Verse: Acts 17:16-32
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “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. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 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. 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. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “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. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.””
Wow! This account of Paul’s trip to Athens is packed with depth and meaning! In these verses, Paul reveals the truth of Jesus to the Athenians. As we’ve seen in other devotions in this series on the book of Acts, what Paul shared back then in that ancient famous Greek city has relevance for us today.
In our culture, it’s pretty widely known that the philosophies and learning of ancient Greece, especially from Athens, have been taught and respected by many people over thousands of years. That still continues to this day. Yet, as we see in Acts, Paul was able to point out that even with all of that human knowledge, the true knowledge of God is only revealed through Jesus and the power of His life, death, and resurrection.
What God did through Paul in Athens is an example of what He wants to do in and with us as well. There are a few applications that come to mind as I read this passage and asked God what He might want me to share.
First, the Holy Spirit will lead us in opportunities to connect with others, just like Paul did in Athens. Verse 17 of this passage says that Paul reasoned with people in the synagogue and also out in the marketplace. Just like Paul did, as followers of Jesus, we have the opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of hearts, to keep us alert for people that we can connect with who need and want to know more about a relationship with Jesus, just like we do. We can connect with others at church, like Paul did. And, like Paul, we can connect each day as we are out doing our shopping or doing our work. One of my favorite ways that I see God at work in my life is when the Holy Spirit gives me an opportunity in a conversation to share the love of Jesus with someone. This always happens at church, where we encourage each other as we share life together. This also often occurs in an aisle or a line at a store. Or, even with one of my colleagues at work who is celebrating something or having a challenging time. So, in those places, just like Paul, we can keep praying and asking the Holy Spirit to use us to share the love of Jesus.
Next, like Paul found in Athens, we can pray that we find people who are searching for Jesus, and may not even know it. It was sad to Paul, but clear, that the people of Athens were searching for God, as they had created so many false idols to worship. But, these idols were not bringing them closer to God. Paul helped them figure out that their search for truth would be fulfilled in Jesus. In the same way, we can look around us today. So many people are searching, but are not connected with Jesus and His love and forgiveness for sin and healing for pain. We have an opportunity to share the truth of Jesus and love, repentance, forgiveness, and joy with those around us who are searching.
Finally, we can pray that the Holy Spirit gives us the right wisdom and words. Just like where we live today, Athens was full of very smart people, who spent a lot of time thinking about how to live life. Paul even went to their highest court, the Areopagus, to testify. And, like today, many of those people in Athens ended up with some pretty convincing philosophical arguments. In verse 18, we find out that Paul met with both Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. A quick internet search (a fortunate tool to account for my limited memory and understanding) reveals that the first group had decided that they would simply live for the pleasure of life. The second group had reasoned that they would just tough through life and whatever came along on their own. This sounds a lot like many people today, and even how we sometimes think ourselves if we forget to consult God. Like Paul encountered in verse 32, we can be ready – some that we meet will laugh at us and our belief in the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. But, others who are searching will be curious and want to know more. Especially, as they see how our lives have been changed and they see the power and joy that comes from Jesus and the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts and lives.
Lord, please guide us by your Holy Spirit and use us to continue the same work that you did through Paul – to share the truth, love, and salvation of Jesus here today in our communities and wherever else we may live or that you take us. Amen.
Author: Chris Fraser