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Acts #63 (chapter 17:16-34)
The Book of Acts
God's Man Confronts Satan's City, Part 2
Acts 17:16-34
We return tonight to our study of Acts 17:16-34. The Apostle Paul has traveled alone to the city of Athens, and there he is confronted with a city that is completely consumed with the worship of idols. And, as we saw, that city has quite an effect on Paul.
It touches him emotionally and it affects him spiritually. And most significantly, he is stirred to do something about their need for God. That they are worshipping idols means they are lost and destined for hell. But it also means God is being deprived of the glory that is rightfully his.
So, as was his custom, verse 17 tells us Paul headed down to the local Jewish synagogues to talk with the Jews about Jesus, as well as gathering with Gentile worshippers and engaging people in the marketplace.
So what kind of effect did Paul have on Athens? We've seen how the city affected him. Now let's see how he affected the city. He affected Athens four ways, three happen fairly quickly and the fourth follows later.
The first response Paul got was
- Contempt
verse 18
“What does this babbler want to say?"
The literal word for babbler is "seed-picker" and it is, obviously, not a compliment! They consider him to be a country bumpkin. And it helps us to know who is making that assessment. There were two groups. The first one was
- the Epicureans
They got their name from Epicurus who was a philosopher in Athens who started this movement. Epicureans were his disciples. He was born in about 342 B.C. which means at the time Paul encountered them, he had been dead about 400 years. But his movement is still going strong.
Epicureans believed that everything happened by chance. There was no real reason or purpose for anything and nobody was running the show. They were the rationalists.
They also believed death was the end of everything. You just died and that was it.
They also believed in multiple gods, but the gods were distant and remote and didn't really get involved in the lives of humans and neither did they care about humans.
Now if you believe everything happens by chance and death is the end of everything and nobody up there cares, then the fourth principle of Epicureans is easy to understand that that is that pleasure is the main purpose in life.
By the way, the theology of the Epicureans is very much alive and well today. There are multitudes that believe everything happens by chance, everything is random, death ends everything and there is no God that cares about you.
And by the way, an Epicurean mentality generally carries with it a smug, condescending arrogance that has little tolerance for the opinions or beliefs of anybody else.
The other group that Paul encounters is the Stoics. They believed, first of all, that everything was God. The trees were God, the dirt was God, they were God, everything was God, the buildings were God, everybody, the birds were God, the snakes were God, the fish were God, the water was God, pantheism.
Secondly, everything is the will of God. No matter what happens, God wills it. They were fatalists. As a result of that, they believed that every so often the world disintegrated and then started all over again. It goes through that cycle every so many years.
Now, if you believe that everything is God and God is everything, including you and everyone else, then you are forced to act like a god and treat others like a god, so the Stoics were great humanitarians.
And so these two groups at opposite ends of the spectrum run into Paul and the first reaction is to refer to him as a babbler or a seed-picker. The reference is to a little sparrow that gather little bits and pieces of whatever is available to them to build their nest.
The term eventually wound up being used to describe beggars and paupers who prowled around the marketplace living off of whatever they could scavenge.
And here, the Epicureans and Stoics use that term to describe the religion and philosophy of Paul. They're saying that Paul is nothing but a philosophical seed-picker. You've picked up bits and pieces of philosophy and religion and slapped it all together and you're trying to pawn it off as knowledge.
And in a word, they are mocking him. Paul, what an uneducated babbler you are! You're trying to pawn off bits and scraps of all kinds of random philosophies and religions as some new thing to believe.
The second group were not mocking him. They were
- questioning
verse 18b
As we'll see in a moment, they were really big into new gods. And it's interesting that they say Paul preached new "gods" since he had only preached Jesus and His resurrection.
Why did they make it plural. Some historians say it is because the word for resurrection is anastasis from which we get Anastasia, a feminine name. And they believed Paul was preaching two gods, Jesus and Anastasis. I think Paul was a better preacher than that. He had no problem making himself understood.
But for whatever reason, they were asking questions, always interested in something new. So what Paul has to say interests them.
Then there is a third group that went beyond simply questioning and they really got down to examining him. They were
- curious
verses 19-20
Now at first glance, it might appear they are under conviction and this is the beginning of a great movement of God in Athens. But the next verse gives more explanation.
verse 21
They weren't necessarily convicted and desiring the truth. This was just another new religion to consider and debate and discuss.
But they are interested, enough so they bring Paul before the group. That's pretty tall cotton for a seed-picker. I would guess there were a lot of babblers around who never made it that far!
They bring Paul to the Areopagus which is the name of a court or tribunal. That's the Greek word for it. Translated into English through Latin, it is Mars Hill.
verse 22
So Paul goes to this court called the Areopagus made up of at least thirty men who were the real supreme judges in this area in Athens. They took care of murders and high crimes.
And today, they will hear this new guy named Paul concerning his religious beliefs. They did that because he needed to be checked out and approved by the court in order to preach in Athens.
So Paul gets up there, and beginning in verse 22 down through verse 31, he just presents a mini course on the person of God, the work of Christ and the resurrection.
So what happened? Well, so far we've seen contempt, questioning, curiosity, and now come
- conversion
Some people got saved. Who was it?
verse 34
First of all Dionysius, who is identified as "the Areopagite". That means one of the guys in the court got saved. Along with him, a woman maned Damaris who is given no title or credentials or identification which probably means she was a commoner.
And here we we see the beauty of the gospel in that it reaches the highest level of Athens and the lowest level, the common woman in town. Isn't that beautiful that two people at those ends of the spectrum got saved through the same sermon? That's the power of the gospel to bridge the gaps. But, you know, before the conversions ever happened there was the same old responses.
Verse 32
Some mocked. The Epicureans didn't believe in a resurrection at all. They thought death was the end of it. The Stoics believed in a spiritual resurrection but not a physical one so they wouldn't buy it either. So here Paul preaches the resurrection and they laugh at him.
That's nothing new. Remember, back on the Day of Pentecost, they laughed and accused them of being drunk. They mocked.
But then, some were curious.
verse 32b
verse 33
You know why he did that? That was his way of extending the invitation. Let's see who is curious enough to follow.
verse 34
The word joined is the Greek verb for glued. They glued themselves to Paul. They were curious and they wanted to know more so they followed Paul out of there and then, notice what happened: they believed.
And there you have the conversion. And one was a member of the court and one was just a woman who was not any­thing particularly special.
Special to God, though. And others besides them that are unnamed.
Paul had a dramatic affect on a city at the top level, all the way down. Why? Because he was willing to go down in the marketplace and get his feet dirty and his clothes dirty, bumping elbows with people on the common level.
Christians all over the world today are still living in cities life Athens. And whether or not they come to Christ will largely depend upon the affect they have on us and the affect we have on them.
Far too often, we become like them rather that seeing them come to Christ. Or we close our eyes and ear and hearts and let them die and go to hell instead of being stirred in our in our hearts to share Christ.
Never forget, some will mock, others will question or be curious, but some will be converted when we are obedient to share the good news of salvation.
Let's pray.
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