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Gospel Access Among the Intellectual Elite (Part 2)

November 12, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 17:22–34

Gospel Access Among the Intellectual Elite (Part 2) – Acts 17:22–34

PRAY & INTRO: The night sky… ***

Remember that Paul’s spirit was provoked because of the idolatry in the city of Athens, and then after beginning to interact with and proclaim the gospel to Gentiles in the marketplace, some of the philosophers invited him to speak about this “new teaching” more among the Areopagus.

Two key areas of application: Paul’s example of being faithful with opportunities to proclaim Christ (this time to pagan thinkers), and immediacy and importance of big-God theology.

Acts 17:22–34 ESV

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Last week we emphasized the faithfulness of Paul’s practice with opportunities, which led to him having this further opportunity among the Areopagus. We also noted that he establishes credibility and goodwill with a respectful tone and connecting with them through common ground (knowing something of how they think and relating to it).

But Paul knows that common ground isn’t good enough; he must lead them to higher ground. He therefore must find a good starting place in order to correct the root of their wrong thinking.

When proclaiming Christ, where do we start? (v. 23)

Paul finds his best point of contact for gospel proclamation to be the place where he spots the root of their wrong thinking.

Paul’s aim with the Jews was also to correct the root of wrong thinking, but he had a different starting place, a different emphasis. The Jews and God-fearers believe that they ought to worship Yahweh, they believe that they are accountable to him and must follow his command, and they believe in the authority of the Scriptures. But Paul then would use the OT Scriptures as his starting place to prove to them that the Messiah’s death and resurrection was necessary—because of God’s holiness and our consistent disobedience, because of God’s requirement of a payment for sin, and because of God’s promise that he would provide for salvation. And add to this the fact that it can be seen in Scriptural prophecy that this would take place—the Messiah’s suffering on our behalf and God raising him from the dead.

- For these listeners, Paul has to get at the root of wrong thinking about God: I found this inscription, To an unknown god. What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. - Polytheistic; so covering all their bases, even have one to an unknown god… in case of one or more we may have missed so far.

- Paul will go on to show that this deity who is foreign to them should not in fact be foreign at all, and that he is the one true God, who made the world and everything in it, and the one to whom we must ultimately answer.

As we proclaim Christ to others, we too need to listen well and seek to know something of our audience, so that we can start with common ground and head to higher ground. To do that, understand where they are coming from so that you can begin at the root of wrong thinking, to work on correcting the first fundamental error that forms the basis for their wrong worldview.

Besides knowing something of your audience, though, you must know the God you proclaim. The more we study the word of God to know the God of the gospel, the more overwhelmed we are with God with the God we present. Are we more or less persuasive when we are enthralled with the God we proclaim? And the more saturated we are with the Scriptures, the better we are at listening for the falsehood underlying people’s thinking, and the better we are at giving answer that aligns with what God says they need to hear (whether or not it’s a direct quote).

Know God by knowing his word, and know yourself and others by knowing God’s word. And listen well to find a starting place to correct the root of wrong thinking.

Now again, in Paul’s case here, he’s dealing with a fundamental error in thinking about deity and about our relationship to deity.

What must everyone come to understand about God and about us? (vv. 24-28)

Paul presents God as Creator and Sustainer, in all his greatness and glory, and also the corresponding truth that man is dependent on God and beholden to God. (Right anthropology is contingent upon right theology.) [Explain] The more you know of God in truth, the more you will know of yourself in truth. (Without knowing God, we don’t know who we are or what we’re about.)

-The God who made the world and everything in it. This God is beyond and before all other deities formulated by the imagination of mankind. - Though Paul is not quoting the Bible to them, everything he says is saturated with the truth of God’s revealed word. (Just ask the obvious question: Where does Paul get his information?)

-Being Lord of heaven and earth, God does not live in temples built by man… from almost anywhere in ancient Athens, and certainly from the Roman agora (where Paul likely would have been speaking to this Areopagus group at the Royal Stoa) one could see the Acropolis, the citadel with their most prominent temples, such as the famous Parthenon, with Ruins that can be seen to this day.

-Nor does this Lord of heaven and earth “need” our service/worship (he doesn’t need us to build him temples or monuments)… because he’s the Creator (the one who gives life and breath and everything we have). - But not “needing” our service doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve our undivided worship; in fact, it is quite the opposite. The fact that he has no lack doesn’t mean he isn’t pleased with our right response to worship him. (In fact, we will see [at v. 30] that God rightly and reasonably has expectation of us, that we must respond to him.)

-It is this God who has actively created all peoples from the first man that he made, and he appointed their time period and boundaries of their dwelling place, their habitation. -For those of you who are familiar with your Hebrew Scriptures, the OT, notice Paul is saying that this doesn’t just apply to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob’s descendants but to all peoples and individuals of all places and times, of all ethnicities and languages. I for one thoroughly enjoy this truth and gratefully giving God credit for placing me here and now, interweaving my life with yours for the sake of his kingdom and glory. The Scriptures confirm that the same is true for us in our trials: God is providentially orchestrating all these things. The question is, how will we respond to him in the midst of what he is doing or allowing?

-Along those lines, then, God has made us all and determined our time and place, that we should seek him, even if only groping about with our limited understanding we might make effort to find him (discover the reality of his existence, his presence). - The point is not they we can succeed on our own, but that of our responsibility. As the early chapters of Romans teach, all people fall short of seeking God wholeheartedly and fall short of living up to God’s holiness (Rom 1:18-3:20).

-Yet this one true God who is so ‘other,’ so unique, is also not far from us. -Your observation of the natural world (Epicureans), and your rigorous reason, your search for the supreme logic/logos (Stoics), should in fact be leading you to conclude the existence of the unique God. -Without excuse: creation and conscience (Rom 1:19-20, 2:15)

-Even some of your own poets have rightly acknowledged that we should know the immediacy of his presence in our very existence: “In him we live and move and have our being,” possibly from Epimenides of Crete.

-And Paul quotes a second poet, from the poem “Phainomena” by Aratus, to indicate a recognition or admission by some that we are God’s offspring: he made us. (Paul quoting these poets on something true they’ve said to connect with his audience and gain ground with them does not mean that he agrees with everything these poets say, nor would he put them on a par with Scripture.)

God is Creator and Sustainer, we are dependent upon him for our existence, and he has rightful claim to our undivided worship.

What happens if we don’t repent and rightly worship God but instead persist in idolatry? (vv. 29-31)

(God is Creator and Sustainer, we are dependent upon him for our existence, and he has rightful claim to our undivided worship.) Therefore, if we persist in idolatry, we will be judged. The only escape from God’s righteous judgment of sin is submission to the resurrected Jesus as the only means to be righteous, who himself will judge the world by this righteous standard.

-If God made us, Paul’s argument goes (in v.29 launching from this quote), with as wonderful and complex as we his creatures are, why would we think that some image made by the art and imagination of man (even in silver or stone or gold) would do him justice? How is that silliness representative of the way God should be acknowledged?

-Paul has circled back to foolishness of idolatry at the root of their wrong thinking. The true God is far beyond man’s idolatrous trinkets. Consequently, all other so-called gods of our own imagination are indeed silly idols… trinkets… compared to the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

At v. 30 Paul reaches a significant turning point. He shifts from talking about God to the accountability of his listeners to this God and to the one whom he sent. This initiates the point of his distinctly Christian appeal. The purpose of moving them away from their idolatry to the worship of the one true God is also to get them to repent and respond to the Christ whom God has sent. 

Whom has God appointed as Lord of judgment and Lord of salvation? (v. 31)

He whom God has appointed as judge is also the only means to be rescued from our guilt: the Lord Jesus Christ.

-A new era of accountability has been inaugurated (v. 30), and it will end in the appointed judgment of all mankind by the resurrected Lord Jesus. God has already set a fixed day, though we know not exactly when it will be. He has already established the Lord Jesus as judge, whom he vindicated and exalted by his glorious resurrection from the dead.

And this judgment will be done in perfect righteousness. There will be no “well, but I didn’t know any better” or “I tried my best” or “I was better than so and so.” Jesus is the perfect standard, and Jesus is the only means. - It is insufficient to just tinker with these high-minded ideas; acknowledging this God must lead to complete submission. We must realize that our sinful idolatry is killing us (like the serpents in the wilderness), and so repent and look on Jesus as Lord.

What happens when we faithfully proclaim Christ? (vv. 32-34)

Many reject, but some believe. Many “mock” in fact, but some believe. (scoff, to laugh at with contempt and derision)

Paul has in fact faithfully done his part. Paul’s message hits the mark. Even though this is like he has only gotten started, what he has been able to say makes an impact. They respond in either rejection or wanting to hear more. Dionysius and Damaris and others believe and follow Christ!

Our expectation is the same. ***

So how and why will we faithfully proclaim Christ like Paul does?

Conclusion: Our foundation for obedience is to worship God.

Paul is rightly provoked in his spirit by their idolatry, in a jealous zeal for the glory of the one true God. He doesn’t just throw up his hands in frustration. Instead, he takes whatever opportunity God provides to proclaim the gospel. And Paul doesn’t ignore their wrong lifestyle. However, instead of merely attacking wrong behavior, he delves behind their way of living to the false thinking that shapes their living. And Paul presents right worship of God as the antidote, with submission to Jesus Christ as the only means to be restored in right relationship to God. … where he gets cut off bc of talk of the resurrection. But some wanted to hear more. Thus Paul’s faithfulness God used for yet further opportunity, leading the salvation of Dionysius, and Damaris, and others.

Worship God through faith in Jesus Christ. Know God from the Scriptures. Know man from the Scriptures. Follow Jesus to obey Jesus. (compassion, command)

Remember that all of this starts with Paul’s own heart of worship of God as supreme above all other things in his life, and with his own submission to Jesus as Lord and therefore both duty and desire to follow his command. The Lord has made me his child and his ambassador, a citizen of his kingdom and his soldier, a disciple and a disciple-maker.

Paul’s identity, purpose, and behavior are bound up in the worship of God and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord. Let us go and do likewise.



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