Hit The Streets Acts 17: 16-31 November 25, 2012 First Baptist ChurchJackson, Mississippi, USA Class Christmas Party Sunday, December 2nd(following the 10:30 am service) Penn’s Fish House 2085 Lakeland Dr. Jackson, MS 39216 Next week’s SS lesson: YAHWEH the one faithful God Who is able! Exodus 6 & 15 Today we are in Acts 17: 16-31 Reference material: LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC
Focal Passages: Go Where People Are Acts 17:16-21 Know What People Believe Acts 17:22-23 Point People to God Acts 17:24-31This Lesson Is About: The need for believers (and churches) to move beyond their personal contexts to find appropriate ways to reach people with the Gospel. The apostle Paul was alone in Athens, a world-class city with a day to himself. He hit the streets, walking around the city and taking in the attractions. He saw idols and statues depicting various gods. Paul took this opportunity to communicate to the Athenians about the One, True God.
Too many Christians see the sights of a city but fail to share the Savior with its residents. The Gospel was never intended to be kept to ourselves. God desires for believers to share the Gospel, seeking ways to contextualize the message to the appropriate audience so others can hear and respond to Jesus. For that to happen, we must go where the people are – we must hit the streets!Focal Passages: Go Where People Are Acts 17:16-21 Know What People Believe Acts 17:22-23 Point People to God Acts 17:24-31Acts 17:16-2116 “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him whenhe saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with theJews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day withthose who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoicphilosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying tosay?”Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he wastelling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, ‘May we learn aboutthis new teaching you’re speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, andwe want to know what these ideas mean.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and theforeigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearingsomething new. “ Acts 17:16-21 Paul was in Athens, the cradle of Western civilization and home to Greek mythology idols and philosophies. It had been the home of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno and Epicurus whose words are still studied in universities today.
Socrates Plato and Aristotle Zeno Paul didn’t see beauty or fine art or brilliance; rather he saw that the city was full of idols. Athens was smothered by idols and completely given over to idol worship. It was a junkyard of idols. Over 30,000 statues were erected to gods, leading the Roman writer Petronius to remark, “It is easier to find a god in Athens than a man.” Though idolatry was nothing new to Paul, these images troubled him. Troubled, a strong word filled with fury and sadness, described a deep grief over the idolatry, provoking him to anger and a reaction of jealousy for God’s Name. The pagan idol worship offended his moral conscience. It did not matter that the Parthenon symbolized classic Greek culture or that Athens was the hometown of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. If Paul walked through Jackson today, what would trouble him? What should trouble us? Athens, named after the Greek goddess Athena who is credited with inventing the olive tree, was built around a flat-topped hill (later called Acropolis) about 3000 BC.
Athena After the 6th century BC, the people were dissatisfied by periodic tyranny and demanded written laws. They chose one of their wisest men, Solon, to write a constitution and by the end of the century, another leader, Cleisthenes [KLIGHS-th-nees], had taken Solon’s principles and founded a democracy. Athens eventually fell to Sparta and lost its power and wealth, yet managed to remain the intellectual center of Greece for centuries, even to the time of Paul. Paul went to Athens during his second missionary journey after escaping with his life from Berea. He was invited to the Areopagus which means “hill of Ares”. Ares was the Greek god of war (the Roman name for the god of war was Mars) therefore, the area was known as Mars Hill.
This is the only time Paul preached to a pagan audience. He did not quote the OT as he would have done with a Jewish audience. Paul used the Athenians’ own literature and philosophy to establish rapport and to move them to decision. He began his sermon with the phrase, “Ye men of Athens” which had been used by Athenian orators for years. Paul’s message was cut short when he mentioned the resurrection (vv. 31-32) because they refused to listen to anyone mentioning a bodily resurrection. The Epicureans rejected altogether the idea of personal immortality. Paul’s message in Athens was anything but a failure because a number of people were saved (v. 34) and two of them were mentioned by name: Dionysius and Damaris. Dionysius the Aeropagite Dionysius was a member of the council and became quite influential for the cause of Christ even in this idolatrous city. Dionysius also became the first bishop in Athens. By Paul’s time, gods had lost the place of honor therefore the ceremonies and festivals that were held were observed out of tradition and habit. Serious doubts and an intellectual restlessness characterized the populace, fueled by the many philosophical theories then in vogue. Among the popular schools of thought were Stoicism and Epicureanism. Stoics believed that the primary principle of the universe was reason. stoa (Stoics)
Epicurus – “to experience modest pleasures will allow fear and pain to subside, in itself creating the greatest pleasure of all: a life of contentment through equilibrium”. On the other hand, Epicureans considered earthly existence as something to be enjoyed to the fullest. Highly materialistic, they considered pleasure as humanity’s ultimate goal with a concerted attempt to live a happy life free from fear and pain. Paul’s short sermon to the philosophers in Athens stands out as one of the greatest messages of all time. Paul reasoned or challenged the Athenians to think differently, to ponder anew. Reasoned has the idea of discussing issues of importance with a view to winning another person to your own point of view. Paul proclaimed the Gospel, intent on winning Athenians to the living God. First, Paul sought to reach people nearest to him. As was his custom, Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, reasoning with the Jews and God-fearers, those who worshiped God. These were Gentiles who had turned from gods to God. Second, Paul ventured to the marketplace every day. The marketplace, or agora, was the center of public life, the place people gathered each day to buy and sell their goods. Many people frequented the marketplace, providing Paul an instant audience. Statutes and temples stood in and around the agora.
Third, Paul debated with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the two most popular philosophical schools. The Epicureans, founded by Epicurus, felt the gods were distant and uninvolved in human affairs and believed no afterlife existed. Life, therefore, was to be enjoyed with the pursuit of pleasure (avoidance of pain) paramount. The Epicurean mantra was, “Enjoy life!” “Eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die!” The Stoics, on the other hand, founded by Zeno, were pantheists, believing in divine providence. The highest human calling was to live by reason, the divine principle within them, with a focus on self-control, personal discipline, and endurance. The Stoics mantra was, “Endure life!” Paul showed equal adeptness at speaking to the religious people in the synagogue, to common people in the marketplace, and to the highly sophisticated philosophers. Christians today need to get to know people in various contexts—religious seekers, business professionals, and intellectuals—to engage them and to communicate the Gospel story. Understanding language, culture, and needs is paramount to communicating the Gospel effectively.
If Paul did come to Jackson and followed his pattern from Athens of going where the people were, perhaps he would first come to First Baptist Church, Jackson. Where would he likely go to find the marketplace/center of public life? Where would he go to find the philosophers, intellectuals, or new thinkers? What does our class do to go where the people are? Paul’s hearers responded in a variety of ways. Some called him a pseudo-intellectual. Word Study: Pseudo-Intellectual Acts 17:18; “babbler,” KJV The Greek word means seed-picker, like a sparrow picking up seeds or a vagrant picking up scraps of discarded food or a worthless person. In this case, it refers to teachers who collected various ideas from various sources and taught them as though they were their own. The information was not original; it all was second-hand information. They were plagiarizers. Regardless, this name was not a flattering description of the church’s greatest spokesman. This critical comment was a reference to one who picked up pieces of learning but had no real understanding. It was a term of disrespect roughly equivalent to “country bumpkin” or “chatterbox.” Others called him a preacher of foreign deities. Two applications are in order: One, opposition is always better than indifference. If people argue with you, it generally means they actually care about what you are saying. Two, the Gospel has nothing to fear from an open discussion. Paul wasn’t afraid to take the Gospel to the streets to meet opposing views head-on. Paul was taken to the Areopagus meaning literally “the hill of Ares,” the Greek equivalent of Mars. The Parthenon atop the Acropolis was a temple dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city.
On the lower slope stood the Areopagus where the council met to deal with major governing responsibilities. Thus, this word is often translated Mars Hill. The Areopagus would be similar to the Supreme Court. It had authority over Athens in civic and religious matters. By Paul’s day the council’s powers were more limited and it no longer met on the hill but in a building in the agora, the marketplace. The agora (marketplace) was the hub of the city. It was the commercial center of the city and the major government buildings were located there also. It was still known as the Areopagus for the hill where it had originally met. The council inquired about Paul’s new teaching. The Athenians pursued the latest fad in philosophy, art, or religion. We are not much different, always looking for a new idea, a new plan, a new strategy, or a new formula. There is pressure on universities to teach “new” ideas and that is one way institutes of higher learning become extremely liberal. The new teaching sounded strange to them. Paul was not on trial. The council members wanted an explanation about what he had taught in the marketplace.
Paul would give an account of his teaching, telling the court what he believed, but he could not defend himself without preaching Christ. He used every opportunity to tell the story. The Athenians’ longing to always hear something new opened the door for Paul’s message.Focal Passages: Go Where People Are Acts 17:16-21 Know What People Believe Acts 17:22-23 Point People to God Acts 17:24-31Acts 17:22-23 22 “Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I seethat you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through andobserving the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’.Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” Acts 17:22-23 Paul did not speak as a man on trial, but rather as a bold communicator of the faith. Standing before the people in the Areopagus, Paul, like any great communicator, got their attention. He started where the people were. He acknowledged that they were extremely religious people. Religious is translated superstitious in the King James. The word has both negative and positive connotations. Positively, it showed the pious and devoted nature of people. The Athenians had a reputation as religious people. Negatively, however, the word communicated that people were superstitious in their religious observances, meaning they worshiped many gods for fear of offending any god. Ironically, the hearers would have taken Paul’s acknowledgment as a compliment—being very religious, while Paul would have meant it has an insult —denouncing their idolatry. Interestingly, both meanings were true. They were religious and they were superstitious. Humankind is inherently religious. Every society, no matter how primitive, has some conception of a higher power. Even the most corrupt religion demonstrates humankind’s innate longing to know God. Idolatry exists because the human race has suppressed God’s true knowledge. We were made to know God, but when we suppress God’s truth that is found in creation and written in our hearts, we always turn to idolatry.
Paul provided a telling and revealing example of their piousness. As he had walked around the city, “observing the objects of your worship”, Paul witnessed an altar (the only time an altar to a false god is mentioned the New Testament), that arrested his attention, calling to the forefront their vain religious efforts. The altar … was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Even though there were 30,000 idols in Athens, still they weren’t sure they had enough. ALTAR TO AN UNKNOWN GOD The altar did provide Paul a point of contact with his polytheistic audience and a perfect launching pad for his monotheistic discourse. In other words, Paul used this inscription to tell the Greeks about the one true God. Paul referred to what the Athenians worshiped, but he was about to introduce them to the God Who was personal. The Greeks valued knowledge. Ignorance, or not knowing, violated all they held dear. He tactfully told them they didn’t know what they were talking about. In a way Paul said, “You admit there is a God you don’t know. I happen to know that God and will now proclaim Him to you.” By admitting that God was more than they knew, the Athenians opened the door for Paul to boldly preach the Gospel. Their idolatry was the most conspicuous evidence of both their spiritual piety (v. 22) and spiritual poverty. The 2nd Commandment condemns idolatry. Why have an altar to “the unknown god”? Perhaps it was to appease any god whom the Greeks may have failed to give his or her proper due. Yes, there was a God unknown to them, the only One Who exists, the Creator of all. The true God is knowable and He has intentionally revealed Himself to us through His Son! The Athenians had made god in their own image.
That’s the problem with all idolatry. It reverses the order of creation. It worships the creation instead of the Creator and ultimately makes god in its own image (Rom 1:18-23). The beautiful statues of the gods in Athens were mute testimony to the wrongness of their religion. Crafted by the finest artists, they were representations of the human form, of gods made in the image of human beings (17:29). The reverse is true. Humans were crafted by God in His own image. We reflect that image only when we acknowledge God as Creator and submit ourselves to His will and rule over our lives through Jesus Christ. In knowing the people we try to reach we are in a better position to share the Gospel. Establishing a point of contact is crucial. For Paul the altar to the unknown God provided the contact with the Athenians. This altar revealed the hunger of the human heart. If we study people and talk with them, we will discover the hungers of their hearts. Effective evangelists listen, read, watch, observe, and pay attention to what people say and do. Sooner or later their hearts will be exposed, opening the door to share Christ. Paul could have been disrespectful or unkind. He could have jumped right to confrontation, telling them how wrong and misguided they were. Instead, he chose to speak the truth in love, compassionately persuading them to the truth.
On a scale of 1 (very little) to 10 (complete comprehension), how well do you know what the lost people in your community believe about God, faith, and religion? How can you become more informed about their beliefs?Focal Passages: Go Where People Are Acts 17:16-21 Know What People Believe Acts 17:22-23 Point People to God Acts 17:24-31Acts 17:24-3124 “The God Who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven andearth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by humanhands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life andbreath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nationality to live over thewhole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of wherethey live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach outand find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live andmove and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also Hisoffspring.’ 29 Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature islike gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands allpeople everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day when He is going tojudge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has providedproof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:24-31 Paul shared several truths about God. Tactfully and strategically, using images and quotes from familiar Greek culture, he communicated the Gospel. He began with God’s greatness; He is the Creator of the world (kosmos), a familiar word in Greek philosophy. God as absolute Creator would have differed from the Epicureans, who emphasized chance, and the Stoics, who said God did not create anything. God was indeed the UNKNOWN GOD to the Greeks. Paul pointed out that God is both the personal Creator of all existence and the personal Lord of everything made. God is not distant, nor divorced from human affairs. He can’t be localized, limited, imprisoned, or confined in shrines made by hands. How can the One Who made everything live in shrines made by humans? Next, Paul spoke of God’s goodness; He is the Sustainer. God is not contained in shrines made by humans nor is He served by human hands. The One who sustains life needs no one to sustain Him. With this statement Paul undermined Greek religious thinking.
Instead, God gives people what they need: life and breath and all things. He is the Source of all we need. We depend on Him; He does not depend on us. Then, God’s government is revealed. The God of Creation rules history and geography. From one man refers to Adam and humankind’s relationship to God. And though people have scattered throughout the whole earth, they can trace their ancestry back to one man created by God. God determined their appointed times and the boundaries. Paul emphasized God’s providence over history and His care over His creation. Paul stressed the active and personal nature of God in sharp contrast to the views of the Stoics and the Epicureans. God personally engages in human affairs—we can know and trust Him. God intended that people might seek God. Paul stated, “perhaps they might reach out and find Him.” Reach out pictures a blind man stretching out his hands to feel his way along. Obviously the barrier to finding God is sin, resulting in our being alienated and far from Him. We stagger, blinded to God’s reality though He is not far from each one of us. God is not a distant deity. When we see God as He truly is, our only response is to worship Him. Paul implored the worship of God; He is the Creator in whom we live and move and exist. This statement appeared in a poem by Epimenides (600 B.C.) from Crete.
God, also, is Father. Paul quoted another Greek poet, Aratus of Soli (315-240 B.C.), “For we are also His offspring.” This citation is from Aratus, a third-century b. c. Greek poet. Paul did not infer a pantheistic view of humanity, but rather that God is the life-giver and life-sustainer. Redemptively, God is Father only of believers, yet from a creation standpoint, He is also Father of humanity. Paul exposed their fallacy by quoting Greek philosophers that God is Creator and Father, thereby higher, stronger, and more powerful than humankind. God can’t be controlled or boxed in. He can’t be ruled. He rules us! Idolatry attempts to create and to confine God within limits of our own making, thus to control Him—such absurdity to think God can be fashioned of gold or silver or stone. How foolish to make gods in our own image. If God created humans, how can humans create God? Greek religion was nothing more than the manufacture and worship of gods created by human art (physical idols) and imagination (idols of ideas). If Paul’s hearers recognized God as Creator, they would have had to acknowledge their own self-idolatry, and, therefore, repent. Next, Paul spoke of God’s judgment; He will judge the world. Bringing his message to a close, Paul returned to his original premise: The Greeks were guilty of ignorance.
They did not know God, as Paul demonstrated. But God overlooked it, not that it went unnoticed or excused, but that He delayed judgment. But He has set a day for judgment. Paul, then, called them to repent. The word communicates a complete turnaround, here, from idolatry to the living and true God. Paul confronted them with the Gospel demands, knowing the consequences for those who fail to repent and turn to God. Paul had pointed them to the One True God. If they did not recognize Him on earth, they would on Judgment Day! On that day God would judge the world (humankind) in righteousness. This judgment will be universal, no one will escape. No miscarriage of justice will occur. All people will acknowledge it as correct and accurate: it will condemn those who turn from God and it will clear those coming to God by His revelation and grace. It will be definite, a day has been set. Although no one knows the exact day, the identity of the Judge has been revealed. Paul referred to the Man—He is Christ, God’s Son. The proof of His existence and coming judgment is the resurrection. Paul encountered a religious and spiritual culture that was far from understanding the living and true God. Likewise, we live in a culture with a religious heritage and spiritual trappings. People have created idols of their own choosing and made gods of their own devices. This generation is no closer to understanding and accepting the Gospel truths than the Athenian philosophers.
As students of culture, we seek to understand what other people believe so we can speak the Gospel in a “language” they will understand. Understanding as well as engagement with people is demanded. We are missionaries, finding ourselves in a “foreign” country. Though we speak the same language and frequent the same places, we have to engage people where they are to lead them where they need to be—and, urgency is paramount. Judgment Day is coming for everyone. Time is running out! If we don’t share Christ with our friends and neighbors, who will? If we don’t share the Gospel now, then when? Paul’s message was powerful and clear. While some took it to heart, “joined him and believed” (v. 34). and some wanted to hear more, still others “began to ridicule him” (v. 32). This reminds us that not all people will receive the Gospel. We should not allow negative responses to deter our witness. Often, repeated conversations, trial and error, and faithful living and proclamation are required for people to follow Christ. People are too precious, Christ’s message too valuable, to give up after one hearing. Keep banging the Gospel’s drum. Hearts will soften. The Word will take root. People will step over the line in faith. Paul picked up on images, ideas, and aspects of life in Athens to help convey the message of God to people. Knowing what you do of your community, what concepts or aspects of life would help you point people to God and convey His message of salvation? The study theme for this four-lesson study is “The Church: Transforming Lives in a Changing Culture.” A church transforming society has to move outside its “walls” and hit the streets with the Gospel. As Christ’s followers we can’t insulate and isolate ourselves. Let us take Christ’s message to where people are, developing a missionary mind-set. Who do you know who needs to hear about Jesus?
Will you hit the street to tell them about Jesus?Biblical Truths: Move out of your comfort zone to share the Gospel. Don’t be intimidated; keep on telling others about Jesus. Seek to know your audience through observation, study, reading, and listening. Keep the focus on Jesus when witnessing to others, avoiding the rabbits of philosophy. Seize every opportunity God gives you, thinking of those occasions as divine appointments. Perhaps you are quite in tune with your community and had no difficulty with the previous activity. But perhaps society around you has changed so fast and so drastically that you struggle to understand many of the people in your community. Ask God to help you find contextually appropriate ways to share the Gospel.