Summary: An answer to life’s most important question
March 31, 2002
The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got—all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols.
He discussed it with the Jews and other likeminded people at their meeting place. And every day he went out on the streets and talked with anyone who happened along. He got to know some of the Epicurean and Stoic intellectuals pretty well through these conversations. Some of them dismissed him with sarcasm: “What an airhead!” But others, listening to him go on about Jesus and the resurrection, were intrigued: “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more.”
These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were a little quieter. They said, “This is a new one on us. We’ve never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway? Explain it so we can understand.” Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything.
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?
“God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”
At the phrase “raising him from the dead,” the listeners split: Some laughed at him and walked off making jokes; others said, “Let’s do this again. We want to hear more.” But that was it for the day, and Paul left. There were still others, it turned out, who were convinced then and there, and stuck with Paul—among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris. The Message: New Testament
Three buddies were discussing death and one asked the group: What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? The first said, "He was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community." The second wanted, "He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow." The last man said, “At my funeral I want people to say, Look, he’s moving!"
(In a sermon by Darrin Hunt, SermonCentral.com)
This is what Paul told the gathered people in Athens. Every day many gathered in the town square to discuss religion and gods and what life means.
The crowd was made up of Epicureans (Life is short, ends in nothingness, so have a ball and avoid pain at all costs,) and the Stoics (Life is pain, God is in everything, and at the end I will be absorbed by God).
Neither group had a lot of good news to make life worthwhile. Largely, they partied, or sat around discussing every new idea that came along, perhaps hoping for some evidence of hope beyond their own despair.
Our day and culture aren’t much different. Everywhere there are parties and empty faces. See the parties and pitiful people; see that there are no long-lasting, satisfying answers for the soul.
People Need Answers
Paul’s heart was stirred by the lostness of people. Our hearts ought also to be stirred with the lostness of America, and our neighbors. Just as Paul saw the fruitlessness of people’s frantic search for meaning in stone gods and stone-cold religion; we see all manner of fruitcake religion, some that end up in flames (Waco, Texas); some end up drinking Arsenic-laced Kool-Aid (Jonestown); some end up waiting for a Comet (Hale-Bop) that never comes.