Yesterday we were in Athens and I couldn’t have been more excited. This is a city rich in history.
We began at the Acropolis. I learned that every ancient city has an acropolis. It’s simply the highest point of the city and where the would build a fortification to protect their city.
Life in Athens revolved around the Acropolis. It’s here that the Athenian culture began during the Neolithic Age (4000-3000 B.C.). Atop the Acropolis were four temples:
The Propylaea (a gateway granting access to temples dedicated to Athena, patron goddess of the city),
The Temple of Athena Nike,
and the Parthenon (built from 447 to 432 B.C.).
Though I would love to take the time to layout the history of Athens here, we are going to skip to 54 A.D. when Paul brought the gospel to Mars Hill.
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”
Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)Acts 17:16-21
In this passage, we hear about Paul teaching about Jesus in the marketplace or the agora. Philosophers hung out here and questioned Paul about what he was teaching.
In 17:19 they lead Paul to a meeting of the Areopagus. For some this place is better known as Mars Hill. Mars Hill/Areopagus is situated on a rocky hill below the Acropolis and just above the agora (marketplace).
The Council of the Areopagus ruled Athens before it became a democracy in 620 B.C. When Paul was brought before them, their power had declined, however, they still oversaw internal issues including religious concerns. It seems that some believe Paul wasn’t in trouble as much as he was being offered a more formal setting than the agora (marketplace) where he had been teaching regularly, others claim he was indeed busted for teaching that which was against the law in the Agora. [The jury is out on this one. I’ll ask Paul when I see him in heaven.]
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. Acts 17:22-33
Paul used a pagan altar, as his point of contact to launch the most important teaching these information-hungry scholars would hear.
In his “Unknown God” sermon, Paul told them in no uncertain terms who God is and what He is not. (Then comes my favorite part.) I call it Paul’s “Comin’ to Jesus” message, as he shared the Gospel in the hope of planting a sense of urgency in the hearts of those hearing him.
Though this message would be documented in God’s Word, the Bible is silent about the church of Athens. In fact, Athens isn’t mentioned again except to mention when Paul left there to go to Corinth. This city that was so focused on the intellect and philosophy that they needed time to “think about” what Paul taught.
Friends, we can think all we want to about God’s Word and the Gospel … or we can make a decision and follow it with action. In other words, choose to accept God’s gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and make Him the Lord of all aspects of your life including how you think and live. what are you waiting for?