Acts #61, Acts 17.16-34
When I walked out of the old inner city church, I saw the Duke of Earl learning against my car. Honestly, it felt kinda’ like an out of body experience, because he was talking about me to the two friends I had brought to Long Beach. “I saw her come in, this blonde white woman and I basically thought she was a fraud. I sat back and listened to her and looked to poke holes in what she said when she was talking about the Bible, ya feel me?” Well, that explained the scowl and steely dark eyes I saw when I looked at him. He was sizing me up, making a judgment about me, even while I did the same, I guess. (a flashback to street ministry when the Duke of Earl acted as my bodyguard so I could go anywhere in that town)
What do you see? I mean—when you look at people, what do you see? Have you ever stopped to think about how you see people?
When Paul walked through the streets of Athens, he saw a people influenced by the vain philosophies and pagan worship which had permeated their thinking for hundreds of years. He debated with the Epicureans whose goal was to enjoy all things (and tended to follow Aristotle) and Stoics who were all about endure all things (and tended to fall in line with Plato). Now Paul was not a sight seer in the ancient Greek city, mouth agape at the fine sculpting and awe-inspiring architecture; no, his heart was moved by the Athenians’ need for God. What did Paul see when he looked at people? People who needed Jesus!
In the early part of his sermon, he showed them he saw their desire for spiritual things, he told them about the God for whom they were searching--the God who created everything and gives life, the God who is Lord of Heaven and earth. This Almighty God does not live in manmade temples, such as they had all around them. “In him we live and move and have our being,” Paul said using a quote from their poet Epimenides, to speak of the one true God, our source of life.
Picturing Paul on the rock outcropping at the Areopagus speaking forth the gospel message, it seems like the council was hanging on his every word. Yes, Paul had them until… well until he boldly proclaimed two eventualities: judgment for sin and resurrection.
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17.30-31
What a sermon he had delivered - probably well longer than Luke recorded here in Acts chapter 17, but we certainly got his message.
What did Paul see when he saw the 30,000 pagan shrines, when he went back and forth, debating people in the Agora… when he looked into the faces of those who had power in Athens at the Areopagus? He saw people who were lost in their lofty deceptions, men and women who were bound for eternity without God unless they came to know and accept what Jesus Christ had accomplished for them on the cross.
Resurrection was the dealbreaker - for the Epicureans, the Stoics and most of the council. The Epicureans did not believe in an afterlife and the Stoics believed death was its own reward. Resurrection? Definitely not.
What was the reaction of the people to Paul’s intelligent, impassioned Gospel message?
Same as it is today.
When presented with the love and truth of Jesus Christ, made possible through the providence of God, people have one of three responses:
1) Rejection - ‘no way this is true; religion is nothing more than a crutch’
2) Acceptance/belief - ‘this is what I have been searching for all of my life’
3) Contemplation - ‘I will have to think and investigate more before I believe’
Our takeaway for today? Truthfully, it is a compelling example for us to follow--to care so much about other peoples’ relationship with God, to care so much about their eternal destiny, that we would figure out a way to identify with them, invoke their attention and present the best news ever.
Makes me want to pray.
please help us see people as you see them. Why, to think that we might have the ability to influence someone’s eternal destination by sharing what we know of you must surely be the highest of our thoughts! Please grant us opportunities to point others to You - realizing that we are talking about eternal life for that person, we are talking about the difference between Heaven and Hell. Help us see with love and act with courage, dear Lord.
"ONLY Jesus,” song by Casting Crowns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXIBP2BdYR8