We left the account of Paul’s missionary journey yesterday with Paul himself going on to Athens while Silas and Timothy remained in Berea, encouraging and discipling the Berean believers so that they would be able to make new disciples. Meanwhile Paul waits in Athens, and as any tourist would do, he looked around at what the city had to offer – and he became quite distressed. Rather than simply wasting time, he gets on with the Lord’s work while he waits for Silas and Timothy to complete their work in Berea. Paul’s strategy in Athens however is a little different to that used in Thessalonica and Berea. In vs 17 we note that he commenced ministry in both the Synagogue and in the marketplace at the same time; that is he moved between the two, rather than focusing on the Jewish people first. Its like he was in a holding pattern until the others join him but he gets on connecting anyway as he moves around the city doing some sightseeing and the best place to do that is where people are, irrespective of which particular people they are. He connects with their own cultural heritage, draws a link with the unknown God and declares that the one unknown to them, is the one he will proclaim to them – the God of Creation, Resurrection and Redemption. (vs 24, 30, 31)
The content of his message is also important for us to review – First, Paul declares that the God of Creation is indeed a God who want to be known and understood. (vs 23). Second the God of Creation is the God of all people (vs 24). Third, human being find their meaning and purpose, their ‘being’, in Him (vs 27-28). Fourth, any desire to actually ‘Be God’ ourselves is actually a rejection of God and requires repentance (vs 29-30). God has done something decisive to redeem his Creation (vs 31). Significantly in this message, it starts with proclaiming who God is and who we are, in God. It starts with the ideal and moves then to direct us back to the ideal. It’s a ‘redemptive message’.
The response of the people was varied – some rejected the message outright, because of the concept of ‘the resurrection of the dead’, while others wanted to hear more. And some believed. That’s a pretty special outcome for time spent, ‘waiting around’. Is your understanding of God who is Creator and redeemer informing the way you go about witnessing to Jesus Christ. Are people seeing the God who Created all and wants to give life to all, or are they seeing negativity, shame and judgment. There is an important place for the call to repentance, but the gospel needs to be proclaimed in its fullness in order for people to hear the full gospel. Its not “good news” unless the people listening hear the goodness of God, his goodness in creation, and especially the goodness in his love expressed in Jesus Christ. If people reject God because they reject his loving good news, then tragic though that is, they have rejected the God of redemption. But if people reject God because they failed to hear of his loving goodness, we really do need to check the content of the message we proclaim.
Yesterday I spoke about the time as a teenager, when our family was expelled from the local Anglican church by the ‘Vicar’ because of our commitment to making disciples of Jesus Christ. That was 1974. In 1986, as I approached my expected ordination, I received a letter (yep, by snail mail) was asking that I consider becoming curate at a particular church in Melbourne. As I read the letter I began to laugh – the vicar of the parish was the vicar who had expelled us from his church back in 1974! I went to meet him for an interview and as we sat in his study, he apologised for his actions 12 years earlier and explained “I didn’t really know Jesus then. I only met him when the these evangelists came to town and I was introduced to the real Jesus of the gospels. I’ve been in catch up since.” The two years I spent under his supervision became significant learning time for me as I grew in my awareness of and ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only God can do this. Even in times when you think it’s a waiting time and nothing good can come of it, there is always good that can come from letting God be God and helping others encounter our loving redeeming God.