google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html The Spirit Explodes 16
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The Spirit Explodes

Part 16 of 22
Many challenges!
Acts 17:1 – 34


by Roger Kirby

There are many intriguing things happening in this part of the journey as the apostolic band travels south towards the great cities of Athens and Corinth. It sounds as though they did not stop for more than a night until they reached Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. Unlike Philippi it was a free city in the Emperor’s favour because it had been on the right side in the civil war three generations earlier.

 

Read Acts 17:1 – 9.

 

The verbs in this description of what Paul did are interesting. They are:reasoning, explaining, proving, proclaiming, persuading.

 

Question 1: - Probably few or none of us are good at all these things, but we will all be better at some than others. Which are you good at?

 

Think about it! Make sure you use your gifts in this area.

 

Question 2: - The proving bit reads ‘proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead”. How would Paul have proved that? How can we do something  equivalent?

 

Paul will have done that by reference to the OT since he was in a synagogue. It would be much more difficult to do when he reached Athens and had to argue in the market place with people who will have had no knowledge at all of the history of God’s dealing with mankind. For most of us the problem is the same:how do you prove the importance of the cross and resurrection to those who know little or nothing about it?

 

What happens next is the same as has been happening in all the cities they visited. It is interesting to see that even without printing presses, and therefore newspapers, the news of what was happening seems to have travelled from one city to another remarkably quickly.

 

So the apostolic band has to move on, the bail that Jason and the others had to post would be a surety that they would leave the city reasonably quickly.

 

Read Acts 17:10 – 15.

 

That Luke seems to know so much about these cities does suggest that this may indeed be where he came from. We are told that the Bereans were ‘more noble’ than the Thessalonians because they ‘examined the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true’.

 

Question 3: - Of the people you know who are not yet Christians who would be the most likely to ‘examine the scriptures’ diligently?

 

They should be the people you will try hardest to attract to follow Jesus.

 

And so we come to what happened when they reached Athens. This was the intellectual centre of that world, the only equivalent in their day of a major university city of today, although it was somewhat past its best reputation. Listen carefully as Paul tries to cope with an antagonistic pagan audience.

 

Read Acts 17:16 – 34.

 

We read that Paul was “greatly distressed” at the sight of so many idols in Athens. That was perhaps a bit odd as there must have been many idols everywhere he went. Yet the extreme number of them in the city caused him to think more deeply about what they meant.

 

Question 4: - What makes you think more deeply about the sad and bad things in the world around you? If you don’t, what should do so?

 

It is so easy to get used to things like the endless sequence of nonsense on television. It needs thinking about. Paul acted. What should you do in reaction?

 

The Epicureans and Stoics were two schools of philosophy. Epicureans believed the highest human good was a quietly enjoyed pleasure. Stoics aimed to live in tune with the world around them taking pain and pleasure with equal stoicism (so to speak!). The root meaning of ‘babbler’ as they called Paul was a ‘bird pecking seeds’, so it meant somebody was a sort of inconsequential gossip. Not exactly complementary then. The accusation that he was advocating foreign gods was dangerous. It invoked memories of the most famous of all philosophers, Socrates, who was condemned to death in Athens 500 years earlier for much the same thing.

 

Paul’s speech follows the now familiar pattern most of the way through starting with the exordium, that is to build a bridge with his audience, he says ‘Men of Athens! I see that you are in every way very religious.’ From that start he proceeds to argue from what he sees in the city. The basic idea behind what he says is that God is a spiritual presence and what he sees around him is all too physical.

 

Question 5: - Depending on where you are coming from, what your surrounding culture is, you may be surrounded by images, or completely free of them. Is your situation right? Would you be able to worship the true and only God better if all or most of the images you see were removed or could you do with some (perhaps a cross) to help you worship?

 

Once again this is something you need to think through for yourself. I cannot help you.

 

Paul goes on to say that Jesus will judge the world, but he does this without saying what he will judge the world about.

 

Question 6: - What is he assuming here?

 

That there is enough natural understanding in everyone to show them how they should behave. He tells the Romans in 1:18 – 20 ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.’ On that basis the world can be judged. Think of how that harsh fact relates to the people round about you.

 

It is only when Paul gets to talking about the resurrection that he hits trouble.

 

Question 7: - The resurrection seemed as unlikely then as it does now. How do you argue for its reality?

 

The honest answer in most cultures must be ‘with difficulty’. One possibly effective approach might be to emphasise the way it fits into history. Beyond doubt there was a Jewish nation in AD 1; beyond doubt there was a Christian church in AD 100. What happened in between to move from one to the other? Something major and mind changing. No other possibility has ever been suggested with the impact of the resurrection. Unlikely as it was it is still the fundamental foundation point of our faith.

 

Some people criticize what Paul did here arguing that it was his relative lack of success that made him talk about ‘preaching Christ crucified … foolishness to Gentiles’ to the Corinthians. But it is hard to see how he could possibly have been any more successful in such a hotbed of philosophic thought where they ‘spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.’ At least a few people, two of whose names he knew, came to belief as the result of his preaching.

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