Summary: “Christians who persist in proclaiming Christ as Truth-Incarnate risk being tarred with the brush of narrow-mindedness or even bigotry.”(Chan)
Sermon Topic: Rising to the Challenge
Sermon Text: Acts 17:16-34 (to be read during sermon)
Rosa De Burca, former employee of UNICEF (1994-2003). As the Child Protection Officer she traveled with a colleague to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1997 in an effort to help refugees who had fled inland because of abuses by rebel forces. One colleague took a picture of them before they boarded the plane, thinking he’d never see them alive again. De Burca and her colleague were met by heavily armed rebels when their plane landed but instead of torture or death the rebels took them on the two and half hour walk to the site of the refugees. De Burca and her colleague sat amongst dead bodies as they tended to 12 malnutritioned and dehydrated children. By the end of the trip more than 3,000 children were brought to UNICEF’s base in Goma (DRC).
Rising to the Challenge of The Great Commission
- A work that has risks, is bigger than we can imagine and has life and death repercussions.
- Apostle Paul in today’s text - realities of religious pluralism, mixed cultures and diverse beliefs and values were very much like our own times. This master strategist can teach us a lot about making Disciples of Christ “in our going” (Matthew 28:19).
Historical and textual background
Paul and Silas were preaching in Thessalonica. The leading Jews felt threatened and intimidated by the message Paul offered. He was offering something to the Greeks that the Jews up to this point were not able to give them. Because they feared losing their power over the people they incited a mob who was intent on making life tough for the preachers and their new message. Sounds very similar to their theatrics against Jesus that led him to be unjustly beaten, tried and sentenced to death.
As a result of the uprising Paul and Silas were rushed to Berea. In Berea the gospel was warmly received, until the Jews in Thessalonica heard about it, and went to Berea and created a stir. They just didn’t want the competition in their neighborhood at all. At this point, Paul was quickly sent to Athens, waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him once they left Berea. While Paul is waiting in Athens for his ministry associates to join him, he is deeply troubled by the things he saw, primarily the absence of God. Of course, being the Spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ that he was, Paul did not merely pray about it, cry over it and ask God to intervene. He quickly recognized he is God’s intervention plan.
1. Paul presented Christ in a time of RELIGIOUS PLURALISM
- Not a new concept. This Scripture is an example of the relationship between the Roman Empire and the Jewish people. People could worship their God as long as they made token offerings to the Roman gods.
- V16… Note God-fearing Greeks in the middle of a religious climate of multiple belief systems and practices.
- "Distressed” Paul.
- Though he respected people’s right to choose he didn’t endorse it or it didn’t “sit well” with him.
- When one is not “distressed” with such things fallacy becomes palatable. Maybe we need to pray to be distressed regarding certain things.
2. Paul presented Christ in the context of CULTURE
- "reasoned” with Jews and Greeks of the synagogue, (note God-fearing Greeks) and Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the marketplace.
- Tentmaker ministry … people giving leadership to church but holding down jobs to subsidize their income because their church can’t afford a full salary. Concept from Paul. Left Athens to go to Corinth and spent time with Aquila and Priscilla (husband/wife). 18:3, “because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.”
- Text – in the marketplace – not just hanging around but probably making tents, earning a living and in the process of work and life he engaged people with the gospel.
Zoom in on the significance of the talk of Greeks, Epicurean and Stoic classes. Fascinating!
- The GREEKS were such advanced people that they had indoor plumbing in a period marked as early as 2000-1400 B.C.! They were skilled in multiple trades, were very athletic and were rich in their State religion to the Mother goddess, Demeter. Previous sermon – always on a quest for truth, the deeper life lessons that stirred up the status quo and created controversy – to Philip and Nathanael, “We want to see Jesus, can you help us?”
- EPICUREAN philosophy was founded in two basic philosophies. i) Pleasure (enjoy it while you can), and, ii) Friendship. These were the ideal values to be sought, while avoiding civic activities or involvement. An Epicurean follower would not be interested in helping the poor. They wouldn’t make a donation to the Food Bank or Christmas Kettle! A typical response of a follower of Epicurean philosophy would say of the poor and disenfranchised, “They need to accept their fate from the gods as we do and stop expecting someone else to solve their problems.”