by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch

October 21, 2018
TEXT:   Acts 17:16-34



            Geneva is a 4-year-old little girl who is really into Barbies.   She carries them around the house and has long conversations with them.   Searching for common ground with his little girl, one day her dad suggested that she teach her Barbies about Jesus.   Geneva went back to her room for a few minutes, gathered all her Babies in a circle around her and told them that they needed to believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven.


            A few minutes later, she came out of her room and proudly announced that all of her Barbies were now believers.   Her dad asked, “How did they become Christians so quickly?”  With a big grin on her face, Geneva said, “It was easy.   I just sat on each of them until they said yes!”


            Now that is one way you can share your faith!  But there are probably some better ways…ways we can reach out and make a difference for Christ.   We are living in a culture where so many people don’t know who Jesus is.   They are confused and unsure about faith and don’t know what to believe.  They have an emptiness in their souls that they try to fill up with all sorts of things or people - none of which fully satisfy.    They so desperately need someone to share with them - that it is only God that can fill that emptiness.   Someone who will show them the hope and the love we know through Jesus Christ.   I believe that call, is coming to you and to me.  


            Today we continue our sermon series, “God is Calling”, as we look at the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul.   Today we will see how Paul shared his faith and how that can help us in sharing our faith.   Get your Bibles out and turn to Acts 17.   And while you are doing that, I am going to share some background information with you.


            You will remember last time we were together, Greg shared that the Apostle Paul received a vision from a man calling Paul to come over to Macedonia to help them.   So, Paul obeyed that call, and crossed over the Aegean Sea onto European soil.   He first went to Philippi where he baptized the first European convert – a businesswoman named Lydia.


As we begin chapter 17, we find that Paul went to Thessalonica from Philippi, where Paul preached, and many became believers.   However, some of the Jews were jealous and caused a riot – which made Paul leave town for Berea.  People in Berea were eager to hear Paul’s message, and many believed.   However, the troublemaking Jews from Thessalonica followed Paul to Berea.    So, to protect Paul, the believers sent Paul away by himself to Athens, where he would wait for Timothy and Silas to join him later.


            So, what would Paul do in Athens while he waited?   Exactly what you and I would do visiting a new place!   He went sight-seeing.   Let’s begin reading at verse 16 of Acts 17.


16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 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.  those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing

 nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)


            Here we really see the very first step to sharing your faith – open your eyes to see with God’s eyes!   When Paul arrived in Athens, he spent time walking around the city.  He talked first to the Jews at the synagogue, which was his custom upon entering any city.   But then he spoke with anyone he ran into in the public square…and debated some Greek philosophers.   He opened his eyes to see the people around them and was quick to tell them about Jesus.1    And then, as he walked around Athens, he kept his eyes open and noticed the abundance of idols that were everywhere.   One ancient historian described Athens as a town FULL of idols – as many as 30,000!!!2  Everywhere you looked you would see temples to the various gods – like these Temples of Athena.  And they had altars built for all these various gods.  Paul was really upset seeing all these idols.  Timothy Keller tells us that “the Greek word that describes his reaction to “great distress” over idolatry is same word used to describe God’s reaction to idolatry in Isaiah.  In other words, Paul tended to look at the world through a Biblical filter.   He was so sensitive to God’s word and thus to God’s attitudes, ways and heart, that he could not help participating in God’s response.” 1


                As we think about Paul’s observations of the city of Athens, what is it that you see when you look at Galesburg and Knox County?   Are you What are you noticing about your neighborhood?   Are you looking at them through God’s eyes?  Do you take the time to get to know your neighbor and find out what their hopes and dreams are as well as their concerns and needs?   Do you see some of the “idols” that are in our neighborhoods – things that people have put in the place of God?  Is your heart being moved by what you hear and see?


            May our prayer be:  Oh Lord - open our eyes!   Help us to see the neighbors we have in you.   Break our hearts for that which breaks Yours!


            The Apostle Paul had open eyes to see and a broken heart from all that he had seen.  He also had a heart to reach out with the love of Christ to the Athenians.  So, he studied the people and knew what was important to them – and found a common bond – a connection he could use in telling them about Jesus.   He knew he needed to speak the language of the people for the people to understand the message. 


            Look at what he does in Acts 17:22-23:


22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.


            Paul was taken to the Areopagus to speak to the crowds.   Now what is the Areopagus?   Well, in Ancient Greek, πάγος pagos literally meant big piece of rock.   Which is just right below the acropolis or the high hill.   Later in Roman times, this rock was called Mars Hill, dedicated to the Roman god of war, Mars.3  It was a place where philosophers and people visiting the city would gather to talk and share new ideas.   The Areopagus also refers to the higher court in Greece – much like our Supreme Court.   They would make decisions, especially in murder cases. 


            I just have to show you this picture.   These are the original steps leading up to the top of the Areopagus.   They are very steep and very slick.   Greg was able to walk up them to the top…walking along the path the Apostle Paul would have taken.


            Now there is a very interesting story that goes along with Mars Hill – which I believe Paul must have known – which helped him “know his audience” and find a common ground from which to speak.   The story goes that in the 6th century BC, Athens was hit by a plague which they believed was caused by one of the gods.   But all the sacrifices they made to the various gods didn’t bring an end to the plague.   Finally, they contacted a man from Crete named Epimenides and brought him to Athens for advice.   He said he believed that they may have missed one of the gods to sacrifice to… and if they could figure out which one, then that god might be able to end the plague.   So they created a test to find out.  The test involved releasing a flock of sheep on Mars Hill, early in the morning when they would be very hungry.   If there were any sheep who happened to lie down, instead of eating, they would chosen to be sacrificed to this unknown god.   When test was conducted – sure enough, several sheep did go against their normal nature and laid down on the grass instead of eating it.   The people of Athens took these sheep and sacrificed them on an altar they had built to the “Unknown God”.   And what was amazing is that after that – the plague stopped!  So, from then on, altars were built in Athens all around Greece to the “Unknown God” – to help them remember that there is a good God, greater than the many lesser gods.   They didn’t know who He was – but they worshiped him anyway.4  


            When the Apostle Paul began his message to the people of Athens – he started off by saying, “Men of Athens, I see in every way that you are a very religious people.”  Notice he didn’t condemn or attack them.     Rather he was gracious and courteous, and his words were positive.    His first words made a difference in the listener’s ears.   If he would have started his message by attacking their religion – they would have become defensive and not wanted to hear what he had to say.   And if he would have not mentioned anything at all about their religion – they might have just ignored him just because they might have thought it didn’t pertain to them.   But instead, Paul found a way to build a bridge between them – saying something that piqued their interest.   You know that altar to the unknown god?  I can tell you who this unknown god is.”


            We can follow this example of Paul.  We can be gracious in our interactions with others, sharing positive messages that build a bridge with someone else.   For example, I heard of a Christian woman who was staying at a hotel on a trip with her two friends.   One evening, they went to the swimming pool and got into a conversation with a total stranger.   The young woman started sharing about her pagan religion that she was involved in.    Instead of condemning the young woman for believing something quite the opposite from our Christian faith, they continued to talk with the young woman, getting to know her and asking questions.   Eventually, the young woman shared about the pain in her life and how sometimes she wishes she could just be born all over again and start over from scratch.   Ah – there was the opportunity.  So, they asked her, “So you really would like to be born again?  She responded, “Yes, I really would.”5 It was an open door for them to share with her about Jesus. The girl’s heart seemed to be opening – and these Christian friends were able to open their mouths and share the good news of life with Jesus!


            O Lord – open doors in our relationships with others.   Open their hearts and open our mouths that we can be ready to share the good news of Jesus.

            Well, Paul’s actual sermon – as written in the rest of Acts 17 - actually only lasts about three minutes!  Most scholars think that as it is written in our Scriptures – it was probably the “cliff notes” version.   That Paul probably elaborated a lot more on all of these points…based on what Paul said in the other letters we read in the New Testament.


His main point in his message was to show how God was so very different and better than the multitude of gods the Athenians worshiped.   Those gods were distant and unpredictable – not approachable at all; impersonal and even angry.   But the true God is the Creator – the One who gives life and breath to every living thing.   He is close to us and can satisfy our every need.   God wants us to seek Him and we can find Him because He is very near.   And God is calling the human race to repent – to change their hearts and lives and turn to Him. 


            Paul concluded his sermon by saying that one day the world will be judged by God’s appointed man – and that man is Jesus, who God raised from the dead.   Now, my guess is that Paul may have gone on to describe more about Jesus – and how he had really seen the resurrected Jesus himself and he knew this was the truth.   And can’t you just see Paul telling them what a change came into his life after meeting the resurrected Lord?


            As we build relationships with others, we can follow Paul’s example and be ready to talk about Jesus and to share our story about how He makes a difference in our lives.   As Peter says in I Peter 3:15 – “you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”    You and I need to live our lives so that people will see us and know there is a God and that He can be trusted to give new life.   When they see the joy and hope we have – and the way we respond to things like failure or disappointment, grief or pain – they may just say to us, “There’s something different about you – what is it?”  And then we can humbly say, “Well, let me tell you about the God I know.”    There is great power in living that life of faith and telling our story!   It is incredible what a difference it can make!


            Christian speaker Ravi Zacharias has written a book called “Changed Lives Show the Truth of Christ.”  In it he shares how the greatest proof for the truth for Christ and the reality of His resurrection are the changed lives of Christians.  


Author A. N. Wilson is just one example.   A.N. fell out of faith in the 1990’s and as an atheist wrote scathing attacks on Christianity.  But by 2009, he celebrated Easter at a church with a group of other church members, proclaiming that that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges. [Wilson said], 'My own return to faith has surprised none more than myself...My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known—not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in light of the resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.6


It may mean the difference for all eternity for the people with whom you come in contact – if you would just share your faith – and tell others what a difference Christ has made in your life.


Who is God calling you to share your faith with?










1Timothy J. Kelly and J. Allen Thompson -  quote that was mentioned in a study guide I found on the internet called “A Heart for Our Area”.   I was unable to locate the source.

2Brian Bill, “Telling Others the Gospel – Making an Impact”.  April 29, 2003. Sermoncentral.com.

3 “Areopagus.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areopagus

4Scott L. Harris, Grace Bible Church.  “Reaching the Worldly Wise – Acts 17:16-34.” https://gracebibleny.org/reaching_the_worldly_wise_acts_17_16_34.


6Ravi Zacharias:  Changed Lives Show the Truth of Christ.” Quote found sermoncentral.com Illustrations.