September 10th, 2016| Topic: RaMbLeS | 0


That’s the Areopagus in the middle, that prominent outcropping of rock, as seen from the Acropolis in Athens. “Areopagus” means the “Ares Rock,” Ares being one of the sons of Zeus who was apparently tried for murder on this rugged crag. Thus the place used to be a sort of court where certain crimes, homicide, particularly, were tried.

Later, the Romans called it “Mars Hill,” after the Roman god of war, Mars.

Paul delivered a sermon on this piece of real estate. Acts 17 has him discussing the gospel in Athens with all who would hear him:

His spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.
So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearers,
and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be present.
Acts 17:16–17

Some of the local philosophers were impressed by Paul …

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, …
“You are bringing some strange things to our ears;
so we want to know what these things mean.”
Acts 17:19

And then follows Paul’s longest speech as reported in the Bible (Acts 17:22–31).

“Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
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.
Acts 17:22–23

Paul proceeded to talk about God, the Creator, and the necessity for all humankind to seek God. Especially since judgment was drawing nigh.

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance,
God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness
through a Man whom He has appointed,
having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Acts 17:30–31

Apparently, that’s as much as he decided to say. Certainly, that’s all we are told he said.

Though some sneered, others were intrigued. A few even joined Paul as believers, among them a certain man, Dionysius, and a woman, Damaris.

(Later, with Christianity in ascendancy, a church was built in honor of Dionysius near the Areopagus. In fact, the road to the Areopagus is called ΟΔΟΣ ΔΙΟΝΥΣΙΟΥ ΑΡΕΟΠΑΓΙΤΟΥ, “Dionysius the Areopagite Street.”)

What’s striking in Paul’s “sermon”—if you want to call it that—is that there is no mention of the cross. Indeed, even Jesus is not explicitly named, though Paul does refer to him indirectly, as the “Man” God had appointed and raised from the dead.

Despite this, there are scholars who boldly assert, like this one:

When Paul preached, his message was centered on the cross as the definitive criterion of preaching.”

Well, not in Acts 17, apparently. Even the notion of someOne dying for sins wasn’t mentioned, though the resurrection was—simply as proof that that Man was the one appointed by God to judge.

All that to say, reaching unbelievers is a complex undertaking. Finding a commonality with them is critical. That may not necessarily involve a full presentation of the gospel on day 1. Often it is simply identifying ourselves as Christian and giving outsiders the opportunity to see this species of human being at close quarters. Creating a plausibility structure: “Hmm … this Christian appears to be normal [hopefully, we are, more or less]. His/her beliefs may not be as wacky as I thought they were.”

Slow and steady. With lots of prayer … and patience.

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