Summary: This is the first of a series of messages centering on the sermon that the Apostle Paul gave before the groups of philosophers in Athens, and how it is a perfect model for Biblical apologetics and evangelism.
People today tend to sidestep, ignore, deter, apologize and question the concept of reality in a world which gladly embraces the concept that reality, truth, and fact are not absolute but just a matter of opinion, experience, or personal interpretation. We have become terrified of the possibility that right and wrong, good and evil, black and white, and truth and reality are actual facts of nature, law, and existence. We cannot accept or deal with that because of fear of offending someone or hurting their self-identity or some other excuse that is convenient. No one wants to hear truth, fact, and standards if it interferes with their little world where their ideas and convictions are safe, sound, and out of the reach of anyone who would dare challenge them.
I do not have to go on, because wherever and whoever you are reading this message, you are either seeing the down-grade of common sense and fear of upsetting the status quo of your country, state, city, or territory whose ideas of what is real are like the house built on sand that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:26-27). Even the church, founded on the Rock that is Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18-19), has for the most part decided that He is not good enough for the well-being of the church and so goes off chasing trends, fads, ideas, traditions, popular causes, and worldly methods of bringing in the people without preaching the Gospel and living as Jesus calls for us to do (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 14:25-33). It seems that the reality of obedience, holiness, witness, devotion, heaven and hell do not bother most "believers" today because they do not believe in the Bible they claim to read and follow. They are practical atheists not brave or honest enough to cast aside their "fake Christianity" and have reaped the whirlwind (Matt. 7:21-23).
I want to focus on the subject of reality as it applies to the Gospel and how the Apostle Paul presented the reality of God, Christ, salvation, judgment, and the standards of Scripture to an audience of skeptics who reveled in the past glories of their nation and methods of thought that had permeated the western world for hundreds of years. In Acts 17, Paul finds himself in the intellectual capital of the Roman Empire, Athens, Greece. The Greeks had a colorful and dynamic history and culture that still invokes admiration today. Volumes have been written on the influence of Greek thought, government, education, art, mythology and language, architecture on civilization and the giants of philosophy such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Zeno, Epicurus, along with the military genius who spread all of this across the Mediterranean , the Middle East, Persia, Babylon, Asia, and Europe through both wars and colonization, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great, who established an empire by the time of his death in 323 B.C.
The Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines "reality" as "actual being or existence of any thing; a fact in distinction from mere appearance. It is something intrinsically important and not merely a matter of show. In law, it is the immobility of a fixed permanent nature of property. It is also a full and absolute being of itself not considered as part of anything else. It is the study of things as they are rather than as they are imagined to be." It is worth noting that Mr. Webster based his definitions and work analyses on the Holy Scriptures, seen by him and countless others over time as the basis of authentic reality and not the product of fallible human thinking (Isaiah 1:18; 2 Peter 1:19-21). This is the concept upon which this message and the ones to follow are founded, along with the reasons. This will be examined later in the series, but for now, we need to return to our background study.
Greek philosophers had differing ideas on what was meant by reality. They saw reality either as uncertain, limited, or an abstraction that depended on the situation at the time. Plato taught that reality first begins with ideas and self-concepts. Others like Zeno, the father of the Stoics, saw reality as what we experience in this world and to accept whatever comes one's way, either good or bad - a type of fatalism. Epicurus saw reality as a time to get all the pleasures out of life as one can, because after death, there was nothing. He was the father of what we know as hedonism, the love of pleasure above all else. The gods and goddesses of Greece were not much help in terms of advice, counsel, or comfort. Zeus, Hercules, Minerva, Hera, Narcissus, Bacchus, Aphrodite, Mercury, Atlas, and Hades were known as "heroes" but were also indifferent to the plight of humanity and just as devious and immoral as they were.