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Preaching to a City Full of Idols

While Paul waits for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens, he sees idolatry everywhere. Each idol is a slap in God’s face, so Paul reacts in righteous anger and starts to attack the idols. However, Paul’s passionate zeal for God has been redeemed: now he chooses persuasion over persecution. He reasons with people, using words instead of weapons. He preached in the marketplace as well as the synagogue, talking to Jews, philosophers, and passersby, telling anyone who would listen about the true God.

The reaction was mixed – some people thought he was a walking thrift store of second-hand ideas, and some people thought he reminded them of the pride of Athens, Socrates himself. One of the most important stories in Athenian history had declared that resurrection was impossible, so they could hardly believe that anyone would seriously come to Athens preaching the resurrection as an event that had actually happened to someone. Still, through his diligent evangelism, Paul captured the attention of the city, and so in order to clarify the message, he was brought to speak before the Areopagus.

Paul complimented the Athenians for their religious fervor, but then he boldly preached a message that challenged everything they thought they knew. He wasn’t adding to their religious knowledge; he was replacing it with this message: the God they didn’t know wasn’t just one more God to add to the collection. The true God was the Creator, Lord, Father, and Judge. He made the world and everything in it, and He rules over men and nations so that men should seek Him and find Him, which isn’t difficult, because He is not far away. In fact, He filled the world with offspring made in His own image. So stop looking to man-made images – look the the image of God in man, most clearly revealed in the man Jesus Christ.

God has been patient while men searched for Him, but now He is revealing Himself, and commanding everyone to repent. He will soon judge the world by Jesus, the man who went through the judgment early, and was resurrected on the other side. The resurrection of Jesus is Paul’s proof: not even Zeus could bring about resurrection, but the true God has already done it. All worship of other gods is now obsolete: follow Jesus if you want to know God and worship Him rightly.

This sermon exploded like a bomb on the playground of the philosophers. Initially, some hearers mocked the idea of resurrection, some wanted more, and some, including Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus itself, believed. But from Luke’s vantage point as he writes the book of Acts, this was an earth-shaking event. From this point on, the names of Zeus, Athena, and Apollo start to fade, and the names of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle grow dim. God used Paul’s preaching to set the name of the Lord Jesus above every name in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. The good news has been proclaimed as a worldwide gospel.

Here are four things for us to learn from Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill:

1) Paul’s zeal – be provoked by idolatry, and be bold with the gospel in public. Ask “Who or what do people in Annapolis follow, trust in, and value?” And if it isn’t Jesus, then you’ve found an idol. Then allow your love for Jesus to provoke you to action – speak for Jesus.

2) Paul’s method – Reason with people. Have confidence in using words to advance the gospel. God’s words made the world, and they have power to open hearts and minds. Use them.

3) Paul’s winsomeness – Paul begins by affirming the basic truths about God that the Athenians had grasped before he goes on to share the truths that they didn’t know. Use the fragments of true knowledge that our culture has as bridges for the full gospel.

4) Paul’s message – This is the good news that we preach: The true God, Creator, Lord, Father, and Judge, overcomes our idolatry and ignorance, revealing Himself by sending Jesus through the coming judgment ahead of us and raising Him from the dead. Repent, and follow Jesus into the life of the resurrection.

This message has been a stumbling block to the jealous Jews, and now foolishness to the Greeks, but for all who believe, these are words of life.

Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by CJ Bowen