Are Your Neighbors Athenian Suburbanites?

How do you reach people who are ignorant of God’s Word with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you have to change the message? Luke, in Acts 17:16–34, describes how Paul brought the good news to a sophisticated, pagan city. Athens as Paul experienced it seems distant in time as well as geography from the splendor of Oregon’s Cascades and forested hills. Yet, in many ways, you live in a suburb of Athens.

Athens does not appear to have been a planned part of Paul’s itinerary on this second missionary journey. His stay was a respite from persecution in Thessalonica and Berea. Yet he could not simply be a tourist. His proclaiming the gospel summons you to call your neighbors to repent of idolatry. That means you need to recognize what idolatry is. Even in ruins the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens is magnificent. The temple to Athena Parthenos, already 400 years old when Paul saw it, crowned the city full of beautifully carved idols, images of the gods, numbering in the thousands. The golden age of the glory of Greece had passed, but Athens still basked in its remnants. It was renowned not only for its architecture, but also for its philosophy and learning. Athenians considered themselves true aboriginals. Everyone else had a story of where the had come from, but they (they thought) were the original people of that place. Paul preached in the synagogue, but on other days was in the public markets, engaging the people. As he saw the many idols he was “greatly distressed,” the word from which we get paroxysms. The word was used to translate the Lord’s indignation at idolatry, Deuteronomy 9:18; Isaiah 65:3; Hosea 8:5. He preached the good news of Jesus and the resurrection, and perhaps was misunderstood as suggesting that the Athenians add a god named Jesus and a goddess named resurrection (anastasia) to their collection of deities. Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to engage him, and he was invited to explain himself more fully at a meeting of the Areopagus.

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Turning the World Upside-Down

“These men have turned the world upside down” (paraphrased as “These men have caused trouble all over the world”) was the false charge brought against Paul by rabble-rousers in Thessalonica. The charge was false, but it unwittingly described the impact that Paul and his band of missionaries were having on the world as Luke describes the gospel reaching Thessalonica and Berea. The world was upside down, and the good news was turning it right side up! How can the church today have an impact on a society that seems increasingly hostile? Learn from Acts 17:1–15.

Paul left Philippi and traveled west to Thessalonica. Luke’s account of his ministry there and in Berea challenges you to search the Scriptures. It focuses first on the need to understand the Scriptures. Paul followed the Egnatian Way, built for the mobility of Roman armies, westward to Thessalonica. This city had a larger Jewish population than Philippi, and Paul began by speaking in the synagogue and continued that for three successive Sabbaths. Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures. Did he use Psalm 16, unpacked elsewhere in Acts? Did he focus on Isaiah 53? Did he proclaim the messianic kingship of Jesus from Psalm 110? In any case he reasoned from the Scriptures, and explained and proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ. The methods of evangelism, the focus of building the church, has to be the Word of God. Paul did not shy away from doctrine, from digging into the Word. Even in Bible-believing churches, too often what we believed is reduced to a dozen bulleted points. A gospel that shakes up the culture has to run deep, and we don’t need to be afraid of that. The Word, read and proclaimed, is used by the Holy Spirit, and it has a powerful impact. See 1 Thessalonians 1:4–10.large number of God-fearing Gentiles and prominent women turning to the Lord. They joined Paul and Silas—in other words, they were incorporated into the fellowship of the church.

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Resurrection Sunday, Every Sunday, and Every Day!

How often do you celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ? On Easter Sunday? On the first day of every week? As you read what Paul says in Ephesians 2:4–7, how about every day? And what is the best way to celebrate it?

You were dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is worth celebrating! The New Testament Scriptures (unlike Israel’s worship in the Old Testament) do not require the observance of holy days – with the exception of the example of the one weekly holy day, the Lord’s Day. This isn’t the place to get into a discussion of the Christian Sabbath, but remember that the Fourth Commandment has not been abrogated. Christians are not under obligation to observe Lent (think of Zwingli and the affair of the sausages) or other days. But what about the resurrection of Christ?

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What Do You See When You See Jesus?

After my first year in seminary I served a summer internship in a church in Iowa. On my side of the pulpit was a brass plaque with the words, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” which I recognized from today’s text. At first glance, the quote might seem out of context, but both that summer and through the years since I have appreciated how profoundly appropriate it was and how crucial for the preaching and hearing of the Word of God—and how important it is for your life as a child of God.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. John provides an account of Greeks coming to Philip with the request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip consults Andrew, and they convey the request to Jesus. The Greeks were not Greek-speaking Jews, but apparently Gentiles who had been attracted to the worship of the God of Israel. Something about Israel’s God and his Law contrasted with the polytheism and immorality of pagan life. They wanted to see (meet with) Jesus. Remember that a godly life accompanied by words that point to your Savior can have a profound impact on a culture that is not just drifting, but steaming full speed away from God, as evidenced by the way that we undervalue human life at its most vulnerable times and as we depreciate the importance of marriage as a union of a man and a woman made in God’s image.

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