Summary: Acts 17 reveals some of the places to which Paul traveled during his second missionary journey. It focuses on Paul's preaching on Mars Hill.
The Message and the Response (Road trip with Paul)
Today we’re looking at Acts 17 which puts us in the middle of Paul’s 2nd of 3 missionary Road Trips that are described in the book of Acts. The book of Acts covers the first 30 years since the Church was born on the day of Pentecost.
Many others, besides Paul, went out on Mission Trips during those years, but we have this record in the book of Acts because of Paul’s traveling companion, Luke. Luke was a doctor, which was necessary for Paul – not only because he was stoned and left for dead at one point, but because Paul hints he also had some sort of chronic health condition that caused him trouble.
Luke was a meticulous note-keeper and researcher. The Gospel of Luke was a result of hundreds of eye-witness interviews he did with those who knew Jesus and witnessed the events of his life and death. I’m sure he was keeping notes during all these events we read about in the book of Acts.
On this 2nd missionary trip, Paul and Silas visited some of the churches they established on the first trip. (You can see a map of this on the screen) Chapter 17 of Acts tells about the three cities marked in red on the map: Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. After they established a church in Thessalonica, some of the Jews and townspeople stirred up trouble for them (a common problem these missionaries faced.) Paul and Silas headed out to Berea where the people in the synagogue received them gladly and believed the message. But before long, some of the folks in Thessalonica found out where they were and came over to Berea. They stirred up so much trouble that Paul had to escape again, and this time he sailed all the way to Athens.
There’s never a dull moment on this road trip with Paul! While Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens, he wrote the letter called 1 Thessalonians. In that letter, Paul mentioned that as he walked around Athens, his “spirit was stirred” by the idol worship that was evident everywhere he looked. Paul was educated in Greek thought as well as Jewish tradition, so he knew what was going on in the culture of Athens. He knew that the two prevailing philosophies in that city were the Epicureans and the Stoics.
These two philosophies are still widespread today, even though they may go by different names. Epicureans were existentialists, in that they believed that personal experience is everything. They were like today’s materialists and atheists in believing matter is all that exists. Epicurus, the originator of this philosophy, created something similar to the Playboy philosophy. Their most famous saying was: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
Unlike the Epicureans, the Stoics believed in personal discipline and self control. To them, the most important thing in life was to follow reason and be self-sufficient. This kind of thinking caused the Stoics to be proud and to assume that they did not need the help of any god. In light of this, it’s interesting to learn that the first two leaders of the Stoic school killed themselves.
Both groups worshiped hundreds of gods in hundreds of ways. The Epicureans worshiped gods of pleasure, while the Stoics were pantheists who believed that everything was god and god was everything. When they heard Paul preaching, their opinions were varied. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. (vs. 18)
But these Athenian philosophers were always open to finding a new god or a new idea, so when Paul started preaching, they invited him to come to the Areopagus to explain these strange new teachings. This was a tremendous opportunity, and Paul was up to the challenge … because Paul was educated in Greek as well as in Jewish thought.
He began by pointing out an Altar he had seen with this inscription: "to an unknown god." Paul wisely caught his audience’s attention declaring, So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (vs. 23)
1. God is Great vs. 22 -24
Paul then presented to them a God who is GREAT – In fact, a God who is Greater than any other so-called god. When Paul preached about Jesus in the Jewish synagogues, he had no need to tell them who God is. The worshipers in the synagogue already knew Jehovah. But in this case, Paul was speaking to people who worshiped false gods --- people who had no concept of who the One True God was.