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Acts 17:16-34

God's Incredible Opportunity

  • Shawn Dean
  • Weekend Messages
  • August 11, 2019

This is part two of a three-part series on the Life of Paul. Where we will pick up the story with Paul in Athens, among the greatest Philosophers and Influencers and read about God’s Incredible Opportunity for the Apostle Paul.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture


Acts 17:16-34

This weekend we are in PART 2 of a 3-part series on the Life of Paul.

Dr Luke you will recall is also with them, the writer of the Book.Young Timothy, a disciple, is also with them.

From Philippi, where Paul est a church, they journeyed 100 miles to Thessalonica – to Berea – then South to Athens.

Sometimes in life we are handed incredible

opportunities – sometimes we squander them.

ILLUS – The Beatles and DECCA Records or Apple and ATARI Games

God does the same thing with us – He gives us incredible opportunities –

•We will see Paul given the opportunity to speak and preach to the Greek elite, Athens most influential.

•We will see that perhaps Paul didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity and he will describe that for us.

In Athens Paul is like any other visitor, he went sightseeing.Amazed at the beauty of the city, the architecture, the great temples of the Acropolis, the Parthenon.

But he sees over 3000 altars and temples all representing different gods and philosophies and his spirit is disturbed.

•Sounds like the day we live in! Maybe not altars or temples, but we are saturated with that which is wrong and empty.

Colossians 2:8; See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

Philosophy literally means ‘the love of wisdom.’ Unfortunately what was meant for learning and debate has been distorted on most topics.

We are all guided by some philosophy – is yours a Biblical Philosophy or is something else?Are you guided by your parents, books, politics, television or perhaps the world’s race to succeed?

Our philosophy will either bring that which is good and godly or destruction and death.

Pastor Rich once shared the results of a survey taken several years ago.Youth across America were asked a series of questions:

•30% admitted to stealing something from a store within the last year.

•83% admitted to lying to their parents about something significant.

•64% admitted to cheating on tests.

•Shockingly, 93% approved of their own character and ethics & 77% believed they had better character than those around them.

These youth are today’s college students and graduates out looking to start their careers.At the time of this survey these youths could enroll in Philosophy classes at American Universities – such as:

•Appalachian State Univ – “What if Harry Potter is Real?”

•UC San Diego – “God, Sex and Chocolate: Desire and the Spiritual Path”

•Georgetown University – “Philosophy and Star Trek”

So let’s pick up the story with Paul in Athens, among thegreatest Philosophers and Influencers and read about God’s Incredible Opportunity for the Apostle Paul.

I.The Audience doesn’t Change God’s Message

Paul was overwhelmed by the idolatry – went out on the streets to preach & reason with the Jews.

He encountered the Epicurean’s and Stoic Philosophers.

•Epicurean – pleasure as the chief goal of human kind.

  • Stoics – all about duty and self discipline which ruled their life’s philosophy.

These two didn’t agree on anything, but they did agree on one thing; that Paul was crazy.

•Paul’s taken to the Areopagus – “May we know this new teaching you are proclaiming?”

•All the leading Philosophers are there – They must approve any new Philosophy that comes to town.

A.Believer’s Responsible to Communicate the Gospel

There is nothing new here – the Gospel itself was planned before the foundation of the world.Yet the Philosophers state they must decide if something is better solely because it’s new or modern.

It doesn’t matter what they think – it doesn’t matter what people think when we offer them the truth.

But this incredible opportunity is –

•Like Billy Graham speaking to Harvard Faculty

•How about our own Pastor Rich, a Beaver, being invited to speak to the UO faculty!

B.The Power of the Gospel Changes Lives

Paul is respectful and formal and builds a bridge to gain their respect.

•A lesson for us in knowing our audience and building bridges to conversation from the beginning. We can’t speak to everyone the same way about Christ.

•But don’t leave out the power of the gospel in an effort to be relevant to your audience.

•Does the lack of response in Athens suggest Paul didn’t give them the whole Gospel?

“Some” followed him, then he left –

In contrast to all of Paul’s teaching, what is different about this one?

•Normally huge crowds, 100’s or 1000’s come to Christ.

•This one yielded little fruit – the text says just a few followed him.

•Did something go wrong?God gave him this incredible opportunity. But he moved on to Corinth with little fruit in Athens.

II.Our Life, Our Message is in Him Alone

I think Paul himself answers this question for us – He tells us in his own words what happened in Athens and by doing so, we learn a great lesson today.

•Instruction for our walk with Christ – no matter where you are on your journey.

•Nowhere in scripture is there a reference about what Paul left behind for us in Athens; no church is mentioned.

•Everywhere Paul goes, churches are left behind; Philippi, Galatia, Thessolonica, Berea – & many others, but nothing in Athens – Why?

I Corinthians 2:1; And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

A.Be Bold and Trust God with Results

What Paul is doing here is contrasting his approach between Athens and Corinth.

1)I did not come to you with eloquence….

2)I did not center my preaching in Corinth….

3)I resolved to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ was crucified & raised from the dead.

•Every sermon from Paul is different than Athens

•They mention Jesus birth

•A sinless life

•The deity of Christ

•His death & resurrection

But in Athens he doesn’t mention Jesus at all!

Only mentioned resurrection at the end

Why did Paul leave these elements out as he tried to make his message more relevant to the learned, to the power base of Athens?

A lesson for us –

•When we try to be relevant, there is a limit beyond which we cannot go with robbing the gospel of its power.

•Paul’s results were like no other city he preached in.

•Did Paul miss an incredible opportunity with the most learned in Greece?

•He was trying so hard to connect with these philosophers that he ended up robbing the message of its power!

Am I being too harsh on Paul? – remember in Philippi he got irritated with the woman following them around and acted on it – he’s a sinful man just like us.

In Athens his words recorded in I Corinthians suggests he knew he tried to be too eloquent – – too relevant – to appeal to his audience.

B.Be Teachable and Embrace the Opportunities 

•Paul exhorts the church and that’s us, every time he speaks.

•He was a man, not God, he wasn’t deity – he was a man who made mistakes.

•But He learned! – – He was teachable!

When someone brings you a word of advice, perhaps a word of correction – – are you teachable or do you seek out only those who agree with you?

The very next stop he said all I’m going to know and preach is Jesus Christ crucified and that He rose from the dead.

As followers in the 21st Century we need to hear what Paul is trying to say – don’t try to make the Gospel more relevant to our day.

•Our goal is to reach the secular city – do ministry and evangelism according to the truth.

•Show people we struggle with the same problems they do and Jesus Christ works powerfully in the 21st Century.

•Never forget the message of the gospel or we won’t have a message worth giving anymore.

C.All Must Repent to be Saved

The heart of the message is:

1) His Deity

2) He died on the cross for our sins

3) He shed His Blood for us

4) Salvation has one and only one plan-we must repent & be born again

5) His Resurrection is real

Luke 15:10; In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Acts 3:19; Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;

You and I know that there are those in our community that say these things are utter nonsense.

God loves you as His child and wants you to respond to His incredible opportunity; believe in His Son & have eternal life.

Be careful not to waffle on these things trying not to offend someone with the Cross.

•We cannot remove the offense of the cross

•Can we reach a secular Oregon – gently, respectfully, sensitively – yes – but be true to the message – don’t rob the message of the very heart that brings change.

•Tell people what the bible says and let people think what they want about you.

The Good News is we follow a risen savior – does it bother us people think we are weird or much worse – it should not!

•When we give our life to Christ our goal should no longer be to worry about what people say.

Very often we have people tell us, I heard the hard truth and I got my life back on track and followed Christ.

None of you, if you were transformed by pursuing Christ and walking with Him got there by someone giving you a watered down gospel – they told you the truth and you dealt with the truth, the hard truth.

Be polite, warm, gentle, respectful but don’t pull the offense of the cross out of that message;

As the Apostle Paul shows us time and time again; Keep the main thing the main thing; the heart of the gospel must stay in the message.

Acts 17:16-34 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Paul at Athens
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were [a]conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this [b]idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him [c]to the [d]Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is [e]which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
Sermon on Mars Hill
22 So Paul stood in the midst of the [f]Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and [g]exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge [h]the world in righteousness [i]through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men [j]by raising Him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you [k]again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of 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.


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