Yesterday Norma Jean and I spent the morning touring the area of the Areopagus and The Parthenon, where the virgin goddess Athena was worshiped. Previously I had only seen pictures and visited the Athens of the south, Nashville, Tennesse and seen its replica.
It is amazing to see the actual Parthenon, built between 447 and 438 B.C. As I looked across to Areopagus Hill, I thought about the apostle Paul’s visit to this same city as recorded by Luke in Acts 17.
Paul did not come as a sight-seer but as a soul winner. As he entered the city alone waiting for his traveling companions to meet him, his soul was distressed to see the city “full of idols.” One sage quipped it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man.
As was his custom, Paul went to the synagogue and preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. The Epicureans, who were materialists and lived for pleasure and Stoics, who were pantheists, and emphasized personal discipline and self-control, were intrigued by his message. Some thought he was an idle babbler. Others opined that he was the preacher of foreign deities, “because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” As a result, the philosophers invited Paul to Areopagus to explain his teaching.
What message do you present to such a group? Here’s how Paul began.
“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.”
Paul’s sermon contained six major points of emphasis.
(1) God is the Maker. Not the one who is made. Not an idol created and crafted by man. He even quoted two Greek poets, Epimenides and Aratus, who advanced the idea of a Supreme being. God is real. Alive. And worthy of worship as the Creator.
(2) God, in his providence, is involved in the affairs of the world. Nations rise and fall as He appoints and determines. The one true God has guided the world’s history.
(3) Because there is a God and He is our creator, we intuitively seek to know Him. There is an innate desire within all of us to reach out for something or someone greater than ourselves. That someone is God.
(4) God has made himself known to us through Jesus Christ. There is no excuse for ignorance. We can come to a full knowledge of God through His Son.
(5) The God who made us will one day judge us. It is certain. The day has been appointed.
(6) The assurance that the gospel is true and that God is not unknown is demonstrated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
This message was mocked by some. Considered by others. And accepted by a few. Including Dionysisus and a woman named Damaris.
Paul’s message is still appropriate for post-modern culture. Our idols are not carved from stone. But found in possessions. Power. Prestige. And position. Some today like the Epicurians live only for pleasure. Their motto is “Enjoy life.” Others like the Stoics demur “Endure life” as they struggle to find meaning in hardship and suffering.
As was the case in the Paul’s day sexual perversion is pervasive in our age. The athletic arena has become Sunday’s temple for a sport-crazed culture. And the idolization of beauty and the body is prevalent.
Athens today needs the gospel of Jesus Christ just like Athens of old. And so does the rest of the world.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman