Acts 17 - August 17
Today we will be focusing on verses 16-34. Paul is now in Athens, the capital city of Greece. Athens was a city known for its religious idols and devotion, for its intellectualism, and as you can guess its philosophical culture. According to Paul there were many statues of gods and goddesses all around. This was an extremely pagan city that Paul was in. There are a few things to pick up on in order to get to the point of this text.
- Who were the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers? And what did they believe? The beliefs of the Epicurean’s came from Epicurus who taught that life is about pleasure, pursuing pleasure and having a good time. So pretty much get as much out of life as you can. As one rap song line that comes to mind is “you are here for a good time not a long time,” that is what the Epicureans believed. The Stoics are on the other side of the spectrum. Their beliefs derived from Cypriot Zeno, founder of Stoicism. Their views were like monks, (living a life of discipline), living in harmony with nature, being responsible, being virtuous, being reasonable, etc. The thing these two groups had in common was the way they viewed their god (intentionally using the lowercase “g”). They had a view that god for them was distant, unknowable, a god that did not care nor wanted to intervene in human history.
- What was the Areopagus? The Areopagus which was later named “Mars Hill” was a place where people met as a council. Issues of education, religion, and morals were talked about there. I am sure debates on different philosophical ideas happened often there. Discussions of laws also took place there.
When Paul is in Athens, he is disturbed to see the way the people are living, the amount of idols they worship, and the empty philosophical beliefs that they had. What drives Paul is a fire in him to share the gospel with these people who know inwardly that there is a god but do not know the true God. So, Paul positions himself in the marketplace and talks to anyone he can about the gospel and the people hear this and they’re like “yo I never heard this before.” What Paul was teaching was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which these pagan worshippers had never heard before. They are so intrigued by this new “philosophical” teaching that they take Paul to the Areopagus so that he can discuss this new idea to the council. It is here that Paul delivers the message of the gospel to them. Notice that Paul uses something they are familiar with to start the gospel message, he sees an altar with the inscription “To the unknown god.” He then goes on to shatter the very core of their beliefs. Verse 26-27 “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, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from us.” Paul is telling them that the very God who created everything in existence actually is not far or not mindful of earthly events, but that God is intentionally orchestrating every part of human history and sends His son Jesus Christ to die and rise again so that we can know that God. So, whether they are Epicurean who believe life is about pleasure or a Stoic who are disciplined neither of those ways lead to eternal life but only through the person of Christ can they actually know the true and living God. People mocked him, some agreed to hear him again, and some repented and believed and joined Paul.
These people not only worshiped gods outside of their hearts but also worshiped the gods of their own hearts. They gave into their desires or on the contrary they tried to live a life by their own righteousness. Where do you find yourself? Are you like the Epicurean philosophers who are giving into everything their hearts desired? Are you like the Stoic philosophers trying to live a disciplined life thinking that just morality will get you somewhere? Or are you trusting in the full work of the person of Jesus Christ, knowing that by his righteousness you are able to know the true and living God and abide with Him forever?
Are you preaching Christ crucified and risen? Paul knew that the way the people of Athens would know the gospel was not just by showing them how he lived his life. He needed to preach the words of truth to them so that they could hear. Romans 10:17 “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We are responsible to preach to those close to us and whether they mocked us, agree to hear us again, or believe we are to be faithful in doing so.