By Mike Dawson
Interim Pastor, Santa Fe Baptist Church, Santa Fe
Many years ago, shoe shops advertised “Shoes Repaired — While You Wait.” Customers could hang around in their ‘sock feet’ while their shoes were being repaired. Few shops of any kind offer such services today; people in our culture don’t wait for anything. In Acts 17:16-21, prior to today’s study passage, we see how to wait.
The Apostle Paul had arrived in Athens, having left Silas and Timothy in Berea and sending word for them to join him immediately. “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw the city given over to idols” (Acts 17:16). Paul couldn’t just hang around and wait. Never simply a tourist — even in such a dazzling city as Athens — he “saw … observed … found … proclaimed!” Here among the idol-worshiping, knowledge-seeking philosophers of Athens, Paul used every object in view to share Christ.
In high school journalism, I was taught that the opening sentences of news stories should answer six questions: who, what, when, where, how, and why. Our focal passage, Acts 17:22-34, shows the Apostle Paul using a similar pattern when he proclaimed the gospel to the philosophers in Athens.
WHO (vv. 22-24). Paul started where gospel conversations should naturally start. Standing in Athens’ historic gathering place often called “Mars Hill,” mission-hearted Paul proclaimed that the creator God of the Bible was the one and only true God.
WHAT (v. 25). The apostle made it clear that “life and breath” still comes from God Himself, as it did in the very beginning of creation (Genesis 2:7).
WHEN (v. 26). Paul reminded those intellectuals that God had made all nationalities on earth and “has determined their appointed times.” There is always an urgency about the gospel!
WHERE (vv. 27-29). Great truth to persons searching for God in all the wrong places: “He is not far from each one of us.” Like those in Athens, seekers today must recognize that, as the Psalmist declared, “the Lord is near to all who call upon Him” (Psalm 145:8). In fact, He is even closer than that; in Him we find our very existence; we belong to God, Paul affirmed.
HOW (v. 30). How to experience this ‘unknown god’ to whom the Athenians had built an altar? He could actually be known — by repenting of one’s sins! Paul delivered the first word of gospel here. The Bible says that when Jesus began His ministry, He came preaching repentance (Mark 1:14-15). The first gospel message of the early church was “Repent!” (Simon Peter in Acts 2:38).
WHY (v. 31). Paul answered the logical question of “why should we repent?” in verse 31: “because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world.” Paul was now proclaiming to his astonished hearers in Athens that none other than the crucified, resurrected Jesus Christ would one day righteously judge each of them!
And, as always when the gospel is preached, reactions were mixed (vv. 32-34). Remember when Jesus had been nailed to the cross and had risen from the dead, He met His followers and gave them the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). There in Galilee, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” (v. 17). Same in Athens: some ridiculed Paul’s gospel, some wanted to hear more, some believed. Nothing has changed. It’s the same in Tennessee today!