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May 23

Acts 17:22-34

22 Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 So Paul left their presence. 34 However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. — Acts 17:22-34

A Divinely Arranged Stopover

by Diane Woerner
Station Hill Campus

Paul was “on the run.” He had been chased out of Thessalonica, then Berea. Now he was temporarily in Athens, waiting for his companions to join him before he moved on. But never one to take breaks, Paul toured the city, becoming deeply disturbed by the pervasive idol worship he found there. Then, as was his continual habit, he went into the synagogue to discuss theology with “the Jews and with those who worshiped God” (vs 17).

When he wasn’t thus occupied, Paul wandered through the marketplace looking for people who might be interested in hearing about Christ. But Athens’ marketplace wasn’t your ordinary town square. Rather, it was inhabited by philosophers, men who were shopping, not for merchandise, but for new ideas. Upon encountering this unusual street preacher, they quickly took him to their headquarters to hear more of what he might say.

Unlike many preachers who—suddenly finding themselves in an unfamiliar pulpit—would be tempted to pull out their best (or at least most familiar) sermon, Paul provided this audience with one of his most unique messages.

Drawing on his earlier observations, Paul opened by defining his audience as “extremely religious.” This is actually the impressive Greek word deisidaimonesteros, which literally means scared of demons. Perhaps this wasn’t so much true of the particular men who were listening to him, but they lived in a culture that worshiped a vast number of idols in order to placate as many spirits as possible. They even worshiped an “Unknown God” just to be on the safe side.

No doubt they found Paul’s claim that there was just one God above all the rest to be particularly intriguing. In fact, it might have even have offered a glimmer of relief, to think that only one God needed to be dealt with—especially for the Epicureans, whose goal was the relief of stress and discomfort.

But of course, the Christian message centers not on human comforts but on the divine holiness and authority of God. When Paul pressed further into the subjects of repentance and judgment, I suspect at least a few in his audience began to get restless. But when he came to the climax of his sermon, declaring that God proved His divinity by the resurrection of His Son, that pushed many of them over the edge!

Nevertheless, we’re told there were some who understood his words to be truth and who gladly joined the community of believers. So once again, in what was an unplanned stopover in Paul’s journey, God brought to Himself those who had ears to hear and hearts to accept the only understanding of reality that provides not only authentic peace but also eternal life in the presence of the one true God.

Praxis

  1. There are many people in our world today who are also driven to appease a vast number of gods, yet who always remain in fear that they’ve somehow missed something and will pay for it. How would you take the gospel message into this environment of fear?
  2. How open are you to God leading you into an unfamiliar culture to carry His message to even the few who might be able to receive it? Can you trust Him to give you the ideas and words that will be effective in that context?