Summary: As we gather for revival services, it is appropriate to ask ourselves, “How is it that the church (at large) has fallen on such lean times”? Churches everywhere are closing, and some that remain open find it nearly impossible to sustain themselves. Many
As we gather for revival services, it is appropriate to ask ourselves, “How is it that the church (at large) has fallen on such lean times”? Churches everywhere are closing, and some that remain open find it nearly impossible to sustain themselves. Many are quick to place blame on social ills; I have done it myself. Truth is, revival starts with ME, not with those around me.
The late Sam Shoemaker, an Episcopalian bishop, summed up the situation this way: "In the Great Commission the Lord has called us to be--like Peter--fishers of men. We’ve turned the commission around so that we have become merely keepers of the aquarium. Occasionally I take some fish out of your fishbowl and put them into mine, and you do the same with my bowl. But we’re all tending the same fish ."
Words that sting – yet represent the truth. Revival comes to the church as it fulfills its commission - to reach the lost for Jesus Christ. As it does, the church grows, fed by the Word of God and the enthusiasm of the believers.
1. Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? We’ll just support world missions, establish churches all over a regional area, sponsor evangelistic meetings and revivals and people will come to know and accept Christ.
A. The fact is, the church is doing that, and the lost aren’t responding!
B. Perhaps they don’t respond to the message because of our method(s). We’ve moved from the modern era to the post-modern era, and with it came a new mind set:
1. No longer any absolute truth; all truth is in the eye of the beholder
2. Religion is “out” – spirituality is “in” (new age thinking, find your inner-strength)
3. Spirituality is personal and experiential; no two people have the same needs or desires from god, therefore no one “version of god” fits everyone’s needs. Pluralism.
C. We could choose to be angry with them and continue our methods, but what purpose does that attitude serve?
2. Tonight we consider an alternative approach to evangelism from the life of Paul. We learn how to share the gospel in a way that reaches a pluralistic society. Turn with me to Acts 17.
II. THE SETTING
1. Paul is in Athens (Greece). Though Athens had long since lost the political eminence once hers in an earlier day, she continued to represent the highest level of culture attained in ancient times.
A. The sculpture, literature, and oratory of Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BC are unsurpassed. In philosophy too, she occupied the leading place as native to Socrates and Plato, and the adopted home of Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno.
B. As Paul awaits Timothy and Silas, he engages the believers in the synagogue and the marketplace with gospel teaching and his distress over the number of idols in the city.
2. During his reasoning with them, some hecklers appear (Epicurean and Stoic philosophers)
A. Epicureans believed life was no more than the pursuit of pleasure and tranquility, and the absence of pain and superstitious fears (including the fear of death). Not denying the existence of gods, they maintained they had no interest in the lives of men.
B. Stoics were pantheistic (god is in everything), with grand moral standards, tremendous pride and a high sense of duty. Recommended suicide as an honorable means of ending a life that could not live with dignity. (sound familiar?)
C. The dissenters bring Paul to the court of Areopagus (“hill of Ares”, Greek god of war; whose Roman equivalent was Mars – why we know of this as Mar’s Hill), a well-respected institution of aristocrats who held jurisdiction in matters of religion and morals. Paul will now address the philosophers as our story begins…
III. PAUL ADDRESSES THE AREOPAGUS: STEPS TO EVANGELIZING SKEPTICS (vv.19-34)
1. Meet them where they are (19-21)
A. Areopagus was where the action was. For Paul to share the gospel to the skeptics of Athens, he had to be in Areopagus. Notice he did not stay in his comfort zone (the synagogue). He did not abandon the synagogue; he simply went to the need, knowing the skeptics would not come in full force to the synagogue.
B. We cannot reach the lost if they aren’t in the church. We may have to go to where they are: (JW’s, Mormons come to you, don’t they?) Perhaps a non-religious event at the church may bring the community to you.
2. Understand their beliefs (vv.22-23)
A. Paul studies their objects of worship, including the altar for the “unknown god”. He then moves from what they worship to an obviously superior God!
1. Every false doctrine has its flaws. To understand, they must explain; a legitimate, systematic defense of a false doctrine is impossible. It hasn’t happened yet!