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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Christ into the City, Part 7: Berea Acts 17:1-15

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When we survey the growth of the Christian faith in the book of Acts, it is apparent that we are really looking at the growth of the gospel into, and out of, cities.  In our series Christ into the City we are considering the effect of the gospel when it reaches the cities of Paul’s Second Missionary journey (Acts 16-18), particularly the cities of Greece.

The Bereans are called “noble” by the author, Luke.  This nobleness has to do with having an open mind and a welcoming attitude towards the Word of God when Paul shared it with them–in the synagogue.  Particularly, the Bereans are noted for the open-mindedness and intellectual honestly in contrast to the Jewish leaders of Thessalonica, just 40 miles to the east of there.  It is key that we understand both the response of the Thessalonians (vv1-9) and the Bereans (vv10-15).  In considering these two groups and their different responses to the gospel, we can understand the differences between a city rejecting the gospel and a city receiving it.

The Thessalonians’ rejection of the gospel, and subsequent persecution of Paul and his associates, and the new Christians of Thessalonica, was rooted in jealousy (v5).  We are jealous when we feel we are threatened with the loss of gaining something we want, or keeping something we value.  The Jewish leaders of Thessalonica valued the influence they had with the wealthier men and women of their city, the power they had in their own synagogue, and the relatively safe and protected relationship they had with the local government and the national government in Rome.  Paul’s message, and its acceptance by synagogue attenders who attacked themselves to Paul, having believed in his gospel–threatened the Jewish leaders, leading them to provoke, threaten, misrepresent, and seize Jason, a new convert.  Ultimately, Paul and his company were forced to leave the city, fleeing by night to Berea.  When the gospel is clearly preached and believed people who do not believe and value it are sometimes threatened, and respond with hostility to those who have chosen to believe.  That’s what happened in Thessalonica, and it may happen today when a person’s choice to believe in the gospel is interpreted as loss to those in his/her world.

The Bereans, on the other hand, were open-minded, and enthusiastically explored “daily” the teaching that Paul brought to them–pouring over their own Scriptures to see if Paul’s assertion that this Jesus he spoke of was actually the promised Messiah.  Their open-mindedness and humility, their willingness to follow the truth, no matter where it led–led them right to a God who loved them so much He sent His Son to the earth to die for sinners!  They eagerly studied the Scriptures, believed, and then became courageous Christians–protecting Paul from the same Jews who had chased him out of Thessalonica, and then come to Berea to do the same to him there!  The Berean brothers saw that Paul was safely taken away from danger, escorting him to the safety of Athens, 300 miles away.  This took courage on their part, in the face of their angry and hostile fellow Jews of Thessalonica.  Also, they became members of a new community–the church of Berea.  They joined themselves into a new family–the church, identifying with the people of the Messiah over and above all social, gender, and class distinction.

Acts 17:1-9 Christ into the City, Part 6: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Acts 17.1-9 Christ into the City, Part 6 1 Thess 2:1-10

There is no audio available for this sermon, sorry!  Here are the notes…

1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.

It appears that Paul had come under criticism from the Jewish synagogue leaders of Thessalonica.  Their accusation may well have been, “This Paul fellow rolled into town, upset the status quo, tried to bilk our good citizens out of their money and loyalty, and when he was exposed—he beat feet out of town in the middle of the night!  He’s a phony!”  Paul’s response?  “Our ministry in Thessalonica was certainly NOT a waste of time!  Why in the world would anyone continue to preach a message that brought them so much pain and hardship?!  The very fact that we continued to speak boldly, despite threats and hardship, gives testimony of the sincerity of our motives, and of our personal confidence in what we were preaching to you!!”

Paul goes on to list the value and nature of his ministry to the Thessalonians, in both negative and positive descriptions.  He fully expected the Thessalonian Christians to affirm his argument; six times he reminds them in these verses, “You yourselves know this!”   The point here, as I see it, is that just as the Thessalonians were perfectly capable of discerning a true versus a phony pastor, so we today possess the skills of observation and discernment to do that same!

Our big question today is, How can we recognize a genuine, trustworthy pastor? With Paul’s example from this text we will see that the answer is this: The trustworthy pastor is the pastor who lives to please God, not people, and who deeply loves the people he leads, not himself.

 The trustworthy pastor…

1.  His teaching is clear and logical 3a

3 For our exhortation does not come from error  

2.  He doesn’t harbor a desire to seduce and use people 3b

…or impurity  = (akarthos = filthy, unclean) = mostly used to describe sexual sin, along with the word porneia.  It was routine for the religious leaders of the cults to lure their followers into sexual relations as a part of their religious ritual.  A trustworthy pastor steers a wide path away from the mere suggestion of being flirtatious or inappropriate or overly focused on sexual issues.  He maintains very high and clear standards in all his relationships, especially with those of the opposite sex!

3.  He never schemes to get his way 3c

…or by way of deceit; 4  but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. = the awareness of his accountability before God keeps the trustworthy pastor from pursuing manipulative, self-serving schemes with those he leads.

4.  He never uses flattery to control people 5a

5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, = Flattery = assuring people that they are, in their present state, exceptional, okay, in no need of change. When a leader flatters those he leads, he is taking advantage of people’s desire to feel valuable, exceptional, and acceptable as they are. When a leader uses this need to gain influence over people, he is violating his calling to speak truth at all times, no matter the cost.

5.  He doesn’t cherish a secret longing for wealth 5b 

…nor with a pretext for greed– God is witness— = Pretext for greed = NIV: “…nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed

Cf: 2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. = there were many in Paul’s day who made a living out of public speaking, including exegeting the OT (Jewish) Scriptures.  

Cf: 1 Tim 6  9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. = As Christian leaders are trusted with great responsibilities, and often resources, there are many temptations to use the ministry for one’s personal enrichment, instead of the good of God’s people.  The desire for wealth is a deep, dark hole that many good preachers have fallen into—and some never have climbed out of it!

6.  He doesn’t seek praise from people 6a

6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, = Paul neither sought nor needed the praise of people to feel satisfaction with his work.

7.  He never intimidates people to get his way 6b

even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority = baros = heaviness)  = Literally, Paul never threw his weight around to push people into a corner, forcing the to support his ideas and desires.  Some pastors (and I think I’m one of them!) benefit from hearing the word “No” spoken to them regularly!

8.  He loves his church like a Mother loves her children. 7-8 

…gentle = But we proved to be gentle among you, = (nepios = a little child) = gentle and not harmful

…caring = as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.

…deeply affectionate = 8 Having so fond an affection for you, = fond or tender feeling toward somebody or something

…open-hearted/vulnerable = we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. = Paul was transparent with the Thessalonian believers, sharing his very life with them.  This included his ups and downs, successes and failures, etc.  We might say, “Paul let them in to his real soul—warts and all!”  It is a challenge for leaders to be transparent, humble, and genuine before their church, week after week, Sunday after Sunday, knowing that some may judge their vulnerability and openness as a weakness or dis-qualifier for ministry. (cf. 1 Cor 2:1-5)

9.  He leads his church like a good Father leads his family. 9-12

  …sets an example of hard work in service to others 9

9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. = Note, it is not simply working hard at any job…Paul is here commending working hard so that those he cared for would not be burdened by him.  There was a purpose to his hard work that went way beyond simply “Bringing home the bacon”!

…sets an example of spiritual integrity 10

10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers;

Devoutly = towards God, holy and godly

Uprightly = dikaios = righteously = towards people, treating people right

Blamelessly = innocent, a clear conscience, with nothing to hide, no secret, cherished sins or unresolved ethical issues.

…consistently points each member of his church to please God with their lives. 11-12

11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. = Note, the goal here isn’t to encourage each member to live a life that pleases the pastor, but to live so as to please God!  Also, note that Paul’s example was to encourage “each” of the Thessalonians; a trustworthy pastor invests in the personal, one-on-one encouragement of his members as much as the preparation and delivery of the weekly sermon to the crowd.

 

1 Thessalonians 1:5-8 Christ into the City, Part 5: Thessalonica

Big Question:  What are some evidences of a living, healthy church of Jesus Christ today? 

Answer:  A living, healthy church of is a place where the members honor the Word of God, they turn away from idols and to God, and they begin to place their hope and desires on Jesus Christ alone. 

I.  THE BIBLE: A healthy church is exclusively focused on the Word of God 5-8

5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.

Restated: When Christ is at work in His church, there is an unwavering, singular loyalty to the Bible, the very Word of God.

a.  The preaching and teaching is treated as more than “word only” but is marked by supernatural power, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and overwhelming confidence as it is preached and taught. 5

b.  There is a joyful willingness on the part of the members to endure suffering and mistreatment for their obedient adherence to the Word of God. 6-7

c.  There is a deliberate, resounding proclamation of the Word of God out into the surrounding culture. 8

II.  IDOLS: A healthy, living church constantly turns away from the empty, dead idols, and instead turns to serve our living, true God.  9

9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God,

Restated:   A life-long struggle is begun to expose and reject the faulty goals and desires we’ve served, and to instead embrace a true, living God.

What is an idol?  (Bible Background Commentary) = Among major cults in Thessalonica were the Egyptian cults of Serapis and Isis, as well as those of the more traditional Greek gods like Dionysus; some of the upper class sponsored the cult of Cabirus from the Aegean island of Samothrace.

Dr. Timothy Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, gives this definition: “[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Keller makes a powerful and repeated point that idols cannot be simply removed from one’s life—they must be replaced by a better object of worship (one that accomplishes what your soul cries out for!):  Jesus Christ.  Which naturally leads to the final mark of a healthy church…

III.  JESUS:  A healthy church places all her longing and trust in the Lord Jesus.  10

10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. 

A.  Raised from the dead = validated as righteous, confirmed as the sin-bearer

Acts 17 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all 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.”

B.  Rescues from the wrath to come = (cf. 1 Thess 5:1-11) 

God’s wrath towards His enemies: Nahum 1:2 A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies  3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

God’s wrath is Jesus’ wrath, and will one day overwhelm all on earth = Rev 6 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

C.  How does Jesus rescue from this coming wrath?

a.  in the past, He rescued from sin’s power, when He died on the Cross for sin.

b.  in the present  He rescues us from sin’s power by granting us His Holy Spirit to empower us and assure us of our adoption into God’s family.

c.  in the future He will rescue us from the horrors of the Day when God the Father unleashes he fury against sin, and from the very presence of sin forever.

Application:  For us today…  Believe in Jesus; escape the coming wrath of God!

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”