Acts Lesson 7: 17.22-34
LAST WEEK: In Acts 16:22-34, we saw Paul and Silas arrested, beaten, and falsely imprisoned in Philippi after healing a demon-possessed girl. While held in the inner prison with their legs in stocks, they began singing hymns and praising God for all to hear. Suddenly an earthquake shook the jail and loosened their restraints. The jailer, thinking all the prisoners had escaped, was preparing to kill himself rather then face punishment when Paul shouted for him to stop, saying they were all still there. Falling at Paul's and Silas' feet, the jailer asked them how he could be saved. As the story continues, the jailer and his entire household were saved and baptized. The big question posed by this lesson: if any one of us unexpectedly found ourselves in a similar situation, what would we do? Short answer-do our best to imitate Paul, for example: (1) truly trust God to control the ultimate outcome; (2) keep our joy in the Lord at the forefront no matter what's happening around us; (3) keep our Christian witness before others in mind (you can be sure they're watching); and (4) know when and why to stand up for our rights.
THIS WEEK: We come to Acts 17, still in Paul's Second Missionary Journey (49-52 A.D.), where Paul and Silas have recently left Thessalonica and Berea in Macedonia and are en route to meet up with Timothy and Luke in Athens, Greece. Today's lesson will focus on Paul's sermon at the Areopagus (translates to Ares Hill). This sermon is considered by scholars to be the best example in the NT of Paul's preaching to the Gentiles. In his sermon, Paul mentions a number of things with which the Athenians would agree. Although the sermon was based upon Hebrew Scripture and Paul's personal experience with the risen Christ, he makes many of his points using Greek philosophical reasoning methods in order to better connect with this learned audience.
Read Acts 17:22-23 - The Unknown God
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.
v. 22: "So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious" - The Aeropagus was a place, a hill near the Acropolis, but it was also a council of men who could render decisions on various legal matters, including religious and educational activities within the city. When Luke says Paul stood in the midst of the Aeropagus, he meant this council of men. Having seen pagan idols all over the city, Paul began his oration with the neutral statement that they were "very religious" in all respects, picking up on the fact that they were at least interested in spiritual matters.
v. 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" - The text really doesn't explain how this altar to the "unknown god" came to be, but Paul understood that in the Greeks' extensive mythological pantheon of gods and goddesses, they had probably added the "unknown god" to cover one that might have been mistakenly overlooked. Neatly establishing some common ground with them, Paul proceeded to "proclaim" the God they did not know. When you are attempting to witness to an educated person who actually knows little or nothing about the One true God, begin with some common ground and tell them what you know. This can be very true of the Millennial generation today-spiritually ignorant people who've never been to church.
Read Acts 17:24-29 - The Unknown God: Creator of All Things
24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' 29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by human design and skill.
v. 24a: "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth" - Paul's declaration is firmly rooted in Gen. 1-2; however, this is something on which Greek philosophers would be divided: some believed their gods may have had some role in creation, while others saw the created world, with the sun, moon, and stars, as deities unto themselves. Yet, if Paul can establish in their minds the concept that God is the creator of all that exists, then he can unfold his sermon as the logical outgrowth of this idea.
v. 24b: "does not live in temples built by human hands" - If God is the creator of everything, it follows that this great God would never confine Himself to some small shrine made with human hands. Again, this is a subject on which the Greek philoso-phers would differ: some would accept the validity of immobile shrines, while others would agree that god cannot be contained that way.
v. 25a: "And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything" - While they understood their gods to be limited in power (unlike the One God), they would agree that gods were superior to people and needed nothing that people could give them.
v. 25b: "Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else" - Paul returns to his theme of God as creator. He states that God not only created the universe, but God also created the people and gave them life. Thus, a God great enough to give life to people cannot at the same time be so limited in power as to need what human hands have to offer.
v .26: "From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands" - In Greek, one man would in this context literally translate to "ancestor." Paul intended this as a reference to Adam, the original human; however, since his Greek audience would be unfamiliar with Hebrew Scripture, he knew they wouldn't recognize the significance of this statement. Also, because the Greeks believed they were inherently superior, it would be difficult for them to accept that the people of all nations came from one ancestor. The term "appointed times" could variously refer to the yearly seasons, the seasons of life, or the rise and fall of nations, but it wasn't necessary to understand the phrase in any particular context; the fact that God "appointed" these things reveals His sovereign control of history. "Boundaries" could refer to natural features or political boundaries. Either way, God appointed them.
v. 27: "God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us" - Paul tells them that God's desire is that people would seek Him out. This verse pictures someone groping, as in reaching out into the darkness. This is exactly what the Greeks have been doing with their idols: groping for God, hoping to find God, hoping to placate God and keep Him happy, hoping to avoid His wrath. But they've got a problem: their gods are just figments of their imaginations. Yet, their reaching out-their efforts to seek God can, in some instances tells us that they might be open to receive the revealed God whom Paul is speaking about here.
v. 28: "For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring'" - Indeed, the first phrase isn't of Hebrew origin. The identity of the poet isn't revealed, although some scholars credit Epimenides of Crete. At the same time, however, it expresses the Jewish and Christian belief that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" as expressed in Ps. 46:1. The second phrase, "We are his offspring," is attributed to the Greek poet Aratus, which Paul uses to confirm that God created us and we are therefore His children.
v.29: "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by human design and skill - If we are God's children, it logically follows (something the Greeks prize) that God cannot be created or represented by human artistry.
Read Acts 17:30-31 - God Therefore Commands that All People should Repent
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."
v. 30: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" - When Paul spoke earlier about the altar to the unknown god, he implied that the Greeks were admitting their ignorance. But now he actually hits them with the word. To appreciate the import of this statement, we need to understand that the Greek's pride in their learning and philosophy caused them to think of other people as ignorant barbarians. Paul expresses that God, who once overlooked ignorance, now requires "all people everywhere to repent." The Greek word for "repent," metanoeo, means a change of mind: turning from one way to another. Greeks believed that a change of one's mind would naturally lead to a change in one's actions, because beliefs determine behavior. So Paul gives them a choice: (1) to take offense or (2) to sincerely listen to what Paul has to teach them concerning the true God. He calls on them to change their minds from belief in idols and unknown gods to belief in the One God who created all things.
v. 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" - Paul, who up to this point, has been saying things that would relate to a Greek audience, now moves to less friendly ground as he informs them of a day of judgment and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. By doing this, he runs the risk of losing his audience, yet if he fails to include and emphasize the resurrection, his sermon will be pointless. So Paul tells them that God has fixed a day of judgment, the world will be judged in righteousness, and God has appointed a man (Jesus) to do the judging. But Paul doesn't say when it's going to happen. Finally, by the statement," He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead," Paul gives proof of what he has been telling them; that by raising His appointed man-Jesus-from the dead, God demonstrated the victory over death that He promised to those who believe.
Read Acts 17:32-34 - A Split Reaction
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.
v. 32-33: "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, "We will hear you again about this. 33So Paul went out from their midst" - Resurrection was not a popular concept among Greek philosophers-they liked the idea of the immortality of the soul but rejected any notion of bodily resurrection. Paul was at a disadvantage: unlike him, this audience had never experienced the risen Christ. Some even ridiculed him, saying he was a fool to believe such a thing. Still, some were interested, wanted to hear more of what Paul had to say. He would have liked to tell them more about Jesus, the risen Christ, but the mockers had stopped him short, so he left.
v. 34: "But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them" - The result of Paul's sermon at the Areopagus seems small, yet a small number did receive Jesus as savior, among whom were a man named Dionysius, a member of the council, and a woman named Damaris.
Comment: Some have criticized this sermon because there is no detailed reference to the cross or specific quotes from the OT, claiming that Paul compromised the message for an intellectual audience. Yet, scholars agree that Paul's sermon was imminently Biblical. Like Biblical revelation, he began with God as creator of all and ends with God as judge of all. To that extent, the speech stands as an excellent summary for an introductory lesson to educated pagans. In defense of Paul, some say that the Athenians were so close-minded in their secular philosophies that there would have been a weak response regardless of what Paul had preached.
APPLICATION-For purposes of this discussion, an "educated pagan" is a person with no church background and no firsthand knowledge of the Bible. Here are three principles to consider:
PRAYER: God, our Father in heaven, we come before You today with thanksgiving and praise for the love, mercy, and grace You constantly show toward us as individuals and as a Church, and we thank you most of all for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for us so that we may be forgiven of our sins. We thank You also for this opportunity that allows anyone to freely access this Facebook page in order to learn more about You through the truth of Your Word. We pray, Lord, that You will use this time of study and learning to strengthen every person listening-in today and use it to give them hope and strengthen them in their Christian walk, and for all of us who are member of this church, please use it to bind us together in Christian love and unity as we strive to build and prosper Your church. Especially, Lord, we ask that You will guide our Pastor J.R., our Deacon body, our church staff, and everyone of us, as members, to accomplish our mission of sharing Jesus Christ with the people of this community who don't know You. As Paul teaches us in this important lesson, please help us to better understand how to share the Gospel message with people who know little or nothing about you as the One true God of all creation. Help us to explain to them who you are and how they can receive Your free gift of grace. And for that, Lord, we will give You all the credit and praise. I ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the finisher and perfector of our faith, AMEN.