Sunday, March 31, 2019
Unstoppable: The Revolutionary Gospel
Part 12: Be Bold in the Marketplace
How do we fulfill the command to “go and make disciples” of all nations when most believe that truth is extremely complex, relational and contextually reliant on socially created experiences? Living near so many differing belief systems has led many to conclude that absolute truth no longer exists, just multiple paths to the “god” of one’s choice.
While evangelizing to this postmodern culture might seem like a unique challenge it is not. Athens in Paul’s time had just as many gods and belief systems as we do today. Even though they believed in many gods, the people of Athens chose to erect an altar to the “unknown god” so that they would not offend whom they did not know. Does that not sound like our culture that believes in many gods but not in the possibility of knowing which one is truly real?
This morning we are going to examine the manner in which Paul begged the Athenians to seek the Creator and sustainer of all life in hopes that we might learn how to evangelize this postmodern culture!
Athens at this time was in their glory days. They had taken the lead in resisting the Persians in the fifth century and resisting Philip of Macedon in the fourth, Athens became known for its military power. Athens reached its height of glory under Pericles (495-429 BC) in which it became known for its numerous temples, splendid buildings, and for being the center of literature, science and rhetoric; attracting intellects all over the world.
The war with Sparta however, that lasted twenty-seven years, put an end to the greatness of Athens. Even though Athens would not return to its former glory, its reputation for intellectual excellence persevered having some of the greatest philosophers of its time living there such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno.
Even though it had been conquered by the Romans in 146 BC, during Paul’s day, Athens continued to be a free city that was still known as the intellectual capital of the Greco-Roman world and the religious capital of Greece.
If we are going to be effectively bold in the marketplace, we must learn a few things from Paul’s encounter with this group in Athens.
I. Start by Being Troubled in Your Spirit – Vs. 16
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”
Now let’s examine Paul’s first step towards evangelizing this pluralistic society. Following his ministry in Berea, we are told that Paul came to Athens and most likely was waiting there for Silas and Timothy to arrive before starting to preach. While Paul initially occupied himself with observing the great works of various artists of this city, he could not help but notice that the representations of gods and demigods were everywhere! The senseless idolatry “provoked his spirit,” it distressed him, for he knew that it was wrong to give honor and glory to other gods that was due to the one true God alone.
When we look upon our postmodern culture should not idol worship also break our hearts as well? Like David, are we not to abhor any thought, word or deed that goes against God?
Psalms 139:21 “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?”
Or have we become so captivated with our culture that we too have come to believe truth is elusive, derived from the imagination of creation, rather than being absolute and defined by our Creator?
To be effective in ministry we must no longer be mere observants to idolatry but instead are to speak the truth concerning God to this generation no matter what the cost!
II. Risk Preaching in Public – Vs. 17
“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
Even though Athens was a shadow of its former greatness, they still had about 10,000 people which would be far more than one person could ever evangelize. In the synagogue Paul met with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks who shared in his distress concerning the worship of idols.
Like Paul we need to empower and encourage other believers to join ministry efforts to reach the lost souls of our society. Paul also went to the marketplace which in Greco-Roman times was the hub of urban life, a center for commerce, trade and the sharing of one’s religious beliefs. It was dangerous for Paul to discuss his monotheistic belief in one God because that meant denying the existence of all other gods.
While the Athenians said they were open to new viewpoints they were very closed on matters of religion, so much so that they put Socrates to death for merely swearing strange oaths and receiving communications from a spirit. Every day Paul took the risk and spoke in the marketplace for he knew that belief in the true God of the universe was the only cure for the eternal death the Athenians were facing!
Even though evangelizing to this modern world will invite persecution, to be effective in ministry one must publicly declare the name of Jesus!
III. Evangelism Invites Criticism – Vs. 18
“Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”
Paul’s preaching at the marketplace soon lead to sharp criticism from two leading schools of philosophy of his time. The first school, the Epicureans believed that the primary goal in life was to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. While they believed in the existence of many gods, they denied divine interference in human affairs, especially vengeance of a god on a human being. They also denied any form of life after death.
The second school, the Stoics believed in the divinity of all things, seeking to maintain harmony with nature while avoiding destructive emotions. Since you cannot control everything, Stoics argued that one must stand tall and take whatever life throws your way.
In response to Paul’s belief in but one true God both groups called him a babbler or a seed-eating, scavenging bird. After all, they did not believe that Paul had a worldview but was merely an amateur, picking up scraps of philosophy from many religious groups without making a coherent picture of his overall beliefs!
Like Paul, when we evangelize this postmodern culture, we must be ready to accept criticism. We too live in an age of pleasure first, do-what-pleases me culture. This “ME” generation does not want to answer to anyone, especially a higher power. While they are very spiritual in nature, their belief in no single god but multiple ones have left them always searching for but never finding any the truth concerning the true God.
2 Timothy 3:6-7 “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”
When preaching to this ‘me’ generation one must not forget that since the cross is foolishness to those perishing, they will attack anyone who lets their light shine on the darkness of their sins. They view our monotheistic belief in a single God as being bigotry and narrow-mindedness because in their minds who can know which of all their gods are real and who could ever know the right path to one’s Creator?
We must be ready to handle this kind of skepticism with gentleness and love, demonstrating through our word, thoughts and deeds the power of the Gospel message.
Even though evangelizing to this modern world will invite criticism, to be effective in ministry one must show them the love of Christ though our words, thoughts and deeds!
IV. Give Reasons for your Hope in Christ – Vs. 19-21
“And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”
While many dismissed Paul’s message as being from a babbler, others were intrigued and wanted to hear more! Paul was taken to the Areopagus which was the court or senate of the city which exercised jurisdiction in matters such as religion. This was a wonderful opportunity for Paul to preach the Gospel message, for they were not yet hostile but merely seeking to know more of his point of view.
In a similar manner when we face potentially hostile crowds that want to hear more about Jesus, we are not to be frightened but are to be ready to give the reasons why we revere Jesus as our Lord.
1 Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
Because we cannot know when someone will ask us about Christ, we must always be ready to preach the Good News which is often strange to a world who no longer believes in absolute truth. Since these opportunities often come during the unplanned times of life, be ready so that these precious moments will not pass us by in silence!
Always be ready to give the Gospel message with gentleness, humility and hope to even the most hostile of crowds!
V. Look for Common Ground – Vs. 22-23
“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.’”
When preaching the Gospel message be like Paul and try not to be hostile towards those perishing in their sins but instead leverage their culture for the Gospel’s advantage. We are to leverage this culture’s intense connection to all things spiritual. It is not that this postmodern world is not religious, but like Athens in Paul’s day the truth concerning God is allusive to them.
It is their anxiety to honor all possible gods that has resulted in their ignorance of the one true God.
Even though the false gods of this postmodern era distress you, we are called not to belittle or put down unbelievers but treat them with the same gentleness and humility that Christ showed you before you were saved. Explain to them that the only difference between you and them is not spiritual fervor but faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Starting out one’s evangelistic efforts in this manner is often the only way to break down the walls of their hostility to the “unknown God” they are truly looking for.
Effective evangelism starts with the common ground of needing to know who God is.
VI. Tell about God’s Foot Prints – Vs. 24-27
“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.”
To convince the postmodern people of this age there is but one God, point them to His footprints. God has left humanity with a witness of His existence that can be found in creation, in the heavens and on earth. To the church of Rome Paul wrote that God’s eternal power and divine nature can be clearly seen and understood from observing creation (1:20). King David said the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the works of His hands (Psalms 19:1).
While the gods of this postmodern world need people to believe and serve them to have any perceived power, God’s power comes solely from His own being. As our Creator, God does not need anything from us but instead, we desperately need Him, for our life and breath comes from Him alone. The existence of all nations can be derived from the first two humans who ever lived, Adam and Eve and the affairs of all nations are controlled by God who is sovereign over all.
Even though God does not need us, He has left creation, the heavens and earth as footprints so that humans would be drawn to seek their Creator who is always close and near (verse 27) … for no one can ever flee from the Spirit of God.
Effective evangelism points to creation of the heavens and earth as the footprints of God’s existence.
VII. Call to Repentance – Vs. 28-31
“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.’ 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.”
God’s call to people everywhere is to see the His footprints of His existence and repent. Humanity is not a spark of the divine as the Stoics believed but are made in the image of He who sustains their very lives. God is not the figment of the imagination of one’s mind who can be represented by gold, silver or stone for He is wholly other and sovereign over everything.
Not only can the footprints of God’s existence be seen by observing the heavens and earth but also can be seen through the atoning sacrifice of His Son. For this reason, God has laid humanity under a new accountability.
While God has left the postmodern people’s belief in many gods go on with remarkable freedom, He now commands everyone to repent. So with His footprints clearly in plain sight, postmoderns must choose to either believe in the atoning sacrifice of His Son and be adopted into His family with an eternal, glorious inheritance or choose to reject Him and in doing so be cast into the lake of hell for an eternity. This postmodern world needs to know time is running out for the judge of the living and dead is about to return.
Effective evangelism points to the fact that time is running out to choose to believe in the atoning sacrifice of God’s Son.
VIII. God Brings the Increase – Vs. 32-34
“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.”
God alone is responsible for the results of our evangelistic efforts. Even though our hearts ache as we see the senseless worship of idols all around us, look for common ground as we present the footprints of God’s existence and subsequent judgement. Remember the fruits of our evangelistic efforts are left in God’s glorious care.
1 Corinthians 3:5-6 “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
While we can plant and water the seeds, never forget only God can save the unbeliever. It is hard to profess the Gospel message to this postmodern culture who believes in all gods but the One who is our Creator and sustainer of all life! Often it will seem like our proclamation has fallen on deaf earth and stone-cold hearts.
Do not be dismayed for even if Paul only had one council member, Dionysius, a visiting dignitary, Damaris, and maybe a few others come to know Christ … were they not worth the effort? O what an honor it is to plant even a single seed in God’s kingdom!
Be bold in your marketplace!!