The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, "We will hear you again about this." So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:16-34
What have you done with your sins? Do you find the gospel to be offensive to you? May be it is Christ who is obnoxious to you? Or maybe it is not you, it is your brother or your friend who sneers at you when you present the gospel to him. Or it might your colleagues at work or at school – they do not understand you, as they say, because you are ever talking about sin and Jesus. Maybe you have recoiled at witnessing because you have been insulted in the past. Maybe some accusations have been leveled at you. But the solution is not to be coward because of these things – instead you are to be more resolute about bringing them out of such a terrible condition of sin to the influence of Christ by His gospel. This indifference and apathy to Christ – the only Saviour is supposed to trouble us, so that we take the gospel of Christ to them.
It is obvious that the worldly wise- the clever people are the last to see their foolishness and the last willing to heed the gospel because many are wise in their own eyes (not according to the knowledge of God). They do not think that they have any need – they think that they know everything. They are not willing to have anyone tell them either of their sin or of the Saviour. They think that you are the one who is mistaken by your constant talking about Christ. Nonetheless, we are to be willing to face them as Paul here in Athens did. but how would you know them? They sneer at the gospel and mock those who proclaim it to them as they told Paul that he was a babbler!
This is the one of the best models of evangelism to the unbelieving academics of the world. Gordon Keddie points out that this was their home-ground, in their meeting and in their mode of discussion. It is very clear that if evangelism was to be confined only in churches and by only those called to the ministry, Christianity would be very stagnant. We are called to go like Paul to the synagogues, to market places, beside the river, the market places, streets, cafes, shops, offices, homes, Areopagus etc and by so doing, there will be more disciples brought to salvation.
We moving at neck-breaking speed because today we come to Athens, a modern city with a great appetite for learning, there are universities and the philosophers. They have monuments and fountains – modern in every way. Whenever you go to a city the very first thing you will notice is the monuments and artistic work. Paul assumed that the Athenian philosophers had very little knowledge of the bible and so in his speech he taught his audience the doctrines of God and creation, the doctrine of man and sin – for man is God’s offspring and he concluded with the doctrine of judgment and the resurrection.
1. It should trouble us when people do not repent
Paul arrived in Athens from Berea and as he waited for Silas and Timothy to come he took a walk around the city and he saw something so different from other places – there were many idols erected to be worshipped by the city residents. So the Bible records that he was troubled, or was provoked within him. This is not something that he could ignore – he had to do something, otherwise he could not have peace within himself.
It is provoking that people do not worship God as ultimate. An evil city full of idols shows a great disregard for God – God cannot share His glory with anyone because sharing His glory is lowering Him to the level of His creation – this is insulting to Him. God must be worshipped as God, the Creator. The distinction between Him and His creation must be as clear as daylight. Paul well knew this, because he wrote to the Romans, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”(Romans 1:21-25)
So, first of all Paul went to the synagogue and reasoned with Jews and Gentile proselytes (the command of the Lord was always to go to the lost sheep of Israel, because at least they knew a bit of God from the Scriptures). He held those who purported to know the word of God responsible for the state of the city of idolatry. He reasoned with them constantly, every day because they did not seem to be troubled by their own condition of sin leave alone the condition of others. This dose he extended to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who were so oblivious of their condition that when he tried to rouse them from their slumber, they sneered at him as a babbler!
But even the Greek Athenians had no excuse for their abominable practices and so Paul had come to get them from their stupor. They had no excuse because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20). No one has an excuse for confusing God with His creation. This is because the general revelation is very clear that God the Creator is the One in control based on what He has done in creation and providence as well as in salvation. Those who serve stones and elements and yet they depend on God to give them sustenance instead of their idols will be harshly judged by God for spurning Him who created them in order to serve His creation. His attributes, His eternal power and His divine nature is knowledge that is innate in every person. Therefore, no one will be excused.
It is troubling because sin IS harmful to people. I am sure it troubles you that people will kill one another even without being provoked like it happened in the post election period of 2008. It is shocking that women would fill Koinange Street and River Road to sell themselves to the highest bidder to their own peril. It is still shocking that corruption is so deeply engraved into our society and integrity is looked down upon. This has continued to hurt the economic progress of the nation. All evil and wickedness of the 21st century is very conspicuous in our ‘civilized’ society and yet the gospel is preached every day. There are now churches in every corner of the street and yet there are thousands and millions who are still in pitch darkness of sin. It is sad that so many people would not abandon their terrible ways to come to the Saviour and be cleansed from all unrighteousness. It is shocking that the truth which is as obvious as a day to us who are saved is not attractive to them.
We live at a time when many do not want to be identified as a religious – but they are into secular religion. They have things that are so dear to them that they will do anything for them. Take for example sport – many would spend a lot of money to have DSTV among others, they will can go many nights without sleep watching FA, or Premier leagues and will even kill those of the opposing camp – they are fanatics of soccer! There are those who will do anything to own the property that they want. They will sacrifice their time to own land and houses and cars. All people are religious in one sort or another – their objects of worship might be sport, or possession, hobbies, pleasures, superstition, spiritualism etc. These are the things you are to identify in your own life and ask if you have become a captive to them. You are also to identify them when you talk with people so that you can know what has caught their hearts and you go for it with the power of the gospel and release them from this captivity.
We should be troubled that our education system from nursery to the university do not seem to venerate God. Therefore it produces scholars who are eager to worship anything else other than God Himself. Many of the scholars would call themselves ‘men of all religions’. They are pantheists as the Athenians were – they worshipped all gods even those who they did not know. This shows that they sought to cover their ignorance of gods not known to exist, on the assumption that if they did turn out to exist, they could claim to have made an effort to worship them! These people were clever! Paul used this as the basic point of contact without approving their pantheist religion. “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” He pointed to them the real One who is worthy of worship instead of their hopeless gods that would lead them to their destruction. We should be keen to look out for the needs of people – in their emptiness and vacuum. They identify their condition as with a gap and your job is to tell them that this is true because they lack peace with God because they are without Christ, without hope and with no God. They lack peace because peace is only for those who have been justified by faith; those who have now no condemnation because they are in Christ Jesus. This vacuum and gap can only be filled by Christ.
We are to be very conscious of the need in which every human being lives – it is the need for the Saviour. We are called to be those who very carefully assess the need in people’s lives and address it in the context of their lives, not by our human wisdom but reasoning with them with the gospel. The Athenians are concerned about gods whether known or unknown and so Paul presented to them the Creator God, who made the world and everything in it and the one who will judge the world in righteousness. Paul was concerned that these people in all their knowledge they did not know their Creator – it is great sin that in all their great knowledge they did not worship God who created them as their God.
I pray that this sermon may cause you to be provoked by the sins of your son and of your daughter. Let it be your trouble that your colleagues enjoy violence, glory at phonographic pictures and movies. Let it be your portion of provocation that the matatu drivers play x-rated videos. May you be provoked when you walk through the streets and find explicit magazines and billboards? Because then this way you will do something – because whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)
If there is one thing that should trouble us more than anything else is that people are not concerned about their state of sin. Yet one thing that God will not admit in heaven is one who is in sin. God is very clear - Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). No one will be admitted in the presence of God with sin. And so the first thing that God is interested about you is what have you done with your sins? Have repented and given them up to Christ?
The Bible is very clear that the one thing that the Lord requires is that sin is completely dealt with in our lives. This means that first you are to admit you have sins. It is only one who has admitted that he has sin who will seek mercy and pardon from God – the tax collector beseeched God, “be merciful to me, the sinner” and he was justified. The dying thief besought Jesus with the words that he was on the cross because he deserved it being a criminal but requested Christ to remember him and that same day he was in paradise with the Lord. Paul said that he was the chief of sinners and later he records that he has fought the fight and has won the race because he had his sins forgiven.
2. We must seek to proclaim the Gospel for people to repent
Paul had been a great scholar of the law himself – born in Tarsus, reared and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel and so was at home here because he was well acquainted with Stoic philosophy, which was taught in the university at Tarsus. But when he met these scholars, he did not present to them philosophy – because it cannot address the great need of sin that everyone has. He knew that human wisdom cannot bring anyone to salvation. Therefore, he brought the gospel of Jesus Christ. In very clever way Paul preached Christ to them.
It is the gospel that people need to be brought out of sin. The gospel is about the love of God in sending His Son to a sinful world. But it must start with God because the Bible, which is God’s special revelation to man opens with God (as One Being who has ultimate control). He proclaimed (with divine authority) the monotheist religion in which the ultimate God, who is the Creator of the universe, is glorified as God. The true God is the Living one who stands in contrast to the Stoic religion of many gods of silver, gold or stone because He created all these elements, so that even people are His offspring. He is a very orderly Creator who created and sustains it – such that he does not need any human effort in His part – it is the people who need Him to provide for them as Paul had earlier on told the people in Lystra (14:15-17). This is because God rules all and cannot be restricted at all by anything or anyone. He rules the universe in providence so that he determines who stays where and what they shall eat and drink. He is far greater than all human inventions and nations. This same God is the giver of life – this is the one that these people need not useless idols that are not gods at all!
The gospel is about Christ through whom God can be sought. They ought to seek Him with all their strength to benefit from Him because it is in Him where there is life for we came from Him and there can be no meaning to life without Him. Notice how Paul in a very wise way quoted their poets to make sure that they agreed with him! Seek Him may be like groping in the dark if it is not done as He has prescribed. In the past they have been in ignorance – this is why they worshipped in the ignorance of their minds, but now to obtain from Him a place must be done in repentance. Times of ignorance are past and God will hold everyone accountable for their sinfulness. The gospel seek is about calling people to come to know God through His appointed Son Jesus Christ.
The gospel is also about judgment to come. This is because in the days of ignorance are past; because he has fixed a day to judge all who have ever lived in the world in righteousness and so punish all sin. All who have worshipped other things are without excuse now because they have heard the gospel truth – they will either be vindicated by their being found to be righteous or will be forgiven by trusting in the Son Jesus whom is the good news of the world.
God has not only fixed a day of judgment but He has also appointed the Judge who is a man – so Jesus is both the Saviour and the Judge. He has completely given assurance of this man who will be the judge by raising Him from the dead – you realize that Greek philosophy would not tolerate to hear that there would be a resurrection of the body! But there cannot be any good news where resurrection by Jesus Christ is forgotten. The very basis of the gospel is the resurrection from the dead. That which is of first importance is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) and many more others.
The crown of the gospel is about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the vindication of Christ and the salvation of men. The resurrection of Christ was the guarantee of the grace of God that makes sinners saints. We have the boldness to preach because Christ whom we proclaim is raise from the dead. The gospel is that there is the resurrection from the dead for all who are in Christ. This is because if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain and we misrepresent God (1Cor.15:14, 15). Christ is at the centre of the gospel – and the gospel is that Christ is raised from the dead because if Christ was not actually raised from the dead all live in the futility of their sins. So the Bible is very clear that, in fact Christ has been raised from the dead (1Cor. 15:20).
May I beseech you – let your own sin prick, and provoke and trouble you until you commit it to Jesus Christ – who calls all: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”(Matthew 11:28). A rest of conscience is found when sins are repented, and a pardon of sin obtained. Let your thoughts that are ungodly, your desires that are to gratify the flesh, the pleasure of sin and all that makes you do sin be something to provoke you so as to go to Christ. May it be an inward provocation – let it be that your heart is troubled by your sins because that is where all sins dwell. May you found no rest when you have sin within you, but find rest and peace in Christ?
For us who have been believed Christ and have come to salvation, the work is to always seek for the opportunities to be witnesses of Christ. It does not matter how much sneer and contempt we may face. It does not matter what social class these people may belong. It does not matter that they may possess all education there is – the greatest need for them is to be offloaded of the burden of sin. And clearly there is no one else other than Christ who can be able to forgive them their sins, so that it rolls away. This burden of sin can only be offloaded from those who are willing to repent their sins.
So many times you find that we are not very eager to tell people to repent. But this was what John the Baptist preached –"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 3:2). This is what Jesus Himself preached – unless you repent you will likewise perish; and again and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15). This is what Jesus sent the disciples to proclaim - "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38).
It is evidently clear that any other message will not bring people into the kingdom of God. From the book of Revelation, the picture of what will happen at the close of age is that those who will not repent of their sins of among others, murders, sorceries, sexual immorality, thefts were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. For they did not repent and give him glory. (Revelation 16:9)
3. We should expect God to cause people to repent
Why did Paul preach the gospel to the Athenians and to the Bereans and to the Thessalonians and to the Philippians etc. why did he preach the gospel both privately – from home to home and in public? Why did he preach in prison and in homes and in synagogues and in Areopagus? Why I am standing here preaching? Why I have I told you that you would be provoked so much that you preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as the Saviour? The assurance for preaching is that Christ will be with us always. The encouragement is that just as God told Paul not to be afraid but to keep on speaking because He was with Him and no one would attack Him since He had many people in Corinth so are we expected.
If any person is saved it is because God has caused them to believe and repent. It is God who justifies, even more he choose those He will bring to salvation before the foundation of the world. These are the same ones that He calls to salvation by the preaching of the gospel. These same ones He justifies and in due time will glorify them. And it is very clear that based on what Jesus said in John 6:65, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65)
Paul knew all this and so he constantly reasoned with the Jews and the devout persons in the synagogue and marketplaces every day. He knew that his efforts were not in vain and so he accepted to stand before the Areopagus even after being called a babbler! It was for this reason that he did the time in prison and even died for this cause – because he expected God to save. You might not see the results of the labour of bringing the gospel to the people that you meet but still keep on with the expectation that God to cause people to repent. Why else would he accept to be mocked as they did if it was not going to bringing any profit to the kingdom of God? Paul had a great sense of bringing glory to God and so he was willing to suffer all things for the course of Christ. He lived for Christ and his life did not matter – he had lost his own life for Christ. He did not count himself as anything except for God to be honored by all people.
But this is exactly what happened when he preached repentance toward God and faith in Christ. As much as many doubted yet many people believed. We read that, some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. We know by name two of the people who believed because it appears that they were prominent people. But there were many more who believed from this gathering in Athens. What a joy it was that despite all the sneering and jeering and mocking and contempt meted on Paul still people believed – not because of Paul but because of God who saves.
When we share the gospel we should expect God to save them. Were it not for the great expectation that the Lord will bring those who hear the gospel to faith there would be no reason for preaching. If it were not that that the Lord has promised to cause people to believe and come to the knowledge of salvation, the preaching would be in futility. But as it is sharing of the gospel has been yielding much fruit all over the world, whether in private or public. You can be saved by believing the gospel message as we have done and have had our lives transformed. Your children may be changed by a constant hearing of the Word. Therefore, make it your priority to bring to them the Word of God.
Christians believe that God has fixed a definite day of judgment because this is what the Word of God has said again and again, to judge all people everywhere every time. Yes, a time is coming soon when the Lord will judge all people in righteousness through the Lord Jesus Christ because He is the Son of Man who will judge both the living and the dead by His righteousness. People may sneer at this but God is very clear that He will soon bring us all before Him and we will all account for what we did on earth. It is not being to a voluntary exercise so that you choose to attend or not to attend – everyone – young and old will stand before the judgment seat and will either be acquitted or condemned. God will either justify you or reject you. Those who will be accepted by God will go to everlasting life, to be in the presence of God forever. These are those who will be found to have repented pf their sins and this is the joy of only one who has trusted in Christ Jesus. But those who will be found with their own sins will be condemned to an everlasting judgment of death, away from God’s presence forever.
The hope of Christian life is that there will be the resurrection from the dead just like it happened to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the firstfruits from among the dead. Christians do not fear death because Jesus has taken away its sting. All those who have trusted in Christ, those who have repented of their sins and have been saved have the eternal joy that they shall be with the Lord forever.