Hello and welcome to Wednesday’s foundations podcast. I’m James and I’m part of the team here at STC Sheffield. I’m married to the wonderful Lucy and we have a little boy called Joshua who is turning 2 next week!
This week we are finishing with the book of Acts as we will soon be approaching the season of Advent! Only 42 days until Christmas! Don’t worry, we won’t be counting down each day in the podcast – although I can’t really comment on what Alan will be saying next week – he does love Christmas.
As we have been going through the book of Acts we are now at the point of Paul’s arrival into Athens. Athens was known as the place of ideas, an intellectual capitol of the world. I guess a modern day equivalent for us could be a combination of Oxford and Cambridge. It had this reputation that the dominant ideas that won the debates in the philosophy halls of Athens would shape the thinking of the known world at the time. In our story today, which will be read out in full at the end, Paul goes to the Areopagus, which is where the chief philosophers of the day would have debated ideas and he talks persuasively about the greatness of God and the sacrificial love of Jesus and his resurrection. Some hate it and some are transformed by it.
Here is my big idea for us to think on today. The gospel is not for private personal peace. It is for the public square.
In the very beginning of the passage, we’re told, (v17) Paul “reasoned… in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?”
Paul believed that the truths about the greatness of God and the resurrection could stand up for themselves in the marketplace of ideas that is Athens. So that is where he started to engage with people. Now when you and I think of marketplace, we might think of Meadowhall. Now I quite like Meadowhall, not so much at this time of the year, but on the whole I quite like it but as my wife will testify I am very good at spending our money. But a marketplace in this story is more than a place where people did their shopping.
It would be the place people go to hear the news of the day. I mean they didn’t have BBC NEWS 24 like we have. Or apps that ping the headlines straight to our pockets. If you wanted to get the headlines you would head to the marketplace. Perhaps a herald would be breaking the news.
It would also be the place to get business done. Of course people would gathering in homes around the meal table to talk finances but the centre of commerce was still this marketplace.
It would be the place people would go to hear music or see art. The marketplace is this centre of culture, finance and creativity. In Athens in particularly it was influential, almost as influential as Rome. It is here, that Paul begins to share about Jesus.
One commentary I was reading about this went into great detail about how Paul’s arguments are so well structured and crafted in this part of the Bible it is remarkable how he is disarming the dominant views of the time. You might not be familiar with some of those terms that got read out earlier in this podcast, Stoics and Epicurians, don’t worry too much about it right now… I didn’t know much about them either. It is really impressive to see how Paul is finding the weaknesses in these ways of seeing the world by asking really great questions. We won’t go into any more detail into that today in this podcast but it really is fascinating if you can find the time to read more into it.
Here is what I want us to focus on. Paul goes from the market place (this cultural, financial, artistic hub) in the city to the most influential public hall and proclaims the greatness of God and that Jesus has risen from the dead. As he walked the city of Athens, he prayerfully looked for what God was already doing. He found an altar to ‘AN UNKNOWN GOD’ (v23)… he used that to show them that God is bigger than any of the gods they have … In depicting this greater God he quotes some of their own historians and poets to basically say to intellectual elites, “deep down you actually do know there is already a God like this.” There is a longing in your heart for the things of heaven. That there is a God who holds every second. In him we live and move and have our being. That we are created by Him and for Him and He is worthy of our worship.
In this story, I just love the boldness Paul has to boldly speak his faith. The gospel is not for private personal peace. So often we have made it only that. It is true the good news of Jesus leads to personal transformation but it is also for the public square. These ideas are worth sharing.
Lets pray for eyes to see the signs of the times we are in. The things God is already doing. And for a boldness to speak about his greatness and that Jesus is alive.
God, thank you for this story. It really is amazing. There is so much here for us to learn. Teach us today about our awareness and about confidence. In Jesus’ name, amen.
BIBLE READING: Acts 17:16-28
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the market-place day by day with those who happened to be there. 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. 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? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.’ (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
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. 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.
‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”