Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sermon 6/28/15 Paul In Athens - Acts 17 - The Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture

This week we’ve had plenty of evidence to demonstrate that the culture of America is getting further and further away from the culture of the Bible.

I’ve said before, we are getting closer to the circumstances of the early church—a church which did not back away from going into that culture with the Gospel. 
So I do not believe that this passage was accidental.  How do we bring the Gospel into a pluralistic culture?

I’m sure it bothers you to see what’s been going on.  You’re not alone—turn to Acts 17 to what has been a trendy passage to look at in recent years for a gentle way to approach the culture with the Gospel.  The problem is that it wasn’t really that gentle.  And it’s success should not be measured by how many converts he achieved—but the truth for which Paul stood.

Troubled by the Idolatry of the Culture—16-17-- Acts 16:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols.
Just like Paul, we look around in our culture and see idols everywhere.  We see their effect, we see their destruction, we see the lives that are ruined by them.  Our idols are our money and success, our sports teams and our sex, drugs and music or entertainment, even our national pride.

We should be troubled by what we see around us.  Because what we see is the bondage of the world, we see the influence of the enemy of our souls that seeks to enslave us.  We see so many who are held captive by those lies.

Our hearts should be troubled.  We cannot just sit around and complain about it—if you see it, you should be driven to do something about it.  If you have no desire to do anything about it, I wonder whether you really see and understand what is going on.  You awareness of the circumstances of lostness and idolatry should move you to action.
Consider Exodus 3:7—“Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings.”

Imagine for a moment if the story ended there.  That God observed everything and just took a mental note of it, but never did anything about it.  What would you think of Him?

Thankfully, the story of God doesn’t end there—Exodus 3:8—“I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey”

What would the world think of us if we see what is going on around us and are motivated to do nothing?

Paul not only saw, but he was moved to action and sought to change the situation as much as possible by sharing the Gospel.  So he went to the Synagogue.

Acts 17:17— “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
 He began to speak the truth of God—and he would have addressed the issue of idolatry and their uselessness.

Psalm 115:5-8— “They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. 6 They have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. 7 They have hands but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats. 8 Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.”

He went right to the people of God and began to teach—what are you doing about all this idolatry.  When he wasn’t in the synagogue, he went out to the marketplace and talked with anyone he could find and anyone who would listen.  The world needs to know it’s condition—needs to know of its idolatry and slavery and we are the ones who have the only message of hope.

Seeing the state of the world around us, the idolatry, the hurt and pain we see should drive us to pray, to seek after Him with all our heart mind and strength
And when we put the message out there, people will listen and be curious about it.

The World Is Willing to Hear to a Point—18-21—“Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying to say?” Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection. 19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”

While some in the market listened, the cultural elites will want to hear but already convinced they are superior intellectually—they called him a babbler or a pseudo-intellectual.  They recognize he is preaching a new idea and they wanted to get a better examination of him so they took him to the intellectual center of the city to find out about it.

So even though the elites in Athens didn’t really have the best motives in listening—at least they wanted to hear—because at least they heard something!  Here’s the point…
I love hearing your stories about the conversations you have at work, about the opportunities you have to pray with someone, to invite them to church or an event.  Those are praises and opportunities I want to hear about them every Wednesday night as we start our prayer meeting with Praises & Opportunities. 

But far too often, we go through the markets, go through our place of work, around our families and our sphere of influence and miss the opportunities.

No one asks us about our faith because we miss opportunities that God has for us to speak—it’s as if we don’t really believe the Gospel is the good News—the good works prepared in advance for us to do. 

At least Paul gave people reason to ask—at least he had something to say—at least he was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus.  We cannot be ashamed and this will be more and more important.

The world my think you’re a babbler a pseudo-intellectual.  Your beliefs may sound strange to them, even ridiculous.  But they have to be confronted with them—they have to have something to choose between.  They have to hear there are options.  Because that is what we are called to.  We don’t confront them with the truth to be liked, to be accepted, but to be obedient to the Call, because it is the truth, and we actually care about their future and eternity.

And while we must be respectful in what we say, especially how we say it, we’ve got to realize that most of the world is going to reject it no matter how nice we are—so while we must not be a jerk about what we believe, we as believers

Believers Can’t Avoid the Root of the Problem and Must Speak the Truth—
17:22- “Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men 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 and 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 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 exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Being 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.”
·         This is not a timid speech.  He knows he is in hostile territory surrounded by people who are looking for the opportunity to tear him or his ideas apart.
·         But in that he does not avoid their spiritual condition, nor does he evade the truth.
·         Paul Recognized and Affirmed they were a Spiritual & a Seeking People
·         He was confident in the Gospel to be the Answer for their Heart’s Hunger
·         He started with God as Creator and His Lordship—this is something our culture is divided on and that many have rejected—but it is the foundation of what we believe.  It was also a statement saying that the God he was telling them about is superior to their gods, even Zeus.  Zeus is not the creator, he overthrew the Titans who did not create the heavens and earth either.
·         Buildings do not contain Him, nor does He need anything from us
·         Every person on the planet—no matter location, color, political affiliation, nationality is a descendant of Adam & Eve—all bearers of the image of God, all have dignity, value built into them.  There are no superior or inferior races, none less than human.  Therefore all are in the same spiritual condition—a broken condition that is searching for a fix, searching for answers, searching for God.
·         God encourages this search and wants to be found—but on His terms
·         No one will find God in an Idol or any object of gold, silver or stone.  He confronts the idolatry head on and says it’s useless and nothing more than the old song that says, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”  In other words, you will never find God on your own terms, the way you want to, or in the place that you want to.  You and I do not get to define who He is, what He is like, what He approves and disapproves.  He defines Himself. 
·         He wants to be found, but you must come to Him on His terms in the way He approves of.  And the Way He approves of is through Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ who is The Way, The Truth & The Life—vs. 31—“He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed”
·         Paul confronted the practice of idolatry by the educated elites by calling it ignorance—that’s a good way to win friends and influence people isn’t it?  He tells them that God has overlooked this sin like a parent giving their child the time to do the right thing—but like parents, there comes a time when the parents no longer overlook the wrongdoing of their children.  And so now Paul says God is telling these intellectual elites to Repent from their ignorance.
·         Any presentation of the Gospel must include the call of Repentance.  It means exposing someone’s sin and highlighting the need, the possibility and the expectation of change.
·         And that message is usually not accepted very well.  Being told that you are ignorant, especially when you think you’re smart, is offensive.  A person or a culture that has its sin exposed will not be happy with the messenger. 
·         That situation has not changed for today’s America either.  Our culture does not want to hear that it sins.  Does not want to hear that God has a standard because ultimately, they love darkness rather than life.
·         We must define our lives, our actions, our words by the biblical culture and values and not those of our nation.  For a time, the church has felt comfortable with the combination of America’s culture and the biblical culture—but that is changing more and more—we can no longer count on the values of America lining up with the values of the Bible as the Supreme Court just demonstrated on Friday.
·         Your first citizenship, your first loyalty is to the Kingdom of God—before America and before the Stars & Stripes.  Because some day, maybe sooner than we’d like to admit, someone, some government is going to make you choose.

In terms of not avoiding the root of the problem and still speaking truth, I found this powerful quote from a pastor named John Piper—“Christians know what is coming, not only because we see it in the Bible, but because we have tasted the sorrowful fruit of our own sins. We do not escape the truth that we reap what we sow. Our marriages, our children, our churches, our institutions — they are all troubled because of our sins.
The difference is: We weep over our sins. We don’t celebrate them. We don’t institutionalize them. We turn to Jesus for forgiveness and help. We cry to Jesus, “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

George Orwell—“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
·         As much as the people of Athens were getting irritated at Paul, and as much as America’s culture and the Bible’s culture are taking divergent paths—our countrymen may not want to hear it, but they will need it more and more.  we’ve got to keep in mind that…

The Resurrection Will always be the Turning Point—32 “When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him.”

The idea that someone can come back from the dead was the last straw.  They could tolerate almost anything else, but ultimately, everything turns on Jesus—who He is, what He came for, how He won our freedom—the Cross and the Resurrection.  Paul doesn’t mention the cross—the instrument of Roman execution and torture, but he does the Resurrection—in order to be raised, someone has to die.

Paul looks at the Resurrection as God’s proof that Jesus is the Messiah—the world will be judged by “the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”—vs. 31

But the intellectual elites thought it was ridiculous.  The Resurrection is the central turning point—because if the Resurrection really happened—then it really does validate that everything Jesus said is true, everything that He did has been accepted by the Father, death and sin have lost their sting.  That’s a game changer.

Paul realizes this, and later, rather than treading lightly in regards to the  Cross and the Resurrection he runs straight to it, highlights it, makes it the stumbling block on which the whole issue turns.

1 Corinthians 1:17-25—“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize —not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. 19 For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. 20 Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? 21 For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached.
22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The cross & the resurrection are the turning point.  Together they represent a miracle that goes beyond reasonable experience.  They had never seen it, neither have we.

Our world today, with our scientific mindset, accepting a cold universe believes that death is the end and there is nothing beyond the veil—but the concept of resurrection destroys that. 
Our culture is full of people who accept aliens, bigfoot, the lochness monster, evolution, vampires & werewolves because those things are not threatening nor do they require anything from us—but God—don’t put that out there—
because if there is a God, I may one day have to stand before Him.  if there is a God, I may have to answer to Him.  If there is a God He may have legitimate authority over me.  If there is a God, He may hold me accountable.  If there is a God, I don’t have a chance.

Oh, but you do—because there is always Grace—repent—from your own way & believe in the name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

While Some Will Believe—Majority will Reject –32b—
While some ridiculed Paul, “others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 Then Paul left their presence. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

We think of divisions in our country on political and racial lines—but those are not really what is most important nor real.

The division that is most prominent and eternal is one of belief—based on the answer to the Question—“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s the division between the sheep and the goats, the lost and the saved, the slave and the redeemed. 

Some believed Paul and accepted the message—they wanted to hear more and learn more.  But most did not.  Paul was not a failure—he preached the word and it did not return void.  He was Faithful.  So many measure Paul’s success by how many believed, but the better measure is His faithfulness.

Today you can change your eternity with a decision.

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