What an incredible city. As I look around, Athens was imposingly magnificent. Over there, the massive harbour of Piraeus – helping make the city a centre for trade. Over there the Temple of Zeus with its imposing columns scaling up to the high ceilings and with statues everywhere, one to this god and another to that god – they like their religion! Over there at the entrance to the city stands the beautiful Hadrian’s Arch, on one side it dedicates the city to Emperor Hadrian and on the other side to Theseus! – there is politics behind everything and this city was no exception. Over there the huge two-tiered covered colonnade called the Stoa of Attalus, the largest marketplace around – making this city a centre of culture and fashion. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers would sit day by day in the marketplaces and argue about ideas – there is so much idealism just pervading this culture. And all of this, sitting in the shadow of the Acropolis. Many Greek cities have some kind of citadel constructed on hills overlooking their cities, but none were as formidable or as famous as the Parthenon perched high above Athens – making this a city of power and a tourism gold mine.
But it was at the Areopagus on Mars Hill, just a few hundred feet down from the Acropolis where the governing body of the city met and it was there they brought me. You see, I had been preaching the good news about Jesus and his resurrection and the people of the city thought that I was advocating for a foreign god and so, interested, they asked me about this ‘new teaching’ – I guess I was presenting an idea which they wanted to postulate about!
My name is Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, set apart for the gospel of God. Ever since my Lord appeared to me and called me to be his witness, I have looked for opportunities to testify about him. I had always started in the synagogue with the Jews and then moving on to appeal to the Gentiles – this time, for the first time, all those standing before me were Gentiles. So I talked about what I had seen around their great city – the statues, the monuments, the objects of worship. It was clear they were very religious, but it wasn’t clear that they knew who to worship!
I had seen an altar, inscribed ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’! What is that about? I used this ‘idol’ to testify about Jesus. Here was my approach:
I started with who I thought they could relate to – God. They obviously thought highly of the ‘gods’ so I taught them about the sovereign and provident nature of the true God. It was God who made all, the heavens and the earth. It is God who gives life to all people. God was not limited to the many temples I could see around, he is not served or provided for by the people of Athens – he doesn’t need anything, he created it all in the first place! All nations, including the people of Athens, were made so that all would seek him out and reach out to him. If there was ever a city that should be able to understand the importance of an all sovereign and generous God – it was Athens! So far so good.
Next, I described God’s judgement. Not such a popular topic! I said that in the past God had overlooked the ignorance of all people, but that now God was asking all people to repent. This seemed to challenge my listeners a bit. I hoped it would. To repent is to turn away from the many liberties that we as humans take which happens when we ignore what God actually asks of us – and if the Athenians didn’t even know about the true God, then they wouldn’t have realised that God wanted them to turn back to him.
Then I introduced them to Jesus. There is a day coming I said, when God’s true judge would set all things right. He would judge the world with justice. Everyone likes the idea of justice. That is a day to look forward to. You want to know who God’s true judge is – it is Jesus. We know that because God raised Jesus from death to life. He can be the judge of both the living and the dead – because he was the only one who lived after death.
Talking about Jesus’ resurrection caused an interesting response! Some sneered. Some wanted to hear more. And a few believed.
I take it that is what Jesus commissioned me to do – be his witness. That doesn’t mean everyone will accept what I say, but it does mean that those who want to hear more can ask, and those who want to believe will.
Right, who can I talk to next?
Inspired by Acts 17:16-34
For more in this Series:
Bold in Mission
Bold in Witness & the Great Commission
Believe and Confess
How to be Bold in Witness?
Practical Tips to be Bold in Witness
Is Every Christian Called to be an Evangelist?