Sermon Summary - Paul Preaches in Athens - Acts 17:16-34
Paul Preaches in Athens
The gospel of Jesus Christ is far above and beyond the intellectual class, if they do not have the Holy Spirit. Yet it is so simple that a child can understand it. The gospel is not against reason (Cf. Acts 17:2), but no human being can ever reason themselves to saving faith. We saw last week that Paul started with the common ground of the Scriptures when preaching to an audience of Jews in Thessalonica and Berea. Athens, on the other hand was the hub of philosophical thought, and a playground of philosophical ideas, particularly Epicureanism and Stoicism. Epicureanism was a materialistic worldview that at its core was about living modestly and limiting your desires. Stoicism said the path to happiness was to accept your fate and live according to what nature dictates your life circumstances are. Athens was home to ten thousand residents, but close to thirty thousand idols. And Paul was very grieved by seeing these idols (Acts 17:16).
Paul first went to the synagogue in Athens to reason with the Jews, as was his custom (Acts 17:17). But then during the week he went to the marketplace to preach the gospel to a pagan audience of mainly Stoics and Epicureans (Acts 17:18). With the Stoic and Epicurean audience, Paul adapts his approach, but not the gospel. He starts with common ground, observing that they were very religious (Acts 17:22) and pointing out their objects of worship (Acts 17:23). Paul proclaims that God made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24), which is in stark contrast to the Greek gods who were just part of the creation. God is absolutely self-sufficient; He gives life and breath moment by moment, and He gives all things (Acts 17:25). Paul preaches Genesis 1 and 2 in verse 26 (Acts 17:26), but without directly quoting it, since he was not preaching to Jews in the synagogue. Paul knew that the Epicurean viewpoint was very similar to a deistic viewpoint - that God has nothing to do with how the world goes.
We come to the purpose clause in verse 27 (Acts 17:27), which explains the purpose behind God’s providence - in order that they should seek God (Cf. Rom. 1:19-23). Paul also notes God’s omnipresence in contrast to the Greek gods. Paul then cites a poet from Crete, “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and then also another poet Aratus, “we also are his offspring.”
Then Paul calls out the absurdity of idols (Acts 17:29). Elsewhere, Paul says that we are all idolaters at heart (Cf. Col. 3:5). Both in Athens and in our country today, there is a prideful, arrogant wisdom that is utterly idolatrous (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:21). That pride shows itself again in verse 30 (Acts 17:30). Paul declares the times of ignorance (before Christ came to accomplish salvation) have past, and that Jesus has been raised from the dead (Acts 17:31), which causes the crowd to begin to jeer (Acts 17:32). They cut Paul off because he mentioned a physical resurrection, which the Greeks did not believe in. This was a prideful, close-minded response, which mirrors the non-Christian intellectual community today. Note again that Paul did not pull any punches, but called out the ignorance of his audience on ultimate issues. He may try to find common ground with his audience, but he never changes the gospel. Even though Paul was shut down before he could finish, they did not all mock him. Some believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris (Acts 17:34).
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