WHILE PAUL WAITED #2
Acts 17:15 And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed. 16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. 18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. 19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
As we saw in the first part of this lesson, the Apostle Paul is here being more acted upon, than he is acting out any plan of his own. The brothers from Berea are more interested in getting him FROM Berea and its persecution, than they are getting him TO Athens. And we find the phrase used for our title to be an unusual occurrence in the ministerial travels of this great missionary. He is settling down in Athens after the brothers have departed, just “waiting” for Timothy and Silas to catch up to him.
But then the Holy Spirit stirs him up in seeing the vast amount of idolatry in this city. One Roman of that age is quoted as saying, “One can more easily find a god in Athens than he can find a man!” There is so much idolatry that not even one of the Jews of the synagogue there is recorded to have been affected, one way or the other, with his preaching among them! We must be careful that even though we are IN this world, that we are not OF this world’s deceptions! Matthew 24:12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
And we must not narrowly think of idolatry as exclusively involving statues and temples. Listen to this verse revealing idolatry in a broader sense. Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For we don’t need a stature of Zeus, or of a Buddha, for we have to guard our hearts of covetousness – fleshly yearning for that which God has not provided us – which is itself idolatry.
Once the apostle has disputed with the Jews in their synagogue, as he goes for his daily shopping trip for food, he also engages the devout persons in the market. And it is from these encounters that certain philosophers of Athens are confronted with the gospel.
That word, philosophers comes from two Greek words translated, friends in Acts 19:31, and wise in 1 Corinthians 1:19. So they are “friends of wise things.” We read of these and their obsession with worldly wisdom in verse twenty one. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Yet, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (Rom 1:22). But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; (1Cor. 1:23).
We are also presented with two schools of philosophers that bring the Apostle Paul up to the seat of judgment and place of oration – the Areopagus, or, Mars hill. (This is the very place where Socrates made his defense against those who leveled charges against him.) And we still have to deal with this mind set today! They are the Epicurean ‘flower children,’ and the Stoick, ‘grin-and-bare-it’ folks!
Both are evolutionists, not believing in the God of Creation. The Epicureans believed in an “atomic theory.” That is, that at the beginning certain atoms ‘fell together’ in unique and different order, forming water, air, land and humans. And their philosophy was that the chief end of man is tranquility and pleasure. No matter how bad life gets, just remain mentally and emotionally tranquil and enjoy yourself. – a mind-over-matter type of philosophy.
The Stoicks, on the other hand, were ‘pantheistic.’ That is, they, like the American Indian, and the philosophy in the movie, “Star Wars,” held that the Deity is the spirit, or energy of the universe. These believe that the ‘Great Spirit’ and ‘The Force’ rule over all things. Therefore just conform your will to it, for that is the perfection of virtue!
It was these two groups who are listed as those who ushered the Apostle Paul to Mars hill, proclaiming him to be a setter forth of strange gods. And this was because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
Even though the Lord Christ clearly stated that the entirety of the Scriptures could be summed up in two points – the sufferings and his entering into his glory, (Luke 24:25-27) – even the disciples stumbled at his death and resurrection. Luke 18:31 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. 32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: 33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. 34 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
Mark 9:9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. 10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. It seems odd that when they came down off the mountain where they saw Moses and Elijah, and heard the very voice of God, they did not inquire, or concern themselves of those great mysteries, but only of what he said concerning the broadcasting of those things after his rising from the dead!
And this is the issue with Peter, after just having received a strong commendation from the Lord as to who he was, then was called “Satan,” upon hearing of Christ’s death and resurrection! Matthew 16:20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. 21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest (to be mindful; to think), not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Therefore we see that to be opposed to the resurrection is to have a mind influenced by Satan! For he is violently opposed to Christ’s resurrection, for it was in that powerful event he lost his power over death! Hebrews 2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
And we also see the amazing wisdom of God as He inspires our Brother Paul to preach the resurrection in such a way as to be the least possible offense to them. For they thought Paul to be, as previously stated, a setter forth of strange gods. Therefore through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the apostle strongly preaches the resurrection, but does not mention the name, “Jesus!” He speaks of “Lord,” in verse 27, and of “that man” and “him” in verse 31. In doing so he avoids for them the error of making this “Jesus” just a new or additional god in their long list of gods! It was enough to declare that judgment against their ignorant worship (v.23) would be no longer overlooked by God, but was a certainty, in that God had already raised a man from the dead to be their judge!
And therefore he strongly informs them that it is their responsibility, with every other human on earth, to repent! For repentance is absolutely essential to escape the judgment upon this now, unexcused ignorant worship! Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
It was a vain worship for it was based on the philosophies of men! Matthew 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. It was an ignorant worship as it was without regeneration! John 4:22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
And in their mocking rejection of the resurrection, they were mocking their need of repentance, assuming that they were not sinners, due to their supposed elite status, just as the Jews in Israel had done before them! Every personal faith in every heart of every believer is strongly attached to the resurrection, not only as a doctrine, but as a personal experience within their own souls! For their regeneration, their salvation, took place as a resurrection! For they were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephes. 2:1), until God spiritually raised them from sin’s death into Christ’s eternal life!
Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
Our Lord himself preached on this spiritual resurrection. John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. 26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
In the verses following these he speaks of “graves” and physically dead bodies coming up out of them in the future. But not here! For here he speaks of an hour that now is, when spiritually dead souls shall receive eternal life! Therefore a personal, experienced salvation brought forth by a resurrection is essential to having a hope of a future resurrection at Christ’s return. And all of this is absolutely based on Jesus’ actual, historical resurrection! Romans 4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. 1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Also notice that the Apostle Paul deals with the erroneous philosophies of the Athenians in a complete way. In verse 26a he deals with their belief that they were an elite race, not brought forth as other human races. – And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth,
And in verse 25b he destroys the atheistic, Epicurean concept by declaring a personal God ordaining and ruling over all! – seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
Then in verse 26b he destroys the Stoicks blind Fate in the declaration that this true God controls everything! – and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
Some ask if the apostles ministry in Athens was ‘successful.’ How can God be unsuccessful? That is not even a word in His vocabulary! Daniel 4:35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?
All in Athens were now under the judgment of the gospel! All of God’s elect were granted faith and repentance! (See Acts 17:34). And you are reading a two thousand year old message from God delivered by a great apostle, preached in a far away place. That ain’t bad!
Pastor Gene Breed