How to Be Provoked Well. Paul and Us Among the Athenians

Acts: Second Missionary Journey

This week we journey through the second half of Acts 17 together. Todd shows us through the text how we should: be an observer of human futility and not a hater, be a teller and not a troublesome meddler, and be a faithful ambassador, not a mocker.

Todd WagnerOct 8, 2017Acts 17; Luke 19:41-42; Acts 17:16; Acts 17:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Acts 17:18-21; Acts 17:22; Acts 17:23-32

In This Series (6)
How to Be Provoked Well. Paul and Us Among the Athenians
Todd WagnerOct 8, 2017
How to Love a World Filled With Rompers
Todd WagnerSep 24, 2017
Do You Believe in the Myth or Follow the Man
Todd WagnerSep 17, 2017
The Hopeless, the Hospitable, and the Hostile
Jonathan PokludaSep 10, 2017
Stuck on Mission
Jonathan PokludaAug 27, 2017
The First Church Council and the Matter of First Importance
Todd WagnerAug 20, 2017

Lord, we love your Word. We love that you have not left us here to mindlessly try and figure out how we should live in light of who you are. We thank you that there are examples of men and women who have responded to your grace and who have lived faithfully so that we might come to know that story. We pray you would use what we study in your Word today to remind us that even as there were faithful men and women in the past who have received grace and been diligent to share with others that you intend for us to do the same thing.

So we pray wherever we are in our understanding of you, whether we need to come to that clarity ourselves or whether having received that clarity we need to be clarion in our declaration of it, you would further, Lord, our understanding and relationship and response to you. So Lord, we come. We say if you're there and you're real, would you teach us? Those of us who know you are are saying, "Would you help us become more faithful?"

Not so you will love us, but we thank you, Father, that you love us and demonstrated your love for us in that while we were still sinners you gave yourself for us, but so that we might express our faith and love back toward you just as an offering, an expression of our deep gratitude and relationship with you. We love you, Lord. Thank you that you've done everything necessary for us. Help us to respond to it. That's all we want to do. In Jesus' name, amen.

There's a verse that talks about how all Scripture is given from God. It is, and it is profitable because it's from our loving Father to teach us, to reprove us, to correct what needed reproving, and to train us so that we might be adequate and equipped for every good work. There is no place in the Bible you can go that you can't pull amazing fruit from. It is always ripe for consumption and going to produce in your body an effect that will be a blessing to you and, therefore, allow you to be a blessing to others.

But there are some sections that just pop. There are some places in Scripture that you're like, "Okay, this is relevant for me." You're going to hit one of these with me today. It is a message that Paul gives. Paul, remember, is not a myth. He is a man who by God's grace was plucked out of dead religion and human understanding and began to see the beauty of what God was trying to reveal to the world, and Paul couldn't help but take that message to others.

He did it primarily by going to people who already knew God's Word, who were as confused as he was by what God's Word was telling them to do. Paul thought he had to do these things in order to earn his way to God, and finally he understood that, no, the righteous have always lived by faith, and what they do in response to what they've seen about the goodness of God is evidence that they really understand who God is.

By the way, 500 years ago, there was a monk named Martin Luther who had to help the church come to that same realization, because after about 15 or 16 centuries of grace living, the church had lost its proclamation of the gospel, and even as the Jewish nation for a long time had made obedience to God the means through which they could be considered righteous, the church started to do the same thing.

Some of you guys grew up in that system. "You'd better show up. You'd better go to confession. You'd better make sure these sacraments are performed and stay rightly related to the church and do right more than you do wrong and avoid certain things, and if you do, you might be okay." Paul, like Luther, said that isn't what the Bible teaches. The Bible doesn't teach that men work their way to God. The Bible screams that God loves men and is going to make provision for them. It's called the gospel. It's good news. It is finished.

The creator, sovereign, good, just, gracious God has made provision for you. Stop doing anything to please the one who can't be pleased by anything less than perfection. Acknowledge your imperfection and receive the grace. Stop inventing a god made in your image. Believe in the God who made you in his image whom you mock at and leave, and enjoy him. He is a gracious, loving, just, creator God.

Paul would go and reason from the Scripture whenever he had an opportunity to talk with people who knew their Bible, but every now and then, and specifically where we are today, you're going to have him run into people who had no Scripture, and you're going to watch the way he ministered to them. Why is this so relevant? Because 85- to 90-plus percent of American households today own Bibles. The average number of Bibles in an American household is three, but biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high in America.

People might have some vague familiarity with the Book, but they don't often walk according to it or they have no idea what it says, except they know this. "What are you doing judging me? The Bible says don't judge." They know that verse. They have no idea what it means. I did a series called The Most, where I talked about the most important verse in the Bible, the most short (it's bad English, I know, but it was a way to teach this little text), the most misunderstood, the most misquoted, the most difficult. Go back and listen to it if you want that series.

The most misunderstood verse in the Bible is the one that's most misused: "Judge not, lest you be judged." Folks have no idea what it means. So we talk about it. But when you run up against people sometimes… You can talk about things that are true from the Scripture, but if you try to act like the Bible should be authoritative to them when they have no idea what it is, it's a difficult way to engage them.

I'm going to show you what to do with a biblically illiterate culture, because we have a perfect example from a guy named Paul. He's going to stumble into a town that is the beginning of rationalistic thought. We think enlightenment and rationalism and the reason of men being put forward started during the Enlightenment period in the eighteenth century. No, it didn't. It started about 5 BC in Athens and, really, in the Greco-Roman world. It wasn't Roman yet.

It was Medo-Persian, soon to be Greek under Alexander the Great, later Roman, but it starts right here in Athens with a guy named Socrates, and then his disciple Plato, and then his disciple Aristotle, and then his disciple, who didn't just take a philosophy but who took a sword, Alexander the Great, and conquered the world. Ever since then, men have been trying to conquer their world with rationalistic thought, and into that world comes revelation, a God who's saying, "You'll never get there by trying to figure it out."

Calvin said the human heart is an idol factory. We just keep inventing things we give ourselves to. God loves us, and he wants to take us away from vain deities who can do nothing for us. We have something to learn here from Paul. This is an awesome text. Acts 17. Look at it with me. Verse 16: "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens…" You might want to go, "Well, who's them?" Them are Timothy and Silas and probably Luke.

He had looped back up to go visit his friends in Thessalonica, because, remember, he was rushed out of there rather quickly. He was concerned how they were doing. So Paul left the last place he was, which, if you remember the last time we were together in Acts, it was Berea. Berea was a place where they were more noble-minded, where they really let Paul reason with them from the Scripture, and they studied the Scripture to see if these things were so. They didn't just reject it out of hand.

One of the things I want to beg you to do this morning if you don't know who Christ is or if you have just some vague, general acceptance of the Christ idea… I hope you listen to what I'm about to say, and I hope you wrestle with it in a way that will engage you one way or the other, because indifference or just vague acceptance of the story is not what changes your life and is not what gives you the grace God intends. It is surrender to it. It is an altering of your life.

It is not just moving along with an acceptance of the gospel narrative. It is saying, "I'm going to live in light of it." That's what Paul is going to encourage the folks in Athens to do, and it's what we all must do. Paul goes on down to Athens, this beautiful little city on the Aegean Sea, and it is the hotbed of a couple of things. First of all, years of superstition, and then for about the last 500 years, the seat of rationalistic thought.

What you're going to find out in Athens is that through Socrates, and then through others, they had finally said, "Hey, look. This mythological, superstitious explanation of how the world got here…we're rejecting it." Greek mythology started about 2000 BC. That's when they started to put forth the narrative of why things were the way they were, and there were a bunch of folks who recorded different perspectives on the wars of the gods, Zeus and his Olympians and all of the other minor gods that created all the trouble and all the blessing that was on earth.

So they tried to build all of these different temples to make sure they never offended any of these gods, but roughly 500 BC, you're going to find that the Parthenon, which is… You guys have seen the pictures, because you watched the Olympics in the early 2000s. You saw the temple to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts. I guess when she wasn't fighting wars she made cute little things.

But that's who Athena is. She was a virgin. The Greek word for virgin is parthenos, so the temple to her is called the Parthenon. It's the temple to the virgin. It is on what is called the Acropolis. Acro means high, polis means city, so the Acropolis is the highest part of the city. The Parthenon is at the highest part of the city in Athens, which worships the goddess of war, which is Athena.

Then you're going to find out just below that there is another place called the Areopagus. In Greek, pagus means rocky hill. Ares was the Greek god. Like Athena was the goddess of war, the god of war was Ares. By the way, some of your Bibles have written in there "Paul at Mars Hill." Have you ever heard that? There are some churches in America called Mars Hill. There's a reason it's called Mars Hill.

When the Romans conquered the Greeks, they stole their mythological ideas. They made Zeus Jupiter, they made Hermes Mercury, and they made Ares Mars. So Mars Hill is the Areopagus. Ares, rocky hill. The hill that the god of war was basically venerated. What would happen is on Mars Hill philosophers…Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many others…would sit up there and debate. They would be a ruling council.

It's a really interesting little piece of geography that is still there today. I've been on it. I've climbed on it. There are a lot of little crags that stick out, and you can see where guys would sit all over this under the sun, looking up at the Parthenon, and they would discuss, they would write, they would have disciples, they would sit and listen, and at times they would debate with one another. It was the center of all education, philosophy, and religious ideas.

That whole area had been largely moving toward ruins even by the time of Paul, but there was still this tension between superstitious ideas and rationalistic thought. Paul walks in. This is what was said of Athens, and you can see why: that there are more gods in Athens than men, because everywhere you looked there was a shrine, and everywhere you looked there was a temple, and everywhere you looked there was an idol, and it just made Paul crazy that these guys were slaves to various things.

Now I'm going to let you see what you should do when you watch and live in a land where people are given to vain deities. Let me just say this. We don't have a bunch of temples around today, as many. We don't have still a tournament of narratives and different world religions. We don't have a bunch of idols that people go worship at that look like this as much today, but we have more people worshiping zip codes, body image, certain material blessings, and certain physical pleasures. We see in our world people giving themselves to vain deities that will never satisfy, and you're going to watch and see how a loving person responds to that. Totally relevant.

Paul was waiting for his friends at Athens, and while he was there his spirit was being provoked (paroxuno). Para means to come alongside; oxuno is the word which means to cut. Paul was walking around, and he saw these people who were in bondage to small-minded men who were doing their best to try and grope toward understanding or small-minded men who had invented narratives that had no basis in reality, and because Paul loved people, he was paroxuno.

That word oxuno means to jab or to cut. We get the word excise from that. When you excise a tumor, you cut it out. What it's saying is Paul was provoked. It was like somebody came up and took a knife and just put it right in his side. But it didn't make him mad; it broke his heart. Let me give you the first point. If you're like Paul, if you are a man who is filled with the compassion of Christ…

1._ Be an observer of human futility and not an outspoken hater of it_. Let me explain this to you. We watch people even today who gather in some mob scenes, like we've already seen recently in this study of Scripture. Maybe it's a Black Lives Matter gathering, and you just go, "This makes me so mad that they say black lives matter." But stop and listen like I told you. There are some people who are using that little phraseology as a movement, as entitlement to do things that ought to be absolutely spoken against, but there are other people when they say to you, "Black lives matter…"

Instead of being provoked, like, "That is a racist statement. How can black people say that? If white people said white lives matter, they'd call it racist. Why do they say that?" Have you ever stopped to ask a friend who says that what they mean or are you just provoked by it and become a hater? The Bible says, "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind." Now I'm not talking about those who are using this as an excuse to be violent and destroy fundamental things, but one of the things you need to know…

It's like if I'm over here and I just said, "My house matters! My house matters! Come on, man. My house matters!" and you're like, "Todd, why do you think your house matters? Everybody needs shelter." But when you come to talk to me and you find out what I'm talking about and I say to you, "My house is on fire…" I'm not saying your house doesn't matter. I'm just saying, "My house matters right now. Will you help me? Would you help me put this fire out?"

There are some people of color who are saying, "I don't feel like you understand the pain I'm experiencing as a black person in this country. I feel like, in fact, you're indifferent to it. I'm telling you, my experience is my house is on fire, and you're just walking by because your house is fine, and that's not what loving people do." You want to listen to the people who are trying to say that, and you ought to be provoked and moved by compassion toward them. I don't care what color they are.

If somebody said, "My life matters. Does anybody care about me?" wouldn't you go, "I care about you. Let me stop what I'm doing. I care about you. Help me understand. How can I love you? How can I empathize with you?" When you see a gay pride parade, are you provoked and go, "Man, look at those guys. What's wrong with those people?" or do you ever just sit down and have a relationship with somebody and just say, "Man, tell me your story. What's going on? Why are you giving yourself over to that identity," in the same way people gave themselves over to all the myriad of identities that were in Athens?

See, when Paul was provoked, he wasn't provoked to hate them. Have you ever been in a restaurant and somebody comes up to serve you and they have spacers in their ears and piercings on their tongue and through their nose and in their cheek and you're like, "I don't even want to eat anymore; it grosses me out," or are you provoked to go, "Hey, tell me your story. What's going on in your life that that's the choice you've made, that there's something you believe through mutilation or distortion of your being that that's going to be life-giving to you?"

You wouldn't say it that way, but you would just enter into their world. Here's the thing. Let me just say that to you again. When you're provoked the way Paul was provoked, you're an observer of human futility; you're not a hater of it. This is what Jesus did, by the way. The reason Paul did this is it's what Jesus did. In Luke 19, Jesus looked at the futility of dead religion, of people who were trying to work their way to God. It says he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, and he was provoked.

That's not what it says, but you see he was provoked. He was cut to the quick. He wept over them. He said, "If you had known in this day even the things which I had intended for you that would make for peace, and the fact that it's hidden from your eyes…" Jesus was so moved, so provoked that he was moved to give his life for those people. So when you read that word, you need to understand that's what Paul did. That's what compassionate people do.

It's what Jesus always did. When he looked out and saw the multitudes were like sheep without shepherds, he had compassion for them. It means he felt with them and empathized and wanted to identify and provide solution for them. Is that your first response or is it just an arrogant, "What is wrong with you pagans?" When God sees people lost in vain deities, he moves toward them in kindness. Kindness has converted more men than zeal, eloquence, or knowledge combined. You're about to see the kindness of Paul in giving his life and putting himself at risk and sharing with us.

I've been provoked before. I have been in many different spots where I just see some things. Recently I went to India, and when I was in India I was aware of a place called Varanasi. Varanasi is the holiest place in Hinduism. It's where there are scores of temples along the Ganges River, which they consider a holy river which will purify you if you're lucky enough to die with your feet in that river.

If you're not, family members will quickly get you to Varanasi and will burn you there on what's called a ghat, which is basically a wide set of steps that go down into the river. They'll put you through a ritualistic purification, where sacrifices are made that wash over you, and you're covered with a white sheet that means peace and then covered with an orange sheet that speaks to reincarnation.

Eventually, they'll light a fire in your mouth up on this pier, and then they'll scrape your ashes into the river, and you go into the River Ganges. They believe the body is destroyed in the fire and the air purifies all that wasn't right, and then your life begins anew again. If you're lucky enough to be burned or die in the Ganges River up there in Varanasi, it'll CLEP you out of some of the bad karma and will let you move to a higher level of spiritual advancement.

I have friends who have been to Varanasi. I didn't get to go to Varanasi, but I have a friend who has been there. He came across this guy who had rolled 3,200 kilometers. His understanding of how he should find purification was to roll about 2,000 miles like this, all the way to Varanasi, believing that if the gods saw the seriousness with which he wanted to get to where he could be purified they would save him.

Here's another guy who since 1973 has been standing there with his hand up, for almost 50 years, believing if the gods saw him raise his hand to them, eventually when he dies he'll rush down and die with his feet in the Ganges River and he'll be saved. Here's another guy who since the early 2000s has been standing on one leg to show his seriousness to appease the gods.

Here's not a picture of another guy who has been carrying around bricks and cinder blocks and weights tied to his genital area with a short rope, because he's going to show, "I'm going to carry this burden because I know I'm a sinner," and motivate himself not to drop it. He tied it somewhere with a short rope that if he dropped it, it would cause him great anguish.

You watch and see people who are doing these kinds of things. I could go on. It's not just the Hindus. Recently in India, in fact, just last week during what's called the Muharram ritual… Muharram is the very first month in the Muslim calendar. It celebrates the martyrdom of Muhammad's grandson Husayn. There's a picture here of a 1-year-old who is laid on hot coals.

This is the kind of stuff you see people are doing because they believe if they do this it's going to appease the gods or Allah or Shiva or whoever it might be. I've been up into Nepal where there's a tributary to the River Ganges, the River Bagmati in what's called the Pashupatinath Temple, where I watched and walked and saw these exact same things that happened in Varanasi.

I saw these Hindu holy men, pictures I took of them, guys who basically have people… Frankly, most of them are taking psychedelics and basically exploiting people, intimidating them with fear that "As a priest, if you don't do what I need to do and worship in my little ashram and listen to my sayings and my story of where you're coming from and where you're going, it's going to cost you your life," and they have Nepalese people, up to 80-plus percent, in bondage.

My soul was provoked. What I mean by that is I was moved to go, "I want to have a conversation here with everybody I can," just like Paul. That's what Paul did. Be an observer of human futility, not an outspoken hater of it. I don't hate Muslims. I don't hate Hindus. I don't hate Jewish people. I don't hate anybody who is bound. I don't hate dead American Christianity, but I'm provoked by it. I see the emptiness of it, and I want to say, "There's so much more."

2._ Be a teller of good news to others and not a troublesome meddler in other people's business_. Be an observer, and be a teller. You tell other people what you know. You don't troublesomely meddle in their bad behavior. You just say, "Let me tell you why I don't do those things. I get it. Those things look life-giving to me, but I've found something better." This is what Paul did. I'm going to show you that Paul did it with all kinds of people.

This is what the word means in verse 17. "So he was reasoning [dialegomai] …" I love words. Lego means to tell. "L'Eggo my Eggo. I'm telling you, that's my Eggo." That's where it comes from. Who knew? "I'm telling you, that's my waffle. Let it go." Dia is the word that means pass through or to completely interact with.

Diagnosis is to completely have knowledge. Dialegomai means to completely tell you everything I have, because that's what loving people do. DialysisLysis is the word for loosen. When you get dialysis, your blood completely goes through and loosens uric acid from your blood so you don't die if you have bad kidneys. Words are beautiful. They explain so many things. What I'm telling you right now is that Paul said, "I just can't…"

Listen. The gospel came off Paul like too much cologne comes off a 70-year-old guy. He doesn't know anymore. He has been putting the thing on since he was 30, and he can't smell it, so he keeps spraying it. You sit next to him in a restaurant, and you're like, "Bro, somebody needs to tell you time out on that stuff." That's the way it was with Paul. You just couldn't be around him and not experience this aroma of love and passion for the gospel. If the gospel is true, isn't that the way it should be? Isn't that exactly what should happen to you?

It's like, "Hey, man. Do you know what I found out? I know how we got here. I know who we are. I know why this world is screwed up. I know why there are mass shootings. I know why there are hurricanes. I know why there's cancer. I know why men are addicted to porn. I know how to escape the despair that comes in this world. I know how to have peace with God. I know this world is not our home. I know this world is not all there is. I know where I'm going when I die." If you know that, bro, don't you think you'd want to engage people with that?

This is exactly what Paul did. He was reasoning (dialegomai) in the synagogue. So, around religious people, because there were some Jews who were in Athens. But not just them. He was in the marketplace, the agora, the place where everyday people were. Paul was talking to religious people, to common men, and with those who happened to be present with him. That's just the way it goes. Ninety percent of evangelism is just starting a conversation and then caring about people.

Instead of looking at them with disdain, like, "What is wrong with you?" how about starting with, "Hey, man. Tell me your story. Let me tell you about the grace I found. Let me just love you. I don't want to convert you." This is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, when he later would write the Corinthians… He just said to them, "Look, I'm not here to try and persuade you about anything. I didn't come to you with superiority of speech."

Isn't this good news? Because you're like, "Man, I'm not eloquent. Todd, I'm not ready to go to Harvard and give a long message on the philosophical beauty of the theology of the Hebrew Scriptures." Harvard is kind of the Mars Hill of our day. Paul said, "Look, when I came to you, I didn't come with superiority of speech or wisdom. I just came to you proclaiming the testimony of God. I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

Some of you guys go, "I can't debate the ontological argument and the cosmological argument, and I don't understand all of the nuances of ancient philosophy." But do you know the nuances of the gospel? That's what Paul said he came with. He said, "I was with you in much weakness and fear and trembling…" Does that sound like Paul? "…and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but just in the demonstration of the Spirit and of the power of God, so that your faith would not rest on my PhD, on the wisdom of a man (I'm not Socrates), but on the power of God."

Friends, if you know the gospel, all you do is just share it. "Here's the story. Here's the narrative." Eric Metaxas is going to be here in a couple of weeks to be with us. I've been with Eric twice in New York, where we're together and we're just out and we're in a conversation, and he just goes, "Wagner, whenever I'm with you, all you do is just get into a conversation with people. It's amazing to me."

We were at a little Greek deli together, and our waiter comes up, and we just started loving our waiter. Eventually, I noticed his name was Anastas. Anastas is short for anastasis. Anastasis is the Greek word for resurrection. Anastasia means resurrection or life. So as I was talking to him, I go, "Hey, man, Anastas. You're Greek." He goes, "Yeah." I go, "My buddy here is Greek, and he knows what your name means." He goes, "Oh, I know what my name means."

I go, "What does your name mean?" He goes, "Well, it has to do with life," and I go, "Resurrection, specifically. That's a beautiful name, man. What do you know about the resurrection?" Metaxas was like, "Man, that was brilliant." I go, "It wasn't brilliant. You're the one who knows Greek, not me. You speak it." We just had this amazing conversation. A little bit later… My wife and my daughter were there.

I'm going to tell you the name of this restaurant so you don't have to go there. It's Jack's Wife Freda. Why? Because unless you eat like a dadgum bird or you love organic granola… Give me Joe's Pizza. But I'm with my wife. I'm blessing. "Where do you want to go?" "Oh, let's go to this place that birds would like." And we did. But God got us there, and we felt really healthy walking out of there. And hungry.

This is where I was just being a loving husband. I walk out of there. I'm just kind of smiling like I'm happy, and I mean, God bless me, 60 yards around the corner was the original Joe's Pizza. So at 12:30 at night I'm like, "Go. Another one. Another one. Another one." It was a pizza cleansing is what happened during that moment. But my waitress there was Twila. She studied philosophy and art. We talked about beauty in creation.

In the midst of that, I go, "What is the most beautiful thing you've ever heard in all of creation?" and she told me, and she didn't even ask me. A lot of times people don't even ask questions back to you. I go, "That's amazing. What if I told you I saw something even more beautiful?" She goes, "I'd love to hear about it." Boom. Amazing conversation. It's just what you do wherever you are. Look at Paul. He's not just with the common man, not just with the religious, but it says right here he comes along with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers…

Let me not go too far into that except to say these two could not be more diametrically opposed. We think of "Epicurean delights" today. Epicureans basically believed that God was kind of separate and distant. They tried to figure out how to enjoy life. We know what a Stoic is even today. A Stoic is somebody who puts their head down and just moves without much emotion through life. They're fatalists. They believe God is everywhere and in everything and the world is run by a force that you'd better align with and work hard to make the most of it.

Epicureans were like "God shmod. Eat, drink, and be happy." That's the Epicurean way. Epicureans: "Enjoy life." Stoics: "Endure life." It's no surprise the very first two Stoic leaders committed suicide. Epicureans never could find enough eating and drinking to be really merry, and it provoked Paul. So here he goes. They were conversing with him. So now he's there among the intellectual elite.

"Some were saying, 'What would this idle babbler wish to say?'" I love this word. The word here is spermologos. It's spermo. Sperm means seed; logos is word. They basically say, "Who is this seed picker?" which is a defamatory term for a guy who goes around and picks up a little of this and a little of that and a little of this. He doesn't own anything, but he's an idle babbler. He's just taking this syncretic idea of all of these different things. That's what they accused Paul of doing.

They thought Paul was communicating "strange deities" because he was preaching about Jesus and the resurrection, because to the Greek the body was something to be escaped from, just like the Hindus, so the idea of being put back in a body was not great news to them. But Paul said, "No, there's going to be a resurrection, all of you, and there is a God you can't appease, a God who cares if all you do is try and find life on your own, and I want to tell you about him." So the people basically said, "You need to go up there to the Areopagus, this rocky hill where people go to war over what is true."

Verse 19: "And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears…'" The gospel is always strange. I have a buddy who says it this way. It's like talking about light to a bat. They have no concept of it. It's like Jesus said. "You guys are like the blind men who are leading the blind, and you're going to both fall into a pit."

"Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new." Why do you think men are always seeking something new? It's easy. Because what they have doesn't satisfy. That's the reason you keep looking for something else: what you already have isn't enough.

That's why people invent the Snuggie, because a blanket is not enough. Or we don't like Coke so we have to get New Coke or we don't like that candle so we have Pringles-scented candles. I'm like, "Oh my god. Please stop inventing something new." Listen. Those are silly illustrations.

What I would tell you is men do this with all kinds of things. They're like, "Hey, man, I'm going to just party. I'm going to live like a hedonist." Well, that doesn't really do it. "Hey, man, I'm going to work hard. I'm going to get a real job. I'm going to find a wife. I'm going to live in that neighborhood. I'm going to have a white picket fence. I'm going to have kids." Is that all there is? "I'm going to be rich. I'm going to be wealthy. I'm going to have a lake house." Is that all there is?

They keep looking for something new, because none of those vain deities will satisfy. Are you provoked in anger at them or are you like, "Hey, bro, I have what you're looking for"? Pete Maravich, the great basketball player for LSU and later the Jazz, was so crazy he got to the point where he was looking to talk with extraterrestrials. He put a landing spot for UFOs on his mansion.

Pete became a believer later in his life. He was speaking somewhere one time, and a guy walked up to Pete Maravich and said, "Hey, Pete. Would you tell me just a little word? Your buddy you used to run with and all of the excess and womanizing and drug taking and UFO seeking… Would you just write a note to your friend?" He goes, "I know exactly what I'm going to write to this friend." Maravich took that little thing and just wrote down the words, "I found it. It's Jesus." He said, "I'm done searching, because I found truth. I found that which satisfies human longing."

Here we go. Are you ready? This is the big message. Verse 22: "So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus…" This is Harvard. These are all the most intellectual elite, men who were observing and trying to find out, "Is this the means through which ultimately men can know God?" He starts this way: "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects."

3._ Be a faithful ambassador, not an abrasive mocker. I can't think of anybody better to talk to than a guy who for 11 years has been standing on one leg to be saved or a guy who for 50 years has been like _this or a guy who is so serious about finding life that for 3,200 kilometers is rolling to Varanasi. Rather than mock him, like, "You idiot!" how about saying, "Hey, bro, stop rolling for a second. Let's talk. I perceive that you're very serious about finding life. Can I suggest to you a different way?"

The more committed a Jew, the more radical a Muslim… There's something you can see in them that is noble, because they're taking seriously what they believe. But to stop and just say to them… Paul says this. Here's what was going on to the Athenians. Paul in the midst of the Areopagus said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects."

When we see things in non-Christians that we can admire, devotion, we should not be afraid to acknowledge it. One of the problems Muslims have, and one of the reasons they reject Christianity… One of the reasons Gandhi rejected Christianity is he went, "Your Jesus doesn't move you in any way." It's like my friend I shared with recently who was living with a guy she asked me to pray for.

I go, "Why would that guy want to know about your God when you're willing to put your God on a shelf because this guy you've made a god is telling you that this is the way you should live? Why would that guy want to trust in your Jesus if your Jesus is not that big a deal that you would say, 'I'm going to be unequally yoked and I'm going to do things that Jesus said won't lead to life'?" Sometimes people don't see in us the things that are appropriate and right.

Paul starts by saying, "I see that you're religious in all respects." All men are. All men believe in something. Everybody believes in something, even itself. By the way, every man knows that what they believe in… They know that "I hope this is right." They're insecure, and they know there's something that isn't as it should be. Every man knows he's not perfect, which is another way of saying everybody needs a savior.

Verse 23: "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'to an unknown god.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you." By the way, think about Paul's boldness. He said, "Listen. No offense, but you don't have knowledge, because if you had knowledge you wouldn't be trying to debate anymore."

This is what Plato later said. "Until we have a more sure word from God, we are like barks," meaning like a ship sailing through the sea in a storm at night. How do ships navigate at night? By looking at the stars. Not planets. If you navigate by planets… The word planos means wanderer. The reason they're called wanderers is you look up at the sky… Jupiter moves. Venus moves. Saturn moves. If you navigate by the planets, you're not going to get anywhere, but the stars are fixed points of light anchored in the heavens.

Plato is saying, "Listen. We can't see this fixed light that is true because we're like a ship in a storm in the sea at night which the clouds are covering." Human futility can't see what God is trying to show us, and Paul is going to say this. By the way, I'll just throw this out. While Socrates was starting there in Athens, a guy named Heraclitus was starting in Ephesus, and what he said basically was that there is… He called it the logos, the word.

They called the word this fixed, uniform, unimpeachable sovereign in the universe. They thought it was an impersonal force that if you didn't live in submission to it, it was going to cost you. It wasn't Stoicism, which is fatalism. It was, "There is a right and a wrong everywhere, and when you mock it, it's going to cost you." That is why later when John, who happened to be a pastor in Ephesus, wrote from Patmos a letter, a gospel talking about Jesus, this is what he said.

"In the beginning was the Word…" That Word has always been around. That force is not impersonal. "…and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh." It's just like Paul. John made the case that "This impersonal force is not impersonal at all. He became a person and lived among us. He was full of grace and truth, and we beheld his glory. You're not going to believe it, but the Word loves you and has made provision for your futility and ignorance." That's not a hard message.

Paul said, "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands…" He's saying, "Your god is too small." Paul went right after this. I'm going to give you basically an outline of Paul's message, and you can give it. You don't have to be some brilliant disciple of Gamaliel. You just have to say this. God is great. He's the Creator, Sovereign God. That's Paul's first point. "You guys make God too small. You think you can work your way up to him or you think you can appease him. No. He is the Creator and Sovereign God."

He goes on from there. "…nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything…" The Epicureans would like that. Do whatever you want. "…since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things…" There's the Stoicism. God is the one who gives everybody everything. Paul is just identifying with them. "You'd better acknowledge him and live in relationship with him."

Verse 26: "…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…" He just talks about sovereignty there. "…having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God…""But they're never going to find him. That's what you guys are doing. You're groping around. You're trying to figure out what the Word is, like Plato said. You're in the dark."

"…though He is not far from each one of us…""He's evidenced in creation. You guys are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, and instead of humbling yourself before the creator God, you're making the creation into that which you worship." Paul says, "That's not going to work." He said, "You need to realize, as your poet Epimenides said…" Paul knew that. "…in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets…"

Now he quotes Aratus, who was a poet from Cilicia, where he's from. "…For we also are His children." Paul is just grabbing different quotes from different scholars. Like Tom Brady is a scholar the world looks at who has everything, and he says, "There's got to be more." Even Tom Brady says there has to be more. It's all he's doing.

"Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man." God is not Super Bowl titles, MVPs, good looks, or model wives or he would be satisfied. Tom Brady is telling you there has to be more. Therefore, this creator God, who is sovereign, who is good and gives you a chance to live in his created beauty, has explained why the beauty is not there, because men have left him and are groping, and when men grope they lead each other off cliffs.

"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent…" He is not just great, he is not just good, but he is just. "…because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof [that that's the guy] by raising Him from the dead." Basically, Paul is saying, "God is great, God is good, God is just and gracious, and his grace is made available through Jesus. If you reject God's provision, it's going to cost you."

When Paul gave this message… It says, "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer…" People are going to do that. They're going to reject it. They're going to scoff at it. "…others said, 'We shall hear you again concerning this.'" Some are going to continue to seek. Some of you guys today are going to go, "Todd, I do need to wrestle with this. I need to figure out what I'm going to give my life to. I'm a religious man. I don't call myself that, but I seek what I am."

Do you know what the largest segment of Millennials is in our country right now, the fastest growing? They're called "Nones." That doesn't mean they don't have a seeking. It means they're not identifying their seeking with Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Christians, but they are religious and they're seeking.

Are you ready to meet them and say, "Can I just tell you about creator God? Can I tell you how good he is? Here's evidence of his goodness in your life. He's just and gracious. He has made provision for you, but I wouldn't scoff at him." Some sneer, some scoff, some continue to seek, and some join. Some believe.

4._ Be aware that how you respond to the message of God's kindness, goodness, and justice is a matter of eternal significance._ Recently, some buddies invited me to go to a very nice place to play golf, which means you had caddies. This one particular caddie I was talking to was a guy who was basically worshiping vain deities, everything you would think a 20-year-old with money and discretionary time would do. All the stuff you can think of he was doing.

As we talked and I asked him how he was doing, he basically said, "I'm just not that happy." I go, "Well, bro, tell me why you're looking for life there." He goes, "Because I grew up going to this kind of school and this kind of church. It was just dead. I didn't see life there, so wherever the answer is I knew it wasn't in church." I said, "Well, what did they tell you in church?" He basically told me something that had nothing to do with the biblical narrative.

Do you know what I did? I spent a couple of holes just walking with him as we had fun together, just talking about what was going on, about how God is good, how God is just, how God is gracious, and what God did for him. Do you know what he said to me? If you've never been around caddies, especially the Scottish variety, they use the F-word with every possible expression. It's a noun. It's a verb. It's an adjective. It's an adverb. It's a prepositional statement. "Pass the salt." It's in every sentence.

When I got done sharing the gospel with him… We're about the seventeenth green. We're walking up, and I stopped. He looked at me and goes, "That's effing true." That's what he said. I won't tell you my response, but it communicated to him. Does it bother you your pastor might have used that word? I said, "You're effing right." I'd learned the language of the Athenian. I said, "Now you have to figure out what you're going to do with it." Some join. Another caddie in the group heard the whole thing. He mocked and scoffed. But mine was to be a faithful ambassador, and yours is to faithfully respond.

Father, I thank you for this message. I thank you for this text. I thank you for what you show us. I thank you that we can walk out of here today, and we don't have to be brilliant; we just have to be faithful. Lord, I pray when we see people who are giving themselves over to vain deities that we would be as gracious as Jesus was and Paul was, because the Spirit who was in Paul was the Spirit of Jesus, which is the Spirit of God filled with love. It's not that hard.

Help us to enter into a conversation, and then to pass through telling them of the grace we have received. O Lord, if there's somebody here who doesn't know how absolutely true the story of your love is, anchored in history, declared with power through the resurrection, I pray that somebody here would continue to seek. I pray that nobody here would scoff.

I pray that some would come today and find the grace that I have found, that Justin found, that Dionysius found, and they would just say, "Lord, I know I'm a sinner. I thank you that you are so loving that you have given me a Savior. I thank you that he wasn't just a man but he was who he said he was and did what only God-man can do.

He conquered the grave, the wages of sin. Lord, I want to trust in this Jesus, and having received this grace, I want to make it known to others, not as a troublesome meddler but as a truth-telling follower." Lord, would you help us grow now? Would you help us invest in your kingdom with word, deed, and resources you give us? Would you help us glorify you? In Jesus' name, amen.