A couple days ago I read Acts chapter 17 in my devotions.I had tried to memorize part of it a few months ago but never really got it down. Reading it again brought it all back, and I was greatly impacted by the account of Paul and the Philosophers on Mars’ hill in Athens. It seemed so real to me, that I almost felt like I was there.
So, the chapter begins with Paul and Silas at Thessalonica. While preaching there, some disbelieving Jews stir up trouble, and get the city in an uproar so that the brethren send Paul and Silas away to Berea. The people there are more peaceful, and many believe, but soon enough some angry Jews from Thessalonica show up and so Paul moves on to Athens. He is now waiting there for Silas and Timotheus.
16. “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
17. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
18. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
19. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
20. For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)”
So here, we see it starts with being stirred in spirit. Paul sees the idolatry of Athens, and he becomes stimulated, provoked, aroused by it. His conscience was likely burning. He couldn’t bear to see these people caught up in such practices. So what does he do? Does he just leave or hide in a corner?
No, he disputes with them. He goes to a specific group, the Jews and devout or religious persons, and he reasons with them. He talks to the people who should care the most. He converses with them, preaches to them and discusses with them tirelessly. He meets with them every day. He tells them about Jesus and His resurrection.
So what happens then? The philosophers come to question him. They take him up to Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill, which (according to Strong’s) was “a rocky height in the city of Athens.” They confront him about his “new doctrine”.
So, Paul starts off his speech.
22. “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25. Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;”
Paul declared to the people the True God. He presented to them the great chasm, the great gap that separates God & man. He clearly describes God’s authority and dominion, showing that He is not contained by us. God doesn’t need our worship or our service. Rather, we are created by him, and have life by His breath. We are contained by Him.
26. “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;”
He preordained it all. The length of our time and the limits of our habitation. He made all of us of one blood, to live in this earth. Maybe Paul was trying to make a connection with them. We have the same blood in our veins, and God appoints all of our destinies.
27. “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28. For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”
Verse 27 reminds me of the passage in Jeremiah 23,
23. “Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?
24. Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.”
God is near us all, for it is in Him we breath, move, and exist.
29. “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”
Now Paul directly confronts their idolatry. He tells them they are wrong to worship an image or statue, made by their own hands. He shows them their sin.
30. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31. Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
Then Paul gives the call to action. Repent. There is a day coming when every action & every thought will be judged. Jesus Christ is Lord, and we are sure of that because He arose from the dead and proved to the world that He has the power over death. Believe in His name, follow and obey Him.
1 Peter 2:21 – “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:”
There is so much more we could learn and so many parallels we could draw from this powerful message, but “if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”
So what are your thoughts? What stands out to you in this passage?