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Lessons from Mars Hill

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Men of Athens(Acts 17: 22 ).

One of the great encounters in the Book of Acts takes place when Paul arrives in Athens on his second great adventure. Athens at the time was the fading intellectual capital of the ancient world. Four hundred years before Paul, men such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle roamed its streets, followed by their eager disciples. It was the birthplace of democracy and one of the most important cities in the world.

By the time of Paul, the city had become the crossroads of virtually every world-view and belief system of the ancient world. I almost sense a parenthesis in the biblical text when Luke observes that all the Athenians did all day long was talk about new ideas. After his usual visits to the synagogue in Athens, Paul began spending time in the marketplace, engaging the culture shapers of the day.

After conversing with philosophers from as diverse backgrounds as Epicureans (eat, drink, and get a phone number for Mary) and Stoics (the ancient equivalent of Dr. Spock), he is brought before the council of elders known as the Areopagus. In the text which follows today’s verse we are given a great example of bringing the message of Christ into the culture of the day. The passage is loaded.

Paul begins by building common ground based on his observation of the city’s many idols. Recalling seeing the altar dedicated to “The Unknown God” (it appears the ancients wanted to cover all the bases!) Paul informs them that the “god” that is unknown to them is known by Paul.

I can imagine him motioning to the Acropolis above him, with the ancient Parthenon at its peak, as he informs them that the God who is actually God does not live in temples made by human hands, nor does he need any of their meaningless sacrifices. He even supports his argument by quoting two of their own poets who wrote "in him (i.e., God) we live and move and have our existence” and “we are his offspring”.

Paul knew what he believed…and he knew WHY he believed it…and he knew the thinking of the world that he was sent into to communicate the good news of God’s love and Jesus’ cross. He used philosophy, poetry, architecture, and theology to deliver the message in a way the prevailing pagan culture could understand. He even got invited back to talk more about this man God raised from the dead!

I am challenged to beef up on the things that made Paul such an effective communicator. After 40 years of study and research I am still learning new things about WHAT I believe. In the same way, I am working to grow in my ability to articulate WHY I believe what I believe. And most of all, I am desiring to engage people like Paul did and simply talk about Jesus. How about you?

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