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Acts Ch.17: To Know God and to Make Him Known

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Acts 17 ESV
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed. Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 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 God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 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, 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, 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.’ 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. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 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.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Main Point

All Christians are called to spend their lives turning to Jesus, to truly know Him and to make Him truly known.

Introduction

Paul’s 2nd missionary journey continues
Silas and Timothy with him
In Chapter 16 - Three conversions that show that Jesus saves from all backgrounds
Lydia, the religious seeker
The slave girl, enslaved to the dark side
The jailor, somewhere in between
In Chapter 17, we follow Paul, Timothy and Silas as they make stops in Thessalonica, Berea and Athens
Again, we see many of the same themes:
Paul proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ
The gospel is preached to both Jew and Gentile
Both Jews and Gentiles believe
Again, some respond in anger and persecution continues to follow them
Reading and studying the ministries of these men and women in Acts is always inspiring
And there is always something to learn
As always, we learn in Chapter 17 that Jesus continues to act in the world through the Church, growing his kingdom every time one of His disciples does what Jesus empowers us to do - be his witnesses
The lesson I want us to take away from this chapter, is that all disciples of Jesus are not here on holiday...
But we are called to action with certain responsibilities
If there is one thing I want you to remember from today’s sermon it is this:
All Christians are called to spend their lives turning to Jesus, to truly know Him and to make Him truly known.
We see this coming through in Paul and company’s travels, beginning in Thessalonica

1. The Call to Proclaim - Even in the Face of Hostility

Paul & Silas in Thessalonica

Luke says Paul, Silas and Timothy passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, but they stayed and preached in Thessalonica (the apostles planted churches in the major cities, but it was assumed that there would be multiplication through their converts and disciples and that through them, the smaller cities would be reached)
There are 2 probable reasons for this:
Thessalonica was the principle city of Macedonia - and ideal place to preach
Luke says there was a synagogue of the Jews. (Paul always started in the synagogues)
As was Paul’s habit, he went to the synagogues and reasoned with them from the scriptures
Take note of Paul’s approach when preaching to Jews
He meets them where they are at
He speaks in language they understand
They know the OT, so he speaks from the OT
He knows that they know the OT speaks of a coming Messiah
Expounding on the OT scriptures, Paul “explained and proved that it was necessary for the Christ (Messiah) to suffer and to rise from the dead”
He quotes the OT Scriptures (like ), showing that the scriptures predicted that when the Messiah comes, he will suffer and then rise from the dead
And then he brings forward all the facts of Jesus death and resurrection as evidence that those OT Scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus…
…proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
“This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ”
Jesus Christ
What is the main goal of his preaching?
That his hearers would believe in Jesus Christ,
believe in his death & resurrection,
believe that his death & resurrection was for our salvation
and that they would turn to God in faith and repentance
and surrender themselves to Jesus as their Lord and Saviour
If you go back and examine all of the sermons we have seen and studied so far in Acts, this is always the case
the goal of the preacher is always to glorify Jesus and proclaim the gospel
that is what you should look for in a preacher
not somebody who can give you 3 ways to live a happy life
or lists of do’s and don’ts
Because the only way to enjoy a truly happy life is to know Jesus
and doing all the do’s and not doing all the don’ts can never save you
You need to hear the gospel
We all need to hear the gospel
We need to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen, and what it means for us
and so do the people that we are trying to reach
Paul knows this.
So Paul goes into the synagogue 3 sabbaths in a row, to do nothing other than what he has been called to do: to proclaim Jesus Christ
To be a witness for Jesus Christ
And isn’t that what we have all been called to do?
What was the outcome of Paul’s preaching?
Do you think if Paul preached that kind of
The same as most times that he preached:
Some responded with faith and believed
As was the case here again - as we see in verse 4: some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas
Others responded with anger and formed a mob to find Paul and Silas and drag them to the city authorities
Here’s the truth:
We are called to be Jesus’ witnesses here on this earth
The story of Acts is that Jesus is alive, and through His Church - who he has called and given power to be His witnesses - Jesus is growing His kingdom until He comes again
Sometimes when we are witnessing about Jesus, Jesus stirs the hearts of the hearers so that they believe the gospel and are saved
Sometimes, the hearts of the hearers are hardened and they chase us away
But even when this happens, God is in control
As we have seen so many times in Acts, God uses the wickedness of men and persecution to spread the gospel further
Even as he does now, because Paul and Silas escape Thessalonica now to go to Berea and preach the gospel there
Sometimes when we share the gospel, people are going to believe and be saved
Other times, people are going to laugh at us, mock us, get angry with us
What matters is that we don’t stop proclaiming the gospel
We are called to proclaim - even in the face of hostility
We are called to make Jesus truly known
And don’t think of this as a duty that must be fulfilled with good motivations… think of it as it really is - it is a privilege
We don’t HAVE TO proclaim Jesus, we GET TO proclaim Jesus
And we get to be first hand witnesses of how Jesus changes the world through the preaching of the gospel
Look at the complaint of the crowd about Paul and Silas to the authorities:
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also...”
They didn’t have internet or blogs
They didn’t have radio or TV
They didn’t have fancy church buildings and big budgets
They didn’t have smoke machines or entertaining worship bands
But this small group of Christians turned the world upside down
By proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen for the justification and salvation of sinners
Would you like to see Jesus turn our world upside down?
Proclaim the gospel!

2. The Call to Examine - Even Our Long-held Traditions & Beliefs

There isn’t just a call to Jesus’ church to proclaim - there is also a call to examine
There isn’t just a call to Jesus’ church to proclaim - there is also a call to examine
Just as there is a responsibility for the preacher to preach the true gospel,
there is also a responsibility for the hearer to listen to what is being preached and examine it in light of scripture...
So there is a call to every Christian to make Jesus known…
but there is also a call to each individual - both Christian and non-Christian - to know Jesus
Luke says that when Paul and Timothy and Silas arrived in Berea, they went into the Jewish synagogue there too.
But this synagogue was different to the one at Thessalonica
Luke says in verse 11: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
“Therefore” says Luke in verse 12, “many of them believed”
What was the difference between the Thessalonian Jews and the Berean Jews?
They were both Jewish Synagogues, with the same traditions and beliefs
They both heard Paul preach the same gospel
What makes the Berean Jews more noble than their Thessalonian comerades?
At both synagogues, Paul challenged their traditions and religious beliefs - traditions that had been held for centuries
At both synagogues, Paul was saying the same thing:
The Thessalonian Jews simply responded to Paul’s
You have been taught that the Messiah is still coming, but I am proclaiming to you that He has already come.
But the Thessalonian Jews mostly responded in anger, while the Berean Jews mostly responded in faith.
Why?
Because the Bereans received the word with eagerness, and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was really true
Because the Bereans were more noble -
they received Paul’s preaching with eagerness,
and examined everything he said in light of the authority of Scripture
and when they found that the Scriptures showed Paul to be right and themselves and their traditions and beliefs to be wrong, they repented and turned to the truth
Do you do the same every Sunday?
As I stand here this morning - and as every preacher stands here Sunday after Sunday - we have a responsibility to preach the Word, not our own opinions
But you aren’t without responsibility
You have the responsibility - sunday after sunday -
to receive the word that is preached,
examine the scriptures to see if it is so,
and if you should find that your existing beliefs and traditions and everything you have heard from childhood are shown by Scripture to be wrong,
then you change your beliefs!
The preacher has a high calling and a high responsibility, because the Bible says that I will be judged by a higher standard
And woe to the preacher who does not proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ and leads people astray
But, if the preacher has preached the truth, according to the word of God, and you do not take heed of what is said,
but instead fold your arms and say “he’s wrong” without checking the Bible to see if he is indeed wrong, then woe to you.
This church is a church that is strong on tradition.
By the grace of God, one thing that this church has been traditionally strong at over the years has been to appoint doctrinally sound pastors, elders and teachers who have faithfully taught the Scriptures
Just over the past few years that I have been here, I have seen how the preachers have laboured to be students of the Word, spending hours studying the text so that they would be faithful in their preaching on Sunday
And it has been my privilege to co-labour with them, to preach truth and sound doctrine, to equip you the saints, and to build up the church
But I have heard that some of you have said “Well I have always believed X to be true, and I will never change my mind.”
I know that some of the things I have preached have caused a stir - its hard to preach and not do that
And yet I know that some of the things I have preached have caused a stir
But how many went back to the Bible afterwards, with the Scriptures that were given, and examined the Scriptures to see if these things were so?
You have a responsibility to do that.
Every Christian is called to proclaim the true gospel and to make God truly known
But every person is also called to study the Bible to truly know God personally…
to examine the Scriptures...
and if you should find that the word that was preached to you was false, condemn it!
but if you should find that the word that was preached was true...
not according to your opinion - but in light of the final authority of Scripture...
then be prepared to change every belief that does not conform to what the Scriptures say.
The Berean Jews had believed wrongly about the Messiah
And they had been falsely
When Paul came and showed them from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah, they didn’t just react in anger...
.. as if it is impossible that they could have been wrong all this time...
…but they examined the Scriptures, they examined , they looked up the texts Paul gave them, and they found that the Scriptures were saying exactly what Paul was teaching them.
And many of them therefore believed in the name of Jesus and were saved.
But those pesky Jews from Thessalonica learned about it and came to ruin the party

3. The Universal Call - Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ

In Athens we see arguably Paul’s most spoken about sermon - the sermon to the Areopagus
And its very different from many of Paul’s other recorded sermons
so different, that some commentators even argue that it couldn’t have been Paul who preached it
Its definitely very different from his sermon to the Jews in Thessalonica
and with good reason.
Let me explain the something of the different culture that Paul encountered in Athens:
Paul is waiting in Athens for Timothy and Silas to join him
Verse 16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”
If anyone was going to be provoked by idolatry it was Paul, right?
Before his conversion he was a Jew of Jews - a Benjamite
He hated idolatry - even hated Christians because he thought that they were committing idolatry
AFter his conversion he didn’t lose his zeal for God to be worshipped and his hatred of idolatry
Now Athens had lost its place as a powerful political influence with the rise of the Roman Empire...
Athens had lost its place as a powerful political influence with the rise of the Roman Empire...
but in terms of culture,art, literature and philosophy, Athens was still in its prime
Athens had been home to famous philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno.
Athens was also the most religious city in the world
If you visit Athens today you will be amazed by the masterpieces of the great architects and sculptors…
But to the people of Athens in the 1st century, these weren’t just pieces of art
They were temples and images of the gods
And they worshipped every god imaginable there - they even had an altar to the unknown god - just in case there was one they missed
As Paul walked the streets of Athens and observed this culture of idol worship, his spirit was provoked
He was spiritually and emotionally moved by what he saw
Firstly, with frustration that idols were receiving worship that belongs to the One True God alone
and Secondly, with compassion for the people who were wasting their lives and their devotion on statues that were no gods at all
So being moved by zeal and love for God and love for people created by God, he proclaimed the gospel - he reasoned in the synagogue, he reasoned in the marketplaces - with everyone who would listen.
Does our world today provoke you in the same way?
Are you moved by zeal for God and compassion for the lost to proclaim Jesus name and make him known?
Some of you are going to say “Yes, Nick I am, but I don’t know how to do it”
Take your cue from Paul.
You will notice that Luke gives us two evangelistic sermons of Paul in chapter 17, and they are delivered to 2 very different groups of people
a synagogue of OT believing Jews
to the Areopagus and a crowd of pagan, idol worshipping Greeks who have never heard of the OT
When we study the 2 sermons we find that Paul uses different approaches but his message is exactly the same.
What lessons in evangelism can we learn from Paul here?

Speak Their Language

In the first sermon - OT
Can’t do that with the Greeks - never heard of it
But he reasoned with the Greeks in the marketplace and of the Areopagus in a very different way to how he reasoned with those in the synagogues of Thessalonica, Berea and Athens.
Looked for a point of contact
Why?
with the Jews - OT
Acts 17:16 ESV
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
Because Paul knew he needed to speak their language.
with the Greeks - the unknown God
To the Jews, Paul used the appropriate point of contact - the OT Scriptures
and then he moved straight to using what they already knew in their consciences - that the very existence of nature demands that there is a Creator
so he used that point of contact as a starting point to get to the gospel
Both Paul and the Jews accepted that the OT is the word of God, so Paul spoke in OT language and pointed to the OT to show that Jesus is the Christ

Just Preach the Gospel

But he couldn’t use the same language with the Greeks - they didn’t even know the OT
If you believe the gospel, you should be able to tell everyone else what it is, right?
So Paul used a different approach with the Greeks.
He used a different point of contact.
One helpful outline that fits with what Paul does here in Athens:
Having observed their culture and their objects of worship, Paul uses a different point of contact...
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. Having observed your objects of worship, I see that you have an altar to the unknown God.”
Creation
Fall
Boom! Point of contact.
Redemption
“What therefore you serve as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”
Restoration
Let me introduce the unknown God to you. Let me make him known to you.

CREATION

You see, Paul couldn’t start with the OT, because the Greeks wouldn’t have had a clue what he was talking about.
Acts 17:23–25 ESV
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 God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Acts 17:23–24 ESV
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 God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
But he knows that they are religious - confused, no doubt - but they do accept the existence of deity.
Acts 17:23–24 ESV
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 God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
-35

FALL

So Paul begins there, and he starts at Creation.
Acts 17:26–27 ESV
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, 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,
And this is perfectly consistent with Paul, because as he teaches in , all men have a built-in knowledge that there is a Creator
All men know that the very existence of nature demands that there is a Creator.
Acts 17:
So Paul begins there and he preaches:
The God that you don’t know is the Creator and He is Lord.
Acts 17:29
This same God created man and calls on man to seek Him and feel their way toward him - which they can do if they follow the clues of nature.
But man did not seek God (as Paul also says in )
Instead, here you are worshiping objects of gold and silver and stone
In the past, God overlooked this ignorance.
But now, since Jesus has come into the world, nobody has an excuse
God now calls all people everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus
Because He has set a day on which Jesus will judge the world
and all who believe in him will be saved
and God gave us assurance of this by raising Jesus from the dead.
The result?
Again - mixed reactions. Some had their curiosity aroused… some mocked… but some believed.
Now as different as this sermon was from his sermon in the synagogue… there is still one universal message...
One universal call...
One universal subject of Paul’s preaching...
One universal objective...
The one universal subject of Paul’s preaching is always Jesus Christ, and His death & resurrection for the salvation of sinners
He begins with
Acts 17:
Acts 17:
And the one universal objective is that his hearers would believe in Jesus Christ, and turn to God in faith and repentance.
God made the world and everything in it - He is the Creator
Acts 17:24–25 ESV
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Acts 17:24
He is Lord of Heaven and earth and doesn’t need anything from man - man needs Him - He is Lord
Who/what is the main subject of Paul’s preaching?
Jesus Christ
What is the main goal of his preaching?
That his hearers would believe in Jesus Christ,
believe in his death & resurrection,
believe that his death & resurrection was for our salvation
and that they would turn to God in faith and repentance
and surrender themselves to Jesus as their Lord and Saviour
If you go back and examine all of the sermons we have seen and studied so far in Acts, this is always the case
the goal of the preacher is always to glorify Jesus and proclaim the gospel
that is what you should look for in a preacher
not somebody who can give you 3 ways to live a happy life
or lists of do’s and don’ts
Because the only way to enjoy a truly happy life is to know Jesus
and doing all the do’s and not doing all the don’ts can never save you
You need to hear the gospel
We all need to hear the gospel
We need to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen, and what it means for us
and so do the people that we are trying to reach
What is the theme of chapter 17?
So Paul goes into the synagogue 3 sabbaths in a row, to do nothing other than what he has been called to do: to proclaim Jesus Christ
It should be the theme of every Christian’s life.
It is that the best, most fulfilling thing we can do, and the thing we are all called to do, is to spend our lives seeking Jesus, to truly know Him, and to make Him known
To be a witness for Jesus Christ
And isn’t that what we have all been called to do?
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