Summary: What offends you most? What will you defend with the greatest passion? The answer for Paul was clear: Defend God’s honor from idols and rivals!
Text: Acts 17:16-34
Reading: Romans 1:18-25
Longing to See God Honored
Intro: Does anyone remember the TV show “Welcome back Cotter?” It was a sitcom about a teacher who returned to work in the city high school he had graduated from. Well, one time, Cotter and John Travolta got into an insulting match to see who could make who the maddest. The Sweat Hog (John) thought he could do Cotter in by insulting his intelligence, his looks, and his teaching abilities. I can’t remember exactly what he said to Cotter, but it was mostly mockery types of insults. Cotter sat and seemed to enjoy them with the rest of the class. Then it was Cotter’s turn to try to get John mad and Cotter said something mildly insulting about John’s mother. Wow! That did it! Travolta was hot in an instant! He shouted, "That’s not fair!" Cotter had hit the hot spot of a relationship that provoked Travolta to anger.
We always tend to get angry when someone insults those we love, even if they do it in ignorance.
Here in Acts 17 we pick up with Paul alone in Athens. Athens was the cultural center of the Greek world, an intellectual metropolis. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, Euripides... The greatest minds of philosophy had taught here. The greatest works of literature, art, and science came from here. This was a city with a 1000 years of history. The founders of democracy began here. Athens boasted of having the greatest university in the world. The Epicureans and Stoics held the two most popular philosophies on life of the day. This place was a hot-bed of prechristian thought.
Paul had heard of Athens; everybody had heard of Athens. Now, here he is in this city, waiting on Silas and Timothy to come from Berea. What would you have done if you were Paul? What about vacation? Paul could do Athens! Check out all the restaurants and malls. See if the Zeus Regency Hotel has a Jacuzzi. I mean really! Doesn’t a guy who’s just been beaten and jailed and run out of 3 towns deserve a break? What would you say? Paul you’ve been under so much stress lately... relax man, you’re alone anyway. Kick back a little and smell the roast beef a while.
In fact Paul just may have tried to relax a little. He walked around town. He was waiting for his team-mates to come. But as he strolled through the city something began to happen to him. Something very much like what would happen to you if someone insulted your mother or father.
As we study about Paul in Athens we are going to notice 4 things: these are what he saw, felt, did, and said.
Then we’ll draw some lessons from his experience there and apply it to ourselves.
1. Let’s notice first of all what Paul saw in Athens: vs 16
He saw a city full of idols. This city wasn’t just full of them, it was swimming in them or drowning in idols. Actually, these were beautiful works of art too. The temples, shrines, statues and alters were all crafted by some of the worlds great artists. And the Parthenon was a vast composition of architecture and sculpture. There was plenty of entertainment and action going on everywhere. Both the Stoics and Epicureans, which seem to have held the most popular religious philosophies, saw the gods as distant and uninterested in human affairs. Even so, religion was big business in Athens, right up there with any of the other things such as scholarship, art, literature and science.
Paul wasn’t blind to the beauty of this place. But he was provoked by the idolatrous use to which the God-given artistic creativity was being put. He saw in all this his father in heaven and his Lord Jesus Christ insulted. It was a mockery of God instead of a glory to Him. Paul saw a city drowning in idols, an insult to the honor of God.
2. So, how does it feel to him to see this? What did Paul feel?
The word in verse 16 that is translated "provoked" also carries the ideas of roused to anger, or moved to jealousy.
In the O.T. just listen to God’s reaction to idolatry. Deut. 9:7f 7 "Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. 8 "Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you.
The honor and glory of God’s name is mocked by idolatry. Isaiah 42: 8 "I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.