’s greatness, but it doesn’t tell us how to be saved. We need the special grace of God for that! (That’s the point Paul goes on to make!)
  4. Note how easily Paul was able to quote Greek poets and philosophies back to the Greek council. No doubt, Paul felt far more comfortable discussing Scripture than philosophy, but he at least knew enough of it to build a bridge to the gospel in the culture where he was. (He didn’t affirm the poets as inspired Scripture; he simply knew enough of it to reference points of agreement with the Scripture.) Do you want to reach East Texas for Jesus? You’d better know a little bit about East Texas to talk to people about Jesus! This is true anywhere you go. If you’re talking to businesspeople, it’s helpful to know a bit about business – if you’re talking to sports fans, it helps to know a bit about the teams. It’s no different than a missionary to India learning a bit of Indian culture, or someone going to Russia learning a bit of Russian. If you’re going to be a missionary among people, then you need to know something about the people to whom you’re speaking. Guess what? We’re all missionaries! We are missionaries in this culture, right here in East Texas. Granted, we talk to different people, having different circles of influences (some are hunters, some are athletes, some are parents, etc.) – whatever group you find yourself in, find a way to build a bridge from that group to the gospel of grace. It’s not that you need to spend all of your time becoming an expert, but if you want to speak of Jesus, you need to find some way to build a bridge over to Jesus. Paul did, and his bridge showed a narrowing focus down to the gospel…
  • Sermon: God, the Righteous Judge (29-31). Hearing God.

29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.

  1. Notice the shift: “therefore…” Because of what we know of God, it ought to change the way we act toward God. Again, this is like what Paul wrote in Romans 1. Through the general revelation and testimony of Creation all around us, we know just enough about God to grope for Him in the dark. We seek Him with what we do know, and what we know is quite a bit. What we do know ought to be enough to keep us from idolatry. After all, if we are the “offspring of God,” and we are not made of “gold or silver or stone,” why would we think God is made of gold or silver or stone? The Athenians did – the Philistines did (with their statue of Dagon and others) – every nation in the world that engages in idol-worship does the same. If there is a statue built with people worshipping the statue, then their god inhabits that statue.
    1. And it isn’t only with statues! The most common form of idolatry in America is self-worship. People say, “My god wouldn’t do ___; the god I believe would do ____.” They pick all of their favorite characteristics and mix them together to create a god of their own making. What do they get? A god made in their own image, rather than men & women made in the image of God. And a god made in the image of man is far too small – it is “something shaped by art and man’s devising.” It’s just as idolatrous as the most idol-filled areas of Hindu India or the streets of ancient Athens.
  2. God is unlike these things! God is far bigger than anything we can imagine, being infinite in all His attributes. How can a stoneworker carve an idol that encapsulates infinite power, wisdom, might, presence, and glory? By definition, it’s impossible – infinity can not be captured. We are finite (limited); God is not. God is unlimited, and there is no excuse for our rampant idolatry.

30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. …

  1. Remember that Paul began his message by declaring to them “the Unknown God,” or the God of which they were ignorant. To this point in the lives of the Athenians, they had groped about in the dark not knowing the truth. God was not hidden from them, but they did not find Him in truth, choosing instead to worship things of their imaginations. Even so, they were ignorant – they did not know the truth. Nor did any other nation on the earth. The only nation which had knowledge of God beyond general revelation was Israel. Israel had been entrusted with the Scriptures – Israel had a millennia-long covenant history with God – Israel had the promises of Messiah and witnessed the life & ministry of Jesus. That was a privilege granted to the nation of Israel, not the rest of the world. The rest of the world remained in the dark & ignorant, lost in their sin.
  2. This was the reason “God overlooked” those days. It was not that God ignored their sin or thought to be less than sinful. Idolatry is always rebellion, no matter where it is found. Even so, God had not yet judged the world. God allowed the nations to live as the nations lived. He allowed people to wake up every morning and continue their lives. He granted new mercies to all peoples, simply by allowing a new sunrise every day, sending His rain on the just & the unjust. There was grace and mercy every single day that God allowed the universe to exist without judgment…but judgment was still coming! To this point, God had granted a temporary reprieve, but it wouldn’t last forever. Every single person would still have to face their judgment.
  3. What did they need to do in response? Repent! Repentance wasn’t just for the nation of Israel; repentance is for everyone. God “now commands all men everywhere to repent.” All people in every corner of the world need to turn away from their idolatry, their lusts, their covetousness, their pride, and every other sin – we need to forsake them and turn to the Living Creator God pleading for His mercies and grace. Remember that God is the Lord of all humanity, so His command goes out to all humanity. All people everywhere are to repent and turn to God in truth – to fall on the mercies of the Judge who is “the Man whom [God] ordained.
    1. BTW – How did God ordain this Man to perform the promised judgment? The Man was “anointed” for the task from before the foundation of the world. In fact, that’s the meaning behind the word Messiah/Christ: “Anointed One.” One who is “anointed” is someone who has been appointed, or set-apart, for a specific task/role. Prophets were anointed – kings were anointed – but the ultimate anointed one is the Messiah. Jesus was always God’s plan for the world.
  4. As 21st century Americans living where we live, it can be difficult for us to grasp the enormity of what Paul had said so far. After all, most of us have been familiar with at least some form of this message all our lives. Try to put yourselves in the shoes of a 1st century Athenian. All your life, you’ve lived in the cultural center of the world – and you knew it. You may not have travelled anywhere else in the world, but you knew that the rest of the world looked to Athens for knowledge, art, and general guidance, and you took great pride in that. You had great confidence in the gods you worshipped, knowing by heart the myths that had been passed to you through the centuries, being continually impressed by the many temples you saw every day as you looked up at the hilltops throughout the city. And now, here comes this Jewish preacher from some backwater nation (one which your ancestors ruled when Greece was the predominant empire in the world!) telling you not only that everything you thought you knew about God was wrong, but you were actually in danger of judgment for sins you committed against the God you never knew (but should have known). Why on earth should you believe this guy? He was just one preacher out of dozens of philosophers that could have been picked off the streets of Athens, and you debated the ideas of philosophers for fun. Why should you take the message of this Paul with any seriousness? Why should you repent towards this newly-declared Unknown God? Because God provided proof…

… He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

  1. Who is the Man ordained by God as the Righteous Judge? How can all people in every nation know that the message preached by Paul is true? Because this Man (the Anointed Messiah) is risen from the dead! Out of all the billions of people in the history of the world who have died, only one has been forever raised out of the grave by the power of God. Jesus has been set apart from all. None of the Greek philosophers came back from death – for them, death was the end. Not even the greatest of Greek kings came back from the dead. Alexander the Great may have conquered the known world nearly 400 years before Paul preached, but Alexander was still dead (and he died at a relatively young age, at that!). No matter what culture, no matter how influential a person may have been – people who died stayed dead. Prophets, priests, kings…everyone. Even among the Hebrews, where there are Scriptural accounts of men being risen to life (like Lazarus), all of them eventually died again. All except one. One was raised from death, and remains alive to this day: Jesus! The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof that He is the ordained Messiah of God – the One sent by God not only to provide the sacrifice for all the world to be saved from the wrath of God, but also the One to administer the judgment of God upon those who do not repent.
  2. Don’t miss the context of this. Paul declared there are two things that must be known about the Ordained Messiah. (1) He is the One who is the judge, (2) the proof that He is the judge is the resurrection.
    1. Jesus is the Judge! We often think of Jesus as the Savior, and He is. Praise God that He is! If Jesus did not give Himself for our sins by dying in our place on the cross, then none of us would have any hope. We would have to answer for our own idolatries, lusts, and many other acts of rebellion against God. Jesus willingly gave Himself for us, so that we might be saved – all to the glory of God. (Praise God!) But we cannot forget that Jesus is also the Judge. As the Messiah, Jesus is the promised Son of David who will rule over all the earth, conquering it on the day of His physical return & ruling over it from a restored throne in Jerusalem. As Incarnate God, He is the One to whom every man and woman will come, and give an account of the things they have done in their lives. When people see God sitting on His great white throne at the end of the age (Rev 20:11), who is it they will see? They will see Jesus, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Jesus is the Judge, the one to whom all people will answer.
    2. The resurrection is the proof. How is it possible for God to highlight one Man throughout all history? What is the one thing God could do that would make one Man stand out from all the rest? Raise Him from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the definitive proof that He is the Messiah. As Paul wrote to the Romans, the resurrection of Jesus is the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom 1:4). As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Jesus is the reason for our faith (1 Cor 15:12-18). The resurrection of Jesus is so important to His identity that even Jesus declared it to be the ultimate sign of who He is. Matthew 12:39–40, “(39) But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Just as Jonah came out of the fish, so would Jesus come out of the grave. If this had failed to happen, Jesus would have been a false prophet & rightly ignored (no matter what other miracles He performed). But Jesus did come out of the grave, being forever risen from the dead. This is something that cannot be said of either Moses (as a true prophet of God) or Mohammed (as a false prophet). Only Jesus is risen, thus only Jesus is the Messiah. We have been given proof; now we must believe!
  • Response of the people (32-34). Responding to God.

32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them.

  1. Response #1: Mockery. When faced with the ultimate proof of God concerning Jesus, some chose to laugh it off. The idea of God raising a Man from the dead was ludicrous to them. When someone died, they died – they went to the afterlife, where everyone else went, and that was the end of that. Why believe in something so impossible as resurrection? It was absurd!
    1. Granted, the ancient Athenians had their own myths explaining it, but it isn’t much different than what many Americans believe today. They laugh off the idea of the judgment of God and the resurrection of Jesus. They say it’s all a bunch of wishful thinking by Christians, with the Bible having no more truth than a book of Greek mythology. That may be commonly believed, but it does not change the facts. Jesus is risen from the dead – something that isn’t only a statement of faith, but a statement of history. Twelve apostles knew Jesus was risen from the dead, which was the reason they were willing to die for Him. A Roman cohort of soldiers knew that Jesus was risen from the dead, which was the only reason they were allowed to live after failing to keep the tomb sealed. Three thousand men in Jerusalem knew that Jesus was risen from the dead, because any one of them could have produced a literal body of evidence showing the opposite if it were not true. Jesus is That’s not something to mock; it’s something to believe!
  2. Response #2: Procrastination. If some on the council mocked Paul, others brushed him off. They thought they could put it all aside & deal with it some other time. The men of the Aeropagus debated ideas all day long, treating all of it as intellectual. So why not treat this message the same way? They could talk around the ideas of the Messiah without actually engaging with Him as a real Person, Judge, and God.
    1. Again, modern Americans do the same thing! Many men & women show up in churches willing to talk about the idea of Jesus without actually engaging with Jesus in faith. They like the concept of religion and ritual, as long as they can set it to the side when they’re done with it. But that isn’t what the resurrection tells us. The resurrection proves that Jesus is alive, that He is God, and that we must deal with Him in truth as He is. It means that He is the One in control; not us – and we cannot afford to push Him off. 

34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

  1. Response #3: Faith. Praise God that “some men joined [Paul] and believed!” For all the scholars and preachers today that claim that Paul was somehow unsuccessful in Athens because no church was yet founded and so few people were saved, there were “some” who didn’t think Paul a failure at all. No doubt they were extremely grateful for Paul’s unexpected arrival & message! Sure, Paul did not win over the whole of the council & thus did not gain permission to preach the gospel in the Athenian marketplace, but Paul was faithful with the opportunity he was given & he preached the truth. Because he did, some were saved. Two were mentioned, but more than two were present. And even if it was only one, the angels would have still rejoiced!
  2. Of interest are the two names included among those who believed: “Dionysius the Areopagite [and] a woman named Damaris.” Among the council on Mars Hill hearing Paul’s sermon that day, there was at least one of the men present who believed. Some of them ridiculed Paul, but not all! Likewise, out of those who believed, one was a woman of such prominence in Athens that people knew her by name. The gospel preached by Paul wasn’t only for the so-called “ignorant” masses. People of all social classes heard the message and believed.
    1. Some criticize Christianity today, saying that the gospel is only for the uneducated – that anyone with real intellect can see right through the emptiness of the message. Not true! The gospel is for all people, everywhere! It’s for children as well as PhD’s – it’s for rich & for poor – it’s for black, white, brown, and every shade of skin color. Anyone can hear the good news of Jesus, believe, and be saved!

Conclusion:

When put before the Athenian council – a people who knew next to nothing about the true God, Paul clearly proclaimed the truth. He told them about the God they claimed to worship, but never knew. He told them of God as the Sovereign Creator (whom they needed to know), of God as the Righteous Judge (whom they needed to hear), and the proof they could know it was true (and how they could respond).

Ask yourself the same questions:

  • Do you know God? Do you know Him as He is: the All-powerful Almighty Creator God, Lord of heaven & earth – do you know Him as far above His creation, rather than an object of it?
  • Do you hear God? Do you hear His testimony about Himself, His righteousness, His judgment, and His beloved Anointed Son?
  • How will you respond to God? God has mercifully given you time and opportunities to respond to Him in truth – He has lovingly and graciously reached out to you with the provision of Jesus, proving Him through the resurrection. Will you mock, procrastinate, or believe?

The God of the world calls all the world to repentance, providing the all the proof we need through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. So repent, and believe in the Resurrected Lord Jesus!

If you do believe, then do like Paul: take the opportunity to tell others! Reaffirm your trust in the true God, ever-falling on the grace of Jesus, and tell others how they can do the same. Look around at the world in which we live. Our culture, no less than ancient Athens, is completely given over to idolatry and desperately lost. People need to know the truth in order to be saved, and we are the ones to tell them. Will everyone believe? No. Some will mock – some will push it off, ignoring it. But there are a few who will believe. Why allow the hard-hearted response of some stop you from sharing the gospel with others? Even if only one person listens and believes, isn’t he/she worth all the effort?

Although he faced mockery, Paul had the opportunity to preach the gospel in Athens, and he took it. Seize the day! Take your opportunity to do the same.

Acts 17:16-23, “Agnostic Athens, part 1: Seize the Day!”

Go for it! Those are the words we often cheer to others when watching them in action. Maybe it’s your favorite athlete (either professional, or familial) perfectly lined up for a shot. Maybe it’s your friend sprinting towards the finish line. Maybe it’s some encouragement to your colleague to nail his/her presentation or sales pitch. In those times, people don’t need to hang back. Hesitation doesn’t accomplish anything; action does. Sometimes, you just have to go for it! Or, to use the Latin phrase popularized in the old Robin Williams’ movie Dead Poet’s Society: Carpe Diem – Seize the day! Take the opportunity you’ve been given, and run with it!

How true this is when it comes to faith! Sometimes, we just need to go for it. Think of the instance of Jonathan & his armor-bearer… 1 Samuel 14:6–7, “(6) Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (7) So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”” Taking a chance on the opportunity presented to them, Jonathan trusted the Lord God, and he & his armor-bearer defeated a Philistine garrison (two Hebrews vs. 20 Philistines!). We sometimes call these things “leaps of faith,” and they don’t always have to involve live-or-death situations. For some of us, it can be a leap of faith simply to share the gospel.

In a sense, it’s a bit ironic, in that telling others of Jesus ought to be the easiest, most natural thing in the world for a Christian. After all, we don’t typically hesitate sharing good news with our friends and family. We tell them when we get new jobs, when we purchase a new car or home, when we’re expecting a new baby, etc. When it comes to good things, typically, we share it loud & proud & immediately. It doesn’t even have to be big…we’ll even Instagram a good looking dinner! When it comes to sharing news of good things, normally we’ll shout it from the rooftops.

But when it comes to the best news? That’s when we often hesitate. That’s when we develop uncharacteristic shyness & we get quiet about the very best thing that ever happened to us: Jesus. Please understand I’m not pointing fingers – it happens to me, just as much as to anyone else! If I get into an extended conversation with someone, it can be difficult to shift the topic to the gospel. It’s often easier to think about the various ways a conversation could have gone, rather than being able to navigate it in real-time. And that’s common to a lot of Christians.

Why is that? It isn’t a lack of knowledge. If we know how we were saved, then we can tell someone else how they can be saved. It isn’t a lack of command. Jesus has given us the Great Commission to make disciples of every nation. Nor is it a lack of opportunity, although we might not recognize the opportunities right in front of us (something we’ll see in our text). More often than not, it’s a lack of will, resulting in a lack of obedience. We fear personal rejection, which causes us to remain silent.

The problem is that silence isn’t an option. People all around us are lost and doomed for hell, unless they receive Jesus as Lord with the grace He offers. We have the news these people need to be saved. For us to remain silent out of fear of personal rejection is the height of selfishness. It’s the fear of not stretching out your hand to a drowning person for fear of getting wet. (Again, I’m not pointing fingers! But we need to call these things as they are.)

What might be encouraging for many Christians is to know that even the greatest evangelists in history faced personal rejection: one of the best examples being Paul. Not only did he often face physical persecution, but he also faced outright mockery – and this mockery was on full display in the city of Athens. The message Paul gave to the Athenian philosophers has served as a model to missionaries all over the world, but we need to remember that it was not a message that saw much immediate fruit. On the contrary, Paul was mocked both before his sermon and after it. But…it didn’t stop him from preaching it. Paul took every opportunity to proclaim the gospel, and so should we.

Remember what brought Paul to this point: Ever since arriving in Macedonia at the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul had a difficult time. Through there was active evangelism and conversions in every major city, there was also persecution. Paul & Silas suffered beatings and imprisonment in Philippi, and riots in both Thessalonica and Berea (both of which were provoked by unbelieving Jews). Paul had to escape both of those cities, and was now left by himself in Athens, Greece. Silas & Timothy had been able to stay behind in Berea – no doubt using the time to strengthen the infant church as much as possible before needing to rejoin Paul. Paul had sent for them, and they’d restart the missionary journey again, but it would take some time. Meanwhile, Paul was in Athens with some rare downtime. He hadn’t gone there for the purpose of ministry, but Paul being Paul, ministry wasn’t far behind. There was a need in Athens for Jesus, and Paul wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

Don’t pass up your opportunities! We need to see them for what they are (as God reveals them), and use every one to point people to Jesus. All around us, people are ignorant of the truth of God; we are the preachers sent by God to proclaim Him to them. Go for it! Seize the day!

Acts 17:16–23

  • Provoked to preach (16-17). Do you see the need?

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.

  1. Again, Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy (the “them”) in Athens. It wasn’t a place he had planned to be, but he couldn’t ignore the things he saw there. By the time of Paul’s arrival, Athens was already an ancient city, and was the intellectual and cultural center of the world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Rome may have ruled the world, but the culture was Greek, with Athens at the head. And Athens had no lack of idols! (AT Robertson) “Pausanias says that Athens had more images than all the rest of Greece put together. Pliny states that in the time of Nero Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes. Petronius sneers that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Every gateway or porch had its protecting god.” Few things indicate the lostness of a city than the abundance of idols. Instead of church spires pointing to God, statues, signs, & temples show the many other things worshipped by the masses.
    1. Lest we think this is limited to foreign nations far to the East, we need look no further than our own cities. How many homes fly flags to football teams, but never go to church? How many skyscrapers are built for stock-trading and hedge-funds? Modern-day temples to the gods of cash. Drive in certain parts of Dallas or Hwy 31, and we’re bombarded with sign after sign advertising sex – no different than the many temples in the ancient world where men visited temple prostitutes. For as much as we think our own culture is more “civilized” than foreign lands, we are just as full of idolatry!
    2. Do you want to understand Paul’s compulsion to preach the gospel? Do you want to be free to take the opportunities to seize the day for Jesus? Step 1 is to see the need! We’ll never share the gospel with anyone we think doesn’t need it. Everyone needs it! People are lost, and the signs of their lostness are all around us. We’ve simply become so accustomed to it that
  2. How did Paul react? “His spirit was provoked.” The word is interesting, in that it can refer to being irritated, or incited to anger. (It comes from the same root as Hebrews 10:24, “to stir up.”) Paul was upset by the things he saw around him – he was physically and emotionally bothered by the lostness and idolatry of Athens. As he looked around, he saw nothing but hopelessness…and the worst part was that the people didn’t even realize they were hopeless! They were headed for destruction, and didn’t even realize the danger. It compelled Paul to take action. He simply didn’t see any other option.
    1. We get provoked about all kinds of things. Someone cuts us off on Broadway – a teacher messes with our kid at school – our insurance balks at paying a bill, etc. All these things are upsetting, and some genuinely so. But when was the last time you got provoked for the cause of Christ? When was the last time you were physically bothered by the amount of people lost without Jesus – the same people you’re around every single day? We lose sight of the seriousness of it. Again, it’s something to which we just grow accustomed.
    2. Pray that God would break our hardened hearts! May God help us see the situation for what it is, and allow us to be truly bothered by the spiritual reality that surrounds us! We live in a society that is just as lost as Athens. The good news? Athens only had one evangelist; God has given America every one of us!

17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.

  1. He kept the same basic pattern: going to the Jews and also to the Greeks. The one change was that instead of going exclusively to the Jews and waiting to get kicked out of the synagogue, Paul conducted his Gentile ministry simultaneously as his Jewish one. He was in the synagogue on Saturday, and in the Gentile marketplace every other day of the week.
  2. And why not? Both groups needed the gospel, and Paul had no idea how long he’d be in town. He had already sent word to Silas and Timothy to come to him so that they could get back to their primary mission, so Paul needed to take the opportunity while he had it. Time was short, & the need was urgent, so he didn’t waste time. He said what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear it. To the Jews, Paul likely went through the same Scriptures, reasoning with them through the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of Jesus. To the Gentiles, Paul took a different tactic – most likely the same basic message that he soon gave to the Athenian council later in chapter 17. Whatever it was that would best communicate the message of Jesus to the people listening, that’s what Paul shared.
  3. It’s not that Paul changed the content of the gospel (the news of Jesus doesn’t change at all!), but Paul didn’t hesitate to change the mode of sharing it. The Jews of Athens were familiar with the Old Testament prophecies, so Paul could teach from the Old Testament prophecies. The Gentiles of Athens had no such background, so he needed to take a different tactic. Both routes led to Jesus; he just had to discern the best one to use with the audience he had.
    1. Think of it like a fisherman’s tackle box. Different fish require different bait. Some lures work with one sort of fish, but are useless with another. The tactics a fly fisherman uses with his rod & reel are useless when deep-sea fishing. The end goal is the same, but the methods & tools are different. – Likewise with evangelism. There are all kinds of tools we can use to share the gospel, and some work better with certain groups of people than others. Different fish require different bait, and Jesus makes us fishers of men. So change it up! Maybe one person is going to respond to a cartoon gospel tract, but another person wants a booklet that’s more in-depth. One person can walk through the “Romans Road,” while another person needs to be walked through the 10 Commandments. There’s not one-single method of evangelism that’s absolutely best. As long as what you share is biblical & points to Jesus, then that’s all you need!
  4. Notice the other thing Paul did among the Gentiles: he shared “with those who happened to be there.” Who’s the best person to share Jesus with? The one right in front of you. Often, we find ourselves searching for just the “right” person to have the “right” conversation. In Paul’s view, the “right” person was the one “right” in front of him! Who is it that God has placed in front of you? Treat it as a divine appointment…because it is one!

When in Athens, Paul looked around him, saw the need & was provoked to preach. What was the result?

  • Attracting attention (18-21). Do they see the difference?

18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

  1. Because Paul spoke with people in the marketplace, he attracted the attention of other people who were in the marketplace – and since he was in Athens, the ancient home of philosophy, the many philosophers were among them. These were men who publicly debated their viewpoints of life, with entire schools dedicated to the teachings of their masters. The things Paul spoke was new and different among them, and it confused them, which in turn caused them to mock him. 
  2. Luke specifically identifies the “Epicurean and Stoic philosophers” as the ones who “encountered” Paul. Both philosophies were founded by men centuries earlier than Paul, and although they differed from each other & often debated each other, each looked inward to the imagined abilities of man to deal with the hardships of life. (Apologetic Study Bible) “Epicureans were practical materialists, believing that gods were uninvolved with human affairs, that humans should pursue pleasure, and that there was no afterlife/judgment. Stoics were pantheists (God was the Soul of the universe) and determinists (virtue consisted in dispassionately enduring life’s inevitable hardships.” From that description, it would seem that Epicureans and Stoics would find a home in 21st century America. How many people do you know today that live just for this life, thinking that this is all we have & after death there’s nothing, so we might as well enjoy what we have today? Or on the other hand, perhaps they believe in a form of God, but only that He’s generally “out there,” but we’re really on our own & we just have to grit our way through life. It may be an oversimplification, but those are basically modern-day Epicureans and Stoics. And just like the ancient versions were bothered by the gospel preached by Paul, the modern ones are confused by the gospel preached by the church.
  3. In Paul’s day, they mocked him, calling him a “” Literally, they called him a “seed-picker,” with the picture of a bird pecking the ground picking up all the various seeds it could find to eat. The idea is basically that of a “scavenger or scrap-monger,” (BDAG) as opposed to someone who taught a well-thought reasonable philosophy of life, like them (supposedly!). They were the ones who had all the answers – what this new guy taught was bizarre. It was “foreign” to them. There was only one God over all the other gods? And this God was personally involved the lives of men & women? This God sent Jesus to die and rise from the grave? To us, these ideas are ingrained in our culture & history, but to the Athenian philosophers it was brand-new & strange. They didn’t know what to think of it, and they dismissed it. There’s no doubt that what Paul preached was new & “foreign” to them – but it was still the truth. It still needed to be said. Even among a people who dismissed him and made fun of him, this was the news they needed to hear.
    1. Have you ever felt dismissed by others because of your faith in Christ? Maybe when you first got saved, you couldn’t wait to share the news with your friends, but found that they immediately made fun of you. “Oh great, now you’re one of those Bible-thumpers…one of those Jesus-freaks. Well fine for you, but don’t try to push your ignorance on me!” If that was you, you’re not alone! Paul went through the same things. The only difference is that it didn’t stop Paul from speaking. Yes, what he spoke was different & sometimes dismissed, but at least people noticed the difference! When you first told other people about Jesus, no doubt, people noticed the difference…maybe they had heard it before, but they had never heard it from you. In itself, that’s a good thing (even if it may not have seemed like it at the time), because it at least meant that they paid attention – it means that they knew you believed what you had to say, even if they didn’t. That’s not always a comfortable situation for us to be, but for them, it’s a starting point…and it may be the very thing that starts them on the road to faith in Christ.
    2. Think of it from another perspective: maybe you were that person at one point. Maybe you weren’t raised in a Christian home, and you made fun of Christians when you saw them. You dismissed them, thinking you didn’t need what they had, or that it just sounded too good to be true. Aren’t you glad someone kept sharing with you?
  4. BTW: What was it Paul preached? The gospel! “He preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” Luke doesn’t say much of Paul’s words (though he will, starting in verse 22), but what he said was enough. Jesus + the resurrection = good news! Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God to bear the anger we are owed for our sins against Him – He is the substitution and sacrifice we require because of our lives of rebellion against God. Yet with all the religions out there, how do we know Jesus is the answer? It’s through the resurrection! Three days after His death on the cross, Jesus rose to life again from the grave – proof beyond doubt that He conquered death, and that eternal life can be found in His name. Jesus and the resurrection – it’s all the elements we need for the gospel! 
  5. There was one more element to the mockery of the philosopher: an implication of a criminal charge. Over 400 years earlier in the city of Athens, Socrates was famously found guilty of “impiety,” (not believing in the gods of the State) which caused him to preach ideas that corrupted the youth of Athens. Socrates was sentenced to death (via drinking poison) in 399BC. If Paul was accused of preaching “foreign gods,” then perhaps Paul was guilty of a similar crime as Socrates. His message needed to be investigated, which was why he was taken to the Athenian council.

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.”

  1. Literally, the word “Areopagus” is two words in the Greek: Ares + Hill, or to use the Roman terminology, “Mars Hill.” It was both a physical location and a council (not unlike when we say “Washington” to mean either the city or the government located within the city). There is some debate as to what it looked like during the time of Paul, but it is a literal hill, in view of the Parthenon, the ancient temple to Athena on the top of the Acropolis hill in Athens. Wherever they met (either on the hill, or in view of it in another building), the point was that Paul was officially on trial. It wasn’t the first time Paul had faced legal troubles for preaching the gospel (nor would it be the last!), but it was the first time Paul faced it alone. Remember, he hadn’t come to Athens for this purpose – he was just there as a temporary measure while troubles blew over elsewhere & his team could rejoin him. Yet there he was: mocked & now arrested for giving out good news. What would happen? It was better than Paul could have hoped for…
  2. For all the derision received earlier from the philosophers, Paul got the mother of softball questions from the council! “May we know what you’re preaching? Explain it to us.” Sometimes we search hard for a way to tell people about Jesus – other times, the opportunity seems to fall in our laps. [Phone call asking how to get saved.] Here, the opportunity fell on Paul, and he wasn’t about to waste it!
  3. BTW – Don’t miss the fact that although some people mock, others want to know. Granted, some of the men in the Aeropagus currently asking Paul to share his message will later mock him when they hear it, but not all of them would. Yet at the time, they all genuinely wanted to know about the gospel: “we want to know what these things mean.” They didn’t understand about the resurrection, or about this one God over all the earth, and they needed someone to explain it to them. What they heard in bits & pieces, they needed Paul to tell them from the beginning.
    1. For all the people you & I encounter that don’t want to hear us talk about Jesus, there will be some who want to know. We just don’t know who they are, which is why we share with everyone! We need to remember that although we live in the Bible belt, not everyone knows what the gospel truly means. Sure, they know some basic facts about Jesus – they’ve been immersed in a culture that proclaims one God over everything, and pictures of crosses are everywhere, with churches on every corner. Even so, many people don’t know the implications of the cross. They might know that Christianity teaches that Jesus rose from the dead, but they don’t know why that’s a big deal. If you walk the streets of Tyler, asking people if they’re Christian, most will say “yes,” but when you ask them why, the majority won’t be able to give you an answer. They’ll say it’s because they’re a member of a particular church, or because they were raised in a certain family, or that it’s because they aren’t some other religion so they must be Christian. They don’t know what it means to be Christian…but they need to know. And when given the opportunity, some of them will want to know. So when they know they’ve got the opportunity, they’ll give you the opportunity to tell them…and we’ve got to take it!

21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

  1. This isn’t exactly a compliment from Luke. Yes, the council of the Aeropagus wanted to know what Paul had to say, but most of the men weren’t looking to make a life-change; they were simply curious. They wanted to know if what Paul taught was something trivial, or something that could cause issues in the city. And besides, it was a chance to debate something new. They’d heard the teachings of the Epicureans and Stoics for years, along with the disciples of Plato, Aristotle, and the dozens of other schools of philosophy that were there. People would play with one idea until they got tired of it, and go to the next, and the next, etc. Today, people binge on Netflix; in Athens, they binged on philosophy.
  2. Whatever the motivations may have been for the men on the council, Paul saw his opportunity and ran with it.
  • Seizing the day (22-23). Do you take your chance?

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD …

  1. Paul may or may not have known the motivations behind the men questioning him, but he treated their question as an honest one, and tried to build bridges with them rather than burning them from the start. This was his opportunity to preach Jesus to the men who influenced what the rest of the city would be allowed to hear taught in the marketplace, so Paul wanted to make the most of it. He didn’t come out lambasting them as sinners doomed for hell (which they were, just like all of us); he simply found a way to tell them the truth. It’s not that Paul ever backed away from telling them of their sin (as becomes apparent in verse 30); he just didn’t lead off with it.
    1. Ray Comfort uses the analogy that if he wants to wake you, he doesn’t want to just shine a flashlight directly into your eyes. Some folks (in a true zeal for the Lord) just switch on their high-beams, and it’s no wonder that people run the other direction! Some simple questions & reasonable conversation can easily be used as a bridge to the gospel, if nothing else, to give an opportunity to say “Did you get one of these?” as you hand out a gospel tract. It doesn’t need to be complicated; we just need to have our eyes open to the opportunities around us to do it.
  2. Paul began politely, but straightforward, not wasting any time, noting that they were “very religious,” but without all of the facts. The word for “religious” = “fear/reverence of demons/deities.” In some contexts, it could mean “superstitious,” but in other contexts it was simply a general spirituality. The Athenians were spiritually aware, but factually ignorant. The fact that there were literally thousands of idols in the city was evidence of at least some level of spiritual awareness. Paul could look around and see that the people knew there was something beyond what they could see, even if they didn’t know what to do with it. – It’s little different in our culture today. Even among those who consider themselves without any religious affiliation (“none” being the fastest growing group in America today), there’s still at least some level of spiritual awareness. People wish “good vibes” to folks when they’re sick – they believe we all need to be good to each other because we’re all part of the same spiritual family, etc. Obviously, what they believe is not Biblical truth, but it is at least some form of spiritual awareness. It’s a starting point…use it. Paul did.
  3. Out of the thousands of idols that were in the city, one particular statue stood out to Paul: the one that was labeled as not having a label. It was dedicated “To the Unknown God,” in an attempt to acknowledge there were some things the Athenians didn’t know. Interestingly, “Unknown” is comes from the same word we get “agnostic.” (Ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ – to a god no one knows about.) Today, agnostics are those who do not know whether or not there is a God; the Athenians knew that God exists, but they could not be definitive on His identity. In one sense, they tried to cover their bases; in another sense, they were content in their ignorance. They spent their time worshipping the gods they thought they understood; they only gave lip-service to the One they didn’t. (Just like people give lip service to the true God today!)

…Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:

  1. The Athenians did not know that God, but Paul did. And that God was the one Paul proclaimed. He wasn’t preaching some foreign deity (easily deflecting the charge brought against Socrates); he was preaching the God the Athenians should have known – the God that they half-heartedly acknowledged, but never truly knew. Paul was proclaiming to them the truth.
    1. Beloved, this is our privilege when we preach the gospel: we proclaim the truth. For all the thoughts that people have about our world & spirituality & eternity, there’s much that people don’t know. They are agnostic either by intent or by accident. What they need is the truth. What they need is a clear proclamation of the true God and His Son. When a ship is lost in fog near rocky shores, what do they need most? A lighthouse. When pilots attempt to land their planes in darkness, what do they look for? The lights on the runway. A bit of clarity makes all the difference in the world! In the fog and darkness of the many competing spiritual messages out there, what do people need? The light of the world, clearly proclaimed in Jesus! We have the privilege of preaching Him, of giving that clarity to others.
  2. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to look at the actual message proclaimed by Paul. There is so much depth in it, and we need to give it its due attention. But it’s almost impossible to see all of this with Paul and not look ahead just a bit. Preview of the message:
    1. God, the Sovereign Creator (24-28). Of all the gods imagined by the Athenians, there is only one God over all the earth, and the evidence of Him is abundant.
    2. God, the Righteous Judge (29-31a). Because the unknown God can be known, people can know something about His character and His commands. This is not a God to be ignored or written off; this is a God to be worshipped.
    3. The Judge Identified (31b). God chooses to judge the world through the Man God raised from the dead, and that’s the Man to whom all the world need to pay attention.
  3. At that point, we’re going to see Paul cut off. Paul doesn’t say a word about the cross, and didn’t even get the chance to speak the name of Jesus before he began to get mocked by the crowd. Not that it was totally unfruitful – verse 34 shows that at least some people believed and were saved. But for all the mocking he received and the difficulty he had even getting people to hear the message of Christ, Paul still preached it. If he hadn’t, not even the few who believed would have been saved. Those very few people could be very glad Paul took the opportunity he had – even if it wasn’t exactly the opportunity he wanted.

Conclusion:

Take your opportunity! Seize the day, and go for it! Every day is a new chance to be a witness for Jesus – every morning is a new morning you can wake to the mercies of God, and have a clean slate to testify of Christ. Please understand: it’s not about legalism, guilt, or forcing Jesus down anyone’s throat; it’s about compassion for the lost and faithful stewardship of what God brings our way as we seek to glorify Him. Will we fail in this? Yes. Have I failed in this? Many times…and no doubt, will do so many times in the future. We can’t change the past, but we can be forgiven of it. We can’t change what we didn’t do, but we can change what we will do. This day, this moment, let us seize the day!

  • Do you see the need? People are lost, and they need Jesus! Every car that passes you on the freeway is driven by someone who will face the judgment of God. Every waiter/waitress that serves you at the restaurant is someone who needs a substitute for his/her sins. Every billboard you pass is a reminder of the idolatry that saturates our city, and the need that people have for Jesus. Ask God to open your eyes, and see the need as He sees it.
  • Do they see the difference? They will, when they see the work of Jesus in your life. They can, if you live your life being daily filled with the Spirit. They will, when you go through your day living for the glory of God, walking according to His standard instead of the world’s.
  • Will you take your chance? You’ve got the opportunity; use it! Ask God for boldness, and take a leap of faith. You might get a softball, or you might rejected; either way, you’ve been obedient and you’ve brought glory to God. In the end, that’s what matters most!

It is so easy to let fear of personal rejection keep us from sharing the good news of Jesus. But remember what’s at stake: nothing less than eternity. It doesn’t mean we need to be obnoxious in what we say; it does mean we need to be consistent in saying something. Maybe it’s through social media – maybe it’s through simple conversations – maybe it’s through regular invitations to pray. There is no one way to share the message of salvation in Jesus; there is only one Jesus to be shared. So share Him! Take the opportunities He gives you, and go for it!

The Rubik’s Cube is the perfect gift for any occasion. The famous 3D puzzle can easily be solved with the online solver, there’s no need to memorize algorithms.

As the book of Leviticus begins, there is a tabernacle where the people can worship; they just need to know how to worship. God tells them. God wants His people to worship Him, and He makes it possible through the shedding of blood and His grace.