Acts 17:16-34 Christ into the City, Part 8: Athens

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16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.  17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”– because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.) 22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps 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 exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of 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.

Big Question: We are pretty clear on the WHAT of the good news of Jesus Christ, but HOW are we to deliver this good news to the city?  Perhaps we are more clear on the Content of our message, but not so clear on what should be the Character of the messengers!!

1. We must cultivate a SENSITIZED SPIRIT to the customs, experiences and need  of those around us.

Paul’s “spirit was provoked” as he realized and felt the emptiness of the lives of the Athenians, and recognized their desperate attempts to connect with the divine.  Their many idols betrayed the utter failure to find spiritual peace and wholeness, and the tragic end of man living a life that does not acknowledge and worship the one true God.  We will make better connections with the people we hope to share Christ with if we gain not only an understanding of their life experience, but also tender, “provoked” heart towards them.

2.  We must practice a GRACIOUS APPROACH to those we wish to speak to about Jesus.

Paul recognized and followed the customary, accepted modes of effective communication for the city of Athens.  Paul showed respect for those who disagreed with him, despite their discourteous responses to him.  “Men of Athens…”  A hearing that is earned and desired from our listeners will prove to be more productive than one that is demanded by the Christian.  It is our responsibility to learn and apply what has been proven the most effective means of communication in the culture that we hope to reach.

Bad Examples today: “Religious interviews”, Bullhorn evangelism, Door-to-Door, manipulative giveaways, “free” concerts and meals, tract bombing, cold calling, confrontational, videotaping, etc. These are evangelism strategies that at best seem misguided and out of touch with the culture’s communication norms, and at worst manipulative and self-serving.

3.  We must develop a CLEAR, CONCISE PRESENTATION of the gospel.

It is arguable that this sermon is recorded here in its entirety—but whether this is the entire sermon or not, it is clear that Paul spoke very directly, succinctly, and got to the point without wasting time!  To share the good news of Jesus Christ clearly and succinctly demonstrates respect for those we are speaking to and also gives evidence that we truly understand the message ourselves. We are to speak as Charles Spurgeon, a historic 19th century preacher, sought to preach:

 “Do not aim to simply be understood by your listeners…speak so that you cannot be misunderstood!”

This calls for a thought-out, concise, reasoned presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ. 

4.  We must demonstrate a HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE of peoples’ response to the gospel.

“So Paul went out of their midst” = he was excused!  He didn’t cause a scene—just submitted himself to their decision, and treated them with respect.  When the conversation is over–as judged by our listener communicating that he/she is no longer interested in pursuing it–we should respect what is being communicated to us, not insist on continuing to speak, though unwanted!  People may indeed physically hear what you are saying to them, but once they have stopped listening, you have lost the ability to influence them.  An effective communicator seeks to win people, not arguments.  

5.  We must rest in a UNSHAKABLE CONFIDENCE that some people will believe the gospel!

Dionysius, Damaris, and “others”!  We can rest assured that God’s word, when shared with clarity and respect—will definitely be blessed by God. Though many or most may reject our message of hope—some will believe, and their lives will be forever blessed!  We cannot control how people will receive our message of hope, and many later think more about what they’ve heard and receive it, without our even knowing!  However, we can draw great assurance knowing that God will bless His Word, in His way and time, if we simply put it out there in kindness, sincerity, and courage.

It is most likely that Paul spoke to the Areopagus Council in a public stoa (porch), such as this one at the foot of the Acropolis.
It is most likely that Paul spoke to the Areopagus Council in a public stoa (porch), such as this one at the foot of the Acropolis.

 

People still sell and shop as they did in the time of Paul at the Old Market in Athens.
People still sell and shop as they did in the time of Paul at the Old Market in Athens.

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