Summary: When Paul arrived in Athens, he was grieved over the rank idolatry of the city with its statues and temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses. He knew that the Gospel had to be proclaimed. Souls hung in the balance. This is the heart of a man of God and the example we need to follow today.
When Paul arrived in Athens to wait for Silas and Timothy to join him, he looked around the city and did not marvel at the beauty of the city's temples or the culture or anything typical of a tourist's curiosity. If he were to be classified as a "sightseer", the sights he saw broke his heart because all he could really notice were the numerous altars to the varied gods and goddesses that had been a part of the Greek nation and former empire's social and religious foundations. While the Athenians displayed a form of religious devotion and attention to ritual, they were spiritually lost and bound in the darkness of false belief that still plagues the world today. The pastoral heart of the great lion of God truly hurt for not just the Athenians, but for his fellow Jews, and indeed, all who were lost in their sins who needed to hear of the freedom and grace of God given by Jesus Christ. Paul wanted the world to know of the love, mercy, and salvation that he himself had received on the Damascus Road through the risen Christ and the calling He placed on His former enemy to take His message to the Jew first, and then the Greek.
We see this concern and compassion for the lost modeled in our LORD as He saw the people of HIs own nation wandering in a desert of ritual and repetitious "worship" of the God of Israel without the love and devotion that He had asked of them over the centuries. The religious leaders had reduced the love for God and His Word to the point where the Sabbath itself had become a day of dread instead of rest due to the picky and near draconian penalties placed on the people for violating it. When Jesus arrived on the scene, His preaching and teaching were not filled with the extras of man-made ritual and attention to rabbinical interpretations of the Scriptures, but were words of "Authority" that were the spiritual food and drink they had been missing for so long.
Let this be a lesson to all preachers who truly love and follow the Lord Jesus. Stay away from fads, trends, and worldly causes that sound noble but in reality starve the flock of the good food of the Word of God. Do not preach the latest news or opinion from the denominational or political pundits, or try to be clever in your self-anointed "gift" of wit and yarn, but PREACH THE WORD (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Whether people admit it or not, they are truly hungry for something that will give them assurance, comfort, and conviction and the wonderful news that God does love them and desires that they not perish and suffer in eternal torment. Preach that He has provided the ONLY way to real peace, escape from sin, and source of authentic forgiveness and mercy. Preach Jesus! Proclaim Jesus! Exalt Jesus! Never be swayed from the calling He has given you, fellow shepherd.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this applies to you as well. Just because you see the same people, the same families, and the visitors who come to your place of worship and sit by you or near you and join in the songs, say prayers, and seem to pay attention to the sermon, never assume that they are saved and sealed in Christ. Those people who cross your paths during the week such as friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, and the strangers who might greet you are all in the same predicament. They might be as lost as the garden variety pagan that Paul witnessed in the streets and marketplaces of Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and everywhere he ministered. You do not have to have any special training or "call to ministry" to present the Gospel to people and if you have been truly redeemed from your sins by the Lord Jesus, you have a story to tell. It may not be as dramatic as Paul's, but, like him, you were lost and heading to eternal hell just as he was before Jesus transformed his life and purpose.
When we read of this encounter between Paul and the philosophers on Mars Hill, we might tend to overlook verse 16-18 of Acts 17, where Paul first reasoned with his fellow Jews in the synagogue before he ventured into the marketplaces and started preaching the Gospel to the Athenian citizens. This is an evangelism strategy that was modeled after Jesus' prime mission, which was to reach out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:6). Paul did not take anything for granted when it came to preaching the Gospel to his own people first. They had been recipients of the promise of a Messiah by God (Isaiah 53:1-12) and affirmed through the prophets, yet many had rejected Jesus for this very claim because He did not fit their idea of the Deliverer and restorer of the nation. Paul no doubt explained to them that the deliverance and freedom of their souls from sin was far more important that freedom from the bonds of Roman rule, and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross did just that. His sinless blood was the perfect and final sacrifice for our rebellion and unrighteousness. We cannot redeem or justify ourselves in the sight of God by our own means (Ephesians 2:8-9).