Acts Chapter Seventeen
Paul in Cultured Athens
Suggested Teaching Objectives:
- To show the importance of children being grounded in Bible stories so that they will be ready to be saved when they are able to understand. Vs. 1-4
- To show that God blesses missionary churches. Philippians 4:19
- To teach what we can do as Christians in order to have a reputation such as Paul & Silas. Vs. 6
- To show the costliness of church building.
- To teach the importance of the Bible in our religious beliefs.
- To teach the characterization of God as described by Paul in his Mars Hill address.
- To show why Paul had better results in Corinth that in Athens.
Introduction: In Chapter 16 we had seen Paul serving the Lord in Philippi. A great missionary church was established and now Paul must go on to other needed areas. The church at Philippi could carry on. Saved people can lead the unsaved to Christ. So Paul went west to carry the gospel to important places in this great cultural nation of Greece. As Paul traveled, the Holy Spirit led him to people of culture and education who needed the Lord Jesus as much as others. Let's follow Paul's interesting and incident-filled journey to Thessalonica, Berea and Athens.
The Converts -- Vs. 1-4
Vs. 1 -- Paul didn't stop & preach evidently at these two towns. Why? We are not told. Perhaps time was a factor & there were probably no synagogues there & God wanted Paul at Thessalonica where the Jews had a synagogue. Here they would know the Old Testament scriptures & Paul could use them to point people to Christ, that He was the Messiah and the Saviour.
Vs. 2-4 -- He reasoned "out of the scriptures" (Old Testament). "Opening" means practically the same as "expounding". Some of the Jews believed, a great multitude of the Greeks believed & of the chief women, not a few believed. From Paul's preaching on these three Sabbaths a great church is formed. CF. I Thessalonians. 1:1-10 -- While Paul was here, the newly formed church in Philippi sent him an offering. Philippians 4:15-19.
The Controversy -- Vs. 5-9
As always in connection with Paul's ministry, the unbelieving Jews were "moved with envy" and gathered up what we would call the bums & loafers and "set all the city in an uproar", and charged them with violating the decrees of Caesar. Because Paul preached of Jesus as God, they construed him as preaching, "Another king, one Jesus."
Note that Paul & Silas had a great reputation, "they were turning the world upside down." This world needs this today or rather to be turned right side up. What are you doing for Christ? What could you be doing that would give you a like reputation?
Failing to find Paul & Silas, they arrested Jason and made him post bond. But a great church had been established. Starting and building churches is a costly and sacrificial enterprise. Jason learned that and so had Paul and Silas.
The Contest -- Vs. 10-14
Vs. 10 -- In order to avoid more trouble the brethren sent Paul and Silas away by night. --erea was an out-of-the-way place, off the main road that led from Phillippi to Rome. Such a church as was established here are few and far between and often in out-of-the-way places, but they are worth the effort to attend and be a part of.
Vs. 11-12 -- These didn't accept Paul's message until they had thoroughly searched the Scriptures and then when they saw the truth many of them believed. Some people won't accept Christ even though it's the logical, sensible thing to do. Such were some of these.
--ut another church was established, grounded in the Word of God. The --ible is our rule and guide in faith and practice.
Vs. 13-14 -- No good work of the kind done in --erea goes on without Satan's opposition. So Paul moves on while Silas and Timothy remain. Paul commits their care into God's hands, goes on to another place that needs the gospel.
In other places where Paul preached, the Jews would not reason things out but here in --erea we find a marked contrast. Here they searched the Scriptures and reasoned out his teachings. It would be good if people would go home from church, open their --ibles and verify the truth of the sermon. What a great church would be formed.
The Curiosity -- Vs. 15-21
Vs. 15-17 -- Athens was the capital of Greece, a country which had ruled the world before Rome did. It was a country known for its art, philosophers, architecture and brains. Paul was not greatly impressed in Athens by these things. Its buildings were made of beautiful white marble but the hearts of the people were black with sin. The city was filled with sculptured idols. It was easier to find a god in Athens than to find a man. These idols made Paul realize that in these people's hearts was a knowledge that there was a god or that there were gods, but they had little knowledge of the true God. His spirit was stirred within him.
Yet, today, people are the same. In America, not so much do people worship sculptured idols but other things just as bad: a job, a home, a pleasure-filled life, etc.
Vs. 18-21 -- Epicureans were materialists & atheists. They believed the world was ruled by chance. Their motto was, "Eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow we die."
The Stoics believed the world was ruled by fate. They said, "What is to be will be, so we will just harden our hearts against everything."
So Paul had a ready audience, not necessarily of contrite sinners, but of inquiring philosophical minds, interested intellectually if not spiritually. Areopagus was Mars Hill, which was about halfway up to the Acropolis upon which was the Pantheon and the Temple to Jupiter.
The Characterization -- Vs. 22-31
Vs. 22 -- Paul told them that he noted that in all things ye are "too superstitious" (actually "somewhat religious").
Vs. 23 -- Paul proclaimed that their Unknown God was :
The Creator -- Vs. 24
The Lord -- Vs. 24
The Spirit -- Vs. 24,28,29 -- He is not a physical being that dwelleth in temples made with hands. He is a spiritual person not like gold nor silver or stone graven by art and men's devices. He is the Great God.
He is Life, and the source of Life -- Vs. 25
He is Sovereign -- Vs. 26 -- He did not only create the earth, but planned beforehand the ages and "determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitations, and set the bounds of the nations."
1. He is Omnipresent -- Vs. 27 - He is "not far from everyone of us." He is everywhere, though invisible.
2. He is Omnipotent -- Vs. 28 - In Him we live and move and have our being. We are His offspring. He is not only life and the source of life, the creator of all things, but the sustainer of life as well.
3. He requires Repentance -- Vs. 30 -- The apostle is bold to say that idolatry is pure ignorance, that God had passed over these sins of ignorance; but with the new revelation that had come He requires -- yea commands -- that all men everywhere repent.
4. He is to rule (judge) the world in Righteousness -- Vs. 31
The Resurrected Christ, the Ruler -- Vs. 31 -- God has given us a guarantee, conclusive proof of the fact stated above in that He has raised this man from the dead.
The Consequences -- Vs. 32-34
Some got mad (they mocked), some got sad (they went away troubled) and some got glad (they clave unto him & believed). This always is the case when God's message is declared.
Conclusion: These were the poorest results Paul had on his journeys. Why? Perhaps because he adopted the learned, intellectual way of preaching instead of pouring out his heart for Christ and for lost sinners. When he left Athens he knew his mistake and said, when he came to Corinth, "I am determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
CF. I Corinthians 2:1-5. He had great results at Corinth. The world needs to see burdened hearts for them rather than intellectual, persuasive arguments.