Summary: Exposition of Acts 17:16-23 regarding the setting and methodology and introduction of Paul’s speech at Mars Hill
Text: Acts 17:16-23, Title: Musings of a Seed-Picker 1, Date/Place: NRBC, 10/19/08, AM
A. Opening illustration: talk about my visit to Cairo, Egypt, the “city of 1000 mosques”
B. Background to passage: Missionary journey #2. Spitefully treated in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, however planting churches in each of those places. Paul finds himself in Athens alone waiting on Silas and Timothy to come from Berea by boat. All that he sees reminds him of the One that has called him to bear the gospel to kings and princes, Jews and Gentiles. And so rather than play the part of the tourist, or passively entertain himself while waiting, he cannot restrain himself from speaking of Christ to all those who would listen. And this text is probably one of the most important examples of evangelism in an unbelieving world that we have, and one of the most important in Acts. So we are going to do it in four parts, today’s part 1.
C. Main thought: From this text we can discern part of Paul’s methodology in evangelizing a pagan culture
A. Driven by a burden (v. 16)
1. The text says that Paul was provoked in his Spirit. The word means to be upset, even angry, and emotionally concerned. It carries the connotation of being stimulated to action or incited to act. It could be paraphrased idiomatically “his heart was eating him.” The Greek expresses an imperfect verb, translated, “kept on being provoked.” Everywhere he looked he saw idolatry, and the core of idolatry is putting something else in the place of Christ. And Paul could not stand Christ not being glorified. Paul’s burden was not that lost people were dying, although I am sure that he knew that and it pained him. He was not provoked at the temple prostitution, at the corrupt politics, at divorce, or infanticide of children. But His motivation was that the city was given over to idols and not to Christ.
3. Illustration: Henry Martyn was a wealthy and brilliant scholar at Cambridge University in England, when he renounced all and sought to serve God as a missionary in 1805 turning down multiple offers for advancement in academia, and in marriage. In India he was talking to a Muslim who was telling him of a victory that they had over the Russians. He said that they killed so many Christians that Christ reached up from the fourth heaven and pulled on the skirt of Mohammed and begged him to desist. Martyn wrote that he was cut to the heart at this blasphemy. The Muslim realized that he said something that must have offended Martyn and so he asked what was so offensive. Martyn told him, “I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified; it would be hell to me, if He were always thus dishonored.” Astonished the Muslim asked why? Martyn said, “If any one plucked out your eyes, there is no saying why you would feel pain—it is a feeling! It is because I am one with Christ that I am wounded.” Martyn also told of a time when he was watching a Hindu procession. He said that, “Before the stumps of images, for they were not better, some of the people prostrated themselves, striking the ground twice with their foreheads. This excited more horror in me than I can well express…I thought that if I had words I would preach to the multitudes all day if I lost my life for it.” “Someone seems to have administered a massive dose of Novocain to our national conscious.”
4. In our culture it is easy to be provoked at sins like murder, sexual immorality, gay marriage, abortion, sex education in our schools, etc. But remember that the underlying motivation is not necessary hatred of these sins, but hatred of the fact that these sins subvert Christ! Oh, where is our love for the glorification of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world? Sure 50 million people died last year, half of which didn’t even have access to the gospel. And we should feel urgency about that. And we should be burdened about that. But let our greatest motivation and our greatest provocation be that Christ, the Greatest Treasure, worthy of all praise, be exalted in every aspect of every person’s life. Let nothing dethrone Christ as the centerpiece of all creation, history, and life itself! About 6.7 billion people in this world right now (even believers) by valuing anything more than Jesus. We all count him as less than TV, less than computers and cell phones, less than food and money, less than relationships and recreation, less than sleep, less than family, when we lift any of these things up or bring Him down. Not to esteem what is most worthy to be esteemed is idolatry. And Christ is the highest, the greatest, the bestest, the most glorious, most wonderful, most satisfying, most awesome reality in the world! He is worthy! He is worthy! He is worthy! Remember that you exist to make much of Him, and so when that cause is thwarted, we should become provoked. Pray that God will resensitize your conscience to the glory of Christ, let us be compelled to speak when we see Christ’s honor and position trampled and subverted.