Alone and Outnumbered -- What Should I Do?
Alone and Outnumbered -- What Should I Do?
The Book of Acts - Part 58
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - September 14, 2014
*Here in God's Word, Paul was alone in Athens, and he has some things to teach us about being alone. But before we read Acts 17:15-21, let's remember why Paul was alone in Athens.
 First it was for his safety.
*The trouble in Acts 17 started in Thessalonica. Verses 4-6 tell us that:
4. . . some of them (i.e. some of the Jews) were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.
5. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
6. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too."
*Next in vs. 10-14, the trouble followed the mission team to Berea:
10. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.
11. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
12. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.
13. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.
14. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there.
*Paul spent time alone in Athens for his safety. But Paul was also willing to be alone, because of his love and concern for the new Christians in Thessalonica. That's why "both Silas and Timothy remained there." Paul wrote about his loving concern later in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
*Please listen to what he said in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:2:
17. But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.
18. Therefore we wanted to come to you even I, Paul, time and again but Satan hindered us.
19. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
20. For you are our glory and joy.
*Then as Paul continued, in 1 Thessalonians 3, he began to speak of himself in the third person, and Paul said:
1. Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone,
2. and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith.
*Paul was alone for some very good reasons. And in tonight's Scripture, he helps us see what to do when we are alone. Let's begin by reading vs. 15-21. (1)
*Most of us have had the experience of being cut off from someone we love. Many times, it's by death, sometimes it's by military service, sometimes it's by divorce, but all kinds of experiences can cause us to feel isolated and alone.
*The Empty Nest syndrome is another good example. King Duncan read about a luncheon group of older moms in New York. This group goes by the name: "It Wouldn't Hurt You to Call Me Once in a While Club." (2)
*Duncan also told about a program at the University of Florida vet school. Some of the students worked a hotline to help grieving pet owners cope with the death of their animal friends. Faculty member Thomas Lane said, "There is a tremendous need for such a service." And the reason why is so many people are close to their pets. (3)
*Many different situations can make us feel alone. And as believers we can feel outnumbered against the forces trying to pull us down. That is the situation Paul faced in Athens. And in these verses, he shows us what to do, both for God's Kingdom and for ourselves.
1. First: Please Know that we will face the same feelings.
*Think about how Paul must have felt in vs. 15-16. There again, God's Word says:
15. So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.
16. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.
*It's easy for me to see some loneliness in Paul's heart, as he wanted Silas and Timothy to get there as soon as possible. And there is no doubt that in vs. 16 that Paul was provoked.
*In Philippians 4:4, Paul tells us: "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" And we can always rejoice in the Lord, but that doesn't mean we will be happy, happy, happy all the time.
*In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul said:
8. . . we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
9. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
*And in Philippians 2:25-28, Paul gave this report:
25. Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need;
26. since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.
27. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
28. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.
*The same Paul who tells us to "rejoice in the Lord always," also says in the same letter, "I almost had sorrow on top of sorrow." Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Jesus was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," so it's no shock that the Lord's followers will face these feelings too.
2. Know that we will face the same feelings. -- And be properly provoked about lost people.
*Paul was provoked by all he saw in Athens, properly provoked. Verse 16 tells us that "while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him..." The KJV says that Paul's "spirit was stirred in him," but "provoked" is a good word for us today. The word picture is of sharpening a blade, coming up against something that sharpens you. But in this case, instead of stirring us up in a good way, it's something that puts you on edge, irritates you, exasperates or provokes you.
*Paul was provoked in Athens and vs. 16 tells us why: "Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols."
*When we go through times of grief and loneliness, it's easy for us to turn inward, and get numb to the enormous needs around us. But God doesn't want us to do that. And it is proper for us to be provoked about our godless, Christ-rejecting, misguided society.
*We may not get a sense of it living in here in Caldwell Parish, but Bible-believing Christians are way outnumbered in the world today. Christians have always been in the minority, but my how things have changed in our lifetimes. Many Christian commentators go so far as to say that we are living in a post-Christian society, and there is a lot of evidence to support that view.
*There are some uncanny parallels between the Athens of Paul's day and America today. Verse 18 helps us understand the mindset in Athens, because there, "certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, 'What does this babbler want to say?' Others said, 'He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,' because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection."
*Do you think you could find anybody in New York City who thinks you are a babbler, because you believe in Jesus? I think you could find plenty of them around here.
*And listen to what William Barclay had to say about the Epicureans and the Stoics: "The Epicureans believed that everything happened by chance. They believed that death was the end of all. They believed that the gods were remote from the world and did not care. And they believed that pleasure was the chief goal of man. But that didn't necessarily mean fleshly or material pleasure, for the highest pleasure was the kind that brought no pain in its aftermath.
*The Stoics, on the other hand, believed that everything was god. The god was fiery spirit that grew dull in matter, but it was in everything. The Stoics believed that a little spark of that fiery god spirit lived in men, and gave life to men. They also believed that when people died that little spark of spirit returned to god. And they believed that every so often the world disintegrated in a great fire and started all over again on the same cycle of events." (4)
*I am quite sure that there are Epicureans and Stoics all over America today. And even if they don't know it, they have many of the same basic beliefs.
*Raymond McHenry once asked: "What happens if you don't believe in God but want to experience church camp? Sadly, the answer is: Go to "Camp Quest West." This is a real camp out in California. According to their Web page, "Camp Quest was specifically designed for children of agnostics, atheists, brights, freethinkers, humanists, Unitarians, or whatever terms might be applied to those who maintain a naturalistic, not supernaturalistic, world view."
*With 15 locations all across the USA, and 4 in Europe, Camp Quest offers many of the usual camp experiences: Roasting marshmallows, wilderness games, outdoor events, etc. But at the end of the week, campers design their own religion, which "everyone can believe in and that will be good for all for all time." (5)
*Paul was stirred up about those pitiful, misguided people in Athens. And we should be stirred up about the people given over to paganism today. So many people are completely unaware of their desperate need for Jesus, and they are investing their lives in absolute vanity. God wants us to care. The Lord has called us to be the salt and light in our world. And it is very easy to draw back into our shell, but God calls us to care. We may feel alone and outnumbered, but don't stop caring.
3. Be properly provoked about lost people. And tell the truth about Jesus to everyone you can.
*This is what Paul did in Athens. As vs. 17 says: "Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there." And the end of vs. 18 tells us that Paul "preached to them Jesus and the resurrection."
*In vs. 17, the KJV says he "disputed" with the people, but "reasoned with them" gives us a better understanding. And "reasoned" is the translation the KJV uses for this same word back up in Acts 17:2. The original Greek word is where we get our word "dialogue," and that's the kind of conversation meant here. Paul wasn't railing at these people, though they may have been railing against him. He was trying to reason with them about Jesus Christ.
*Lord willing, next week we will take a good look at what Paul said to them in vs. 22-33. But the main point tonight is that He was talking to them about Jesus. And that's what we need to do.
*Many people want to talk. Back in 2007, Ryan Fitzgerald was an unemployed 20-year-old living with his father in Southbridge, MA. Ryan had some extra time on his hands, so, he posted a video with his phone number on YouTube. In that video Ryan urged anybody, anywhere who wanted to talk for any reason to give him a call. That was on a Friday, and by Sunday, Ryan had received more than 5,000 calls and text messages. (6)
*There are people out there who would be perfectly happy to talk to us. We just have to make the effort to talk to them. Then we have to look for ways to turn the conversation to Jesus. One good way is to ask about prayer needs. You could tell them about our church and invite them to come. Talk about the things that Jesus has done in your life. This kind of conversation is a whole lot harder for some of us, but God will show us what to say.
*Peter Cartwright was the well-known preacher who opposed Abraham Lincoln for election to Congress. Once Cartwright stayed overnight with an unbelieving doctor who claimed that the only reality was what the senses detected.
*The doctor said to him, "Did you ever see religion?" Cartwright answered, "No." Did you ever hear religion?" "No." "Did you ever smell religion?" "No." "Did you ever taste religion?" "No." "Did you ever feel religion?" "Yes."
*"Now then," said the doctor with apparent triumph, "I have proved, beyond a doubt, by four respectable witnesses, that religion is not seen, heard, smelled or tasted. And but one lone, solitary witness, namely feeling, has testified that it is an experimental fact. The weight of the evidence is overpowering, sir, and you must give it up."
*Cartwright then told the doctor that he was a fraud for pretending to relieve pain in his patients. The doctor was indignant and protested to the preacher. But Cartwright responded, "Well, sir, did you ever see pain?" The doctor replied, "No sir." "Did you ever hear a pain?" "No, sir." "Did you ever smell a pain?" "No sir." "Did you ever taste a pain?" "No sir." "Did you ever feel a pain?" "Certainly I did, sir."
*"Then," said the preacher, "four respectable witnesses have testified that there is no such thing as pain in the human system." Those words went straight to the doctor's heart, and after a short time of spiritual agony, he was joyfully saved. (7)
*The Holy Spirit showed that preacher exactly what he needed to say, and He will do the same kind of thing for us. Looking back, have you ever been in a situation where you just knew that the Lord had shown you what to say? Yes, absolutely, many of us can say we have, and God will do that again.
*In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus said this to His disciples:
16. "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
17. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.
18. And you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
19. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak;
20. for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
4. We may feel alone and outnumbered, but tell the truth about Jesus to everyone you can. And remember that we are never really alone.
*We are never really alone as believers, because we are part of the Family of God. Down in vs. 34, most of the Athenians had rejected the Good News about Jesus. "However, some men joined him (Paul) and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them."
*There are believers all over the world who will love us simply because we belong to Jesus. How many times have you felt an almost instant bond with total strangers, because they were Christians? It happens all the time.
*And even if God's people are nowhere to be found, we still have God Himself! I love what Paul wrote in his last letter to Timothy. Paul was on trial for his life, and fully expected to die. Listen to what he said in 2 Timothy 4:16-18:
16. At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
17. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
18. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!
*The Lord stood with Paul, and He will stand with you. He is here with us right now.
*Luther Bridgers knew that. Luther was born in North Carolina on Valentine's Day in 1884. He died in Atlanta in 1948, at the age of 64. Luther began preaching when he was only 17. He served as a Methodist pastor and evangelist in the South, but also did mission work in Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Russia.
*Luther was also a song writer, and he wrote one of our favorite hymns. It was a song born in a time of tragedy. Luther came home from an evangelistic meeting to find that his wife and 3 children had died in a fire that destroyed their family home.
*The story is that Luther sat on the stone doorstep of that burnt out home and wrote:
"There's within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life's ebb and flow.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. -- Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing, Keeps me singing as I go." (8)
*"Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still." We may feel alone and outnumbered. But don't stop caring about what's going on in our world. Tell the truth about Jesus to everyone you can. And remember that we are never really alone.
*Would you please bow for prayer.
(1) Adapted from the Jamieson, Fausset And Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, A.R., Brown, David 1871 - The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians - Introduction and 1 Thessalonians 3
(2) "Reach Out!" by Frank Minirth, TODAY'S BETTER LIFE, Spring 1994, p. 38 - Source: Sermons.com sermon "Connected" by King Duncan - John 15:1-17
(3) American Veterinary Medical Association, 1931 North Meacham Road, Suite 100, Schaumburg, Illinois 60173-4360. CITED IN THE FUTURIST - Source: Sermons.com sermon "Connected" by King Duncan - John 15:1-17
(4) Adapted from: Barclay's Daily Bible Study Series (NT) by William Barclay, Revised Edition - Copyright 1975 William Barclay. First published by the Saint Andrew - Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. - ALONE IN ATHENS - Acts17:16-21
Outreach, NovDec 2006, p.28 (4) "Men of Integrity" - NovDec 2004, p.12/27 - Source: In other Words - July 2007 #1 - Produced by Dr. Raymond McHenry - www.iows.net)
2014 Resource: campquest.org
2018 Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Quest
(6) Christian Post 03092007 - Source: Christian Leadership Intelligence Report - 08222007
(7) Cross & Crown Sermons "Three Timeless Truths" by James McCullen - Psalm 23:1
Sermons.com sermon "Name Above Every Name" by Leonard Mann - Luke 2:21