Skip Heitzig - Acts 16:25-17:34
- Buy this sermon
Father, we deliberately still our hearts before you. We just want to, in prayer, take a breath, so to speak. And we're inviting you to be in charge, be in control, be the teacher, the divine instructor behind the human, flawed instructor. We pray, Father, that you would, as you reveal what Paul, and Silas, and others did in this book, give us examples of what to do, what to avoid. Show us principles, Lord. We don't want to just know the word of God, though there is value in that. We really want to know the God of the word. We pray, Lord, that we would understand you, and your values, your heart of love for people, for the world. And then Father, we pray that we might by your spirit emulate those things that are most pleasing to you. In Jesus' name. Amen.
So this morning, I was thinking about when I was single, which was a long time ago. And I was jogging my memory. And I was trying to think back to the early days of wanting to be a church planter. And I remember feeling sort of forlorn and like time had passed me by. And I was getting old. And I remember telling the Lord, Lord, I think I'm like 23 or 24-years old by that time, and I haven't planted a church yet. What's up? And so I finally got this interesting letter from Aspen, Colorado, from a small group that asked me to come up and take over their home Bible study. Which I love home Bible studies. I said this church grew out of that.
And I remember thinking, Aspen, Colorado, the Lord just might be in that. After all, I was living in Huntington Beach, California. And where would God call somebody from there? Aspen, or Hawaii, or something like that. So I'm thinking this is the Lord. And I start pursuing it, and writing, and planning to go up and visit. And the Lord, without going through the details, just closed the doors in my face, just bam, bam, close, sort of like what we have been reading in the book of Acts last time. And the Lord forbade Paul to go into the area of Asia and then Bithynia. He tried to go to places, and the Holy Spirit didn't let him. So I had that interesting experience of the Lord saying, no, you're not going to Aspen now.
I had gotten the first letter right. It was an "a" word that I would eventually be called to, an "a" name. But it wasn't Aspen. It ended up being Albuquerque. What I thought was the Lord's will was a closed door, and then eventually an open door. Now, Paul the Apostle had already been on his missionary journey. And it was quite successful. He began in Antioch of Syria. He moved over to Cyprus, that island off the coast in the Mediterranean where Barnabas was from, his companion on the first trip. And then he moved up into the coast, into the mainland of modern day Turkey, into the ancient area of Galatia. He had great success. But he also had great difficulty, because they took him outside of the city of Lystra. And they pelted him with rocks, thinking he was dead. He gets back up on his feet, eventually goes back into the town that stoned him, and continued preaching.
So we understand, in his first trip, we're dealing with a very gloriously stubborn man who believes God wants to reach the world, no matter if it cost him his life. After that first missionary journey, he goes back to Antioch. After a while, they go back out again. Now, we're dealing with this second missionary journey. And you remember when he was at Troas, after trying to go to two places, and the Holy Spirit said, no, no. Then at Troas, he gets a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, come over to Macedonia and help us. He wakes up the next day, and goes, I think God wants us to go to Macedonia. So he goes there.
Now, in chapter 16, and chapter 17, and into chapter 18, which comprises his second missionary journey, he goes to Phillipi, which is in Macedonia. He'll go to Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and then back all the way to Antioch. That will finish off his second missionary journey. We're just sort of beginning that, or in the middle of it. He has left Troas. He has gone to Phillipi, we saw that last time. But we left Paul in jail. When we were together last, Paul was in prison. His feet and hands were in stocks. He had just been beaten for his faith in Jesus. And you just have to picture this beat up guy with his arms outstretched, his feet stretched out. He's in pain. And it's midnight, and he starts singing songs of praise to God.
It's an amazing picture to keep in our head. It was an amazing way to end, because he's not sulking, he's singing. He's not pouting, he's praising. Now, I would be praying if I were in prison like Paul. But the things I would pray would not be nice things. I talked to you last time about some of the imprecatory psalms of David. Those are the ones that I would call to mind if I were in the Philippian jail, like, oh, Lord, break their teeth in their mouth in Jesus' name. Amen. I'm so glad that's in the Bible. I won't tell you when I had prayed that. But I always feel that you should be honest with God about how you feel. And God has veto power, right? He always does have veto power.
It's not like you're going to pray something, and God is going to do whatever your little heart desires. That would be careless and dangerous. So I pour out my heart, quite honestly, to the Lord, knowing he has veto power and will say either yes, or no, or rebuke me in the process, or whatever. Paul praising God. There was an earthquake in the prison. The doors were unhinged, opened up, so all the prisoners could escape. The guard who was supposed to be watching the prison had fallen asleep. He wakes up, draws his sword, and is about to commit harry carry, about to commit suicide. And Paul, hearing the sword come out of the sheath, knowing what's up, knowing that Roman law stipulated if prisoners escape while it's your watch, because it's your responsibility, it is your life for theirs, you have that death sentence that you will face, Paul knew that.
And so he yells out. He goes, don't hurt yourself, we're still here. The man, trembling, went to Paul and Silas, and said, what must I do to be saved. And we saw Paul's answer. It says, verse 27, "the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep, seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew the sword, was about to kill himself, but Paul called out with a loud voice saying, do yourself no harm, for we are all here. And then he called for a light, ran in, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, the singing midnight prisoners. And he brought them out, and said, sirs, what must I do to be saved. And so they said, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."
That's it? That's it That's all? That's all. Paul didn't say, well, if you want to get saved, you have to join a church, get baptized, which he will get baptized. But he's answering the question, not what do I do after I'm saved, but what do I do to be saved. And Paul knew the gospel. And he wrestled himself for years in Arabia after his own salvation with the law versus grace. And he knew there's only one answer, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. And then he says this. "You will be saved and your household." This verse has caused a bit of consternation, argument, discussion over the years. Because it has been misused by people to imagine that Paul was saying that, if you believe, automatically your family will also be saved. If you're saved, your whole family is going to get saved.
Now, that is not what Paul is saying. And we know that's just not true. I remember when I got saved, and I prayed for my family, and I witnessed to my family, they didn't all respond the way I responded. So there's not sufficient information here to construct a doctrine out of familial salvation based on one person, then that family getting saved. That's not what Paul is saying. Paul is not saying, automatically, if you get saved, then your whole family will get saved. I think what Paul is doing is one of two things, either expressing God's intention for that family or, better yet, he's giving a prophecy.
He is speaking in the prophetic. Because maybe the Lord gave him insight that not only is this man going to believe and get saved, but it's going to also spill onto his family. Because what is the stipulation for salvation? Not being related to a person who's saved. What's the stipulation? Believe. Now, his whole family was saved eventually. But that's because his whole family believed. Paul preached to his whole family. His whole family believed. And his whole family was baptized as an outward expression of their salvation, as you will see.
"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be saved and your household. Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and immediately all his family were baptized. Now, when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them, and he rejoiced having believed in God with all his household." Do you see the wording? Paul preached to them all. They all listened to what he had to say. They all believed what he had to say. They were all baptized.
It began with him, that night, saying , what must I do to be saved. It continued to the whole family. So Paul was probably speaking a prophecy when he said that, these words to that Philippian jailer that night in jail. "And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officer saying, let these men go. So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, the magistrates have sent to let you go." He's probably saying it all excited, like this is good news. You can go. "Now, therefore depart, and go in peace."
Now, watch this. I mentioned Paul was stubborn. "But Paul said to them, they have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now, do they put us out secretly? No indeed. Let them come themselves and get us out." Oh, Paul. Really? Now, Paul was a Roman citizen. I am reminding you of that. He will remind his captors in Jerusalem of that. He reminds his captors here of that. He will remind Herod Agrippa of that, and Felix, and Festus of that, et cetera. He was a Roman citizen. There were certain rights afforded to a Roman citizen. Cicero once said, to bind a Roman citizen is an abomination, is a crime. To beat him, to flog him, is an abomination. And Paul knew that you could not beat an uncondemned Roman citizen. It was against Roman law. They had beaten him with rods.
So the guy comes back, not knowing Paul is a Roman citizen, saying, they're letting you go. Oh, no, they are not. You go tell them, the magistrates, what they just did. You tell them that there is a Roman citizen who has stripes on his back from their rods. They put them there. They have to come and get us out. Paul had them right where he wanted him, just shaking in their little Roman booty's. "And the officers told these words to the magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them, and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia", remember Lydia? The seller of purple from Thyatira? "The Lord opened her heart. And when they had seen the brethren, they encourage them. And they departed."
So a church is starting in Phillipi. A few women down at the Riverside, the Lord opened up the heart of one named Lydia. Now, there's a Philippian jailer and his family that are part of these people. The brethren mentioned in verse 40 are the believers, probably a very small number, but probably housed in Lydia's home. And so the church began in a home, a home Bible study started by Paul. Wouldn't you love to go to Paul's home Bible study? And so once again, for years, I taught home Bible studies. And that's how this church began, as a home Bible study. And this format is largely how we began our home Bible study. We just have a larger living room on Wednesdays now. That's all.
Still the same format. So Paul will write a letter to the church at Phillipi, which we covered on Sunday mornings, we called it technicolor joy. And he will begin by saying, Paul and Timothy, bond servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ who are in Phillipi. So this little home Bible study, beginning with Lydia, and the Philippian jailer, and family, will grow to where Paul is addressing all the Saints. It will grow and become a viable and very exciting church.
Now, verse 1, chapter 17. "When they had passed through Ampiphilis and Apolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went into them, and for three sabbaths, reasoned with them from the scriptures." Thessalonica is just a little over 100-miles journey from Phillipi. So Paul walked there. It was the capital of Macedonia. And it was on a very important road. There was a road connecting the Western Empire that went across Macedonia to the eastern empire. And that was the Via Egnatia. It was this main Roman road. The Romans built thousands of miles of roads, about 52,000 miles of roads, many of which are still in existence to this day. You can walk on parts of Roman roads that were built a couple of thousand years ago.
So it was a large city, about 200,000 people. It was a chief city. It was the capital, as I said, of Macedonia. And it was considered the key, because of its position on that road. It was the key to all of Macedonia. So Paul passes through two little towns that are mentioned here, goes from Phillipi to Thessalonica. Goes through those two other towns that are mentioned, but there is no record of any work there. Now, there is an important strategy that Paul employed. Paul is not going to hick towns. He's going to main towns. He's going to main towns, sharing the gospel there. He's going to have an impact there.
And then once the gospel penetrates that large cosmopolitan area, it's his belief that the Holy Spirit is going to use those towns, those major cosmopolitan areas to send out their own missionaries to the littler towns. Which proved to be true, especially with this town, Thessalonica. When Paul writes First Thessalonians to this church, he writes this. "You became examples to all in Macedonia", this is First Thessalonians, in chapter 1. "You became examples to all in Macedonia and Akaya who believe, for from you, the word of the Lord sounded forth." Very interesting word. I did a whole study just on this word at one time. It's the word "exsiccatae." Our word "echo" comes from "eccos," is in the word "exsiccatae." It echoed forth from, it resounded in waves from, is the idea, this city of Thessalonica.
"The word of the Lord sounded forth, echoed forth, not only in Macedonia and Akaya, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone out so that we do not need to say anything." So the word of the Lord came to them through Paul. Eventually, the word of the Lord went from them. They became receivers of the truth, and then they became transmitters of the truth. That is God's plan for your life. God's plan is not that you just receive, receive, receive, soak, soak, soak, study, study, study, read, read, read, get spiritually fat, fat, fat. He wants you to get spiritually fat. And then he wants you to exercise and get lean again.
And the way you exercise and get lean again is by taking the truths that you learn and disseminating it to others, take principles that you hear, make it your own, and tell somebody else. By the way, you will learn it faster when you tell what you know to somebody else. So the word of the Lord came to them. Paul says, "the word of the Lord went through them" as well. So this very strategic town of Thessalonica Paul goes to. And the word of the Lord will come through them. Verse 2. "Paul, as his custom was, went into them." He's in a synagogue. "And for three weeks, three sabbaths", Now, I love this. You're going to find this word a lot with Paul, and especially even in this chapter. It says he "reasoned with them from the scriptures."
The Christian faith is reasonable faith. Paul never went, and said, hey, believe this just cause you ought to believe it. Believe it just cause. He reasoned with them. He wanted them to know what to believe and why to believe it. So you'd find Paul reasoning with them. And you would have to reason with Jewish scholars in a synagogue to get them to believe that Jesus is the messiah. You're not going to just go in there willy-nilly, and go, Jesus is the guy you guys have been looking for, Amen. You better believe that. But for three weeks, week after week, sabbath service after service, he reasoned with them from the scriptures.
Hey, parents. Let me encourage you to reason with your children from the scriptures. Please, don't expect our wonderful Bible Island, they do such a great job, they have for years, don't expect them to give all that your kids need. Reason with your children from the scriptures. Show them why they ought to believe certain things. Do it yourself. Reason with them. God said, come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. And notice verse 3, "explaining and demonstrating that the Christ, the Messiah, had to suffer and rise again from the dead, saying, this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ. And some of them were persuaded. And a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace."
Now, I've always loved the old King James translation of this verse. It says they took, listen to this translation, "lewd fellows of the baser sort." Come on. That is just good. "Lewd fellows of the baser sort." You just don't get any gnarlier than that. But it's translated into a more modern translation, "evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all of the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people."
Notice the two effects of Paul's ministry in Thessalonica, some were persuaded, some were not persuaded. You see that in two verses, in verse 4 and in verse 5. There was a strong reaction, a strong favorable reaction, a strong unfavorable reaction. No middle ground. Some were persuaded, some were not persuaded, and they got really mad about it. I think that when you share the gospel, you should make it unmistakably clear, unmistakably clear. For years, we have used the radio for, not only Bible teaching, but also evangelism.
We've had a little format that we call God Spots we've put on hundreds of radio stations around the country for years, just little snippets of truth. Not just on Christian radio stations, but many times on secular radio stations we've done it just on purpose, just to target unbelieving audiences. While they're in their car, they're going to get 15, 20, 30 seconds of truth, and they're going to have to deal with it.
And so it's like a music bit, and then bam, a little nugget of truth. And I loved the responses we would get, all the way from we loved this, we didn't expect this, we're believers, but we heard it on the secular radio station as we were going to work, others saying, you have no right to put that on our radio station, even though we do because it is American, you can buy time, and we did. But they just thought, look, we're heathens, and that's our turf. So don't mess with our turf. So I loved getting two strong reactions. One saying, go for it, others saying, go home. Some were persuaded. Some were not persuaded.
Now, I just want to draw your attention again to the fact that Paul is in Thessalonica for how many weeks? Three. Three sabbaths he reasoned with them. Then he's going to move on to Berea. Three weeks and a church starts, that's not a long time. We don't read of Paul going into Thessalonica, and saying, OK, Silas and boys, we need to get a demographic study of the city of Thessalonica for this church plant. We need to do an internet campaign to launch this, though I'm not opposed to these as techniques. They work. I understand they have their place. But of course, Paul didn't have that ability to do a demographics study, probably wouldn't have anyway. He didn't take the right population in the right part of town, because the whole town was unchurched. Because there was no church ever. This was the first one.
But it only took three weeks and a church was started. Listen, it does not take long when God wants to move. All he did was unleash the word of God, and let the Holy Spirit do his deal. Three weeks, a church was started. We know it was a pretty good church, because he writes First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians later to the church. A very viable strong church that grew up in that area and also sent out missionaries around them. Verse 6. So Paul's at the house of Jason. Jason had Paul. "They go to the House of Jason, sought to bring him out to the people. But when they did not find them, they drag Jason and some of the brethren to the rulers of that city, crying out, these who have turned the world upside down have come here too."
Now, listen to what they're saying. "These guys who turned the world upside down have come here too." What a wonderful thing to hear. Now, they didn't mean it as a compliment. They meant it as a cut. They meant it as a complaint. But as a believer, I would take this as a compliment. Given the condition of the world, this is a compliment. Given the condition of the dark, and deplorable, and fallen state of this humanity called the world, when the world says, you've turned the world upside down, I go, hallelujah. We need more people like that, who will turn their world upside down. You see, what the world calls right-side up is really upside down, and what the world calls upside down is really right-side up.
Paul didn't turn the world upside down as God intended the world to be. He turned it back to its original ideal, among the believers at least. Believers in harmony with God, loving God, praising Jesus, trusting him. That's not upside down. That's right-side up. But they didn't mean this as a compliment, but as a cut, a complaint. "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too." My prayer for you is that you would turn your world upside down. I pray that you will not be inoculated with a mild form of Christianity so as to be rendered immune from the real thing.
I pray that you'll be a radical. Go radical? Yeah. Just love people, share with people. That's radical. Just live the loving, compassionate, wonderful, authentic Christian life in your community. That's radical. And that's right-side up. And it doesn't mean you have to go be a church planter, be a pastor, be a worship leader. God needs doctors, lawyers, secretaries, business people, politicians, salt and light in their community. That's how you turn the world upside down, right-side up. "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them," they continue their complaint. "And these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another King. Jesus."
Now, that happens to be accurate. And it will eventually get the Christians into trouble. The persecution that will be fomented and burgeon under Nero, Domitian, and others will be in part because believers gave their allegiance to King Jesus rather than King Caesar. When a yearly libelous had to be signed and a pledge had to be given, Kyrios Kaísar, Caesar is Lord, the Christian wouldn't say it. The Christian would say, Caesar isn't Lord, Jesus is Lord. And it would cost his or her life.
This is the beginning of that complaint. "They're not acknowledging Caesar. They're saying there is another King. Jesus. And they troubled the crowd", these lewd fellows of the baser sort. "They troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security", that is bribe money, financial money. Financial money, sorry, that was redundant. A cash bribe. "...from Jason and the rest, they let them go. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away" Get out of town boys. "Sent them by night to Berea." Just a few miles away. "When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews."
Are you seeing a pattern with Paul? Yes. Every city, it's the synagogue first. Why the synagogue first? Because as Paul will say, the gospel is to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, the Gentile, the non-Jew. But why the Jew first? Because the messiah was predicted through the Jewish scriptures. It was the messiah the Jews spoke about, Isaiah spoke about, Jeremiah spoke about, Ezekiel spoke about, Hosea spoke about. It was the fulfillment of the promise to Israel, and to the world, but he begins first with the Jew.
"They went to the synagogue of the Jews." I love verse 11. It is one of my all-time favorite verses of scripture. I recommend you commit it to memory. "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word of God with all readiness and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." Have the heart of a Baryon. Berean.
Now these were Jewish people, Jewish unbelievers, who heard, in their synagogue, a rabbi giving them Old Testament teachings. Ooh, that sounded amazing, they thought. I wonder if it's true. Well, let's go home. Let's go find scrolls of the prophets. And let's look this stuff up. And really, let's see if what he said is so.
Now, let me encourage you in like manner to don't just take what people say as a blanket statement. Well, I read it somewhere, so it's got to be true. Skip said it, it's got to be true. I think Wednesday nights is a group of Bereans, you hear, but then you want to look up yourself to make sure that's really what he quoted, what he said. Is that right? Is that right with the rest of the scripture? I don't discourage that. I encourage that. It'll make you a stronger believer. It'll help you reason through the scriptures.
So they were more noble, more fair-minded "in that they received the word with a readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore, many of them believed and also not a few of the Greeks", in other words, a whole bunch of Greeks, "...prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica", see, that's not far from Berea, I told you. So word gets back to Thessalonica what happened in Berea, that people are hearing Paul and responding. "When the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Then immediately, their brethren sent Paul away."
Seems to be another pattern with Paul. He's there for a while, then, get out of town, Paul. "They send Paul away to go to sea. Both Silas and Timothy remained there." So Paul goes. Silas and Timothy remain. "So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens, and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed."
Now, Paul is in Athens. And the rest of this chapter, Paul shows his ministry at Athens. The next chapter will be Corinth. Athens was the heart of the Greek empire. Athens had been conquered by the Romans in 146 BC. It was technically a Roman colony. However, it was given free status. It was regarded as a free city, even though it was technically under Roman occupation. Because of its storied past, its incredible background, it was given the status as a free city.
All the way back, many years before this, Alexander the Great, the head of the Greco-Macedonian Empire, had a dream, as I mentioned before, to unite the west and the east together. Effectively, to turn the east into the west. That is, he wanted to spread Greek thinking, Greek language, Greek customs around the world, making it all the way as far as Babylon.
And by the way, Alexander, at age 32, died in Babylon weeping, he said, because there were no more worlds to conquer. So he conquered from west to east, conquered the world, but he sought to impose a Greco-Macedonian culture around the world. And largely, he succeeded. He succeeded in bringing Greek art, Greek drama, Greek politics, Greek architecture into the Roman world and even into our world. The Greek political system of democracy, of a nation ruled by the people, comes to us from the Greek culture. The idea of personal freedoms within a society comes to us from the Greek culture.
The very heart of this was Athens. Paul finds himself at Athens. He's there for a few days. He's waiting for his friends. It says, verse 16, "now, while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." I've been to Athens. And when I was at Athens, I was looking around going, wow, wow, wow. It's just amazing to step into modern Athens. And from the harbor, you can look into Athens, and you can see the Acropolis in the distance, and the Parthenon gleaming like a jewel. Then you go to the Parthenon, and the Odeon, and the theater, and the agora, and the Areopagus, Mars Hill, which is all mentioned here, and it's just amazing what they did.
But when Paul went to Athens, he didn't go, wow, like I did. He went, whoa. Because Paul looked at Athens not as a sightseer, but as a soul-winner. And what he saw bothered him. He didn't say, look at all those cool statues, look at those cool temples. He said, this is a shame, those statues in these temples. Because it shows me, said Paul, the failure of these religious systems to satisfy the heart of mankind. These systems can't take away their sin. These systems are false religious systems. His heart was stirred. He was provoked. He saw a city that had been wholly given over to idols.
When you go to modern cities like Hollywood or you go to Las Vegas, I wonder what your response, your reaction inwardly is. It's pretty amazing. You see all the screens that are shining on the strip in Las Vegas, and the lights, and the hotels, and the fountains. And it's easy to go, wow. But you just look a little deeper. Or you look at Hollywood. You don't have to look very far. These are places that are looked over by millions of visitors, but overlooked by millions of believers. I might have overlooked Athens. I might have just looked over it, and gone, wow. Paul went, whoa. He was troubled.
It's sort of like Jesus. He stood on the Mount of Olives, a place that some of us stood a few weeks ago. And we were going, wow, look at this place. We're in Jerusalem. There's the holy city. That's where the temple stood. Jesus looked at Jerusalem, and he wept over it. He said, oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I wanted to gather you, as a mother hen gathers her chicks. But you were not willing.
See, your house has left to you desolate. And there will not be one stone left upon another till all is thrown down. He wept, because he was after souls, not sites. Paul was after souls, not sites. It's OK to be a sightseer. It's OK to take tours to Athens or tours to Israel. But at some point, we need to get past the wow and go you the whoa. This culture needs something more than just the accouterments of festivity.
So because he was grieved over it, verse 17, "therefore, he reasoned." There it is again. "He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the Gentile worshippers in the agora", that's the Greek word, the marketplace, "daily with those who happened to be there." When Paul goes to Athens, he confronts the religious culture. He confronts the civic culture. And in a few verses, you will see that he confronts the political culture. First of all, the religious culture. He goes and preaches to the Jews in the synagogue. That's his pattern. They're religious people. They believe in the scripture. They didn't know the scripture was fulfilled in Jesus. They needed to know.
I believe the gospel needs to be preached, not only in that marketplace, and it does. It also needs to be preached in churches. And some people say, why do you need to preach the gospel in churches. They go, you shouldn't preach to the choir. If the choir is singing the wrong song, you should preach to the choir. And many churches just don't know the gospel. They need to hear it afresh. So Paul began in the religious culture, confronted the religious culture. Then in the marketplace, he confronted the civic culture. This was the center of free speech, the agora. People would come and go with different ideas, Paul thought. This is ideal, man.
I'm coming. And I'm going. And I've got ideas. And I'm going to share them with whoever, I love this, happens to be their. Who would happen to be in the marketplace that day when Paul showed up? It would be exciting. Verse 18. "Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some of them said, what does this babbler want to say. Others said, well, he seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods, because he preached to them Jesus and the Resurrection.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus", that's Mars Hill. It's a outcropping of rock. I've been there on a few different occasions with groups. You can look over the marketplace below you. You can look back and see the higher-raised hill behind you, the Acropolis of Athens, and the temples that are on it. They took them up on Mars Hill, saying, these philosophers, "may we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak, for you are bringing some strange things to our ears, therefore we want to know what these things mean, for all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but to either tell or hear some new thing." Sounds like a college campus.
But what he was doing here actually is confronting the political culture. Because Mars Hill, the Areopagus, was sort of like the ancient Oval Office in Athens. It's the place where the leading politicians, the leading thinkers, would get together and talk about the meaning of life, talk about laws, adjudicate laws. It was all there. That was the center of the political world. And like politicians, they were there to hear and tell some new thing. That's sort of a lot like politicians. They like to talk about things, but not really do anything. And Paul was right in the middle of it, man. From the synagogue to the marketplace to Congress to Oval Office to the political epicenter. And he preached Jesus to them.
Now, there's two groups of philosophers that are mentioned, the Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans was a school of philosophic thought, started by a guy named? Epicurus. Hence Epicurean. Epicurus about 300 years before Christ. He came up with this philosophy. In short, they believed in randomness. On one hand, they said that there is a pantheon of gods. There are many different gods and goddesses. But they really have nothing to do with the real world. Their activity has nothing to do with humanity on Earth. That life on Earth came about as a random collision of particles. Sound familiar? And because when you die, nothing happens after death. They believed in no afterlife. They believed the chief end of man was the absence of pain and the pursuit of pleasure.
Have a lot of good times. Have a lot of pleasure. Because this is all you get. When you die, you're done. That was Epicureanism in a nutshell. The Stoic philosophers were a bit different. The Stoics was a school started by Zeno, Z-E-N-O. A philosopher. Also a Grecian philosopher. Zeno was sort of like a new age philosophy as far as pantheistic, they believed in a pantheistic worldview, that everything is God. The trees, you know. Like modern day pantheism. Everything around you is essentially God. Mother nature. Mother Earth. And the Stoics, philosophically, were different than the Epicureans. The Stoics believed that you need to endure all things. The Epicureans believed you need to enjoy all things. So without going too much into depth beyond that, because I have a few minutes left, these were the two schools that were speaking with Paul in the Areopagus.
Now, Paul is bringing, not only the Jewish messiah, but he is bringing the Resurrection from the dead, something that they thought was bizarre. They had never heard of such nonsense. "Then Paul stood", verse 22, "in the midst of the Areopagus, and said, men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious." I love his approach. He is polite.
This is a nice way a polite way of saying, I notice you guys have a lot of temples and you worship a lot of false gods and goddesses. But he doesn't say, I notice that you guys are a bunch of pagans. Hell-bound heathens. He says, since I've been in your town, you guys are very devout. You're very religious. One of the Roman satirists used to say that it's easier to find a god in Athens than it was to find a man in Athens. Because there were 30,000 statues in that city that represented different deities. Paul says, "I perceive that you're very religious. For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even noticed an altar with this inscription, agnosto theo." To the unknown god.
"Therefore, the one whom you worship without knowing, Him, I proclaim to you." He said, you guys are so religious, 30,000 statues on the streets and in temples, you even have a statue, or not a statue, but you have an altar with an inscription that says "to the unknown god." Just in case we left someone out who might be a god or a goddess, we don't want to offend them. So this is the unknown god. And Paul saw that. And he thought, perfect place to start a sermon. I'll use that as my illustration. I'll begin at their level. I'll begin in their culture. They know this altar. That's my opening illustration. I'll be nice to them. You're very religious. You worship so much stuff. You even have an altar to an unknown god. The god you don't know is the god you need to know. I'm going to tell you about Him.
That's where he begins. He begins with their culture. And he said, verse 24, now, notice what he does. He begins with God, and works his way down to man. Now, I want you to watch this. He begins with God, and works his way down toward man. Greek philosophy did the exact opposite, they began with man, and worked their way up to the gods. That was their world view. A Greek philosopher named Protagoras, it's summed up in his little saying, "man is the measure of all things." So if there were a slogan of Athens, it would be this. It's all about mankind. Paul's slogan is, it's all about God. He begins with God, and works his way down to man. He begins by telling them, "God who made the world and everything that is in it." He begins saying God is the creator.
"He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He does not dwell in temples made with hands." Verse 25. "Nor is he worshiped with men's hands as though he needed anything, since he gives to all life breath and all things." So he begins, verse 24, God is the creator. Verse 25, God is the sustainer of all life. Verse 26. "And He is made from one blood, every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings." Mark that. Why was I born in this Podunk town? Because God wanted you to be born in this Podunk town. He's determine the boundaries of your habitation. "And so they should seek the Lord in the hope that they might grope for Him, or walk toward Him, or look for Him, search for Him, and find Him, though he is not far from each one of us."
Now, he says God is the ruler. God is the creator. He is the sustainer. He's the ruler of all things. Verse 28. "For in Him, we live, and move, and have our being. As also some of your own poets have said, for we are also his offspring." Now, verse 28 shows to us how well-read in how well-rounded a person Paul was. I don't think Paul had an iPad when he was preaching. I don't think he had notes when he was preaching. But he has a working knowledge. It's in his head. It's in his heart. A working knowledge of Greek philosophy and Greek poetry. And in verse 28, he quotes two Greek poets. "For in Him, we live, and move, and have our being." That's what Epimenides, from the island of Crete, a Greek poet, once wrote. And then "For in Him, we live and move", did I get those backwards? No.
I already said that. Second one. Verse 20. "For we also are his offspring." That was written by another Greek poet named is Aratus of Sully in Cilicia. So he's able to stand up there in Athens, at the Areopagus, and quote two Greek poets off the top of his head, just working knowledge. Pagan Greek ideology. In fact, when it says in verse 28, "we are also are his offspring," you know who Aratus was speaking of? You know who his was? Zeus. A pagan god. We also are Zeus offspring. Paul is quoting him. It would be like a preacher in a sermon quoting Bob Dylan, or Coldplay, or Time, or Newsweek. He was using secular sources to bring a point home to a secular audience.
He wouldn't do this in a synagogue. He would be quoting Old Testament. But here, he's quoting them. He's reaching them on their level, quoting to them their own poets. It's a good strategy for us in sharing with the unbelieving world. We ought to know what the unbelieving world is thinking, is reading, is listening to, understands, to some degree. "Therefore", verse 19, "since we are the offspring of god", he's speaking of the unknown god that he's speaking to them about, "we ought not to think of the divine nature as like gold, or silver, or stone, or something shaped by art, or man's devising.
Truly these times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent. Because he has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising him from the dead." So now, he's speaking about God as the judge. "And when they heard of the Resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, we will hear you go again on this matter. So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed. Among them, Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman called Damaris, and others with him."
One day, you're going to meet Dionysius the Areopagite. So you might want to just say his name a few times so when you're in heaven, and they say, I want to introduce to you Dionysius the Areopagite, you go, oh, I know all about you. I read your conversion story. You're the guy that believed when Paul was in Athens that day. So Paul preached in Athens. And notice the response. There were three responses, rejection, reflection, well, let's think about that. We'll hear you some more later on, and reception.
Some received. Some rejected. Some thought about it. That doesn't mean they are out and out rejected it. Maybe later on, they'll come to saving knowledge. Some don't agree, but I would say it was a success in Athens. I marvel at Paul the Apostle, a well-rounded man suited, not just for Jerusalem, not just for Galatia, not just for Rome, but also for Athens, the cultural epicenter of the world.
Father, we pray that you might make the edge of our lives sharper, make us sharpened instruments. I pray, Lord, that we would know, we would have a working knowledge to some degree of what this world thinks, of what this world believes, of the ideas and the value systems that is going on around us. And Lord, give us a correct answer, like Peter said, that we would be able to answer any man who asks the reason for the hope that is in us with meekness and fear. Lord, I pray that you would make us the kind of people filled with your spirit, knowledgeable of the basics of truth in your word, knowledgeable of our own culture in which we live, that we might, wherever you send us, be able to turn our world upside down, or better yet, right side up, turning men's hearts and women's hearts back to you in a relationship with you. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.