Hit the Streets
Acts17:16-31 Nov. 25 2012
The Berean Jews were “more noble” because they valued truth and so daily tested Paul’s teaching against their standard of truth, the O.T. The Thessalonian Jews had been more concerned with the number of Greeks who showed respect for Judaism! than with truth.You and I are “more noble” when we too set aside personal considerations in order to discern, and do, God’s will.Paul’s address was before Athens’ “Council of Ares,” the government of this Gk. city-state. His strategy was: (1) seek a point of contact, which here was an altar dedicated to an “unknown god,” (2) discuss the nature of God and His relationship to the creation, showing that even poets and philosophers have glimpsed the truths Paul now presents, and (3) affirm that God, who calls on all to reject idolatry and repent, has not only appointed a day of judgment but has proven His intervention in human affairs by the resurrection of Jesus. While the form of Paul’s sermon is philosophical and ideally suited for its context, the content remains totally biblical. We can change approach to suit an audience. We can never change the message itself.
1. Paul at Athens. ( Acts 17:16-21)
Acts 17:16 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. 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. 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.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.” 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.
Athens was then famed for polite learning, philosophy, and the fine arts; but none are more childish and superstitious, more impious, or more credulous, than some persons, deemed eminent for learning and ability. It was wholly given to idolatry. The zealous advocate for the cause of Christ will be ready to plead for it in all companies, as occasion offers. Most of these learned men took no notice of Paul; but some, whose principles were the most directly contrary to Christianity, made remarks upon him. The apostle ever dwelt upon two points, which are indeed the principal doctrines of Christianity, Christ and a future state; Christ our way, and heaven our end. They looked on this as very different from the knowledge for many ages taught and professed at Athens; they desire to know more of it, but only because it was new and strange. They led him to the place where judges sat who inquired into such matters. They asked about Paul’s doctrine, not because it was good, but because it was new. Great talkers are always busy-bodies. They spend their time in nothing else, and a very uncomfortable account they have to give of their time who thus spend it. Time is precious, and we are concerned to employ it well, because eternity depends upon it, but much is wasted in unprofitable conversation.
2. He preaches there. (Acts 17: 22-31)
Acts 17:22 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.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 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. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 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, 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.’ 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. 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. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Here we have a sermon to heathens, who worshipped false gods, and were without the true God in the world; and to them the scope of the discourse was different from what the apostle preached to the Jews. In the latter case, his business was to lead his hearers by prophecies and miracles to the knowledge of the Redeemer, and faith in him; in the former, it was to lead them, by the common works of providence, to know the Creator, and worship Him. The apostle spoke of an altar he had seen, with the inscription, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” This fact is stated by many writers. After multiplying their idols to the utmost, some at Athens thought there was another god of whom they had no knowledge. And are there not many now called Christians, who are zealous in their devotions, yet the great object of their worship is to them an unknown God? Observe what glorious things Paul here says of that God whom he served, and would have them to serve. The Lord had long borne with idolatry, but the times of this ignorance were now ending, and by his servants he now commanded all men every where to repent of their idolatry. Each sect of the learned men would feel themselves powerfully affected by the apostle’s discourse, which tended to show the emptiness or falsity of their doctrines.
Paul’s party continues to Thessalonica, where again an enthusiastic response from Gentiles arouses the fierce jealousy of the Jews. These create so much disturbance that the apostle is urged to leave the city . But in nearby Berea the Jewish population is enthusiastic and responsive to the Gospel. Then hostile Jews from Thessalonica arrive and again stir up a riot . Paul is the focus of the hostility, so while the others stay on in Berea the apostle travels to Athens. There Paul cannot keep silent and soon finds himself preaching a unique sermon on that city’s Mars Hill. This carefully crafted evangelistic sermon does not quote an Old Testament unfamiliar to pagan Greeks, but uses a philosopher’s approach to lead hearers to the central truth of Paul’s message: the resurrection of Jesus . The idea of resurrection, totally foreign to his audience, brings ridicule. But, as always, some believe .