Summary: Paul's message before the Areopagus forms the basis for a study of how to approach an intellectual audience. This knowledge is necessary if we are to succeed in presenting the Faith in the midst of our world today. This is the substance of a radio message at Easter.

“Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

‘“In him we live and move and have our being;”

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘“For we are indeed his offspring.”

“‘Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’” [1]

Easter won’t be quite the same this year; things are different because of an unseen, silent killer stalking our land. Traditionally, Christians gather in record numbers in their church buildings on Easter Sunday. Our own congregation would enjoy an early breakfast—a love feast if you will. We would celebrate the Lord’s Table after a light breakfast; then, we would welcome guests together with those members who had slept in before providing a special service of worship at which we would sing some of the great hymns of the Faith and again hear the message of Christ’s victory over death.

Some have bemoaned the fact that we will not gather in large assembly this year, we will not meet in our comfortable church building. While I wouldn’t wish to be crass, what I hear is a complaint based upon worship of a building. How large was the crowd that witnessed Christ conquer death? How many people were present on that first Easter morning? And in the years that followed the Master’s conquest of death, didn’t His disciples meet wherever they had opportunity? And didn’t they come together early on the first day of the week, celebrating the fact that Jesus rose victoriously from the grave?

Our spiritual forebears worshipped the Risen Lord of Glory, and they did so without the convenience of a permanent building they could call their own! He was alive, and He was with them as they met to worship. Wherever they met and each time they met, they focused on the Risen Lord of Glory, the Saviour who had conquered death and brought life and immortality to light. Worship was a continual celebration of victory. Tragically, contemporary Christians seem to have forgotten that truth. Here’s an example of the message those earlier saints delivered to a world that had become jaded and uncaring about the reality of the Living God. Though they knew there was a God, few people knew Him, and our forebears spoke often of His claim on life.

Scholars have long debated whether the sermon was effective or not. Chased out of Thessalonica by an angry mob of religious zealots, driven from Berea when that same mob followed the missionaries there, the great missionary, Paul, was forced to travel to Athens alone. The Word of God informs us that Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” [ACTS 17:16].

The Apostle did what he always did when he was provoked—he preached. In the synagogue, he “reasoned with the Jews and the devout persons” [see ACTS 17:17a]. However, he didn’t restrict himself to speaking with only Jews who worshipped in the synagogue, he actively spoke “in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” [ACTS 17:17b]. While speaking in the marketplace, “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him.” Paul’s message stimulated a discussion. Some of the philosophers said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others attempted to understand what he was saying; they said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities,” because the Apostle was preaching Jesus and the resurrection [see ACTS 17:18].

It is somewhat surprising to me to note the number of theologians prepared to argue that Paul failed miserably on that day when he stood in the midst of the Areopagus. They contend that he attempted to be intellectual with that crowd. According to their argument, the Apostle failed in the message he delivered that day. They argue that the Gospel does not lend itself to being intellectually viable. The unspoken message from these apologists is that the intellectual mind is simply too obdurate for the Word of God to penetrate. The proud soul will not yield to the message of grace is the underlying assumption of those who hold the view that Paul failed in this instance. I beg to differ.

I recall sitting in a class of high achievers meeting in a large megachurch. The class was called the “Medical/Dental Class.” Only individuals engaged in providing medical or dental care were invited to participate in the class. It was a large class, with an enrollment of over three hundred people. A dear friend of mine was teaching the class at that time, and I was invited to attend, in part because of my background in medicine.

The teacher, a colleague and a friend, made a statement that we had to get those to whom we witnessed onside with us before we tell them of Christ. He argued that we would need to gain agreement that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God before anything else. Apparently, my disagreement was obvious because he focused on me and commented, “Of course, Doctor Stark may have a different opinion.”

Not wishing to be disruptive, I attempted to move on, stating that I didn’t want to start an argument. However, my friend persisted in demanding I give my response to his position. At last, I agreed to make my position known. “Jesus didn’t share this position,” I said. “When Nicodemus met Jesus, the Son of God moved deliberately to the central point that is central to powerful witness—‘You must be born again.’”

“On the day of Pentecost, Peter moved quickly to the central issue, ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified… Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” [ACTS 2:36, 38].

I had made my point—the Master Himself, and those who followed Him among those earliest disciples, had one message for those who heard—we must be born again. We must believe the Good News that Christ died for our sin and that He was raised from the dead for our justification. And that is precisely what the Apostle did in the midst of the Areopagus when challenged to declare what he had to say.

THE SPEAKER — “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” is the speaker. This is revealed in Luke’s opening words as he begins recounting the Apostle’s message and the setting in which he spoke. What was “the Areopagus?” Why was this important enough that Luke was constrained to identify the setting?

The Areopagus was properly a hill northwest of the Acropolis in Athens. This hill overlooked the marketplace. In this instance, it refers to the Athenian Council that met on this hill. Therefore, when Paul was stated to be standing in the midst of the Areopagus, we are being informed that he was called before this august body; Paul was compelled to address this assembly of learned men, noted for their grasp of various philosophical views. The Apostle was standing before men who were the equal of any scholar to this day. These men had studied the various philosophies for years. They were able to converse with the most learned individuals because they were truly intellectuals.

We may imagine that we would have enjoyed hearing the Apostle as he preached. However, don’t forget that Paul was not universally liked during the years of his service among the congregations of that earlier era. We sometimes believe that he was welcomed as a hero wherever he travelled. We seem to think that he was larger than life, and that congregations were eager for him to be with them in a service. However, even among assemblies he had established, he was assured that detractors would be present.

As an example of what I am saying, notice his approach to the saints in Corinth. In his second missive to that congregation, Paul is defending himself against some negative attitudes. He writes, “I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’” [2 CORINTHIANS 10:9-10]. As we might have said in west Texas, these people thought Paul was “all hat and no cattle.”

In an earlier letter, he had found it necessary to defend himself because he was not the one who baptised the most of those in attendance. At that time, the Apostle to the Gentiles wrote, “It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” [1 CORINTHIANS 1:11-17].

In his letters, the Apostle seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time defending his ministry. It is as though he was always facing down detractors. In this, Paul did not differ greatly from the other Apostles. As an example of the defence other Apostles presented, consider the forthright confrontation with opposition from the pen of the Apostle of Love. “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” [3 JOHN 9-10].

Not only was John forced to defend himself, but he found it necessary to defend those who were associated with him in declaring Christ as Master while building the saints. In the early days of the Faith, it could be costly to even admit that one admired an Apostle. And adherence to the message of the Apostles can be costly in this day!

From earliest days as a follower of the Christ, Paul was a disturbing presence, especially among the saints. When the Master called Saul of Tarsus to follow Him, Ananias, the man God appointed to commission Saul, was entrusted with that task. Ananias was specifically told by the Master when he was dispatched, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” [ACTS 9:15-16].

Now, that is some commissioning ceremony delivered to this new believer! “Saul, I am appointing you as My servant. You should know that you can expect a life of suffering because of Me.” We focus on the glory of divine appointment, forgetting the pain that is inevitably associated with serving Jesus as Master. We imagine that the adulation, the commendation, the affirmation from those to whom the servant ministers to be the sum of service. However, we seldom see the tears, the heartache, the sorrow that marks the path of God’s choice servants.

Saul of Tarsus would henceforth be known as Paul. Opposition and hatred would mark his journey through this world, and all because of the message of life with which he was entrusted. His final statement of his labours is pathetic from the viewpoint of this fallen world. Paul would write to the young protégé whom he trained, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” [2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8].

The battles were all finished. He had one last great enemy to face—death. However, for Paul, death had been transformed into a servant to the King of Glory. Rather than a dark spectre to be feared, the death angel was now the servant of Christ to transport the old warrior home and into the presence of the Master whom he had served for those many years. Now, the old warrior could say with confidence, “I’ve slipped my mooring—the sails have caught the wind and my barque is gliding over the waves as I make for home at last.” This is the sum of the equation, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” [ROMANS 8:18].

Contemporary Christians might well ask, “Was it worth it, Paul? Look at what you had to endure!” The Apostle would testify of all that he had experienced because of his service to the Master, “Whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands” [2 CORINTHIANS 11:21-33].

Was it worth the pain? The old man would soon enter into the presence of the Lord where he would receive the crown of righteousness. This is the view we are to hold! “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” [ROMANS 8:37-39]. That is confidence! That is the promise to God’s servants! Amen.

THE AUDIENCE — “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious’” [ACTS 17:22]. The text includes what biblical scholars identify as a hapax legomenon, a word that occurs only once in the text of the New Testament. Paul noted that the Athenians were “very religious,” “extremely devout” [deisidamonestérous (Greek)]; they carefully performed their religious duties.

As evidence of their religious devotion, Paul noted that they didn’t want to miss giving homage to any god, so they even made an altar dedicated to “the unknown god.” Thus, the Apostle opened his address by saying, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” [ACTS 17:22-23].

Many years before Paul stood in the Areopagus, Athens was devastated by a plague that was killing off many of the citizens. The learned men of the city debated which God was afflicting them with the plague. They had attempted to offer sacrifices to various gods without stopping the plague. However, despite the multiplicity of altars in the city, none of the sacrifices halted the plague. Their theology dictated that a god was angry with them, and that god must be placated. At last, one of the learned scholars suggested a test to determine which god was angered with the city.

They would release a flock of sheep that had not been allowed to feed. The sheep would wander about until they stopped to graze and rest. Whichever altar was nearest to the place where the sheep paused would indicate the god that was devastating the city. The sheep by-passed all the altars and stopped to graze in a site where there was no altar. The people of the city erected an altar there, dedicating the altar to, “The Unknown God.” This was the altar which the Apostle used to illustrate the message of life that he brought.

Athens was the intellectual centre of the world. The individuals Paul addressed that day were intelligent. Nevertheless, they were ignorant of reality—they were fools. The philosophers had a long tradition of thinking deep thoughts; and yet, they were ignorant of spiritual matters. The Greek philosophers were so steeped in religion, though they didn’t necessarily believe what they clung to so tenaciously, that they thought Paul was advocating two “new gods”—“Jesus” and a god bearing identified by the name, “Resurrection.”

Isn’t it interesting that people living about us all believe they know the Bible. Some even know an astounding amount of minutiae concerning biblical narratives. Almost everyone knows things that aren’t even found written in the pages of the Word. Speaking of politically liberal opponents, Ronald Reagan was quoted as observing, “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” Something like that could easily be said of many of our contemporaries that imagine they are able to characterise the Faith. We live in an age in which people know more about a greater variety of subjects, and they are yet unable to transform their world. Knowledge does not equal wisdom.

THE MESSAGE — “I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being;’

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” [ACTS 17:22b-31].

Intellectuals are far too smart to believe the Gospel. If you don’t believe that, just ask them! They may not be wise, but they are assured that they are smart—smarter than you! If I tell such people that I can say “Abracadabra,” and a toad will be turned into a prince, they’ll smirk and tell me that such a story is a fairy tale. However, if I say that a shark can become Doctor Stark, and it will only require several tens of millions of years, they’ll nod their heads sagely and say, “That’s science.” Such transmogrification doesn’t occur no matter how much time one allows for the change.

I recall an incident when I was engaged in doctoral studies. My mentor had reviewed an article I had written for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. Since I had performed the experiments and written the paper, I was designated as the lead author. However, since it was his laboratory, custom dictated that he would be acknowledged as the second author. Accordingly, he wanted to make some changes that would imply our agreement with the evolutionary view of life. I vigorously dissented, presenting my case that the inclusion of that material would not contribute to the understanding of what had been observed. Moreover, Rene knew my views on origins did not align with the neo-orthodox doctrine of evolution. I felt strongly enough about the matter that I was prepared to remove my name from the paper, surrendering my right to claim authorship.

Rene’s response to my dissent was, “Mike, you’re way too smart to believe that stuff about creation.” To this, I replied, “And you’re too smart to believe in fairy tales. What does your view contribute to the argument we’re presenting in this paper? I am simply thinking the Creator’s thoughts after him in the work I have performed and in what I’ve written.”

It was a source of confusion for my mentor and for the dissertation committee when they read the dedication for my dissertation. That dedication included the following testimony: “It is my [privilege] to dedicate this dissertation to the honor of my Lord and Master, Christ Jesus, who has sustained me in every work, comforted me in every valley, and has been my joy in every instance.” [2] In their collective experience, none of the esteemed professors had ever witnessed such an openly Christian statement from a candidate for the degree. However, despite their lack of experience in this realm, I was convinced that I needed to give glory to the One who had kept me at the hard task even when being opposed by those who were superintending my studies. My thinking has not changed since those halcyon days of yore.

What is the message that impacts an intellectual audience? It is not argument about whether God exists. It is not a message exposing the foolishness inherent in the neo-orthodox doctrine of evolution. It is not a message attempting to establish the veracity of the Word of God. All these issues are important, but they will never save a lost soul. What is needed is the message that Christ died because of sinful men and that He raised on the third day to declare all who believe in Him to be right with God.

Years ago, while completing doctoral studies, a technician from another lab would wander into my laboratory. That man wanted to discuss the philosophy of religion. He had trained at a Jesuit school, and now worked in the field of biochemistry. He was quite a bright man. Later, Richard would go on to become a physician and spend his years in medical research. He was a learned man, as evidenced by his life.

As we talked, Richard would frequently throw up objections to believing the Word of God because he recognised that what was written in the Word was in conflict with the neo-orthodox doctrine of evolution. In his mind, this obvious conflict with what intelligent people believed would keep him from believing the Word of God. He wouldn’t believe! However, Richard continued coming to my lab to talk about religious matters. We would share a cup of coffee while he threw up repeated objections to the Bible and I did my best to answer his rejection of what God said.

After some weeks of discussing religion with him, I mentioned that my wife and I were beginning a Bible study. I invited him to come to our home and study the Word with us. I was overjoyed when Richard accepted the invitation. On the appointed evening, Richard and his wife showed up at our home. I am convinced it was the Spirit of God that arranged it so that no one else showed that evening.

Richard and Mary Ann came, bearing a massive two-volume translation of the Bible for each of them. Richard almost staggered under the weight of those four, massive volumes. I presented an introduction to the Gospel of Mark that evening, after which Lynda served coffee and home-baked cookies. I mentioned at one point that I had written in the front of my Bible the date on which I had trusted Christ as my Saviour. Responding to that, Mary Ann commented that she had always wanted to write in her Bible that on a given date she had been saved. Turning to my wife, I simply said, “Lynda, please get a pen and bring it to me.”

Turning in Mary Ann’s big two-volume Jerusalem Bible to the Book of Romans, we travelled together down the Romans Road. As she read the words of ROMANS 3:23, Mary Ann agreed that she was a sinner. She wasn’t an awful person, but she nevertheless recognised that she had sinned against God. As she read ROMANS 5:8-10, she was thrilled to learn that God has revealed His love for us through sending His Son to be a sacrifice for our sin. Reading ROMANS 10:9-10, Mary Ann saw that God saves anyone who believes the message of Christ sacrificed for our sin and raised for our justification.

I asked, “Would you like to pray and tell the Risen Saviour that you receive Him, Mary Ann?” She was beaming at the possibility of becoming a follower of Christ Jesus, and she was obviously excited to pray to receive Christ as Lord of life. Mary Ann bowed her head, firmly invited Christ into her life and openly committed herself to His reign. When I asked her if she was saved, she replied, “Of course I am. God promised and I have believed on Jesus as my Lord.”

At that, I turned to Richard and said, “Shouldn’t you be the leader in your home? Isn’t it time that you believed Christ and received His free gift of salvation?” His response was not dramatic, but it was determined. “Yes, I believe I should do that.” And with that, Richard prayed and received Christ as Master over His life.

Turning again to Mary Ann, I said, “If Christ is to be king, shouldn’t there be a coronation ceremony?” She agreed that was a good idea, but wondered what sort of ceremony it should be. I was glad she asked. Turning in her Bible one more time, I read these words, “If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. It is by believing with the heart that you are justified, and by making the declaration with your lips that you are saved. When scripture says: No one who relies on this will be brought to disgrace, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: the same Lord is the Lord of all, and his generosity is offered to all who appeal to him” [ROMANS 10:9-12 NEW JERUSALEM BIBLE].

And God has given the ceremony expected of all who make Jesus Lord, I read, “All of us, when we were baptised into Christ Jesus, were baptised into his death. So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we too should begin living a new life. If we have been joined to him by dying a death like his, so we shall be by a resurrection like his; realising that our former self was crucified with him, so that the self which belonged to sin should be destroyed and we should be freed from the slavery of sin. Someone who has died, of course, no longer has to answer for sin. But we believe that, if we died with Christ, then we shall live with him too. We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. For by dying, he is dead to sin once and for all, and now the life that he lives is life with God. In the same way, you must see yourselves as being dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus” [ROMANS 6:3b-11 NEW JERUSALEM BIBLE ].

The Spirit of God revealed to her that we are baptised to identify with Christ. Reading what was written, she realised that we are not baptised in order to make us Christians, but we are baptised because we have become Christians. We now identify with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. We are confessing our faith that our old nature was dead, and it is now buried in the sea of God’s forgetfulness, and we are raised to a new life in Christ the Lord. Richard and Mary Ann were baptised together at the First Baptist Church of Dallas a couple of weeks following that evening in our home.

One day, a few weeks after their baptism, Richard again wandered down to my laboratory. “Mike,” he began, “you know how I struggled with the opening chapters of Genesis?” Of course, I knew he struggled with this. “Well,” he offered, “I’ve been reading the Bible, and a strange thing is happening.”

“What is that?” I queried.

“I find I’m wanting to believe what the Bible says,” he responded. “It makes sense.” That is nothing less than the Spirit of God at work in the life of one who believes, one who is twice-born. He resolves our doubts and gives us understanding.

Don’t debate the Word—present Christ! Don’t argue about all the intricacies of philosophy, tell the people of Jesus! That is the message God has given us, and that is the message we are responsible to declare. And what a powerful message it is.

The story is told of a little boy in China many years ago. His family had a tiger caged in the courtyard of the home. As children would come by, they would tease the tiger, poking sticks through the bars that kept the beast caged, teasing and making life miserable for the tiger. The little boy who lived in that home would beg the other children not to tease the tiger, but his pleas were to no avail.

At last, the lad had enough of the teasing of his tiger. When the children came around one particular day, he stood in front of the cage and told the children not to tease his tiger. Of course, the other children mocked him. So the little lad said, “That is a ferocious tiger. He will tear you to pieces and eat your flesh.”

The children laughed and shouted, “That old tiger couldn’t hurt anyone. He can’t hurt us.”

At that, the boy who lived in the house put his hand on the lock that secured the tiger in the cage. He said, “I’m going to release my tiger and let you see how tame he is. Now, does anyone want to try my tiger?”

We are taught, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” [HEBREWS 4:12]. We are not commanded to debate the Bible; we are charged to declare the Word of God. Turn it loose! Use it as it is meant to be used, as “the sword of the Spirit” [see EPHESIANS 6:17].

THE RECEPTION — “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” [see ACTS 17:32]. Nothing much has changed since that day when Paul spoke before the Areopagus. Most of those who heard Paul speak of Christ and the resurrection dismissed what he said—they had no desire to hear what he might say, they did not want to change how they lived. Tragically, the majority of contemporary Canadians have no burning desire to hear the call of the Lord to look in faith to the Risen Son of God. Life is comfortable and we have everything we need for this life; why worry about an unseen life that lies somewhere in the future?

I understand that not everyone will believe when I declare the message of the Risen Saviour—but some will believe. I know that some who hear me will mock what I am saying—but I know that God will perform His mysterious work in the hearts of some. And though His work may take time, some who hear will not be able to escape the call of the Spirit. They will be restless until they yield to the wooing of the Spirit of God.

As the missionaries preached in Antioch of Pisidia, the Word informs us that, “When the Gentiles heard [that the Lord saves Gentiles], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region” [ACTS 13:48-49]. I know that when the follower of the Master is faithful to declare the message of Christ and His salvation for all who believe, some will believe.

I know that the Spirit of God works powerfully calling all who are appointed to life. With the Apostle, I can say with confidence, “We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe” [1 TIMOTHY 4:10].

I am not focusing on those who reject the message of life; I am seeking those whom God calls. And I am confident that He does call people to life in Christ the Lord. If we faithfully declare the message of life, God will save all who believe.

SUCCESS — A brief note follows the text; don’t mistake that this as a throwaway line. “So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” [ACTS 17:33-34]. When Paul declared Christ and the resurrection, some men believed, as did a woman of apparent social stature.

It must be emphasised that when you deliver the message of life in the Beloved Son, some will believe. And those who believe will be saved. Our purpose as followers of the Christ is to bring as many as possible into the life Christ promises to all who believe. And that is my question to you: Have you believed this message? Do you have faith in the Son of God? Do you believe that Jesus died because of your sin, and that He raised from the dead to declare you right with the Father? Having believed, are you walking in the path of obedience to Him? Have you obeyed Him when He calls you to identify with Him in baptism? Is this not the time to begin your walk with the Saviour? Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Michael J. Stark, “Regulation and Function of Rat Liver Malic Enzyme,” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Dallas, 1974