Worship Service – May 17, 2020

Sunday May 17, 2020 Acts 17:16-34 

Church Family and Friends,

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute 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. 19 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? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men 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. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “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 hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “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 man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 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 all men by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

I remember once when I was traveling on interstate 80. I stopped at the rest area with my dog Tin Can with me to relieve myself and give Tin Can the same opportunity. I noticed the sign that said no dogs allowed.

It was a warm day and I needed to leave Tin Can in the truck. So, I left a rear window about halfway down and knowing what an escape artist she is, I told her STAY! Because on other occasions when I had to leave her in the truck

with the window halfway down, she somehow jumped out.

As I headed to the facilities a young man headed their also said,” you might better put it in park sir.”

In my mind I thought this young man didn’t see the whole picture. He was totally oblivious to the dog on the backseat. His point of view of the situation was certainly different than mine.

As we walk together, toward the restrooms, I had an opportunity to explain the situation, and come to find out, he had the same problem.

In our exchange of pleasantries, he asked, what I did for a living. I told him I was a pastor and asked if he attended church. His reply was no, but he had questions. He opens the door, for an opportunity to witness, just as those in Thessalonica had done for Paul.

With that in mind I took that opportunity and shared with him what Christ has done for me, and how he could do the same for him.

Our message today, Paul gives us an example of what a Christian witness should look like. How we bring others to Christ.

How To Witness

Step 1. Begin Where the People Are (verses 22-23) 

Paul, with his unique audience in mind, begins where they are. He takes a known to present an unknown to them. “Men of Athens,” he began, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown God.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

He began by getting their attention, and then was off-and-running with the eloquent oratory and skill for which he is so well-known.

People are won for Christ, primarily, by someone speaking to them about Christ and the Church. Charles Wesley wrote a hymn entitled, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing My Great Redeemer’s Praise.” A thousand tongues would be fine (maybe), but we would be glad to settle for just one! Especially in the world today and the limited interaction we have with others. If every tongue of every Christian would be dedicated to telling the Gospel story, we would soon set the world aflame!

There are multitudes of ways for witnessing for Christ to take place. Methods are as varied as are the witnesses; some are naturally better than others.

There is a story told of a dying man who asked his Christian doctor to tell him something about the place to which he was going. As the doctor fumbled for a reply, he heard a scratching at the door, and he had his answer.

“Do you hear that?” he asked his patient. “It’s my dog. I left him downstairs, but he has grown impatient, and has come up and hears my voice. He has no notion what is inside this door, but he knows that I am here. Isn’t it the same with you? You don’t know what lies beyond the Door, but you know that your Master is there.”

Someone found fault with D. L. Moody’s methods of witnessing. He responded, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it!” The worst we can do is to do nothing at all.

Paul was very wise in his approach. If you are going to catch fish, or people, it is sometimes best to “Sneak up on ‘me,” use the bait they’re familiar with. This is certainly not to say we are going to be dishonest, manipulative, or misrepresentative at any time, but it is to say we are going to be aware that a lot of folks are “running-scared” of religion; they are leery of the “hard-sell” that has turned them off and are rightly suspicious of people whose motives are to “get ‘me” so they can carve another notch in their Gospel Gun of converts.

 Step 2. Find common Ground and communicate. 

Communication, at best, is not easy. Paul started where his hearers were. Jesus told us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” We manage the “harmless as doves” part fairly well, but our “wisdom” is often lacking.

The one who is witnessing must follow Christ example closely if he/she expects to be heard.

Jesus spoke in parables of every day life.

We need to do the same if we are to share the good news with others.

Paul didn’t begin by using a sledgehammer of verbal accusations to those he addressed. He might have said, “Shame on you, Athenians, for having so many gods,” or “How can you possibly worship an ‘unknown’ God?” or “You claim to be philosophers and don’t know who God really is! Where are your brains?!” NO! Rather, he started with them buy using the familiar.

If those to whom we witness do not know God the Father as revealed in Christ, we do not and should not criticize or assault their intelligence. We might do well to start by talking about “their” gods. There are all kinds of gods today. Just because something seems real, doesn’t mean it is. Non-Christians have a wide range of gods. It might be a rock group. It may be a media personality. Or others make gods of their children, grandchildren, money, business, wife, husband, car, house, golf game, or sex. Probably the most popular god of our time is named SELF. Why not talk about “their” gods first, not critically, not judgmentally, not with a holier-than-thou attitude, but with honest interest? Paul did exactly that. He said, “I see that you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of warship.

I even found an altar with this inscription; TO AN UNKNOWIN GOD.”

Find common ground and communicate. Be like the, two men who went into a restaurant and saw that there were three vegetables on the menu from which to choose. The waitress said to them, “Just tell me which one of the three you don’t want, it will be a lot easier that way.” One fellow said, “I don’t want any rutabagas,” but rutabagas weren’t even on the menu. She said, “Look, mister, you can’t not want something we haven’t got, you’ve got to not want something we have!”

Begin where people are. Find common ground and communicate.

Step 3.Talk About God (verses 24-28)

Then Paul, having identified with his audience, subtly began to talk about the true God, not their god, not just any god, but GOD! Note that he is still finding common ground for agreement. Everyone needs a god. An atheist said to a man who was witnessing to him, “I don’t believe in God.” The man wisely said, “Tell me about the god you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe in him either!”

Paul started at the beginning, with God as Creator, the Source of all life. He told how God guided history and is the One on Whom all life depends. We live “in Him” and “we are His offspring,” meaning we don’t even take a breath without his giving it to us. He found contact with the people on the grounds of our common humanity. Reminding them,” In Him we live and move and have our being.”

So, Paul began where they were. Found common ground and communicated. Then talked about God. Which brings us to our final step.

Step 4.Then Come Right Out and Say It! (verses 30-31) 

We must finally come right out and say it!

There comes a time in the Christian witness when we must speak boldly and plainly of sin, of the need for confession and repentance, of Christ and his death and resurrection, and take the risk of being switched off by the participants in the dialogue.

Paul’s message moved into the Incarnation and the forgiveness offered by “a Man whom He (God) has appointed.” Then he just came right out and said it, “the Man God raised from the dead.” That brought a response! To accept the resurrection demanded an act of faith on the part of his audience. A God who raised the dead was not someone just to discuss, argue over, or philosophize about; this was a God who must be confronted, and that confrontation would result in acceptance or rejection.

Ultimately, then, our message must call people to make definite decisions for Christ. We, as believers, can only say that I am his, that I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself, but to Jesus Christ! And Some Believe!

Resistance to the Gospel comes in many ways. In Philippi, they put Paul in jail. In Thessalonica, there was an uproar with political overtones. In Beroea, an angry crowd was the reason the Christians sent him on a ship to safety. Here in Athens, the resistance was of the sort with which we are all familiar – they ridiculed him. The Athenian calling him “this babbler,” couldn’t have been easy to take, but it never doused the flaming zeal of Paul . Likewise, ridicule should never deter us from witnessing to others.

Paul was not a failure at Athens. God never allows any witness to be lost. Nothing we do for him is in vain. “A few men became followers of Paul and believed.”

In conclusion, God calls us to be His witness. Learned from Paul how to be that witness. First. Begin where people are, it may be at a rest area, in the doctor’s office, while dining, or just in conversation. Second. Find common ground and communicate. Third. Talk about God! Then step four. Come right out and say it.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

In His service,

Pastor Joe

Listen To Audio Sermon 20200517


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