A Church on a Mission: Paul in Athens

by | Apr 25, 2023 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor Chuck Holiday

Scripture: Acts 17:16-34

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.


It’s great to see you all again today and must be able to worship again together back in the book of Acts it’s a lengthy it’s a lengthy reading this morning in the section of Acts and it’s it’s an important one it really becomes uh sort of a pattern you know we’re gonna see this this pattern of of Paul going to a new town uh and and just how he his his method we’re going to see the same pattern repeated over and over again we saw it briefly last week in Jim’s message and when Paul went to a new city in these Gentile regions interestingly enough though he was called to be specifically a missionary to the Gentiles he always started in the synagogues have you ever you know wondered why I mean we’re not given a specific explanation I I think we’re left to kind of use our our minds and our reason our imagination but but it was a pattern it was it was not something that he just did once in a while it was his consistent method of operation he was going to plant churches among the Gentiles but he always started in the synagogue and typical to what happens here is pretty much what usually happens some believe and become pillars of this new church and and uh and some don’t and eventually the good news that saves some uh is not attractive to others and he’s pushed away and he he uh sometimes he stays a few weeks sometimes he stays years and then he moves on and to the next the next place well this when he shows up in the synagogue on the first Saturday the Sabbath you know of his uh being in in this new city it’s interesting the synagogue leaders this is really a funny question and brothers if you have a message of encouragement for us would you please stand and give it and you can just imagine Paul’s like oh boy do I do I ever have a message of encouragement for the brothers and his message is basically the one we’ve been waiting for for all these years we knew it wasn’t David we knew David you know was God’s man for that time the man after God’s Own Heart but we knew it wasn’t David David certainly wasn’t the one who perfectly lived out God’s law David certainly died and stayed dead how we know knew it wasn’t him we knew it wasn’t John the Baptist and John the Baptist was a preacher of righteousness he was a godly man but we knew it wasn’t John John himself said I’m not the one but I’m but Paul said I’m telling you he’s come the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for has come and because he’s come because he lived a perfect life because he died on the cross in our place and because God raised him from the dead he said we have a new life and he says specifically in verse 38 I’d like you to look at that he says Brothers I want you to know that through Jesus the Forgiveness of sins is promised to you through him everyone who believes is Justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses now listen to that everyone has been forgiven everything if you believe and that’s pretty all-inclusive I mean it’s hard to think of anybody being left out of that promise everyone who believes this will be forgiven of everything.

You Know Carl Dr Carl meninger who’s a pretty well-known psychiatrist a number of years ago said if I could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven 75 percent of them would walk out the next day

my friends this is a powerful thing that transforms not just individual lives but cultures societies

oh to believe

that everything you have done wrong

could be forgiven

because of what Jesus already did

Jesus died and rose again so that all our sins can be forgiven not we are not forgiven by living a new life where we don’t sin again we are not forgiven by promising to do better we are not forgiven because we do lots of good things to help lots of people to make up for all the bad things we did no we are forgiven only because we trust Jesus to be our savior

now let me let me just stop for a second why did Paul start in the synagogues do you think I mean I that’s a question I’ve been wondering about this week shared one of our fellowship groups the other night some thoughts why did he start in the synagogues well you know I this is just my thoughts but number one this was home Paul was a Jew he was a he was a at the top of the ladder of Jewish culture I mean he was a Pharisee these were his people you know what do you do when you go to a foreign land where you everybody speaks a funny language and they dress different than you and you I mean you find some comfort in finding your tribe you know even if it’s just three or four or you know you there’s a comfort in finding your people and and Paul’s people were in the synagogue I mean that’s the people who talk like him who understood like him who reason like him I mean these were his people I mean there were probably people and Paul was a pretty well-known Jew he was a he was he was uh hard-working dedicated well-educated Pharisee and you know there were probably people in in uh in that synagogue who who knew some of his people you know at least by name you know you can just imagine how that goes oh do you remember oh yeah I know him and you know they would make connections these were his people this is where he fell to comfort this is where he felt an acceptance so welcome um but but like Jesus himself it says he came to his own and his own did not receive him some of the some of the they all received him until he began to tell about Jesus dying and rising from the dead and being the Messiah and and as things worked out the very thing that attracted the multitudes I mean he spoke the first Sabbath and they heard him and they were interested and and and some were really interested and said we got to hear more about this and so you know they had an after meeting and and Paul explained more and they went and all got their friends in the next Sabbath that said like everybody showed up you know not just the Jews but the God fears the God fears were were people who were Gentiles they weren’t Jews and they had not fully become proselytes by becoming circumcised they weren’t allowed in the in the temple but they were allowed in the synagogues they were they were God fears they had given up their polytheism they had given up their idolatry and they had acknowledged yes I think the god of the Jews is the God and His moral code is the right way to live these were good moral people who were attracted at once one for one thing intellectually to the concept of a monotheistic there’s one God that’s the only thing that makes sense you know they were attracted to the monotheism of the Jews but they were attracted to the culture these people lived clean they worked hard they made money they they made something of themselves they came with nothing and they through their their industry and their hard work and following the Proverbs and the biblical instruction of of how you do life they prospered and so the God fears we’re paying attention and said yeah we want to be like that now they they didn’t go all the way yet you know in terms of the The Becoming fully Jewish proselytes but they were what’s called proselytes of the gate they they were God fears and they were present in the synagogues well the next Sabbath these God fears showed up in droves and these poor Jewish leaders didn’t know what to do with themselves oh my goodness our synagogue has been invaded there aren’t just a few you know sitting in the back row anymore it’s like this place is packed with people that are not Jews and and Paul’s message to them was you’re equal

you belong like we all belong because Jesus died for all to come so that everybody’s sins could be forgiven well this was too much for the Jewish leaders to to they just couldn’t stand it they didn’t know what to do with it they were they did they lost their place of Distinction you know when if a basketball coach comes in and and says to his team guys I have such unbelievable news for you guys the league has lowered the hoop to nine feet

and all you little guys are going to be able to dunk like Michael Jordan

that is truly good news for the guy that’s 5’6 or even the guy that’s six feet but it is really not good news for the seven foot centers

well what’s going to make us special

my friends this is what the gospel does it’s never been good news for those who see themselves as morally upright

the gospel has never been attractive to those who are respected as leaders in their churches because of their Godly Behavior because it levels the field

the guy that that just comes in from the bar having drunk himself to sleep last night sits here and and if he comes in a repentant trusting heart is welcome at the same table that we’re all welcome to There’s no distinction Paul says there is no distinction for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God

salvation is always and only a gift that Jesus earned for us so so the gospel is is radioactive big crowd is coming they want to hear more but the Jewish leaders say oh no they’re filled with jealousy and envy they say we’ve got to shut this thing down and so they shut it down so why did Paul start with the synagogue because he knew this was going to happen he knew some were going to believe but but the leaders were going to reject him it wasn’t gonna it wasn’t gonna last for long well again he started these were his people he loved these people he belonged to them

he started with them but but I think there’s a deeper reason his mission wasn’t just to save people it was to plant churches that could could take the gospel after he left now how do you plant a church with a bunch you’re only going to be there a brief time how do you plan a church with a bunch of people that don’t know anything about the Old Testament they don’t know anything about there being just one God they don’t know anything about the promises of the Messiah they they have three or four wives and and concubines on the side how are we going to get a moral Godly leadership team together well you start where the the church has been the Old Testament Church was it was in the synagogue these are the people who even though they some of them were believers they just didn’t know yet that Jesus had come it’s all they needed to hear was he’s come and this is how we know he’s come and and they didn’t actually get converted from being lost to found because they were found Jews they they were waiting for the promised one to die for their sins and you know and and they knew it wasn’t the Lambs and the Bulls that were saving them through their shed blood they knew they they represented the one who would come and be the real Messiah so for them it wasn’t a necessarily A Heart conversion it was just oh he’s here

but but for others it was it it represented a whole recalculation of what the Old Testament actually said because they had perverted it they distorted it they had turned it into just a moral code a righteous way to live to make you feel Superior to your neighbors

we started with Jewish believers and he welcomed the the God fears who were ready to take the next step it’s not about how good you can be it’s about Jesus who is good for you in your place and he’s our savior well I think that’s why he’s that’s why he started with the Jews and the synagogue and the proselytes and the synagogue because these people already were living a pretty good life in terms of moral conduct they already knew the scriptures they just needed to be converted to Jesus and understand that it’s not by good works but all by grace through faith well um this is why it worked you know what can we learn from that you know God’s called us to plant churches not just for bring people to Christ but to go and make disciples there’s a difference between trying to get somebody saved so they can go to heaven and making disciples Jesus commissioned to us was to go and make disciples baptizing them that means planting churches and teaching them to observe everything that I’ve taught you I mean there is obedience in the walk with Christ but it’s not our obedience that gives us credit with God it’s obedience that comes out of a heart that’s been changed and in love with Jesus so how do we how do we go about the Great Commission as a church I came across a quote the other day you’ve probably seen it or heard it sometimes says don’t waste your time chasing butterflies mend your garden and the butterflies will come

think about that don’t waste your time chasing butterflies mend your garden and the butterflies will come well think of the Butterflies as the lost people in our in our neighborhoods the lost people that we know at work people who truly are without joy and without hope how do we reach them

well probably not with a net

what would it look like for our church to be a garden that attracted lost people

the butterflies would find us see yeah that’s what I believe live your live I’ve always believed that I don’t have to go talking about Jesus I just need to live my life and wait for the lost people to come to me well how’s that working out for you

maybe once in a while but but there’s something missing in the way we live our lives because the lost people are not flocking to us the Lord knows our own children won’t come home

what are we missing why what is it about our garden that is not attractive to butterflies

these these disciples it says in verse 52 were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit

and that was Radioactive that was a garden that attracted butterflies churches that are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit now I think this connects directly to what Paul’s promise was in verse 38 that for all who believe in Jesus everyone can be forgiven of everything

at the end of the day what are what our minds believe is true and what we recite every Sunday is disconnected from the reality of what our hearts really trust

in a way that robs us of our joy

I’ll just stick with me for a minute and think about that

um you know what what’s the mark of a church that really believes that all my sins have been forgiven

well you know what it does it creates a freedom to confess my sins not in general but in specific particular sins the ones that are embarrassing it’s it’s deep in our heart not really believing that we’re forgiven of everything

that paralyzes our hearts from being able to be honest and transparent and I’m not talking about standing up in front of the whole crowd and telling every Wicked thought you had last week I’m not talking about that but relationships

that are not driven by the need to hide and the need to pretend

there’s an openness about the life of somebody who knows he’s truly forgiven the irony is usually the most open are the ones that we see as the bigger sinners

the higher you go up that ladder of behavior behavioral obedience it seems like the harder it is to admit eat to yourself it’s not so much we’re lying to others but so we have a propensity to deceive ourselves and we begin to feel like we are morally Superior that we are better than most people and my friends Joy will never abide in the heart of somebody who’s self-righteous there’s a deep underlying insecurity that leaks out it’s just inescapable what is the cause of the all the anxiety in our lives

how’s your how’s your anxiety say well what does that have to do I mean I take a pill for that well yes you can and and and sometimes you should I’m not I’m not saying you shouldn’t but what underlies our anxiety

do you think it could be a connection to not really believing that every one of my sins is Forgiven

that I am fully Justified that God loves me completely the way he loves Jesus is his first begotten son of course there’s a connection it’s interesting in Psalm 139 David’s prayer searched me oh God and know my heart listen to the next line test me and know my anxious thoughts

says Lord

search me and show me where my anxiety comes from

it’s not Lord search me and help me conquer this terrible lust I can’t get a hold of her Lord search me and help me stop stealing and robbing and Lord search me and no it’s Lord where does this anxiety in my heart come from he says see if there’s any offensive way in me in the in the Hebrew parallelism of the Psalms you know the second line just restates the first line when he when he says test me and know my anxious thoughts he’s saying that’s the same thing is see if there’s an offensive way in me he said it’s my my dog on anxiety that causes me to mistreat people

my offensive behaviors

the words that come out of my mouth that Crush my kids it all comes out of my anxiety Lord search my heart and show me my anxious heart and then leave me in your path Release Me restore my joy my friends a church that really believes that everyone can be forgiven for everything by trusting Jesus is not a church that’s

terribly private

there’s a there’s a freedom to know and to be known because we really have nothing to hide

when we’re freely forgiven you know what else it does it takes away our inability to forgive those who have hurt us it makes us a forgiving Church forgiving the people who have truly hurt us truly wronged us because deep in our hearts we know that we’re no better

because we still see more of our own sin than we can see of theirs

we’re not a judgmental church when we’re aware that all our sins have been forgiven it’s not a place where people will come in and feel looked down on or judged or I couldn’t go there because I I don’t know how to behave or I don’t know how to you know live up to the standard now if freely forgiven enable enables us to freely forgive

um a church where we know that we have been fully and freely forgiven creates an other centeredness the question no longer becomes what what do I like or what can I get the question becomes what does the world around me need and God what pleases you it becomes other centered and and what replaces that anxiety Joy not not necessarily happiness they’re hard times and there are Lord knows we continue to disappoint ourselves on a regular basis but you’re not trapped in that self-disappointment you can go back to the Cross we come back to the table every Sunday with our burden and and we are restored again in the joy of being fully and completely for known and forgiven

the product is joy

and we’re in partnership with the Holy Spirit full of joy and the Holy Spirit there’s a freedom in knowing that you’re not alone as you go out of this church on Sunday afternoon to face the world again on Monday morning you’re not alone you are filled with the Holy Spirit the holy spirit will guide you he will lead you he will restore you

you know Paul was a Paul Paul didn’t seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out who’s God going to save and who’s not God going to say Paul said I’m just going to plant my garden and I’m going to I’m going to preach everywhere and the holy spirit’s going to draw people the ones he’s he’s drawing he’s going to draw them this wonderful partnership that my life is productive and meaningful because I’m not alone the Holy Spirit and I are doing this together so my friends isn’t that the kind of church that we long to be part of if you’re going to a new city isn’t that the church you’d be looking for you know a church that’s full of joy and the Holy Spirit and you know what we we could we could decide if we’re better than most or worse than most or where we are in the you know you know we’re all broken we’re all on the path but what’s important is that we understand this is the gospel this is this is the North Star that we that orients the way we we look at church growth we want to be a church where everybody understands that everyone can be forgiven of everything by trusting that Jesus Christ has lived a perfect life died on the cross in our place and offers to us the free gift of eternal life and the Forgiveness of all our sins we get to celebrate that now as we come to the Lord’s table let us come


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