Confronting The Culture
The apostle Paul has been to Thessalonica, and forced to leave there due to those who were trying to kill him, basically the Jewish people, as he taught them in their synagogue. He then goes to Berea, and the Jews of Berea are much more “noble” because they search the Scriptures to see if what Paul is teachiing them is true. In Berea, though, Jews from Thessalonica come to bring ill to Paul, and the message of the Gospel.
The apostle is then forced to leave Berea, sent to Athens, and there he discovers a mission field ripe for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
THE CITY OF ATHENS IS WHOLLY GIVEN TO IDOLATRY (vv. 15-16). The world in which Christians live today is much like Athens of Paul’s day. The United States itself, is made up of many religions. Though it was originally built upon Judeo/Christian principles taken from the Bible there are many parts of the culture who want nothing to do with Christ, Christianity, and some do not even want God in the picture of their lives, or this country.
We have already had prayer removed from our Public Schools, and in order for “unity” which is basically “uniformity” we must not pray in public meetings, as Christians, in the name of “Jesus” any longer; we might offend someone. It is best in those situations not to mention the cross or resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, it is okay for the muslim to pray and use the name of Allah, the moon god, one name of many gods which Mohammed originally worshipped. It is okay for the Buddhist to mention Buddha, and all the religions can mention their deity.
Idolatry permeates our land. It begins with the god of Greed. Greed rules through the hearts of men and women of all ages, and in business galore. If more wealth is all that is in your heart and life, then you are certainly full of the god “Greed”. He controls your thoughts, your heart to the point that your family is neglected, and most of all, God is out of the picture. For some Science is the answer to all our ills, and the drive of some to conquer space and inner space. Technology is also the answer for getting further into outer space, searching the galaxies, stars and planets for other life. It also seems to be the answer to greater mobilization, and better sources of knowledge (science).
Mankind himself has become a god of sorts. It is after all our knowledge that has made such strides in medicine, science and technology, and gains of great wealth. It is us who has done it. Arrogance, pride, and rebellion against holy God is what that is and it will not stand forever.
As Christians we must shun falling prey the lies of the false prophets and teachers who tell us that we are our own source of prosperity, health, technology and science. The culture may be wholly given to idolatry, however, as Christians we have the message that can change the world, and that message is the gospel of Jesus Christ; that He died for our sins, according to Scripture; and that He was buried; and the the third day rose from the grave bodily and was witnessed by more than five hundred witnesses; and that all who will come humbly before Him confessing their sin, repenting, and calling on His name shall be saved – receiving eternal life with Him. Anything short of Jesus Christ is pure idolatry.
THE APOSTLE’S DISPUTATIONS WITH THE JEWS AND GENTILES (vv. 17-18). Even in Athens Paul goes to the synagogue. He wants his brethren “according to the flesh” (Romans 9:1-5) to come to faith in Christ. He longs for them to repent and believe.
It is quite evident by the apostle’s preaching and teaching that the gospel is meant for all who will hear it and believe. We may curse the fact that our country [the United States of America] is being filled with people from other parts of the world. It shows me that others are desperately wanting to come to a nation which is free from tyranny, free from communism, and free from a state religion which tells its people how to live their lives, how to dress, and kills them, or takes their property when they convert to Christianity [so far].
We should be thankful for the numbers who are coming to America seeking these things. The greatest gift the United States has to give these people is the message of Jesus Christ, and the freedom from sin and its condemnation.
A NEW DOCTRINE NEEDED A NEW HEARING (vv. 19-21). The people of Athens were curious about this new doctrine of a crucified, buried, and resurrected man. The Athenians were debaters, disputers, and philosophers. They enjoyed hearing new things, then disputing them with the promoters of that teaching.
We live in a time when people are moved by debate, apologetics, and arguments. Everyone has an opinion, and no one’s opinion is better than any other, except the ones you agree with. That is the philosophies of men. However, the message of the apostle Paul, and any messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not debatable, because it is the truth. Others may dispute it, despise it, disdain it; but that doesn’t affect that it is still the truth.
It is surprising and almost shocking to realize that there are still people, even in the United States of America who have not heard of the death, burial and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I found that out a few years ago while I was attending Boyce Bible School in Louisville, Kentucky. While working part time at a Townhouse, and Condominium living area as a gardener the chief gardener ask what Baptists believed and I told him the gospel of Jesus Christ. His response was, “I have never heard that before”. He told me that he was Catholic, so I understood. It still surprised me to know that there were people in the USA who had never heard the true message of Jesus.
With the many beliefs in our nation today, there are probably many more who have never heard, but would be curious, should they ever hear even a smidgen of the truth.
THE MESSAGE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL (vv. 22-31). With the many idols which Paul saw in Athens he marvelled that there was a place [an altar] “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. It is as though, they had erected an altar to all the gods/idols they could imagine, or think of; and just in case they might have missed one who might happen to be the one true God; they erect an altar to Him.
These were a very religious people. The KJV says “superstitious” which fits as well. When people are unsure of a deity or deities, they will be very superstitious. That is when you have them going to horoscopes, reading tea leaves, turning to nature worship [pantheism], black arts (such as witchcraft), and old nature religions (including druidism); the worship, or dependence upon any image of man is idol worship; the worship of any of God’s creation is also idolatry. Paul likens such worship as the “worship of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).
Paul did not present it so bluntly, nor did he even mention the worship of demons to them, but he did make it quite plain that there was only one God who was worthy of worship, and by whom He will judge,” by that man whom he hath ordained” (v. 31) ,and His name is Jesus Christ. He is the resurrected One, and He ever lives and is seated at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 1:3, 13: 8:1; 10:12: 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).
A DIVIDED CROWD WITH A DIVIDED RESPONSE (vv. 32-34). When the gospel of Jesus Christ, ie.; the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, His burial – carrying our sins away never to be judged by them again once they have been confessed and there has been repentance, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the grave, appearing to over 500 witnesses during the forty days before He ascended into heaven; is preached there will continue to be various responses. There was in Paul’s day; there is in our day.
In the 17th chapter of Acts we can see varied responses to the gospel as Paul went and preached in the synagogues and other places. Many of the Jewish leaders resisted the gospel, the Word of God (vv. 1-9); Some of them heard and believed including Jews and Gentiles (vv. 10, 15); Then, in these verses there were those who ridiculed the gospel of Christ Jesus, and some of these believed it.
In this message Paul told the people of Athens of the “Greatness of God” – He is Creator (vv. 24-25). He tells them of the “Goodness of God” – He is Provider (vv. 25b-26). The apostle tells them of the “Government of God” – He is Sovereign (vv. 27-31a). He does not end with that, however, and concludes telling them of the “Grace of God” – He is Savior (v. 31b)
The opinions and philosophies of men are just that opinions and philosophies, which have no power, little lone saving power. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes” (Romans 1:16). It is the position of the man and woman of God to preach the gospel, to proclaim the gospel; it is the power of God to save people through the gospel. We have no power to save, only God does.
Some of these in Athens heard Paul and rejected the message, and some said, “We will hear you again on this matter”; and others received it and followed Paul.
The important thing is what will you do with the message of the gospel. If you hear it and believe, and call on the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation, you can be saved. If you reject it, and die you will go to eternal judgment. The choice is yours when you have heard the word of God.
-Tim A. Blankenship