Hello and welcome to Lechem Panim. As you know, it has been a very challenging time for Paul and his missionary team here in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas have recently been released from prison, have continued ministry in both Thessalonica and Berea, and are facing fierce opposition from the Jewish leaders in Thessalonica who then come to Berea as well to try to inhibit their ministry. And Paul has therefore been forced to flee to Athens, where he is awaiting Silas and Timothy to join him. And so that is where the story of our passage today takes place; in Athens. It says in…
Acts 17:16 (NKJV)— 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.
Deeply Disturbed-- Now the word translated as “provoked” here [is the Greek word “paroxysm,” meaning “sudden, violent emotion.”] Paul looked at the spiritual lostness of these people who had been deceived and blinded by Satan and who are trapped within a pagan culture and system that was without hope and without salvation and was filled with a combination of both righteous anger and grief, which ought to erupt from the heart of any believer when they see either physical or spiritual slavery.
Futile Idolatry— I remember having that feeling at times during my visits to countries like China, Singapore, Malaysia, or the Asian supermarket down the street (which they said I don’t need my passport to get into). But honestly, here in the Seattle area there is a lot of it, as people have come here from all over the world and have brought their idols with them. I mean it’s a very sad thing to see. My family and I sometimes go out to Asian restaurants and see those little golden cats waving at us; they sometimes have their little shrines set up; and there’s often a statue of Buddha to greet us as we walk in and out. I feel sad because I know that many of these people trust in these things to save them when they really have no power to save.
Impotent gods-- Some time ago I read a story of how [Hideyoshi, a Japanese warlord who ruled over Japan in the late 1500s, commissioned a colossal statue of Buddha for a shrine in Kyoto. It took 50,000 men five years to build, but the work had scarcely been completed when the earthquake of 1596 brought the roof of the shrine crashing down and wrecked the statue. In a rage Hideyoshi shot an arrow at the fallen colossus. "I put you here at great expense," he shouted, "and you can't even look after your own temple.”] But you know, that is how useless idols are. And you and are grieved when we see people living in worship of those false gods.
Compassion That Moves Us-- And here I think Paul feels this similar overwhelming compassion when he sees the idolatry so prevalent there in Athens, where people are worshiping things rather than the Creator; things that have no power to save. And note how he is not just feeling sorry for lost people. No, he is demonstrating Biblical compassion, which is always something that moves you into action. If you and I feel concern for our lost loved ones (or anybody else we know who doesn’t know Jesus), but never take action; never witness; never take the time to enter into their world to bring them the light of Christ, then we don’t really have compassion on them. Compassion (in the Biblical sense) is a movement in your soul that translates into a movement of your body. And that is what Paul is demonstrating. He’s being compelled into action, it says in…
Acts 17:17 (NKJV)— 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.
A Balanced Ministry-- Now I’d like to point out that here you have a demonstration of a healthy balance in ministry. You preach the Word in Church, but then you also carry that Word out into the marketplace; the world. Paul was no doubt at home in the synagogue. But in the marketplace with lost pagans? That was probably outside his comfort zone. But that is where the need was and so that is where he went. And sometimes when it comes to us and our ministry, God may call us out of our comfort zone. He may even call us to another country; another culture. And though we might feel intimidated by that, as with Paul we can see great things happen if we are just willing to step out and obey that calling. Now as Paul is engaging with people in the marketplace, it says in…
Acts 17:18a (NKJV)— 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him.
The Epicureans & Stoics-- Now [The Epicureans and Stoics were the dominant philosophers in Greek culture. The Epicureans believed that seeking happiness or pleasure was the primary goal of life. By contrast, the Stoics placed thinking above feeling and tried to live in harmony with nature and reason, suppressing their desire for pleasure. Thus, they were very disciplined.] So you have two very polar opposite philosophical groups. And it says…
Acts 17:18b (NKJV)— And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”
“Babbler”-- Now I find it funny that the word they use to mock Paul is “babbler”. Where does the word “babbler” come from? Babel; the place where mankind rebelled against God and God drove them apart by confusing their languages. And early in our study of the book of Acts we talked about how (in many ways) Pentecost (where every person heard the Gospel in their own native tongue) was a picture of mankind’s reunification with God in and through the atoning work of Christ, resulting in the outpouring of the presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. How ironic it was then that they called the man who brought to them this good news “babbler”, which was actually the complete opposite of what he was really doing. Let me tell you, people may call you a bigot, intolerant, or any plethora of other things, when in fact you are the complete opposite. You are bringing the good news of perfect love, not hate; of salvation and freedom; not anger and condemnation. So, as my mentor Roman Miller used to say, “Have a thick hide and a warm heart.” And Paul obviously does. Now while some called him “babbler”, it says…
Acts 17:18c-21 (NKJV)— Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
“some new thing”-- Now that last part of the description is not a compliment. These are not people who are just curious about new ideas and who want to grow their understanding. No, these are people who are enslaved to novelty. They are very much like us in our day and age; a people who always think the new is better than the old. The new generation in our day and age, for example, thinks the old is foolish or (even worse) evil, which is why our founding fathers have come under such strong attack. And our progressive schools are getting more and more bold in their helping to shape their students to think ill of their ancestors and their “foolish”/“evil” beliefs. Because, after all, they weren’t as scientifically sophisticated as we are in our day and age. And so what Satan has done is he’s driven between us and our history a wedge of pride and arrogance that makes us incapable of fully understanding both who we are and who we are meant to be. That is what it means to be enslaved to novelty. And the way you break out of that mindset is through committing yourself to humbly examine all the facts and weigh your beliefs against them. You need to reason through your beliefs. And that is what Paul helps them (and all he comes into contact with) to do. It says “he reasoned with” them.
Reasoning With Them-- Now this is so important for us to grasp because Paul is not just preaching at them with passion and conviction. No, if you are going to convince thinking non-believers, you need more than just passion and conviction. You need to show how the evidence supports what you are saying. And this is what made Paul God’s perfect choice for this ministry because these men of Athens were (despite their slavery to novelty) very intelligent, thinking people. Athens was not just a city of magnificent buildings and a plethora of gods; no, it was [a center for Greek culture, philosophy, and education.] And so Paul is the perfect one to bring these men the Good News of Jesus Christ because he himself was from a city that was considered an educational center: Tarsus. He was a rabbi who had trained under a great rabbi, Gamaliel (the finest scholar of his day), and had therefore spent much of his life thinking and reasoning through the scriptures. But not only did he receive training and knowledge in Jewish philosophy and in the Hebrew Scriptures, but he was (as we will see) also deeply familiar with Gentile works, poets, and philosophers as well. And so he was the perfect one to help Gentile pagans understand and connect with a Jewish Messiah. And next week we will see how he does that.
Preparing Ourselves-- But what we need to glean from our passage today is the reminder that you and I also need to prepare ourselves to be strong witnesses for Christ. You and I need to know our stuff and be ready to give an answer. Because [The more we know about the Bible, what it means, and how to apply it to life, the more convincing our words will be.] Now does that mean that we should wait until we feel we know a lot before witnessing? Of course not. We ought to start immediately with what we already know and understand, but at the same time seeking always to grow our understanding so that our witness will become more and more effective as we are able to answer more and more of people’s questions and arguments. It’s like it says in…
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)-- 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
Let us ready and prepare ourselves this week. Amen.
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Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.