- Sermon Notes
The Only Solution to the Symptoms
As we turn to Acts chapter 17 this morning, we see Paul come to another city on his second missionary journey that had many symptoms and signs that something was severely wrong, but they would not begin to learn of the solution until Paul comes along.
We pick up in verse 16 of chapter 17, where Paul, still on his second missionary journey, ends up in the city of Athens alone, waiting for Silas and Timothy. While he waits, he walks, and sees the signs and symptoms of a place that had spent much time and attention on trying to come up with philosophies and conclusions. But what Paul recognizes, and we will see him reveal, is that all of their philosophies and conclusions were coming up short, because Jesus was the only real solution to their symptoms.
Like Paul, we find ourselves in a world and in cities with many symptoms. One does not have to look far to understand that there are symptoms of a world gone wrong all around us. Also, like Paul, we find ourselves in a place where there are many philosophies and conclusions being put forth as suggested solutions to the symptoms. Systems, programs, and political pursuits try their hand at settling down the symptoms, hoping they will subside. But the reality for those of us in Christ, is that we know that the symptoms are all tied to a sin marred world, and for a sin marred world, there is only one solution, and that solution is salvation in Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 14:12, There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
Paul knew this truth, so when he finds himself in a confused and conflicted place, a place centered on what they thought was right, he does all he can to center his focus on the Lord and set the sights of those he interacts with in the city, on the only true solution, that is, salvation in Jesus Christ.
Read: Acts 17:16-20
From verse 16, we understand that Paul is waiting in Athens, but while he is waiting, he begins walking around the city…Paul sees the symptoms and is stirred up. Seeing the symptoms of
- Seek the Lord About All You See
Acts 17:16, Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he observed that the city was full of idols.
- It seems that while Paul is waiting, he takes to sight-seeing.
- Athens at that time was the academic and artistic capital of the world.
- By the time Paul visited, Corinth had replaced Athens as the most important commercial and political center Greece, still, Athens was extremely significant culturally. It was known as the center of art, beauty, culture and knowledge.
- As Paul walked around, he would have seen a striking city, filled with ornate temples, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Odeon, the theater, the agora, and the Areopagus known at Mars Hill, which is the place he will later preach.
- It was home to the world’s most famous university and was the center of philosophy. It was the place from which the great Greek philosophers had come Pericles, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle among many others.
- Men from this city are noted at those who established patterns on thought and have influenced human thought and learning for centuries.
- In addition to Philosophy, it was also a religious center, where almost every god ever assumed or named was worshipped.
- Athens has been referred to as a “junkyard of idols,” the estimation is that around 30,000 different gods were worshipped in the city of Athens, and more that 3,000 different altars and temples representing them.
- One ancient writer wrote that it was “easier to find a god in Athens that a man.”
- Every public building was dedicated to a god, and statues of various gods filled the city.
- Paul had gone out sight-seeing, but he could not separate his sight-seeing from his call to soul winning. He saw it all, a city that most looked at and said, “wow,” but he looked at it and said “woe.”
- As Paul observed the city, he was “provoked,” which means exasperated or stirred up; other translations say he was “greatly distressed,” or “deeply troubled.”
- This reminds of Jesus, who stood on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem, and wept over it. It would have been a beautiful sight of the city, many people visit, they look at the city from the Mount of Olives and say “wow,” but Jesus said, “woe.”
Matthew 23:37-38, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who have been sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!
- Jesus wept because he was after souls, not sights, Paul was deeply trouble because his aim was not sight-seeing, but soul winning.
Illus. Most popular.
- Like Paul, we must remember our purpose. That our purpose is tied to soul winning. We aren’t simply to look around and see, but rather those who are continually seeking what the Lord has to say about what we see.
- Athens had idols, Paul observed the city and was deeply troubled when he saw that the city was full of idols.
- It is evident that idols and idolatry were not just prevalent in Athens, but they are something that the city’s we live in are still full.
- When we hear the word “idol,” we generally think of a statue or an object.
- An idol is anything that replaces the One, true God. When God gave the 10 commandments, He spoke of this.
Exodus 20:3-4(a), You must not have any other god but me. “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God.
- In his book, “Counterfeit gods,” Timothy Keller wrote, “an idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more that God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
- The reality of our cities is that the idols aren’t called by the same names, but there is worship of them that seems quite the same.
- For example, in Athens, they would have worshipped the idol of Plutus, who was known as the god of wealth. Dionysus was known as the god of intoxication and ecstasy. Aphrodite was the goddess of sexual love, sexual freedom, lust, pleasure, and beauty.
- As I mentioned, we don’t know many of the names of the idols in Athens, but we understand the worship of what they represented and see it quite frequently in our world. The worship of money, intoxication, pleasure, and sexual desires is what our world often seems full of.
- Respond According to Your Reason
Acts 17:17, So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be present.
- Paul’s first response to what he had seen in the city, was according to his reason.
- Paul understood that he had a reason, and he responds according to it.
- Paul had “reasoned” in Thessalonica with the people in the synagogue for three weeks from the Scriptures. Here it says he reasoned in the synagogues with the Jews and God-Fearing Gentiles, and then he was reasoning in the marketplace every day with those who were present.
- The word “reasoned,” as we discussed last week, means to converse, to dialogue, to mingle thought with thought, or discuss.
- From verse 2 of this chapter, we get the picture of how Paul would reason; he would reason from the Scriptures in the synagogues. His thoughts centered on what the Scriptures have to say, when his thoughts mingled with the thoughts of others, his thoughts pointed to Christ.
- We spoke about what our reason in this life is rooted last week as well. What is our reason (why are we here), and then from where should we get our reasoning in the lives we are living?
- From Isaiah 43:6-7, we understand that those called by the name of the Lord, are created for His glory!
1 Corinthians 10:31, Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God.
Ephesians 2:10, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
- Since our reason is tied to Christ, our reasoning should be tied to Christ.
- Paul was reasoning, in the synagogue and out in the city, daily.
- What I love about the way this situation plays out, is that the city of Athens would not just affect Paul, Paul was going to have an impact on the city.
Illus. He mixed in.
- Paul was in an overwhelming city, yet he continued to respond according to his reason.
- In verse 18, we get insights into how some of the people were responding to him in return…
Acts 17:18(a), And some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers as well were conversing with him.
Illus. Epicureans and Stoics.
- As Paul was out reasoning with these groups, they shared some assertions about his preaching and the things he was proclaiming.
- From verse 18, we understand there were two was the people began to characterize Paul: first, they called him a “scavenger of tidbits.”
- The philosophers call Paul a scavenger of tidbits. The word used literally means “seed picker.”
- The picture is of a bird pecking and picking up random seeds in a grain field. It referred to a person who picked up scraps of ideas here and there and passed them off as something profound with no depth of understanding at all.
- Others were saying that Paul “seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
- They thought he was proclaiming and presenting two new gods, one name Jesus, and another named Resurrection.
- These two names were of interest to them. They had never heard of them, it was something new, and they were intrigued.
Acts 17:19-20, 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; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
- Paul had brought some new teaching, and the people wanted to know it. So they took him to Mars Hill, which is noted here at the place where people spent their time doing nothing other than telling and hearing something new.
- Paul will stand in that place and preach Jesus Christ to them. While they may not have heard about Him, Paul was giving the truth, rather than something new to them.
2 Timothy 4:2-5, For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But as for you, use self-restraint in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Illus. Things come back around.
Ecclesiastes 1:9, That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.
Hebrews 13:8, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
III. Always Remember, Jesus is the Answer
Acts 17:22-23, So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 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.
- Paul stands up at Mars Hill, and I love how Paul begins, men of Athens, I perceive you are very religious…I am struck by what Paul doesn’t open with….Like “I have been around your city for the past few days, and you guys are way out there. You guys are lost!
- Paul continues, “as I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I saw that you have an altar that is addressed to an unknown God.”
- Why would they have this? It seems that though they had over 3,000 temples and idols in the city, they were worried about having left someone out who might be a god or goddess from their worship. They did not want to offend them, so, they made this altar.
- Paul says to them, therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
- That’s a pretty amazing sermon intro. You are very religious, I can tell, you worship many things, I have seen. One of those things is your altar to an unknown God. “The God you don’t know is the God you need to know…Let me tell you about Him!”
Acts 17:25, The God who made the world and everything that is in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made by hands.
- Paul began with God and worked his way down to people. Greek philosophy did the opposite, starting with people and working their way to their gods.
- He starts by saying, God is the creator. He made the world and everything that is in it (24).
- In verse 25, He is the sustainer of life
Acts 17:26(a), He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.
- Paul points back to the creation account and Adam, from one man, every nation…
- Paul also speaks to the fact that God appointed our times and our habitation, this is a reference to where we are and when we are there.
- The Lord determined that we would be alive at a time such as this, in a place, such as this, appointing the boundaries of our habitation.
Acts 17:27-28, That they would seek God, if perhaps they might feel around for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His descendants.’
- In verse 28, Paul gives a display of just how well read he was. The words Paul said, were applied to God, but were a quote from Greek philosophy.
- Paul’s application of “in Him we live and move and exist,” was a quote that a Greek poet had applied to the Greek god Zeus, and Paul clears that up here, it is not Zeus, it is God the creator of everything.
- And then he follows it up with a quote from another Greek poet, “For we are His descendants.”
Acts 17:30-31, So having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now proclaiming to mankind that all people everywhere are to repent, because He has set a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead.”
- Here Paul makes Jesus known. He knew there were many problems in Athens. Many bad beliefs, many perversions of truth, many false things, and false gods they were worshiping. The reality must have been overwhelming. But he knew what we must know, Jesus is the answer.
- That He has been risen from the dead and will judge the world in righteousness.
- Paul tells them, that God has overlooked times of ignorance, but is now proclaiming that all people everywhere should repent.
- The word proclaiming means declaring, announcing, or ordering. God is announcing that all people everywhere are to repent.
- Why? Because God has a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness.
- The word repent means to “change ones mind,” to “think differently,” or “think again,” and involves turning from sin and toward God.
- Paul is telling the people that they need to think again and turn away from their sin, and toward God.
- Turn to God, because it is true, God has set a day on which He will judge the world, but God has also made a way for sin to be forgiven, and he will forgive all who turn to Him this day.
Acts 4:12, There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among mankind by which we must be saved.
- In verses 32-34, some scoff at what Paul has to say, others want to hear more, and others, walk through the door and believe in Jesus Christ personally.