Posts Tagged ‘Areopagus’

Pastor Joshua Scheer in his article, “Who Are the Preachers in Your Life?”,  on Brothers of John the Steadfast asked these three interesting questions at the end of his piece:

“Who preaches to you most of the time?  What is being preached?

Who preaches to your children most of the time?  What is being preached?

What can be done to out-preach the preachers of the different gospel of this world?

The answers are in the Scriptures, especially the first lesson and especially the Epistle reading for the 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A):  Acts 17:16–31 and 1 Peter 3:13–22. 

 In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul is by himself in Athens.  Athens was one of the great cities of culture and philosophy that has influenced the Western world until our day and time. Athens was the home of Socrates and Plato and the adopted home of Aristotle, Zeno (found of Stoicism) and Epicurus. Luke tells us that Paul addressed Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.  The derivative  words “stoic” and “epicurean” are part and parcel of our vocabulary and so are the philosophies:  “stoic”, i.e., be tough;  “epicurean”, e.g. “eat, drink and be merry” are conflicting ways of life in our own day.  

We are told that Paul, upon seeing the city filled with idols, that, “his spirit was provoked within him” (verse 16). For a devout Jew (see Philippians 3:4-6),  to whom idolatry and the resultant immorality, were anathema (as it should be to all Christians as well), raised, no doubt, his rightful indignation.  Then we are told in the next verse that he “reasoned” with the Jews in the synagogue, God fearers and those in the agora,  i.e. the marketplace (vs. 17).  Further he addressed the various philosophers, and cultured onlookers,  in the place designated for such exchange of ideas, the Areopagus, literally, Mars Hill.  Notice that Paul’s provocation and indignation did not show.  He did not scream and holler,“Tear down these demonic altars”, though he knew they were demonic (see 1 Corinthians 10:20).  Instead, he reasoned with them and proclaimed the truth.  Paul’s brother Apostle, Peter, wrote to the churches in the Diaspora (1 Peter 1  ), this encouragement:   

 “…if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

 The Apostle Paul was forcefully asked to give a defense of the hope that in him (vs. 18-20).  He was prepared.  He gave his defense just as the Scripture says:  with gentleness and respect.  Paul did so but he did not water down God’s own truth.  He made pointed statements to his interlocutors that would escape our notice and for which Paul was mocked:  

  1. He proclaims God is the Creator of heaven and earth (vs. 23).  Many Greeks were so ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ that they thought matter was evil, created not by any god, but by a “demiurge”, that got “down and dirty” and so created ‘evil’ matter. Paul proclaiming God is the Creator of everything was probably an offense to his audience, but Paul proclaimed it clearly and so he was saying, the altars dedicated to gods and goddesses is nothing, they are gold and silver, things, therefore they were not gods.
  2.   The Greeks believed the gods and goddesses were dependant upon their service and devotion.  Paul turns this on end by citing an important Scriptural truth that the Lord does not need anything from mankind (see Psalm 50: 9-12) but He is the One who gives to us all in our need, our “life and breath and all things” ! (vs.  25)
  3.   “The Athenians might pride themselves on autochthonous[1]sprung from the soil of their native (Greece) (‘This belief reflects the historic fact that the Athenians were the only Greeks on the European mainland who had no tradition of their ancestors’ coming into Greece”), but this pride was ill founded.”[2] Paul proclaims that all of us are of one “nation” (some ancient texts, of one “blood”).  In other words we are all of the “hoi polloi”, no one is better nor worse!  Such a preaching can either puncture the pride or cause pride to rage.
  4.   Paul proclaimed the judgment of God and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Apostle called them to repent (vss. 30-31), that is Law and Promise.  As the doctrine of the Creator and creation (1st article of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds) was offensive, so would have been the bodily resurrection.  The audience believed in a spiritual, disembodied after life, but not the new creation. Also, that all mankind will be judged and is judged by God, deserving His temporal and eternal punishment probably did not set well with Paul’s audience.  Neither in our day and time: “no one can tell me what I should do!”

 Throughout the address, Paul is even and reasonable.  He also proclaims that God has not left Himself without a witness is His creation (cf. Romans 1:  ). He cites their poets and philosophers to substantiate his thesis.  He is not trying to win over them to his point of view, but to win them over to Jesus Christ.  He was mocked afterward (vs. 32) but some believed (vs. 34). The Word will accomplish the purpose the Lord puts into it (see Isaiah 55:10-12).

Paul the preacher out-preached the different gospels of the world by being prepared in the knowledge of Scripture.  This is the best way to give a defense of the hope that is in us:  armed with the Word of God (see  Ephesians 6:11ff ).   We are living in an internet Athens, that is just as pervasive, persuasive and perverse as was the great city of Athens in the first century.  The Athenians would not have listened to Paul if he tried to out shout them. Paul defended the Scriptures by not being defensive nor offensive.  Paul’s Address to the Areopagus still runs contrary in our agora of god and ideologies.  This list parallels the list above: 

  1. God is Creator, not evolution.  We are made, not self-made.  There is intelligent design that could not happen by chance.  The 1st Article  of the Creed is still offensive.
  2. God needs me to serve him, all my sacrifices. No, He does not, He gives to us all in our need. We think a worship service is something we offer to God, no!  God  who gives us His gifts of faith, hope and love, within His Service, His Word, that is, “For us and our salvation He came down from heaven” and “Broken and shed FOR YOU”.
  3. We Americans think we sprung up out of the soil of this land, a superior people.  ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Romans 3:22-24  ), therefore, the Lord has poured forth His salvation upon “all flesh” (cf. Luke 3:6).
  4. So many Christians have a judgment-less Gospel, that is preaching and teaching of the Gospel without the Law’s just diagnosis of our condition.  “Grandma is looking down on us from heaven” is common statement at funerals.  The Apostle’s Creed, based upon the Scripture, confesses the “resurrection of the body” to our likewise ‘spiritual’ afterlife.

 So many people think that between  Bible times and ‘our’ times there is a yawning abyss because so much has changed.  Yes, technology has changed but not fallen human nature. What was preached and reaching many folks in Athens is simply paraded day in our agora, television, radio and the internet. The second list is the current version of the first lesson preached nowadays. The many altars to our American idols is always an appeal to the self.  The doctrines of evolution, ego-centric philosophies, egoism are preached daily to make us happy.  This preaching of a gospel, which is not good news, oozes every TV commercial. And a lot of this narcissistic preaching is under the guise of Christianity, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, such as , “prosperity gospel” preaching. We may be happy but we are always looking over our shoulders and there is little joy. Or there is such anger directed at the filth in our society and country, and justifiably so, that discourse is difficult at best. The medium massages the mind to be insensible to truth and thinking things through. 

We cannot out yell the cultural preachers yet we can reason, as the Apostle did. We cannot out-tech the world and the agora either. We simply cannot compete nor should we!  The Gospel, that cannot be bought, the Gospel that is we have been bought for a price, not with silver or gold, by Jesus’ precious blood (1 Corinthians 7:23;1 Peter 1:17-19) , opens up the entire of Scripture that we might reason in the preaching and teaching of the Church. In a sound-bite world, the Lord’s perspective of eternity is ours in Christ.  Short-term fixes, that is, gimmicks and techniques won’t do.  As it is written, I would rather have five words of wisdom than a thousand words in a tongue (1 Corinthians 14:19).  Paul was prepared as Peter counseled his churches to be prepared as we revere Christ as holy  in our hearts.

 When I was in college, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was in schism over Biblical interpretation.  I was  a liberal in Biblical interpretation.  I was visiting my extended family in Minnesota and with my Aunt Bertha, “Aunt Birdie”, I  had made fun of  the Missouri Synod.  My Aunt had been a Mennonite and became Lutheran (WELS) when she married. In one of the few times she was stern with me said, “Mark, I always believed in Christ but when I became a Lutheran I knew why.”  What preaches?  Solid Confessional catechesis, that is preaching and teaching of Law and Gospel, properly distinguished.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod knows about teaching and preaching.  The Scriptures’ compendium is the Small and Large Catechisms.  Catechesis cannot be done short term, but only long term: it is learning for Life.  Fancying up worship services or making them more ‘palpable’ won’t do either.  We are just spinning our wheels. The small still voice of the Lord in His Word is greater than the thunder and lightening of our technological world. We need only to be still and be stilled (see Exodus 14:14,Psalm 46:10,Psalm 131:2) for that is the beginning of learning. The Lord will be heard.

     “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven                                      and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55)

 [1] autochthonous: adjective (of an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists.


[2] The Book of Acts, commentary by F. F. Bruce, pages 357-358 (first published 1954)


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