How to Live in a Mars Hill World - Part Two
How to Live in a Mars Hill World
Acts 17:22- 34
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Paul was provoked in his human spirit – Acts 17:16
Paul was willing to engage the culture- Acts 17:17
Paul assessed his audience and found a culture in conflict – Acts 17:18-21
Purpose: “We must develop a whole generation of Christians who are ticked off enough, upset enough at the culture, but be willing to engage a self-conflicted culture in order to proclaim the truth of the Gospel despite the responses we might receive.” - Os Guinness – Impossible People
The Self- Conflicted Culture of Today
Pluralism / Multiple gods
Secular Public Square
The Resurrection and Christianity
Transition: We are living in pretty much the same culture that the 1st century believers were living in a pluralistic society with a melting pot of the world’s religions right here in the United States of America. Let’s turn our attention to how Paul connected with the philosophers on Mars Hill using their believes and teachings to present the Gospel
Paul proclaims the truth based on finding common ground – Acts 17:22 – 31
- The thrust of Paul’s message to the Areaopagus is clear: The Creator God, who has revealed Himself in Creation, has now commanded all to repent, for everyone must give an account to Jesus Christ whom God raised from the dead.
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 403). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- We see Paul preaching a sermon to this group of astute philosophers
- Notice the introduction in verses 22 – 23
- The content of his message is to reveal to them who the “Unknown God” is that they have an altar to in verses 24 – 29
- Then he concludes his message with a message from God in verses 30 – 31
- Then we see the response to his sermon. Look at verse 22
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious
- Paul uses a very carefully placed and thought out word here in verse 22 as he begins speaking to the Men of Athens
- Very religious means that they were firm/ rigid in their commitment and reverence to their deities
Illustration: Faithi in my class claiming Muslims are more Christian than Christians
- Paul was subtly implying that their gods were demons and evil spirits and not gods.
- Behind being an idol are demons. Idols can do nothing but demons can bring evil upon people and even possess them
23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
- The Athenians did want to miss or overlook any possible deity that they may not even know about so they erected an altar to an “unknown god”.
- Paul was emphasizing here their ignorance of the one true God – Yahweh / Jehovah
- When Paul sets out to share the Gospel, he starts with the Jews and uses the OT to show the prophecy of Christ as Messiah and the Gospel
- When sets out to share the Gospel with the Gentiles, he starts with God revealing Himself at creation and then sending Jesus as the special revelation to the world
- God is the Almighty Creator
24a The God who made the world and everything in it
- Notice Paul’s approach by saying that God created the world and all its contents
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein
- That sent shockwaves to the philosophers because the Epicureans believed the world was never created but was eternal
- The Stoics were pantheists and believed everything is God not that He was above it all and created it!
- God is the Universal Lord
Being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man
- If that wasn’t enough, Paul further challenged their thinking by saying that God does not live in temples constructed by human hands as the Athenians believed
- They were at the epicenter of many beautiful temples with ornate architecture which were built for their idols
- It is interesting Paul uses these words in this verse because these were the same words Stephen, the first martyr used as he was being stoned to death and Paul was holding the clothing of those involved. Invariably, he heard and remembered Stephen’s words after his conversion
Acts 7:48 – 50
48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
- Our God is so far beyond our conception there is no way to contain Him in our thoughts, in our buildings, etc.
- Here is a great thought as we move to our next point.
Quote: “He is too great to be housed in man-made temples but He is not too great to be concerned about man’s needs” - Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 473). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- God is the Bountiful Giver
25 Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
- The God we serve has need for nothing. If He was a needy God, would He truly be God?
- God is above temples and is self-sufficient
- Paul is appealing to the Epicureans which he knows so well. They believe their gods were above human events
- Notice he says the God gives to ALL mankind life/ breath / everything
- He is now appealing to the Stoics by saying life and all material things come from God. The Stoics were all about aligning their lives with the cosmos / gods
- Paul is developing common ground with these two groups of philosophers to bring them along to see the truth contained in the Gospel.
- We need to be wise and discerning how we can understand the people we connect with how best to share the Gospel
- For some it is in the form of a story
- Others, it may be a book, a video
- The love of a caring group of Christians
- The list goes on and on.
- We are to be students of the culture around us and discerning of the people we are in relationship with who do not yet know Jesus
- Notice that in two verses, verses 24 – 25, Paul wiped out the premise for their entire religious system
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
- Paul continues with His sermon
- God is the Sovereign Sustainer
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place
- From Adam and Eve, the entire human race descended from them
- This was a huge blow to the Athenians / Greeks pride
- They believed they were an elite nation and an elite group of people but now Paul is putting them on the same level as all mankind, even the barbarians!
- The Greeks believed that everyone who was a non-Greek was a pagan!
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God
- Furthermore, to their consternation, Paul said God decreed history and boundaries for their homes
- He determined when in time they would be born and where they would live!!
- God is the Divine Designer
27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
- Paul is making the case that God revealed Himself through creation and God hoped all men would find Him as they search for Him the true God. That is the proper response when confronted with God’s revelation through creation.
Romans 1:19 – 20
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
- God is sovereign as we established in verse 24
- He is immanent and omnipresent. He is very near to all of us if we will but reach out to Him with our heart. He desperately wants us to find Him.
- Here in verse 28, Paul wants to emphasize and strengthen his point by quoting from one of their noted poets Epimedes. “We are His offspring.”
28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
- Paul is not saying all mankind is redeemed because God created them
- But because God created everyone, they are made in His image
- Paul was saying that the Athenians were created and descended from one man. No such claim had ever been made by the multitudes of gods that the Greeks revered and worshiped!
- Paul also quoted from another poet the philosophers were familiar with whose name was Aratus in verse 28
- This is one of the major things that makes Christianity unique is the teaching that mankind is all made in the image of God.
- God is the Eternal Father
29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
- Since God is beyond us and beyond our reasoning and understanding it is obvious that He cannot be defined or explained with man making an image of Him. He is way too big for that!
Romans 1:22 – 23
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
- Divine being here means that the Athenian philosophers claim foolishly that their statutes and idols have a divine nature to them.
Psalm 115:3 – 6
3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
- Verse 29 would be Paul’s revolutionary statement building off of this city’s idea because it was full of idols and objects of worship
- God is the Gracious Redeemer
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent
- God is patient with man despite our sinfulness and our worshiping ourselves and idols that we erect in our hearts.
- Overlooked- God’s forbearance and delay in executing appropriate and deserved punishment
- God is compassionate with us even though man without Christ has the wrath and anger of God abiding on him. Another unique thing about Christianity that differs from all the other world’s religions.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him
- But Paul is saying that God now wants them to move out of their ignorance, respond to the truth and repent from their sins and serve the one living and true God.
- God is the Righteous Judge
31 Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
- Paul introduces to the assembled group a distinctly Christian view point
- Judgment for sin
- He pointed out that they needed to repent of their sin and seek righteousness
- That God is just and will balance the books and the deeds of sin must be paid for.
- That judgment will come by a man appointed – Jesus Christ -Daniel 7:13 – 14
For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son
- This man that God appointed was none other than Jesus Christ whom God brought back from the dead
Acts 2:22 - 24
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (NIV)
- This was opposite of what the Greeks believed. They wanted to rid themselves of their earthly bodies and not take them on again
- Personal judgment was nonsense to the Greeks
- But Paul stuck the Gospel right at the heart of the Athenians needs.
- They were searching for the unknown God and Paul declared to them just who He was.
Application: The Gospel is the most viable truth in the common ground of the world’s religious ideas
Transition: As Paul’s sermon comes to an end and the Gospel has been presented in a way that all could understand it with Paul using terms and literature that they are familiar with, it was time to respond.
- When you and I share the Gospel, people will naturally respond probably in one of three ways as they did to Paul’s presentation.
Paul received a range of responses – Acts 17:32 - 34
- Some folks will sneer
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered
- Some will reject the Gospel and consider it foolish
- Some folks will be curious
Acts 17: 32b
But others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.
- There will be those who are open minded and when confronted with the Good News of the Gospel will be willing to hear more about it. They will process the information before making a decision.
- Some will believe
Acts 17:33 – 34
33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
- Dionysius – council member of the Areopagus
- Damaris along with others
- But those who believed were few
- Was Paul’s ministry a failure in Athens?
- We know of I Corinthians 16 that Stephanas is mentioned as the first of several converts of Achaia which is the region Athens was in
I Corinthians 16:15
Now I urge you, brothers you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints
- The failure of a church to be planted was probably due to the hardness of the heart of the Athenians.
- Even the great apostle Paul did not always see the fruit that he desired because God is sovereign and draws people to Himself where and when He wills. Paul did his job but many of the people of Athens rejected his message.
Application: Some sow the seeds of the Gospel, some water the seeds of the Gospel and some harvest souls for God’s Kingdom, but God is the One who chooses whom He will.
Key Thought: You and I must be willing to proclaim the truth of the Gospel despite the responses we might receive.
Illustration: WE MUST SHARE THE GOSPEL / Dr. Martin Neimoller was an outstanding German pastor during the time of Adolf Hitler's reign. Neimoller was sent to prison for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Before being sent to prison, Neimoller had a 30-minute visit with Adolf Hitler. Hitler tried to persuade Neimoller to join his forces and turn from the stupidity of Christianity. For thirty minutes they discussed philosophy and the ideology of Nietzism. Neimoller would not give up his living faith in Jesus, so Hitler sent him to prison.
Years later Neimoller was released from prison. He testified he had visions that haunted him. He dreamed that he saw Hitler standing before the judgment seat of God, and Neimoller was standing off to the side watching the panorama of events. In his vision he saw Christ turn to Hitler and say, "What is your excuse for all your crimes." In reply Hitler says: "No one told me the Gospel." Neimoller said he wasted 30 minutes arguing philosophy with Hitler. He never told him about the love of Jesus Christ.
May all of us say with all our heart, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Jesus is the only way to salvation and eternal life. - Source: From Ray Ellis' Sermon: Get on a Roller Coaster
Three Questions to Ponder This Week
1. Do you see the greatest romantic story of the universe wrapped up in the Gospel of God seeking mankind?
2. Do you see the futility of those who believe something other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
3. Do you care enough to share the truth with others even if you face opposition?