UNCHANGING GOSPEL FOR CHANGING TIMES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Many Christians have failed to realize that we are no longer living in the era of our grandparents. Times have changed. People think differently than they used to. It is up to us to step out of our comfort zones, reach out to people around us, and then communicate the unchanging gospel to them in a way they will understand. This is exactly what Paul did in Athens. Moved by the spirit of idolatry, he challenged their worldview and then shared the unchanging good news of Jesus Christ in a way they could understand.
Acts 17:16-19 16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?
Overall Background: The incident we just read took place during Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul came to Athens more for his personal safety than for presenting the gospel. The Jewish people who did not like what Paul was preaching were chasing him from town to town, trying to kill him. Hence, Paul came to Athens, not according to his plan but definitely according to the plan of God.
Listen to what happens in Acts 17:16 “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him…” Meaning: Paul was greatly distressed. Some thing bothered him very much. What was it? “…he saw that the city was given over to idols.”
Ancient historian Petronius said – “In Athens it was easier to find a god than man.” There were as many as 30,000 gods! They had a god for everything. For wealth and money, there was Mammon; for alcohol and entertainment, there was Bacchus; for lust and adultery, there was Aphrodite; and the list goes on. This bothered Paul!
Application: Does it bother you to see the lostness of people around you? Our idols may not be made of stone and marble but they are idols nonetheless. We have our own gods of money, entertainment, pleasure, lust, addiction, etc. Does it bother you to see people living in their lostness?
This morning we will see how Paul reached out to those people.
I. PAUL WASN’T AFRAID TO STEP OUT OF HIS COMFORT ZONE.
Listen to verse 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, Meaning: First, Paul went to his own in the synagogue. These people were familiar with the Old Testament and with Abraham, Moses, David, and Daniel. In other words, he first went to those in the Bible Belt.
Application: All around us are people who grew up in church but for some reason they are no longer in church. They know better. They feel he conviction of the Holy Spirit. Some are even saved. Do you reach out to them? Do you make an effort to invite them to church?
But he didn’t stop with the Bible Belt – 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him.
Who were the Epicureans? These were people who believed that this life is all there is to it. So, live well, do well, enjoy yourself because one day it will all be over. Do you know some Epicureans today?
Who were the Stoics? These were people who believed that whatever happens happens. So do the best you can because you never know. Do you know some Stoics today?
Application: You will never know until you step out of your Bible Belt and start reaching out to people who are not like you. When was the last time you tried to invite someone over with the hopes of building a relationship with them and telling them about Jesus? That’s what our softball, basketball, Kindle and Joy ministries are really all about.
What was there response? And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. Once you step out of your familiar circles, you will realize how really lost some people. Unless you get out like Paul, you will never meet the Epicureans and the Stoics.
Application: At Clearview, many of you are doing a great job in stepping out of your comfort zones and winning people. I commend you for that. But, how about the rest of us? Are we comfortable in our holy huddles?
II. PAUL WAS WILLING TO BUILD A BRIDGE.
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus,
Background: Areopagus was like their supreme council on religious and moral matters. At one time it was on a hill but I think by this time they probably met in the city square. Nonetheless, what started out as just a brief layover turned into a big sensation! Here they began to question him and his preaching because they were curious.
What was Paul’s response? 22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:
We can learn so much from that. Paul did not launch into an all out criticism of the Athenian gods and goddesses. He did not start criticizing their temples and their statutes and their myths and mythologies. Instead, he looks for an opportunity to share the gospel.
Listen to how he did that: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.
1. There is one God who created the Heavens and the Earth. Creation can be a good starting pointing in telling people about the gospel. Who can disagree with how beautiful the day is or how pretty the sunset is or how peaceful the lake is or cute a little baby is.
26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,
2. There is one race – human race – and God is in control of the world. Until we realize that we are connected, we will have trouble reaching out to people who are different from us. Until we communicate that we are connected, people will have a hard time believing that we care. In essence, Paul is saying that we are all in one boat.
27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him 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 also some of your own poets have said, “For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.
3. There is one purpose for our creation – to find God. God wants us to get to know Him.
Application: How do you see people? Do you see them as the creation of one God, belonging to one race, created for one purpose?
III. PAUL WAS BOLD IN PRESENTING THE GOSPEL.
30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,
This does not mean that God has excused people before the coming of Jesus Christ because no one is without an excuse. Isaiah 53:6says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way.” What it does mean that before the coming of Jesus, God in His mercy did not destroy those who did not turn to Him.
But what now? 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness
1. There is a Day of Judgment coming.
People are content to discuss religion all day long. But the Gospel is not just some interesting idea or cultural phenomenon. It comes with a warning. Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
2. There is a Person who holds the gavel.
31…He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.
First time I came across this passage I thought that it was kind of strange that Paul referred to Jesus as just a Man and not God. I believe the reason Paul did that is to emphasize the fact that this was not just some mythological god like the ones they already had. Jesus Christ was God who became a real man and lived in a real space and time. He is a fact of history. What’s more? Everything depends on Him. He is the judge. If you know the judge, then you are free to go. If you don’t, you are condemned. You have to trust His sacrifice on the cross to be saved.
3. There is Proof that all this will happen. It’s the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
This Jesus did not just die on the cross but He was buried and He came back to life. He is alive today.
What was the response? Acts 17:32-34 32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Isn’t that the case even today? Some laugh, some procrastinate, and some believe. Which one are you? Do you know Jesus as your Savior?