Acts 17:16-20Amplified Bible
Paul at Athens
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was greatly angered when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he had discussions in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place day after day with any who happened to be there. 18 And some of the [a] Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to engage in conversation with him. And some said, “What could this idle babbler [with his eclectic, scrap-heap learning] have in mind to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities”—because he was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 They took him and brought him to the [b]Areopagus (Hill of Ares, the Greek god of war), saying, “May we know what this [strange] new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some startling and strange things to our ears; so we want to know what they mean.”
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
In our Scripture text today we hear about the Apostle Paul in the city of Athens.
This Greek city was an intellectual centre of its day.
Here the philosophers, intellectuals, and students would gather to discuss the latest intellectual fads.
Athens was also a pagan city.
As many as 30,000 statues had been erected as idols to various gods in the city.
Archaeologists and Historians suggest that there were more idols in the city of Athens than in all the rest of Greece combined.
There can be no doubt that the Greeks were religious people.
They had a different god for almost every aspect of life.
They believed their gods were able to bring fortune or evil.
They had even spent the resources and built, dedicated an altar ‘To an Unknown God’ just in case they may have missed giving honor to one of the myriad gods.
It would have been easy for Paul to shy away from even opening his mouth in this pagan city.
We would understand that.
But Dr. Luke records,
“So (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who met him. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also were conversing with him” (Acts 17:17,18).
In amongst all those pagan statues, the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, debated with the great teachers of Athens and the Jewish leaders in their synagogues.
This was tough going.
It was even dangerous.
Paul knew that if he was going to speak with, debate, preach, teach anyone, he had to step out of his comfort zone, and put himself at risk to speak the truth.
Let’s face it – it’s easy to hang around with Christians.
We worship the same God, the Father and God the Son and Holy Spirit.
We share the same values, and we speak the same language (that is, we all know what we mean when we talk of Salvation, Redemption and Holy Communion.
It is natural for us to gravitate towards the people who are more like ourselves.
Paul had a lot to do with his fellow Jewish Leaders and Christian friends and the congregations that were scattered around in most of the large towns and cities.
When he was in Athens, we notice that (as was his tradition) Paul first of all had deep discussions with both Jewish leadership & Gentiles who worshipped God.
It’s worth noting how Paul intentionally stepped out of his comfort zone to share the Good News with those who were caught up in pagan ways.
Notice what I said about Apostle Paul’s actions – they were intentional – they were deliberately, innately made, a decision to make the most of the moment.
To hesitate, to stall, to put it off, would mean a lost opportunity.
Think what would have happened if Paul (who made all that effort just to get to Athens) hesitated, said to himself, “I’ll wait for a while and see what happens”.
Maybe you, like me, have let what we know to be a decisive moment go by and afterwards regretted not saying or doing something when we had the chance.
Paul followed a general pattern as he traveled.
Upon entering a city, he would go first to the local Jewish synagogue.
At some point, he would explain from the Scriptures about Jesus, the Messiah.
Some Jews and Godfearing Gentiles would listen carefully, ask their questions, Paul would answer and they come to faith, but others would leave and oppose Paul and angrily stir up crowds against him as he taught in the marketplace.
Apparently they did not want to risk “offending” any of the myriad known and unknown gods and idols and the myriad of “high priests and temple leaders.”
No one was going to be allowed to upset or disrupt their accepted “status-quo.”
To quiet the mobs and stay safe, (perhaps even to stir up debates there) Paul often had to leave, and the pattern would repeat when he went to another town.
In Acts 17, however, we see a change in the pattern, though. Paul went to Athens while Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea a little longer.
In Athens, Paul went to the synagogue and then to the marketplace, and some Greek philosophers brought him to the Areopagus, where ideas were debated.
When addressing the intellectuals of his day in the city of Athens, Apostle Paul discovered that his audience of hearers and listeners had been influenced by two fundamental ideas: Stoicism and Epicureanism.
The Philosophy of Stoicism holds that the events of the world are determined by a merciless, cold, and impersonal fate, while the Philosophy Epicureanism teaches that what is good is determined by what will bring the most pleasure.
Neither one of these philosophies hold up for the children of Almighty God.
One of the most distinctive features of Christianity is the way in which we are able to articulate our view of the world.
In contrast to much of the diverse culture around us, we know that every single second of our lifetime rests in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15)—that we’re neither trapped in the grip of blind forces nor tossed about on an ocean of chance.
Whether people have been drawn in by Marxism, Hinduism, nihilism, or any one of countless other philosophies and religions, they are all faced with myriad questions and hosts of complex nuances, insecurities, regarding their beliefs.
Have they been caught in a struggle for a classless society or in an endless cycle of birth and death?
Perhaps they’re convinced that overall, life has really little to no meaning at all.
No matter someone’s simple, complex or “unanswerable, or imponderable” their questions or hardcore beliefs are, God provides every answer they need.
Instead of their feeling as if they are living life caged by a senseless, uncaring fate or endless uncertainty, as believers we now believe with unfailing hope.
“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to give special attention to all of those who, by the sheer accidents of time, or of place, or circumstances, are brought into and unto a closer connection with you and God.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo.
We need to be especially deliberate and intentional when it comes to talking and debating about our Savior Jesus to unbelievers or those who have fallen away.
Like Jesus at the Samaritan well and Paul in Athens we need to be deliberate about connecting with those who are not part of the Kingdom of God.
Of course, there are risks – being ridiculed, being called a religious freak, having your physical body attacked or imprisoned or feelings hurt, but as is often the case when someone needs rescuing, there are risks and dangers.
If we are not so deliberate, if we are not intentional, then we can easily lose a golden “GOD” opportunity to speak God’s truth when it was needed the most.
We, like the Apostle Paul, those first, first century and early Biblical writers of the subsequent centuries, are now stewards of all the answers God has given us through His word—answers we must share with all the “Athens” of the world.
He has given us a great confidence, and the greatest answer: His name is Jesus.
The question, therefore, is not whether we have a message that can answer the deepest longings, most imponderable answers to impossible questions of every human, the various objections of every other philosophy and religion: we do.
The question is whether we will get all on fire for God and share that message.
Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth. Rev. John Wesley
When Paul was in Athens, he saw what others did not see, he did not enjoy the impressive touristy sites or stand in awe of the city’s intellectual reputation.
Quickened by the Holy Spirit, Paul saw a city lost in idol-worship, and “his spirit was provoked, “stirred up mightily” within him,” for every time an idol is worshiped, his, our, Savior Jesus, is robbed of the glory that He alone deserves.
“So,” without any regard for his own personal reputation, Paul reasoned with and proclaimed the gospel of resurrection hope to the inhabitants of that city. (Acts 17:18)
So, the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, jumps into the life of the city of Athens,
And with both feet securely cemented upon the Rock, Foundation of his Savior Jesus Christ and with a full throated oratory second to no one, talks about God.
• God made the world! Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not need even one temple to live in – let alone hundreds if not thousands of them.
• God gives maximum life in abundance and breath to all living creatures.
• God created all the people of the world and gave them countries to live in.
• God is above all things and doesn’t have any particular needs that can be satisfied by the words of human wisdom, works of human hands and feet.
• God is not, never will be far away from any of us, wants people to seek him.
Can you and I see what Paul has done for the rest of us on Mars Hill here?
He hasn’t hit them over the head with a whole lot of ‘Jesus talk’.
He has said very little that the learned teachers of Athens would disagree with.
He has built a relationship with them.
They are becoming curious and they are growing more curious by the moment and by the thoughts which are being freely expressed in that very public forum.
They are listening.
God is working ….
The Holy Spirit is weaving the words and simple truths of Jesus into their souls.
They are agreeing.
Paul knows that you can’t come in cold and expect people to listen to the important message he has to tell them. He first built a rapport with them.
The often overlooked if not completely, deliberately ignored truth: There are lots of people in our lives which we have never taken the time to get to know.
While out walking, we can stop to talk to the new neighbour who is washing his car, or we can stroll on by.
We can linger around after church and talk to people we hardly know, or the stranger who is visiting for the first time, or we can ignore them.
At the local restaurant where we sit down to lunch after church to discuss the days worship and the days Scripture and the impact of the Pastor’s Sermon,
There will be a host or a hostess – there will be a server – someone to take our order – who might just “randomly” find themselves “within easy earshot …!”
“Are you busy today?” What is the Chef’s Special for Today?”
“What do you personally recommend we try today?” “How is it with your day?”
When they casually ask, “is that all, will there be anything else for today?”
Try responding … “Yes! there is one more thing – “How is it with your Soul?”
In that exact instant – without saying God, the Father, the Son, Holy Spirit …
God, the Father and God the Son, God the Holy Spirit “introduced themselves!
Who knows what opportunities might arise in your conversation to share your faith, or how you can help when a crisis arises and they come seeking your help.
Wherever you live, wherever I live, in one way or another we will inevitably find ourselves in a modern-day Athens – whether geographically or by the internet.
What are the myriad of idols that those around you are worshiping?
Is your spirit provoked by that?
You have an answer that satisfies human longing in a way no idol can.
You have an opportunity to bring glory to God.
With whom can you reason today?
Can I share with you of the God who brings meaning and hope to life?
Can I tell you about the answers I have found in coming to know Jesus Christ?”
Paul took this opportunity to draw people’s attention to the “unknown God” that was mentioned on an altar nearby.
Paul was “greatly distressed” at seeing so many idols in Athens, and he wanted to tell risk it all, tell everyone about the true God whom they all needed to know.
When was the last time your heart was distressed and troubled in this way?
We live in a world of idols today too.
The idols of social networks, technology, individualism, materialism, greed, money, political and military power, and so much more are all around us.
There are “tons and tons” of people, inhabiting “tons and tons more” places who are and who have “tons and more tons” of those imponderable questions which no one else can even begin to provide reasonably ponderable answers to.
There is only just one with all of the answers to every imaginable, imponderable question we may have the courage, the intentionality, be able to imagine to ask:
John 14:5-6 (Amplified)
5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “[a]I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
We can follow Paul’s pattern of engagement, or we can scroll on through life …
Some may appear to “fall asleep” during the Pastor’s efforts at teaching them.
Others may just come across as “being polite” or “completely disinterested.”
There is always one inescapable truth which the Apostle Paul always knew …
No matter how “unknown” that “unknown god (unknowable GOD) is to the people who do not yet know Him or do not desire to ever get close enough …
God never slumber or sleeps …. Psalm 121
There is no place anyone can ever hide from God …. Psalm 139
God is ALWAYS coming to His Garden, ALWAYS looking for you and there is nothing or no one who can ever hide anything from Him … Genesis 3:8-13
For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth so that He may support those whose heart is completely His. 2 Chronicles 16:9a
God is going to do whatever it is God is going to do … Isaiah 55:10-13
And even if we somehow thought we were clever enough or wise enough …
There is not one thing anyone of us can do about any of what God does for us.
May God give us the courage and the wisdom through the Holy Spirit to seize the moment to speak clearly and appropriately and deliberately, intentionally, about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is life and gives life and salvation.
Let God guide us as we make better use of those small windows of opportunity.
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Lord God my Father, Creator and Author of my life, Giver of all Wisdom, I need You. Lord, I feel held back by my timidity and fear of what others think of me. In times when I should speak up, I remain silent. And because of this, I feel like I let You down. Help me to show sure confidence in You and to be bold in saying what needs to be said. I ask I be granted the courage to not let others talk over me. Please ease my fears that others will dislike me because of my words. Give me the wisdom to speak truthfully and sensitively. You are my #1 source of boldness and strength. Amen.