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Paul's Sermon In Athens (Acts 17:16-34)

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Last week we talked about the Bereans and how they studied the scriptures to make sure that what Paul and Silas were telling them was actually true. And we talked about how we should emulate the example of these Berean believers. Everything we hear from the pulpit, or read in a book, or discuss in a conversation with friends, should be verified against the truth of scripture. But as usual in the life of the early church, when the gospel was preached to a new area, controversy arose. At the end of our passage last week we saw the Jews from Thessalonica had followed Paul and Silas and Timothy to Berea and they agitated the crowds so the believers sent Paul on while Silas and Timothy stayed on there in Berea. The very last verse we read last week said.
Acts 17:15 CSB
Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed.
INTRODUCTION
So that’s where we’ve left Paul. Alone in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him. But before we get into reading the passage for this week:
INTRODUCTION
INTRODUCTION
1. In Acts so far we have seen several examples of gospel preaching.
a. Three by the apostle Peter - ,,
b. Two by the evangelist Philip -
c. One by the apostle Paul -
2. The sermons recorded thus far were all preached to those who believed in one God...
a. Like Jews and Samaritans
b. Or Gentile God-fearers like Cornelius
3. Now as Paul gets to Athens, the center of Greek culture, we have an opportunity consider a sermon to pagan philosophers who were polytheists - they believed that there were many gods. If you know anything about Greek mythology you know they believed in a huge number of gods, Zeus, Hera, Hades, Ares, Poseidon, and the list goes on and on.
who were polytheists
I. THE SETTING
Greece...]
I. THE SETTING
A. PAUL HAD JUST ARRIVED IN ATHENS...
1. Known as a center of learning and artistry, but also for its idols
idols
2. Petronius said that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. That’s how many different gods they had, and each one of them had their own temple, or at least their own statue
Athens
3. Provoked by the idolatry, Paul began preaching at every opportunity -
opportunity -
Acts 17:16–17 CSB
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.
a. Reasoning in the synagogues with the Jews and Gentile worshipers
a. Reasoning in the synagogues with the Jews and Gentile worshipers
worshipers
b. Reasoning daily with any in the marketplace
B. HE ATTRACTED ATTENTION OF PHILOSOPHERS...
1. In particular, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers -
Acts 17:18 CSB
Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him. Some said, “What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?” Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
a. Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 B.C. It teaches that the greatest good is to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquillity, freedom from fear and absence from bodily pain.
b. Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics which is informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.
c. Some of them viewed him as a proclaimer of foreign gods because Paul was preaching of Jesus and the resurrection
b. Because Paul was preaching of Jesus and the resurrection
2. They brought him to the Areopagus (or some of your Bibles might say Mar's Hill) and invited him to speak -
Acts 17:19–21 CSB
19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you are presenting? 20 Because what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
to speak -
a. Two meanings of Areopagus
a. A rocky hill about 370 feet high, not far from the Acropolis and the Agora (marketplace) in Athens - Holman Bible
and the Agora (marketplace) in Athens - Holman Bible
1) A place - A rocky hill about 370 feet high, not far from the Acropolis and the Agora (marketplace) in Athens
Dictionary
2) A governing body - In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, similar to the Roman Senate and like most city-state institutions, it continued to function in Roman times.
b. So it was a place and likely also a ruling/judicial council where Athenians and visitors spent their time discussing new ideas and where these ideas were likely judged.
discussing new ideas
c. The Athenians, with their thirst for new ideas and never having heard of the doctrine of Christ, wanted to know more
know more
[With such an invitation, you can imagine Paul's delight to accommodate them
Romans 1:16–17 CSB
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.
them (cf. )...]
So the Athenians ask to know more about what Paul is preaching, and Paul is all about talking about Jesus. So he launches into his sermon
II. THE SERMON
A. THEME: THE GOD THEY DID NOT KNOW...
1. Acknowledging their devotion, he makes mention of one altar in particular -
particular -
Acts 17:22–23a CSB
22 Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing 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.
a. An altar with the inscription: "To The Unknown God"
a. An altar b. These people were so devout, or actually with so many different gods they were worried about offending one and drawing his wrath, that they sought to worship a god they did not know. So they created this altar with the inscription: "To The Unknown God" just to make sure that they have covered all their bases.
b. These people were so devout, or actually with so many different gods they were worried about offending one and drawing his wrath, that they sought to worship a god they did not know. So they created this altar
2. Paul uses this opportunity to preach to them concerning the One True God that they did not know! “Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” And then he preaches the following sermon.
Acts 17:24–31 CSB
24 The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
did not know! -
Acts 17:
B. MAIN POINTS...
B. MAIN POINTS...
1. God is the creator of the universe -
a. He made the world, He is Lord of heaven and earth
b. As such, He does not dwell in temples made with hands - cf.
1 Kings 8:22–30 CSB
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the entire congregation of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven. 23 He said: Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below, who keeps the gracious covenant with your servants who walk before you with all their heart. 24 You have kept what you promised to your servant, my father David. You spoke directly to him and you fulfilled your promise by your power as it is today. 25 Therefore, Lord God of Israel, keep what you promised to your servant, my father David: You will never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons take care to walk before me as you have walked before me. 26 Now Lord God of Israel, please confirm what you promised to your servant, my father David. 27 But will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain you, much less this temple I have built. 28 Listen to your servant’s prayer and his petition, Lord my God, so that you may hear the cry and the prayer that your servant prays before you today, 29 so that your eyes may watch over this temple night and day, toward the place where you said, “My name will be there,” and so that you may hear the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the petition of your servant and your people Israel, which they pray toward this place. May you hear in your dwelling place in heaven. May you hear and forgive.
2. God is the sustainer of life -
a. He gives to all life their breath and what they need
James 1:17 CSB
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
b. Therefore God is not worshipped as though He needs it
3. God is the ruler of all the nations -
a. He has created every nation and determined their rise and fall -
Daniel 2:20–21 CSB
20 and declared: May the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him. 21 He changes the times and seasons; he removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.
fall - ;
;
Daniel 4:17 CSB
17 This word is by decree of the watchers, and the decision is by command from the holy ones. This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone he wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.
b. Everything is designed to prompt men to seek God, who is not far from any of us
Jeremiah 23:23–24 CSB
23 “Am I a God who is only near”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and not a God who is far away? 24 Can a person hide in secret places where I cannot see him?”—the Lord’s declaration. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?”—the Lord’s declaration.
not far from any of us
4. God is the Father of mankind -
a. From God we come; and in Him we live, move, and have our very being
Job 12:10 CSB
10 The life of every living thing is in his hand, as well as the breath of all mankind.
b. Therefore we should not think that God is like any idol of gold, silver or stone
very being
Daniel 5:23 CSB
23 Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of the heavens. The vessels from his house were brought to you, and as you and your nobles, wives, and concubines drank wine from them, you praised the gods made of silver and gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or understand. But you have not glorified the God who holds your life-breath in his hand and who controls the whole course of your life.
5. God is the Judge of the world -
b. Therefore we should not think that God is like any idol of gold, silver or stone
gold, silver or stone
5. God is the Judge of the world -
a. What ignorance He may have overlooked in the past, such is no longer the case
longer the case
b. He now commands all men everywhere to repent
c. Why? Because of the coming Judgment, in which...
1) God will judge the world in righteousness
2) God will judge the world through Jesus Christ -
John 5:22 CSB
22 The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son,
26-27; 12:48
, ;
John 5:26–27 CSB
26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has granted him the right to pass judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
John 5:26-27
John 12:48 CSB
48 The one who rejects me and doesn’t receive my sayings has this as his judge: The word I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
; 12:48
d. As proof such will occur, God has raised Jesus from the dead
-- These five points are from "The Spirit, The Church, And The World", by John Stott
World", by John Stott
C. RESPONSE...
1. Mentioning the resurrection provoked a response -
a. Some mocked (to many at that time, the idea of a bodily resurrection was foolishness)
resurrection was foolishness)
b. Others were more cordial, offering to listen again at another time
time
2. As Paul left, some joined him and believed -
a. Specifically mentioned are Dionysius the Areopagite (one of the ruling council) , and Damaris, a woman
Damaris, a woman
b. Others also joined Paul and believed
[Having considered the setting and the sermon, allow me to make some...]
III. OBSERVATIONS
A. REGARDING THE SERMON...
1. Paul used tact -
a. He acknowledges their spirituality, even though that spirituality is misdirected.
b. We should not hesitate to acknowledge the devotion one might have; if in error, our task is to explain "the way of God more accurately" - e.g.,
have; if in error, our task is to explain "the way of God
more accurately" - e.g.,
2. Paul began with the present spiritual condition of his audience-
-
a. They believed in supreme beings, but didn't know the True God
b. With the Jews he began with the Law, with the Gentiles he began with the nature of God; we too should take into consideration where a person is spiritually.
began with the nature of God; we too should take into
consideration where one is spiritually
3. Paul made use of an accepted authority -
a. He quotes from one of their own prophets to make his point
b. When appropriate, we can appeal even to an uninspired authority accepted by others
accepted by others
4. Paul led his audience to the main themes of the gospel -
17:30-31
a. Such as repentance, the judgment, Jesus and the resurrection
b. So our ultimate goal in preaching should be the gospel message - e.g., ;
message - e.g., ;
5. Paul used the resurrection of Jesus as ultimate proof -
a. God has given assurance of the coming Judgment by raising Jesus
Jesus
b. Indeed, if Jesus truly did rise from the dead, it is proof of:
of:
1) The existence of God
2) The truthfulness of all of Jesus' claims
3) The reality of sin, judgment, and the need to repent
c. This is why we need to develop a strong apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus
resurrection of Jesus
B. REGARDING THE RESPONSE...
1. People responded in three different ways -
a. Rejection - "some mocked"
b. Reluctance - "others said, 'we will hear you again on this matter'"
matter'"
c. Reception - "some men joined him and believed"
CONCLUSION
"believed" -
a. Are we to conclude from this that was all they did?
b. Did they not also "repent", as commanded in ?
c. The term "believed" encompassed more than simply acceptance of the facts that had been proclaimed
of the facts that had been proclaimed
1) It involved a complete reception of the message preached
2) It included an obedience to whatever conditions had been proclaimed by the apostles (such as repentance, baptism)
proclaimed by the apostles (such as repentance, baptism)
d. Just as faith was not explicitly mentioned in , or repentance in , but is fairly inferred from what we know in other passages, so also with baptism here
repentance in , but is fairly inferred from what we
know in other passages, so also with baptism here
1) "There is, indeed, much to be said for the contention, independently advocated by theologians of varied schools, that in the New Testament faith and baptism are viewed as inseparables whenever the subject of Christian initiation is under discussion, so that if one is referred to, the other is presupposed, even if not mentioned." - G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism In The New Testament, p. 272
independently advocated by theologians of varied schools,
that in the New Testament faith and baptism are viewed as inseparables whenever the subject of Christian initiation
inseparables whenever the subject of Christian initiation
is under discussion, so that if one is referred to, the
other is presupposed, even if not mentioned." - G. R.
Beasley-Murray, Baptism In The New Testament, p. 272
2) "Baptism and faith are but the outside and inside of the same thing" - James Denny (as quoted by Beasley-Murray, ibid.)
same thing" - James Denny (as quoted by Beasley-Murray,
ibid.)
3) "Where baptism is spoken of faith is presumed, and where faith is spoken of baptism is included in the thought" - N. J. Engelsen (as quoted by Beasley-Murray, ibid.)
faith is spoken of baptism is included in the thought"
- N. J. Engelsen (as quoted by Beasley-Murray, ibid.)
CONCLUSION
1. Whether Jew or Gentile, philosopher or simpleton, the gospel of Christ is for all...
is for all...
a. Where we begin may vary with the spiritual condition of our audience
audience
b. Where we end must always be the same: Jesus is the only way to salvation!
salvation!
2. When one becomes convicted of their sinful condition and their need for Jesus, the proper response should also be the same no matter who we are...
for Jesus, the proper response should also be the same no matter who
we are...
a. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead
raised from the dead
b. Repentance from sin
c. Baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of sins through His blood
One's reaction to the gospel will always be in one of three ways: rejection, reluctance, or reception. In Athens, people such as Dionysius and Damaris exemplified the proper response. What about us? What is your reaction to the gospel of Jesus? Do you reject it? Are you reluctant but willing to hear it again? Or do you receive it?
reluctance, or reception. In Athens, people such as Dionysius and
Damaris exemplified the proper response.
Would you pray with me?
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