“God honors faithfulness in preaching the gospel…”
TEXT: Acts 17:16-34
INTRODUCTION: Paul had experienced some difficult days prior to his arrival in Athens. In the city of Philippi he had been thrown in jail. In the cities of Thessalonica and Berea he was forced to leave town for preaching the gospel (Acts 16:14-40, 17:1-15). Instead of being discourage he was moved to action, ready to preach the gospel and to confront the sins of paganism and idolatry found in Athens. The phrase “his spirit was stirred in him,” (v16) means “to be moved to action, to urge, to provoke.” Paul was provoked in holy anger toward the sin of idolatry. The Lord’s churches need to be stirred up to evangelize and reach Native America with the gospel.
1. The Encounter with Idolaters
- Sin of Idolatry (v16 “the city wholly given to idolatry”)
- Polytheism – has to do with many gods, or the belief and worship of many gods. Athens was known for its many monuments to every known god of that day.
- Syncretism – a combination of different forms of belief or practice. For example, the mixing of pagan worship with Christianity. The Catholics and Protestants have been known to combine Native American traditions of worship with Christianity to gain converts.
- Sin of Traditionalism (v17 “the synagogue of the Jews”)
- Paul’s practice was to first teach in the Jewish synagogues and then reach out to the Gentiles. No doubt Paul dealt with many traditional Jews who were depending on their traditions, their practice of ceremonies, and keeping of feast day to save them from their sin.
- Paul disputed or reasoned with them from the scriptures. In Acts 17:2-3, the words for “reasoned,” “opening,” and “alleging” are used to describe Paul’s method of presenting the gospel. The word “reasoned” means “to dispute or discuss thoroughly.” The word “opening” means “to open thoroughly,” or “to expound.” The word “alleging” means “to place alongside of or to compare.” Paul was using the method of expository teaching and preaching of the Scriptures to convince the Jews of their error and to convince sinners their need of Christ the Savior.
- Sin of Human Philosophy (v18 “certain philosophers”)
- The greatest and most influential philosophers of all time—men like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—had taught there in the University of Athens. The philosophies founded by Epicurus and Zeno were the dominant teachings of that day.
- Epicurus, founder of the Epicureans, taught that the chief goal in life was to indulge in pleasure and to avoid pain. The Epicureans were materialists and believed there was no afterlife. They did not deny the existence of gods, they just believed that these gods did not intervene in the affairs of men.
- Zeno, founder of the Stoicks, taught that self-mastery and discipline was life’s chief goal. The Stoicks sought to become indifferent to pleasure and pain, reaching the place that they would feel nothing. They were pantheists believing that God is not a personality, but that all forces and manifestations of the universe are God. As a result, they worshiped all the gods.
The sins of idolatry, traditionalism, and the philosophies of pleasure-seeking and self-mastery found in Athens are practiced today among Native Americans and Americans in this country. There is a need for aggressive evangelism to reach our own pagan society with the gospel message of Christ. The Lord has commissioned His churches to accomplish this task (Matthew 28:18-20).
2. The Evangelism Used to Reach Idolaters
- Paul addresses their superstitions. (v22-23)
- The Athenians were trying to cover all the bases by adding to their gods an altar ascribed “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. The Athenians as well as our world today are ignorant of who God is. Paul uses this opportunity to introduce them to the true and living God.
- Scripture does not argue God’s existence but states His existence as a matter of fact.
- Externally, creation tells us there is a God. (Romans 1:20, Psalms 19:1)
- Internally, conscience tells us there is a God. (Romans 1:19)
- The law of cause and effect tells us there is a God. (Hebrews 3:4)
- The God Paul taught about can be known from the Scriptures and is the hope for a lost and dying world. (Deut. 4:35; I Kings 8:43; I Chron. 28:9; Ps. 9:10; Jer. 9:24; 24:7; 31:34; John 17:3)
- Paul introduces the true God. (v24-29)
- God is the Creator. (v24, Isaiah 45:18)
- God is Lord over His creation. (v24, I Chronicles 29:11)
- God is omnipresent (He is everywhere and cannot be contained in temples). Man cannot escape God’s presence. (v24, 27; I Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7-16)
- God is omnipotent (He is all-powerful and has need of nothing). God does not need man, but man needs God. God has power over life and death. (v25)
- God is omniscient (He is all-knowing and has determined all things. God controls the affairs and destinies of humanity and knows the outcome. (v26)
- God is alive and gives life. Man is made in the image of God and has life. Why would man want to think that the Godhead is any different? God is alive and has nothing to do with idols of gold, silver, stone, graven art, or any other of man’s devices. (v28-29)
- Paul preaches repentance. Repentance is to have a change of mind, attitude, and direction, accompanied by a true change of heart toward God. Repentance is not optional. God requires for men to turn from sin, receive the gift of faith, and to believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God. The Athenians have heard the truth and will be held accountable. God will not overlook or wink at their ignorance. (v30; Acts 11:18, 20:21; Mark 1:15; Ephesians 2:8-9)
- Paul preaches about the man Christ Jesus, the Son of God who will be the judge at the coming judgment. (v31; John 5:22-27)
- Paul preaches the resurrection. Christ was crucified on the cross to pay for sin. He died, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (v31; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; John 11:25).
As New Testament churches, we are to show all sinners they are accountable to God and that they can only come to Him through Jesus Christ. We are to preach the gospel of Christ, Him crucified, buried, risen, and coming again. We are to preach repentance toward God and the gift of faith that comes from God as the sinner’s only hope of having peace with God.
3. The Effects of the Message to the Idolaters
- Some Mocked (v32) “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked”
- The lesson we learn from this phrase is that we can expect to encounter sinners who will mock the gospel in our evangelistic outreach. The word “mock” means “to scoff, to deride with words, to turn up the nose, to treat with contempt, or to sneer.”
- Some were Polite (v32) “and others said, we will hear thee again of this matter”
- The lesson we learn from this phrase is that we can expect some to listen but not respond in our evangelistic outreach.
- Some Believed (v34) “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed”
- “Clave” means “to be glued to.” The idea is “to join oneself and follow.”
- “Believed” means “to trust, to have faith, to embrace with hope and expectation.”
- Dionysius the Areopagite—a member of the Areopagus court—and a woman named Damaris with others came to know THE UNKNOWN GOD through repentance and faith.
- The lesson we learn is that God honors faithfulness in preaching the gospel. He is able to grant repentance and faith to sinners who are in idolatry and the evidence that they are saved is that they will follow Christ.
A sermon from Missionary Raymond Johnson.