Sermon – The Mix – All Things to All Men! (Acts 17) – Cornerstone Church Kingston
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Sermon 13 of 14

The Mix - All Things to All Men!

Tom Sweatman, Acts 17, 1 July 2018

Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

Now just before the kids do go out, in order to give the parents time to come back in, I've got a little exercise, which I hope is gonna help us all to get into some of the material we're gonna be looking at today. And what I want each of you to do in your 3 sections is to have a think about 3 different scenarios Okay? And I'm gonna give you a people group around the world, which I've just made up. And, I want you to think about how you would begin. If you just had a couple of minutes, how you would begin to start trying to talk to them about the god of the Bible and what Jesus has done.

Okay? So on the maybe on this section on the left, I want you to think about a tribe, a far, far forgotten long lost tribe who think that the river running through their village is their god and sustains all of their life. Okay? You've got 2 minutes. How are you gonna start to try to tell them about the Christian plate?

This block in the middle here. I want you to imagine you've just got to the end of Sunday school lesson. You've just finished. You prepared. You've taught your class And a child puts up their hand and says, who is god in front of the whole class.

Okay? What are you gonna say in a minute or a couple of minutes? And this side here, I want you to think about a person who has a very clear Christian upbringing. They would know the gospel in their minds but they just have decided that it's not really doing it for them, and so they want to choose another way. How would you start to talk to someone like about the gospel.

2 or 3 minutes to do that exercise while the kids go out. Have a good time, kids. Okay. Right. If you want to, finish up, finish up those conversations and finish up with that exercise, We won't ask for for any feedback for the time to say.

I'm sure everything you said was good and you all had some good ideas. It's almost it's kind of almost too obvious to say, really, but the way that the gospel is presented in those different situations depends on the people in front of you, doesn't it? So if you think about a Sunday school lesson and those who have been preparing to teach today, they've really been thinking about 2 main things. They've thought about what is the truth that they want to teach and they want to proclaim, and how are they gonna make sure that the young minds in front of them are actually able to understand what they say. How will categories of language can they use to make sure they go away clearly understanding the message?

There's a team going out to Belarus in 3 weeks and, they're going to be out ministering to students out there and working with them. And they're thinking about those 2 things. What is the truth that we are going to proclaim and what is the truth that we're gonna be covering. And how am I gonna teach it in such a way that a culture which is in some way similar but in other ways, very, very different, how can I make sure they're gonna understand a message? Football on Saturday mornings, during term time is the same idea there's a number of people who give short halftime talks, and they're all thinking the same thing.

What is the truth that I'm going to try teach, and what can I do to grab the attention of 40 blokes who love making a noise, and to try to engage them just for a few minutes and to get a hearing about the gospel? So in every area that is true in our personal conversations or, people were talking to at the pub or, hub crafts for a few minutes during the break. People are thinking that. What do I want to say and how can I help these people understand it? And those questions are driven by 2 important truths about the gospel, which I will share with you in just a moment, but I've noticed the band are still up here, and it might be a few minutes until you come up again.

So should we let them sit down rather than just sort of standing up there waiting. I don't know if anyone else had noticed or sort of anticipating the play, but there you sit down for a couple of minutes. That'll be much more comfortable So there we go. Left you a bit of a cliffhanger. Those questions are driven by 2 important truths about the gospel.

The first 1 is that the gospel is the same. So it doesn't matter where you are on earth. Jesus Christ is the lord, and unless you believe in him, you will not be saved. That gospel is the same wherever you are. It doesn't change.

But also that message doesn't create a kind of monoculture. So it doesn't say, you must become like this in order to be a Christian. Doesn't bring a culture with it. Islam does that a little bit. It brings with it a message and a culture And so not only do you believe, but you become a kind of seventh century Arab, and and in a way your own culture is kind of steamrolled.

Gospel doesn't do that. The gospel's so beautiful in comparison. It comes with a message about Jesus Christ, which never changes, but and it also convicts and challenges cultures, but it also celebrates cultures. And therefore, we have to adapt in order to bring that message to people. And actually, we know that we're on safe ground here because that's exactly what Paul does in his ministry.

So if this will click on, you can see here's a verse from 1 Corinthians these words might know. Though I am free and belong to no 1, I have made myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible. To the Jews, I became like a Jew to win the Jews. To those under the law, I became like those under the law, so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law, I became like 1 not having the law.

So as to win those not having the law, I have become all things to all people So that by all possible means, I might save some. So throughout his ministry, Paul was willing to be uncomfortable. He was willing to adapt himself to the people and the context that he was in in order to bring the unchanging gospel to bear on them. And what we're gonna look at this morning, acts chapter 17 is that principle worked out just beautifully. It is a master class in that idea.

He never ever changes the message, but he works so hard in order to connect it with the people in front of him. And for that reason, it's not only interesting, but it's challenging and it's helpful for us. Now as I said in the introduction, last time we looked acts chapter 16. We had an amazing stuff in there. Paul and Salas ended up in prison.

There was an earthquake. The earthquake sprung the doors. They were able to get out after leading the jailer to the lord Jesus. We met Lydia as well her own heart was opened and she was saved and rescued to believe the lord Jesus. So the amazing things were happening.

And after that, encounter in Philip, we pick up the story sometime a bit later, and they are now let's have a look at our map. This this There we go. Yes. Look. There we go.

This may be the last quality animation we have in the mix. Because sadly Andy Brunins is moving up moving on on the fifteenth of July. He's the only 1 who knows how to do this. So the quality of mixed animations is gonna plummet rapidly over the next few months. I'm afraid, but we can enjoy it today for the last time.

So there are a hundred miles now southwest of Philip they're in this region of Macedonia. It's a very important harbor town, and, we're gonna find out exactly what Paul and his friends did in just a moment we are now gonna sing our next song. See, it was probably better to sit. Wasn't it? So let's stand and we're gonna sing behold the power of his word.

Let's do that together. Okay. So the apostles are arriving now in thessalonica. And, this is the first we read about their activities in that new place. Okay?

This is from acts 17, and verse 1. They came to thessalonica where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, And on 3 Sabbath days, he reasoned with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. So straight away, he's in this new place and he goes to find the synagogue. And we're told that on 3 Sabbath days, he opens the scriptures with them.

Why does he do that? Because in the synagogue, that is the authority, or at least it all be. It often happened with the Jews that the traditions of men, their own traditions began to replace and cast aside the word of god, but actually in theory, it was supposed to be the scriptures. That was their authority. The thing they respected and looked to.

And so that's where Paul goes. He talks about the Christ or the Messiah, a term that they would understand, a term they would be long familiar with their king who was going to come to save them. They would know what that word meant. He would be quoting almost certainly the Jewish fathers and the offits and the Psalms, people and books that they would understand, stories that they would have been telling each other for generations. So you see, he goes there and he wants to use categories that they understand in order to preach Jesus, quote authorities that they submit to in order to preach Jesus.

And the words that he uses here are very interesting. We're told that he reasons, and he explains, and he proves. Reasons, he explains, and he proves that Jesus had to suffer and rise. He reasons because this is not a strange idea from the stars, He's not coming with his own cult or a new religion or a new way of thinking. He believes the gospel because it's reasonable.

There are good reasons to believe what he is saying about Jesus from the scriptures. And so he reasons, he shows, look, test it. This stands investigation, this holds weight. There are reasons for what I'm saying. He explains or literally, he opens the scriptures.

And apparently, that is the same word that is used in Mark 7 when eyes are opened so that a man can see Jesus. The same word used in loo Luke 24 when the disciples' minds are opened so they can see Jesus. It's the same word used in acts 16 when Lydia's heart is opened so she can receive Jesus. Paul opens the scriptures in that way in a life giving way so that people who are dead and people who can't understand can can see it open it's being opened up the scriptures. Front of them.

That's what Paul does. He opens it, and also he proves. Or in some translations, different translations, it says he set before them the truth about jesus And amazingly, this is the word that's used when people offer food to each other. So in the bible, when the disciples are giving out the fish and the bread and the loaves to 5000 people is the same word. They set it before them.

And what a great description of evangelism that is? In Paul's mind, Jesus, is like a lovely nourishing, nutritious meal, which he can set before hungry people. He sets it before them. He gives he shows them it's reasonable. He reasons.

He explains it by opening their minds and their eyes to what he's saying. And he proves it by setting it before them like a meal. All of those things Paul does with his bible open. So I think that's really helpful for us. The gospel we're told is the power of god for the salvation of all who believe.

It doesn't depend on our ability to reason. The power of salvation isn't in us. Jesus the 1 who opens eyes and minds and hearts. But what this teaches us is that we should know how to explain the gospel in language that people can understand. We might not know every answer to every question and that's okay.

We can come and find out and we can learn, but we ought to be able to give good life giving reasons, reasons why we believe the gospel, and we know the lord Jesus. And to be able to explain that, surely, that is Peter means, when he says this in 1 of his letters. In your hearts, revere Christ as lord, always be prepared give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. In other words, he's saying that Christians are to live and to speak in such a way that people will ask why are you different to everybody else? Why are you hoping in something else?

What are you hoping? And in that moment when they ask you for the reason for your hope, you are able to give a reason for your hope or more than 1. You can explain it. You can prove it. You can show it's reasonable.

You can set it before people like a wonderful meal. Paul did that. He thought about his audience. He worked out their authority. He set out the gospel for them in language they could understand.

He knew the culture and he knew the gospel so well he was able to give reasons for why he believed in Jesus. And so it's worth thinking about that, isn't it? If someone was to ask ask you, why are you a Christian? Why why did you follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a Christian?

What would you say? Would you know what to say? Somebody said to you, you you seriously still believe the Bible as your authority. Why do you believe the Bible. What would come to your mind?

What reasons could you give to show why you believe the Bible? If somebody asked you, you know, I really do think you seem you seem to be different. You do different things with your time. You seem to prioritize different things. Why why'd you do that?

Would you be able to say in language that people can understand give reasons as to why why you have the hope that you have. That's what Paul does here. And how did it go down in thessalonica? Well, there was mixed results. There was mixed results.

Which in an odd way, I think is quite encouraging because it shows that even if we can explain and prove and reason like Paul, it doesn't guarantee success. God is the 1 who gives growth, and here we see those different responses. And let's start with the, the negative side, these verses here on the screen. Other Jews were jealous, so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace. And, in the King James version, which is just brilliant, it says they were lewd fellows of the baser sort.

Which I was just saying is amazing lewd fellows of the baser sort, aren't all lewd fellows of the baser sort, I would have thought. But, what a what a great translation. They, they formed a mob and they started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials shouting.

These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here and Jason, this Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, 1 called Jesus. And basically, they're spot on with their criticism. That is exactly what they're doing. There is another king whose name is Jesus Christ, and they are turning the world up upside down with his gospel.

That is what they're doing. And although we rejoice to see that, they are furious furious about it. They couldn't defend themselves with rational arguments, and so they had to go for violence. They were violent, and they were jealous. They were bitterly jealous because their own power was starting to be undermined.

The the kind of leash holds they had on the people with their religion was starting to be loosed, and they could see it were furious about it. And on this occasion, it's kind of interesting because Paul and silas don't seem to be the ones who who feel the brunt of the rage, or we're we're told about them. It's this guy, Jason, and his brothers. Jason and his brothers feel the persecution. That's quite thing because it shows us again that persecution is not just aimed at evangelists, but at any who is going to associate with the gospel.

Jason may well have not been out there reasoning in the same way that Paul was but he showed them hospitality. He supported their work. He was with them by name, and he suffered for that connection. And still today, that is the same, isn't it? It's not just evangelists around the world who suffer, it's families, his home group members, his church caretaker, is people who open up their homes for a prayer meeting.

Anyone who is willing to identify with the name of with their lives. Doesn't matter what they do in some way, they might be opposed just as the apostles were here. And according to, 1 thessalonians, which was the letter which all wrote to this church some years later, this kind of mob justice or mob rioting was just the tip of the iceberg. It it it seemed to get a lot worse. Have a look what Paul, says about them.

You became imitators of us and of the lord for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. So that that was and that is 1 response, severe suffering as people believed the gospel that Paul was bringing. But not all, there's another response. And, we can we can see that in acts 17 verse 4. Some of the Jews were persuaded, and they joined Paul and silas as did a large number of god fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

So as we said at the beginning, the gospel is able to touch all kinds of cultures, people in different, races, but also people in different social economic places in life. The gospel is able to bring all kinds of people to salvation, Jews, god fearing Greeks, men, and women, including women who are prominent, who were noble in some way, so they had certainly some kind of position in society. All kinds of people are coming to trust in the lord Jesus. And if we turn again back to 1 thessalonians, which does shed a lot of light on this, this this missionary place they went. Paul says this about them.

And we also thank god continually because when you received the word of god, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of god, which is indeed at work in you who believe. It's amazing, isn't it? In spite of the opposition and the severe suffering, the gospel took root and it would not let go go. And I think that is a real encouragement because often I can think and maybe others can as well that if a person is going to trust in Jesus, I've got to remove every single obstacle. You know, if they run into opposition in the next few months, they've had it.

There's no way they're gonna be able to persevere I better just wait. Wait till the time is perfectly right for them to believe in the gospel. But if the Holy Spirit is at work, ready to open a heart and draw a person to Jesus, that is gonna happen no matter what. The holy spirit was at work in these people and no no amount of opposition could squash that. So in thessalonica, we see that Paul adapted to his audience.

He really did. Worked out the authority, he used it, and he preached Jesus. We're told that he explained, and he proved, and he set forth Jesus from the scriptures, all really helpful words when it comes to the task that we have setting forth Jesus in our day, and he met with very different responses. And we're gonna see basically that exact same cycle when he moves on to the next place in just a moment. But first, we sing again.

And so the band are gonna come up, and we're gonna sing, oh lord, my rock, and my redeemer. That was the redeemer that Paul preached Jesus. Who suffered and rose for sinners. So let's stand and sing to him. And now as you can see from our next animation, they are moving from thessalonica to a place called Berea moving on to Berea.

Now there there are several words in the English language. Which which strike fear into you no matter what the context is. Okay? And I think examine is 1 of those words. It's very rare that there's a context, but that's a good word to hear is that.

It could be, a school exam, test what you know. Nobody likes it. Could be a medical exam, even worse to see how healthy you are. Could be a legal exam. To, ascertain whether you're guilty or innocent.

For most of us, taking an exam of any kind is not our idea of a good time. It's not, it's a pleasant thing we we would do. And so when we find the Bereans examining the script in verse 11, we might be tempted to think, well, that's pretty cold. I thought Christianity was about relationship. What are they examining the scriptures?

Or we might think it seems very formal. And why would we approach such a living wonderful book like the Bible with an examination, why would we treat it in that kind of way? But actually, we're told that the Bereans were of noble character. Not because that they were born into rich and important families, they were noble because they examined the scriptures. Now that doesn't mean that they were all super academic super academics, which loved study and examining.

Okay? The point is they looked carefully into their bibles to see if the gospel is true, and for that willingness to sit and to listen and search and to work out the truth of things, they are considered to be noble and noble for how they treated Let's see, let's see it together. As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and silas away to Barreya. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bahrain Jews were of more noble character than those in thessalonica for they received the message with great eagerness and they examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

So you can see some of the patterns that are developing here. When when some people, arrive in a new place, there are certain things they wanna know. They wanna know, is there a coster in town? Know, is there somewhere I can get a good coffee? What is the wifi code quickly?

Somebody tell me what the wifi code is. When we get into a new house, it's the first thing we wanna know, isn't it? There are these things We just wanna get to grips with. For Paul, it was synagogues. There's a synagogue here.

Because I need if there is, I need to go. I need to go to the synagogue And that's what he does. He starts at the synagogue. And once again, he goes there and he explains the message. That Jesus is crucified and risen sinners.

And in his name, there is salvation. He goes there. He uses the scriptures, why we already know. Because that was the authority. Now, Investal Anika, the focus was on Paul's preaching, but here, the focus is on the listening.

Preaching in the first instance, listening in the second instance, they received the message eagerly, and they examined the script every day to see if these things were true. And for that approach, they are said to be more noble than the thessalonians. Now does that mean the thessalonians were just a bunch of simpletons who would happy to believe any message? I don't think so. That's not how Paul talks about them in his mess in his in his letters.

So we don't know quite why they were more noble than the thessalonians, but the point is they were noble. These were noble people. These folks weren't gullible. They weren't going to believe because the speaker was good and passionate, and he helped them understand. They weren't gonna believe on that basis They weren't gonna believe because a city up the road had started believing, and they thought they'd better follow suit because it was fashionable, this new message, They would only believe it if they could see with their eyes that it was true.

And if we can learn from Paul's evangelism in thessalonica, which we can, then we can definitely learn from this approach. Being a Christian is nothing to do with how well you did at school. It has nothing to do with how well you can examine a document Nothing at all. But what is being encouraged here is this willingness to sit with open bibles and to investigate the truth. Many people in our world today think that in order to actually be a coherent christian, you you you have to come to church and leave your brain at the door.

You have to just check your brain out. You have to sit here even though you know it's probably rubbish and believe it anyway in spite of all the evidence that the world has given you. People talk like that about people with faith. You you have faith. I'm more of a reason man myself.

As if to believe in Gianti is the most unreasonable stupid thing. That that kind of language is around. And they also think that people who speak in churches are a bit like the demon headmaster, Do you remember this guy? Do you remember him? Anyone know him?

Yeah. Don't worry if you don't. I can't explain it now. But he was basically a person who just walked people's minds, walked the minds of young children. And that's what people would think, church services are like, demon headmaster standing there with his glasses saying, drink down this fairy tale.

It's good medicine. It's good medicine. Yeah. And just it's all sort of brainwashing. It doesn't require you to think but that is not what we wanna be like.

It's not what I wanna be like. We want to hear. We want to be ready to listen. We want to investigate. Just like they did here.

You see, this passage shows us that the message of the Bible is clear. It's a clear message. We don't need priests. We don't need hidden codes to interpret it. We don't need to create an atmosphere.

You don't need someone special to come and tell you what it means, the message of Jesus in the Bible is clear. And so we need to dig into it and to investigate it for ourselves. It's like in Harry Potter. You know, you got Gringott's bank with that train that carries people deep into the vaults, right down into the vaults of Gringot, so they can bring out the treasure from within. They have to go deep and examine what's there.

That's what a Bahrain Christian does. They get on the train and they dive into the vaults and they read and they examine and they ask questions about the words used and How can we believe this? That that's what that's what they did. They were commended. They were more noble because they treated the scriptures in that way, and I think that's a good lesson for us.

And again, you can see as happened in the first place, there are different responses to the message, different responses to Paul did. So if you have a look at verse 12 of act 17, it says as a result, many of them believed as also did a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. It's interesting, isn't it? As a result, of their eager listening and their careful reading, they could see and they were convinced that what Paul said was true. Jesus was lord and they were ready to receive him.

But as we've already said and we've already seen, that wasn't the only response to Paul's message, there was also suffering. Have a look at verse 13 on the screen. But when the Jews in thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of god at Berea, Some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. It's like it's like 1 of those road rage stories that you hear, where somebody gets cut up or somebody gets annoyed at you driving, and they will stop what they're doing, and they will chase the person responsible sometimes for miles, jamming their horn at them sitting on their tail, even following them home in the worst cases and ramming their garage in with their car as what I was reading this week. It's kind of this whatever you're doing, whatever meeting you had can suddenly be suspended while you satisfy your new road rage urge.

You just wanna get revenge and follow them around. Okay? That that is what the Jews are doing here. They have this kind of road rage. They've traveled 45 miles honking their horn, sitting on their tail, waiting until they stopped so they can have a go at them stir up the crowd.

They've got a bad case of road rage, these thessalonian Jews. And so that leads Paul and the church to move on. They move on. The church actually rush them, rush them out of the town, which is interesting because it's not it's not always the wise and godly decision to stay in a place like that and to go more public so you can get more of a flogging. Sometimes you just gotta get out.

You gotta get out of there. And so off he goes to Athens. Paul is on his way to Athens, but he's going alone. So he's now separated from silas and Timothy. So perhaps they weren't on the receiving end of this rage as much as Paul, and so they could afford to stay.

Don't quite know the reason for it, but Paul is now alone and he has coming to Athens. So we're gonna, have a look at what he does there in Athens. Amazing passage just after we sing. We're gonna sing our next song let your kingdom come. And then after that, Anne Woodcock is gonna come and lead us in prayer, and, then we'll be having a look at Athens together.

So let's stand and sing together. Okay. So we've had a look at Paul's adventures in thessalonica and in Berea. And now we find him alone. And he is going down to Athens.

He's on his way to Athens. The church have shipped him out, because he was, facing persecution there, and you can see It's a long old journey down to Athens. Look, really long way. I don't know how many miles that is, but quite a few. And, so there he is.

He's in Athens. What is he gonna do? Well, let's have a look at, verse 16 of acts chapter 17. While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, He was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols, so he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and god fearing Greeks as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happen to be there. So again, you can see the patterns.

This this cannot be a coincidence. Is there a synagogue in town? Well, I'm a pharisee. I know the language. Know what to do.

I'm like a fishing water in a synagogue. I know the authority. That's where I'm gonna go. I'm gonna reason with them from the scriptures that Jesus is lord. But also, Paul is called the apostle to the gentiles, which means he's not just gonna stay in Jewish communities.

He's also gonna go out to the marketplaces and to the temples and to where people meet all over the city in order to bring the news of Jesus to them. So he's not bound by 1 culture. And so what he does, when he gets to Athens, after checking into his hostel and dropping off his bags, he does what most of us were doing a city break. He goes out side and he begins to explore the city. And, it's very nice to do that, isn't it?

You don't have to worry too much about a timeline. You can just enjoy the sites and the sounds of a new city and just wander around the streets and look at look at different places. That's what Paul's doing. In kind of in kind of student language, this is his opportunity to do Athens. Then if you've ever heard gap year students, what are you doing in your gap year?

Well, I thought I'm gonna work for 6 months, then I'm gonna do Thailand. You know, it's that kind of language. Paul Paul's just here to do Athens in a sort of tourist sense to tick it off his box. He's here for gospel reasons. And as you can see, he didn't approach this new city with that kind of casual tourist attitude.

His first thoughts weren't my goodness. What a beautiful place? Look at the Agora. Isn't it? Gorgeous.

Look at the parthenon. What a beautiful structure? We're told that he was distressed by the idolatry. That's the first thing he noticed, the idolatry. Have a look at verse 16, to 20 16 and 20 two's 23 here.

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. Paul then stood up in the meeting for the areopagus and said, people of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription to an unknown god. This place was overrun with idols. It was saturated with idols.

1 historian said, apparently, he visited Athens 50 years after these events, and he claimed that it was easier to meet a god or a goddess on the main city of Athens than it was to meet another person. And statistically, that was true. At this time, there were 10000 people living in Athens, and it's estimated they had 30000 statues of gods in city. It was easier to meet an idol than it was to meet a person. They even had altars to unknown gods.

And apparently this was quite common. If the people discovered an altar in the ground, which belonged to a previous generation, but they'd lost all record of who it was devoted to and what the god was all about. They couldn't just dispose of it. They couldn't just chuck it away. They had to adopt it into their worship practices, even if it was unknown and they couldn't be sure who or what they were worshiping.

And by the way, that that's 1 of the big problems with religions who have many gods. Once you admit that there's definitely more than 1, How can you ever be sure how many there are? How can you know you've ever got the right quantity of gods for your worship services Once there's more, we don't know how many they are. Athens had the same problem. They didn't know how many gods they had, and there is a kind of irony here because apparently these people loved intellect and reason and discussing, but a huge proportion of the population were happy to be totally ignorant of the gods that they worship.

They didn't care too much for reason in in that regard, so it's ironic here. And Paul, as you can see, certainly, as he was going around, didn't find this funny or entertaining. He saw these people and all their gods and the way in which they worshipped as a symbol of a confused lost generation who were under the wrath of the living god, and that propelled him into action in to preaching. Have a look at verse 17 to 18. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and god fearing Greek as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happen to be there.

A group of epicurean and stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, what is this Babler trying to say? Others remarked he seems to be advocating foreign gods. They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. And it's quite interesting because some people think that they were so confused about idols, they thought that Paul was telling them about 2 different gods, Jesus, and the resurrection as if the resurrection was a type of god.

And so that's how confused that these people were when it came to their worship. And it is worth knowing a little bit about their background because it it helps us to understand why Paul preached the way he did. So the epicurians apparently were a bit like Buddhist. They believed that you had to withdraw from the world and from other people and from work and from suffering. You just had to withdraw from all of normal life.

So it wasn't really for the ordinary person It was a philosophy for the people who could afford not to work and to do that. Now they did actually believe in many gods but not ones that were interested in the world. They were remote. They were far away. They were taken up with their own battles and arguments and problems and they weren't interested with people here on Earth.

That's what they believed. Now the stoics were different, and they believed that the gods were in some way part of the universe. In fact, they actually believed that they were made of the same stuff as us. Same kind of material. And to them, life was like cause and effect.

So it was the kind of karma idea. If you've heard of karma or fate, it was that sort of cause and effect, and they they actually did believe in gods as well, but they didn't believe in a personal loving god. They just believed that the universe was ticking on by itself and, they would call that universe force nature or reason or Zeus or whatever it was. And so when these guys with all their different back grounds here, Paul, they call him a Babler. What is this Babler trying to say?

And apparently, that word literally means seed picker. They called him a seed picker, and it was the word that you would use for birds that were scavenging all over the place for little berries and twigs and, you know, whatever else birds scavenged for, whatever was new and shiny and looked interesting, the birds would fly down and pick it up and drop it again, and then they could fly somewhere else and pick something up and drop that again. That's what they thought Paul was. He's a Babler. He's taken up with a new shiny philosophy seed picker.

What's he doing dropping his seeds here? That's what they that's what they thought of him. But still, this was a people who just love new ideas. And so despite dismissing him as a seed picker, they fancied hearing it a bit more because it was novel. Okay?

And so here is what Paul said to them in his famous sermon. So long slide, I'm afraid, but, you know, it's worth seeing in full. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the areopagus, and he said, people of Athens, I see that in every way you're very religious. For as I walked around and I looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship, and this is what I'm going to proclaim to you.

The god who made the world and everything in it is the lord of heaven and earth and he does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From 1 man, he made all the nation that they should inhabit the whole earth, and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him though he is not far from every 1 of us.

For in him, we live and we move and we have our being. As some of your own poets have said, we are his offspring. Therefore, since we are god's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone and image made by human design and skill. Now, what's different here? What is different about the way Paul speaks to these people?

What does he do differently? What is his strategy? He's doesn't refer to the scriptures at all. He doesn't refer to it. He doesn't use any Jewish terminology.

Doesn't quote any Jewish fathers, doesn't open up any particular book because they wouldn't understand those categories it would be like going to a long lost tribe and trying to explain the inner workings of a Lamborghini sports car. You know, they they don't have the language in order to understand what you're talking about and so the message wouldn't connect. Now eventually, Paul, I guess, would have wanted to introduce them to the history of the faith, and he wouldn't have just ignored it. He wanted to he would have wanted to bring the scriptures in, but to start with, he doesn't because it wouldn't work. And so instead of going that route, He works out what they do know about.

He works out what their authorities actually are, and he uses them. As some of your poets have said, you know, the ones you read and you love and you discuss, your poet As they have said, we are his offspring. Now, the reality is that poet was a total pagan apparently and would have a completely wrong understanding of god. But on that point, he's right. He's telling the truth.

And so I can use it as part of my gospel presentation. Why not? That's the authority they submit to. I'm gonna work it in and show them Jesus. So he quotes their authorities And actually, if we listen out, we'll be able to do the same thing.

So on the Tuesday, just gone, me and Laura finished a, a series of antenatal classes that we've been doing. And, It was amazing because throughout the course, people couldn't help but use the language of design for babies and mothers or the babies designed to cope in this a situation. Oh, yeah. They can be born underwater because as long as the temperatures are the same, they're just designed to not take a breath. The mother's designed to sort of heal herself in this way.

Design design design And and even if the people saying those words have a totally wrong understanding of god and what it means to be a human, on that point, they're true that they're right. That's true. The baby is designed even if the world view is wrong. So as questions, we can try to listen out for these little nuggets of truth in the places that people respect in order to start bringing the gospel to bear bear in a way that people can understand. So it's good for us not only to understand well what the gospel is, but to understand our culture What are the authorities saying?

What is the media saying? What do people believe? What are they living for? What do they respect? What do they listen to?

Because these questions we can answer them are gonna give us a really good steer on how to start bringing the gospel to people showing the lies of the culture and eventually showing how Christ is the satisfying answer to all of these different issues. That's what Paul does. And to be honest, by the end of this sermon, their whole world view has been totally dismantled. Into a culture with thousands of gods, he declares that there is only 1. Into a culture full of temples, he declares that god does not live in temples built by human hands into a culture full of offerings and incense and sacrifices.

He declares that god is not served by human hands in that way. Into a culture where god must be summoned because he's so remote. He declares that god is near to every person. Into a culture where they make statues of god, he declares that we are god's creation. He is not our creation.

Imagine saying that into an image centered world. God is not formed in your imagination. He formed you from the dust. As your own poets have even said, we are god's offspring. And who is this god I bring to you?

He is the 1 I proclaim. He is the lord of heaven and earth, there is none like him. It's like he's just pulled the pin out of a grenade and thrown it into thousands of years of Greek history. The stoics believed that god was part of the universe but they were wrong. God is the creator of the universe.

The epicureans believed that god was remote, but they were wrong. He is close to every 1 of us. It's our sin that drives him away. The epicureans believed that god was just a distant remote, uninterested part of this universe. They got it so wrong.

And Paul brought the gospel in a way they could understand into their culture. Paul was talking about a foreign god according to them. He was talking about a strange god, but Paul says there is no part of this in which god is a stranger. God is not a foreigner anywhere in this universe. He is the creator and he owns it all and now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

In the past, god overlooked the times of ignorance which doesn't mean that he didn't care about sin in the past, but all of a sudden he started caring about it, but it means he was patient. He didn't send his son to judge and destroy like he could have done. And actually, even when Jesus came for the first time, he came to save. But now that all of that happens, the next time he comes, it'll be for judgment and so you must repent. That's his application.

Have a look at the way he says it in verse 31 here. In the past, god overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent for he is set a day when he would judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the debt. He's saying, guys, look, there isn't time to endlessly discuss these ideas anymore. I know you love that, but there isn't time The window of opportunity is closing.

The opportunity for repentance is running out and soon that window will be shut. And you've gotta respond now. That is the argument here. If you want a reason to repent judge if you want proof of judgment, resurrection. At the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God put a big stamp on Jesus.

This is my son. This is my man. There is a life after death. And he is the 1 you will meet, and you will have to give an account to him. In Paul's mind, resurrection is not just his it means something now.

It means that Jesus is alive now and that you can turn to him. You can't turn to a dead god. You can't turn to a dead god, but you can turn to a living god, and Jesus is alive. It means something now, but it also means something for the future. It means that Jesus will come again to judge.

So do you see the language changes, the phrases change, the cultures change, but the message remains. Jesus Christ died and rose, turn and believe in him and be saved. And so verse 32, we can see some of the responses again. When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of sneered, but others said we want to hear you again on this subject. At that poll left the council, some of the people became followers of hall, and they believed.

Among them were Dionysius, a member of the areopagus, and a woman named Demaris, and a number of others. See? Mixed responses. So before we sing our last song, what can we learn here very very briefly this time in Athens. I I think this is a very very rich passage, but I I just want us to spend a moment on this idea of speaking, feeling, and seeing, speaking, feeling, and seeing.

In his amazing commentary, John Stock talks about this he says, if we want to speak like Paul spoke, we need to feel how Paul felt. If we're gonna feel how Paul felt, we need to see what Paul saw. It's really, really good. If we want to clearly explain the gospel, in language that people can understand, we need to feel what he felt. We gotta feel what Paul felt.

As he walked around the city, he was distressed by idols. 30000 of them. Now, we don't have idols like that in the same way, but we have god substitutes everywhere. And they are like leeches which blaspheme god, and they suck people dry of life and joy, and they leave them empty and withered. And that It's gotta be distressing for us.

You see, sometimes I think we're just like the frog who gets slowly heated until he doesn't realize he's cooked. We we are so used to the idols. We're so used to them. They no longer provoke sadness and distress in and our senses are just boiled away as we live among them. I really feel this is main reason why I lose enthusiasm for personal evangelism, I don't feel what Paul felt.

I don't feel distressed in the way that he felt it, but we must. We must feel like that wherever Jesus Christ is denied his rightful place in people's lives, we should feel wounded by it. It should wound us. That he is not the lord, and they're enslaved to idols. We need to pray for that that we would feel what Paul felt so we can speak how he spoke.

But if we're gonna speak how he spoke, we need to see what he saw. And if we're gonna see what he saw, it means we don't just say, oh, yes, I can see the idols. It means we chew them over. Because in 1 sense, it would be easy to give everybody here a piece of paper and to say write down the idols in our age, we would all do a good job of We know what they are. We can see them.

But this is a different type of seeing. It doesn't just mean identifying them It means turning them over in our minds, thinking about what they are, what they do to people, how they destroy people, Why are they idles and what do they do? We need to see in that sense. So, yes, money is an idol. But why is it an idol?

Why is it so desirable? Why do people go for it? What does it do to people? If we can see like that, will be better equipped to bring the gospel into the world. That is why Paul was able to preach the gospel to so many different people.

He never changed the message, but he adapted it to the culture. And if we're gonna be like him, we need to see what he saw so we can feel what he felt. If we feel what he felt, we'll be able to speak how he spoke. Good challenges for us. Let's pray, and then we'll sing our last song.

Father, we thank you for the gospel, and we thank you that it is the same in every culture and in every people group that wherever there is life on this earth, Jesus Christ is lord. He reigns in heaven. He has died for the sins, not just of 1 people, but for the world. He has died and he will offer forgiveness and new life to all who will repent and believe, but we pray that you would help us as we live in this part of culture in this particular time to think about how we can best connect this life giving message with the people we love all around us. And we ask for that help in Jesus name, amen.

Preached by Tom Sweatman
Tom Sweatman photo

Tom is an Assistant Pastor at Cornerstone and lives in Kingston with his wife Laura and their two children.

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