A Church on a Mission: Paul in Athens

by | Jun 25, 2023 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor Chuck Holiday

Scripture: Acts 17:16-34

Summary: Paul brings the Gospel into a secular culture by exposing the emptiness of their idolatry and revealing the one true God with whom we cannot barter but who has provided for everything we long for.


You may be seated so good to see you all again I guess we’ve had a week of rain haven’t we I was in Orlando all week and I think it rained even more there so it’s nice to see the sunshine and I just want to uh pray before we begin and ask God to help us holy spirit thank you.

Jesus promised you to always be here when we’re gathered in your name and we need you without you giving our hearts a softness that we don’t naturally have without you opening our minds we won’t grasp the things you want to teach us but you’re here and so would you overcome our distractions would you overcome our confusion would you overcome our just all the the things that would keep us from hearing the simple things you want to tell us and you speak to us because you love us and because you desire us to know you and so would you come now and do that in Jesus name amen amen this is an exciting passage it’s um this is Paul in Athens and uh you know up until now Paul has uh predominantly all our stories are about Paul talking to religious Jewish people and proselytes and and to some pagans but but this is um you know this is Paul in the arena this is this is uh this is a cage match you know it’s it’s uh Paul uh took a lot of courage to go where Paul went in Athens and there’s so much for us here to unpack but uh you know I I can just picture Dorothy saying uh Toto we’re not in Kansas anymore this is new and to some extent I think you know one of our fellowship groups we just for fun we talked about you know a famous our favorite baseball memories and you know several related you know the fir I can remember the first time I walked into Forbes field and saw like a real baseball diamond you know the grass is so green and the lines are perfect and you know I mean it’s just amazing and you know for somebody like Paul who’s really really smart dude well educated he was an intellectual for him to to make it to Athens I mean Athens was the place you know this is I mean he he had read Plato and Aristotle and you know he he quoted several of the Greek philosophers in this sermon In this passage I mean he was a Jew but he had to be enamored with the with the intellect and the history of the philosophers in Greece as a very very intelligent educated person and and here he is you know standing standing on Mars Hill um it was it was it would have been a you know an exciting thing but an amazingly scary thing to realize he’s got a message that nobody here is used to or has ever heard and they’re not going to want to hear it and and so why did he go any of you watch The Deadliest Catch you know uh why do they do that why do they get in those little boats and go out into that part of the ocean which is just unbelievably dangerous why do they go there that’s where the fish are that’s where the fish are so I want to I want you to notice where he went he went to Athens and not just to the city but he went to the Agra the marketplace it was a dangerous although exciting place this is where the musicians went this is where the artist went this is where Commerce happened uh it was a worldly place he saw some things that he probably struggled with it was a hard place to be a Christian it was an intimidating place but that’s where he went because that’s where the fish are it wasn’t a safe place you know we constantly battle this don’t we staying safe protecting ourselves from wickedness and the worldliness
wanting to stay in our quiet time where we can have intimate connection and fellowship with our Father in Heaven which is valuable and necessary but my friends Jesus when he rose from the dead came to his disciples and remember he appeared that first time to them and when when he saw him they were scared they were behind locked doors they were huddled trying to protect themselves from the world that would devour them and Jesus said peace be with you and after he said this he showed him his hands and his side with the with the holes the wounds

the disciples were Overjoyed when they saw the Lord and Jesus said and just picture Jesus with his hands up over them the holes in his hands very visible saying peace be with you now as the father sent me I am sending you

Jesus left the holy huddle of Heaven to go to the most dangerous place because that’s where the lost sheep were and he said to his disciples and to you and to me although we weren’t there that day he had you in mind he had me in mind and he he holds up his nail-pierced hands and says because of what I have done for you now I am sending you as the father sent me I’m sending you where
into the world into the dangerous places into the worldly places I’m not sending you to church although you need church if you’re going to go where I’m sending you
but he did not leave us here to do Church he left the church here to do mission
he’s in the the marketplace the worldly place now is that gonna you know how do we do that let’s just get real practical because it’s not easy uh it’s not easy for for my wife and and for me you know and Debbie said to me back in maybe December honey why don’t we learn to play Pickleball I hear that that you meet friends that way and uh and so I said yeah that sounds great and honestly I thought yeah that’s gonna be fun pickleball sounds lame yeah I want to play something a little more active than that well I found out differently but but as the Lord would have it we we met brother Al back there and also you know I found out how how is a pickleball instructor and so I you know we bought pickleball panels for Christmas and we got our first lesson and Debbie’s pulse and ligaments in her foot and we couldn’t go back for three or four months you know but this last week we played like four or five times and she’s getting pretty good and it’s in it and else taking me out there and you know what every time you play Pickleball you meet somebody it’s a very social sport I mean it’s amazing well I I just give that as an example some of you are beyond that I get that but where’s your pickleball court where are you going to be in the world I say this cautiously but for some of you it’s a bar
it’s easy to talk to people in bars now for some of you stay out of the bar I mean and I say that sincerely

you have to know what God’s calling you to and where you can go and be on offense and not defense where you know you’re you’re not susceptible beyond your means to resist um I love meeting you guys the other day you know and uh we got we got three people here who are part of the Jimmy Buffett fan club that is awesome well Debbie and I heard that it’s like well when can we go to there you know my friends there are ways to be in the world that are fun to meet people who aren’t here

Jesus did not say go to church and wait for lost sheep to come in now we should do that because lost sheep do come in but what does it mean for you personally and I just I don’t say this in a judgmental way I’m saying prayerfully ask God where where can I go to to be with people who don’t know there’s a savior people who are lost and don’t know where to go where what God will I think lead you somewhere somehow

he’ll give you an idea he’ll give you a thought he’ll give you a and it might you might have to be patient it might take a while it might be a hospital bed in your sickness I mean God answers that prayer in strange ways sometimes yeah you know but but God has a place for you in the world to bring people to him now um this is where Paul went he went where the Sheep were he went where the fish were he went to Athens he went to the Agora the dangerous place the scary place the challenging place in in in this is important I got this from Tim Keller but what what moved him you know the the uh the English translations here you know don’t don’t really capture this it says in in verse 16 while Paul was waiting for them in Athens he was greatly distressed uh in the NIV in the new uh the English Standard Version it says his Spirit was provoked when he saw the City full of Idols it really it really means he was angry he was really upset he was agitated he was provoked to anger and what he saw this Idols everywhere and people so lost in their idolatry in their immoral living and it made him really angry but you have to understand what kind of anger this was this is the word the the Greek word that translates throughout the whole Testament God’s jealous anger what almost every time when it’s the Old Testament is referring to the jealousy of God for his people it uses this Greek word to translate it for instance in back in Deuteronomy uh it’s this is a I mean there’s many of these passages but this one in Deuteronomy chapter 9 is particularly insightful because it refers to the time when Moses is on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord and the people are in the valley worshiping an idol I mean just get the Contra hear The God Who is delivered them from Egypt is got Moses on the mountain giving him them him the Ten Commandments revealing the Covenant to him while the people he’s LED out of Egypt are making in a golden calf and bowing down and worshiping an idol and uh so God was jealous

so in in Deuteronomy chapter 9 verse 7 remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger

for say that Horeb you arouse the Lord’s Wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you

you know this is uncomfortable right to talk about an Angry God but my friends it’s a jealous anger and Tim Keller does a great job of explaining this but I think it makes sense doesn’t it you cannot really love somebody without a holy jealousy particularly in a marriage covenant have you ever dated somebody or been married to somebody that you could not anchor no matter what you did no matter how you cheated no matter how you ignored them my friends that’s not real love that’s not a loving relationship I remember in the first probably the first date I went on you know and I I mean I waited for months to go out with this girl I was so enamored with her and somewhere in about the first 15 minutes of our date I realized I was bored to death

and I didn’t know how to get this date over fast enough

and it’s not that she it’s not that she despise me or that she was enamored with me who knows why but I I sense that I I my spirit just sense there’s nothing literally nothing I can do to disappoint this girl and it didn’t feel like love

if if you’re married to somebody who won’t be upset no matter what you do that’s not really love is it

if your kids cannot disappoint you no matter what they do that’s not really love because there is a legitimate holy jealousy as a part of a loving commitment to each other

it’s part of love and God loves us and he refuses to share us with other gods we are married to our Lord Jesus Christ and it’s not okay for us to give ourselves to other gods because he loves us now this is something what Paul felt now this is important to understand what moved Paul you know if you don’t have a holy anger in what you see around you you’ll never move into the world because you won’t care I mean what is it that motivates a father to start a program to Stamp Out Fentanyl it’s losing his son to a drug overdose you know there’s something very personal behind that anger that moves him to do something what will it take to move you to do something to move you to get into the world well you can be moved by different things you can be moved with a self-righteous anger that thinks I’m better than all those people and what’s wrong with it as guys out there it’s a Fox News type of anger

I mean it is right or CNN it’s on either side but the anger you hear is a politically divided arrogant anger it comes from a place of I’m better than them that wasn’t what was moving Paul that will never move you to go to a lost world with kindness and tenderness and a gentleness that you need to represent Jesus what will move you is the jealousy for their hearts and their souls the Brokenness for how lost they are and a love for God knowing that these are his sheep they belong to him they’ve been they’ve been tricked they’ve been fooled they’ve been deceived they’ve been blinded by the God of this age my friends that’s that’s what was moving Paul because he doesn’t come into the agarah with his Superior self-righteous Spirit at all he comes he comes with wisdom he comes with a gentleness he comes with a tremendous articulation that can only come from a from a from a spirit that’s settled and and not defensive

if your anger comes from a place of fear or self-righteousness it’s not going to help you bring people to Jesus right we we have to know the difference as we move into the world now um

I want you to think for a moment of Our Gospel reading this morning because Jesus was angry wasn’t he

that’s what the cursing of the Fig Tree was about it was a symbol of how angry he was at the the religious leaders in Jerusalem they were not taking care of the Sheep

and what does he do he goes into the temple and he actually starts throwing the tables over

I mean this is this is angry Jesus why he says my this is a place to be my father’s house of prayer and you’re making it a den of Thieves and he was angry his Spirit was provoked

because he could see how lost these people are and the leaders are not helping at all

and it moved him to go to a cross to die for their sins did Paul see when he when he went into the City and again back in the uh the beginning of the passage he saw a City full of idols it was said in Athens there were more Idols than God that were Gods than men I mean there was a God for everything there was a God for drinking there was a God for Commerce there was a God for sex and love there was a God for a beauty there was a God for wisdom and knowledge and whatever you needed to get out of life there was a God for that you know a specific God that you sacrificed to to get that thing that you needed or felt like you needed for life if you were going to travel uh there was a God for travel if you’re going to travel by sea there was a specific god of the sea that you sacrificed to there was a God for everything and and and not unlike very many Christian churches today what’s preached is a Prosperity Gospel and what do you need God to do in your life well you know how do we barter with God to get that and and pulse is a very interesting thing in verse 22 he says they might have taken it as a compliment he is very his wise in his choice of words but he says I see that you’re very very religious people I remember he’s talking to pagans who are Idol worshipers but he but he says you’re very very religious

and and you know it’s interesting at the beginning of the passage he said he saw this city full of idols and he went two places actually he went to the synagogues where the religious Jews were and he went to the agarah where the religious pagans were but they both shared a common problem they were religious you know what religious means it means using God or the gods to get what you think you need by giving them what they require

that’s what religion a religious spirit is it’s not the gospel

now you can have a religious spirit and be a pagan and worship false gods or you can be have a religious spirit and be in a church this morning singing praises to the one true God but what does your heart expect to get and how do you expect to get it all of us are capable of falling into this religious spirit where we assume that if I give God what he wants he’ll give me what I want it’s a bartering system it’s not Christianity the god of the Bible is is the one God in the one religion of the world that doesn’t need anything from us

nothing this is what Paul goes on to point out to them

it’s interesting how he gets there isn’t it they’re so religious they have a they have a God for everything in an idol to represent that God and he comes across the the this this one altar this one I you know altar that says to the unknown God they were smart enough to know that there’s got to be a God above the Gods you know as Aristotle’s unmoved mover there’s got to be a God that’s bigger than these gods and so that was Paul’s Gateway right he said let me tell you about that God he made us he loves us but he does not need us

he already had somebody to love before he made us Father Son and Holy Spirit had a beautiful thing going on they had a perfect love for each other that never disappointed caused them no pain

but they chose to make us because they wanted more people to love but it’s not like if you decide to not give your heart to Jesus he’s going to be lonely

or he’s going to be broken with no place to receive love back this is a perfectly content satisfied fulfilled God who made us because he wants more people to love and to be able to love him

so Paul says he doesn’t need us that means there’s nothing you can give him to bargain with

he’s got it all

so how are you going to get him to get you what you need Paul says here’s the good news you don’t have to get him to do it he wants to do it he already loves you he doesn’t need you he loves you and all he wants from you is to love him receive his love

now Paul this is this is a long argument here and it’s it’s very intricate and and we don’t have time to go into it more but basically he says look

you’re like God ‘s the father and he made you and you bear His Image we all are like God but God is Not Like Us does that make sense we are like God God is Not Like Us now all these false gods were projects if you you know study Greek mythology they were just super heroes I mean basically they were they were men and women who were bigger than life they were projections of like if you took one of us and made them bigger that would be one of their gods that’s basically what we do in life right Kelly Tim Keller says a lot of times he’ll talking to pagans or or secular people he’ll say tell me about the God you don’t believe in describe him to me because I might not believe in that God either

tell me about the God you don’t believe in how many times have you heard somebody say I could never believe in a God who fill in the blank now see this is the starting point of Christianity if there’s a real God

if there’s a real God he’s not going to be in every way what you think he should be because he’s not like us we are like him we bear His Image but you can’t get to who this God Is by projecting who you are and then making it bigger because he’s holy other than us in some significant ways okay so Paul says that’s the unknown God the God above all your gods and there’s something in their hearts that knew that they needed more than what they had a restlessness now Jesus

revealed to us the one true God didn’t he it’s interesting in in Malachi the last book in the Old Testament and um right at the end of the book

Malachi says this is the Lord speaking through Malachi you have wearied the Lord with your words the word weary there is translated by the Greek word uh provoked me in anger it’s really the the Greek translation of this verse says you have provoked the Lord to anger with your words how have we provoked him to anger you ask by saying all you who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord and He is pleased with them where where is the God of Justice then he says see I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his Temple the messenger of the Covenant whom you desire will come the messenger of the Covenant whom you desire will come he says you don’t know really what you want but I’m telling you the messenger of the Covenant whom you really desire whom your heart needs and Longs for he’s going to come Jesus came my friends to reveal the true God who really loves us in Acts 17 again at the end of Paul’s sermon in verse 31 he says he he says you know something unpopular he said for God has said a day when he will judge the world with Justice by the man he has appointed that phrase by the man he has appointed it may have met Jesus who’s going to judge the world Jesus the man he has appointed it’s it’s the same word that Luke uses back for when Peter’s sermon back in in chapter two acts verse 23 when he’s when Peter’s preaching says this man Jesus was handed over to you by God set purpose and foreknowledge again it the the Greek word there is by God’s appointment

when Jesus went to the cross it was by God’s appointment

God’s determination when Jesus judges the world again when he comes back it’s going to be by God’s appointment now think about it who has God appointed to judge the world the same one who he appointed to die for the sins of the world it’s it’s it’s the tender one it’s the kind one it’s the one who gave up his life for you and for me he is the one who will have to judge with grief in his heart but with the Holy grief for those who will not come to him so my friends come to him he loves you he doesn’t need you he doesn’t need anything you have but he wants you and he loves you so come to him today


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