Good morning and welcome to Tuesday’s podcast. Today we continue our journey through Acts, hoping to reach the end of the book by the weekend, in time for Advent.
Yesterday we saw a man and his household living in a system where failure carried with it the fear of death. He experienced grace and freedom as he learned to call Jesus Lord, master, the one who has ownership of my life. Today we leave Philippi and jump ahead to Athens. Today’s reading is Acts 17:22-31. Listen to the end of the tape and you will hear the reading in full; for now I am going to focus on v22-23.
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.
A question to start the day: What do you fear? The mortgage company? Your boss? Social embarrassment? What others think of you? Failure? Conflict? Being found out? Your kids getting in trouble? Getting hurt? Illness? I wonder… what do you fear?
And, what do we do to try and reduce the fear that we feel? Do we run and hide? Do we avoid situations and confrontations? Do we simply give up and not try? Do we control and limit and restrict? What do we do to reduce fear in our lives?
Paul walks around Athens and he sees people worshipping loads of things… there are temples and shrines and altars and more temples and more shrines and more altars… they are everywhere. We look back and think to ourselves… “what a backward bunch of people who lived 2000 years ago” We read the Bible and think to ourselves “worshipping idols made of metal and gold…. How ridiculous!” Because life has moved on a little hasn’t it!? Well, let’s pause and think what they are doing, shall we?
Paul calls out in the debating place in Athens “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious”. What does it mean to be religious? Well the word means ‘respectful of what is divine’ which comes from two words ‘to dread’ and ‘a demon’. Literally to ‘fear the gods’ (god with a little g) 2000 years ago people feared the gods and their influence on their lives. Out of fear the people of Athens would act a certain way, sacrificing, worshipping, to appease the gods. Keep them happy or life might take a turn for the worse. The people gave their time, their money, their food, their energy and devotion to the gods to lessen their fear and to try and secure good fortune.
For us today, we may not see things quite the same way but we can allow our fears to dictate the way that we live our lives. We can devote time and energy, trying to control or lessen our fear that it robs us of the freedom that Jesus has won for us.
We don’t worship Jesus out of fear or duty. We worship out of love and reverence for what he has done for us. We don’t give our time and energy to try and secure a blessing for us… we are already blessed beyond our wildest dreams through grace… the free and undeserved gift of God. No, our worship is in response to what God has already done. Our worship is in recognition of the love and abundance that God has already given us in Jesus.
There is a choice that God places before each of us today: Will you be religious and let fear rule your life, or will you come into the presence of God, allow him to remind us that we are his children and he has more than got our backs and live a life of love and grace and peace in every situation, in every relationship and in every hardship?
Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that life as a Christian is not about fear and duty but about love and grace. Help us to recognise the fear that so often drives our actions and allow you to help us overcome them and let love, grace and peace rule our hearts minds and actions in every moment and in every situation that we face. Amen.
READING: ACTS 17:22-31
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.”
‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’