Read: Acts 17:16-34
Consider: Paul’s missionary journeys did not always go as planned. In today’s reading from Acts 17 we learn about his visit to Athens. Paul had previously been in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9) and Berea (17:10-15), but had moved on because of the opposition to the message about Jesus that he set before the people there. Despite the opposition in Thessalonica we read: Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. (17:4). In Berea the message had the same positive effect, as we read: As a result, many of them believed, as did a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men (17:12).
Returning to Acts 17:16-34 we read of Paul’s distress at the number of idols he saw throughout the city. Paul, however, was not one to waste an opportunity to share the good news. While waiting for Silas and Timothy to arrive from Berea, he took the opportunity to speak with those who were in the synagogue and in the marketplace (17:17). He also had an opportunity to speak to the members of the Aeropagus (17:19-31).
If we consider how Paul introduced the good news to the members of the Aeropagus, we see that he used something he had seen in Athens as the starting point for his speech. While walking around Athens, Paul had noticed an altar inscribed ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’ (17:23). The Athenians may have been using this as a ‘catch-all’ just in case their idols, representing a panoply of gods, was missing a vital god unknown to them. Paul says: So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you (17:23b). Paul then briefly recounts God’s hand in creation and his sovereignty over all the nations. What was God’s purpose in this? Paul tells us: God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far away from any of us. For in him we live and move and have our being (17:27-28a). Up to this point we have no indication that the members of the Aeropagus disagreed with Paul. However, as Paul moves on to speak of Jesus having been raised from the dead we see a varied reaction to this. We read: When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject’ (Acts 17:32). It isn’t all bad news as we learn that: Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed (17:34a).
What are we to learn from these events? Firstly, it is easier to introduce the good news if we can establish a meeting point between us and those with whom we wish to share the message. Secondly, we should not be surprised that the message is divisive, with some believing and some sneering. Thirdly, we should praise God for anyone who has their eyes opened to the truth of Jesus and, as a result, commits their life to him. Fourthly, we should actively pray for those who sneer at the message, that they may come to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and minds.
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
Pray: Father, we pray for anyone who sneers at the message of the good news about Jesus dying on the cross to pay the penalty of sin and rising again to give us the promise of eternal life. May your Holy Spirit work in their hearts, revealing the reality of Christ to them. Amen
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