The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got—all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols. —Acts 17:16
A first-century, nascent movement was underway, based on the life and teaching of a little-known Jew from Nazareth that had the audacity to say that he (and he alone) was the way, truth and life. Those of “the Way” had begun taking toddler-like steps away from its Jerusalem cradle into a new geographical, social and cultural realm. Sparks were bound to fly!
He discussed it with the Jews and other like-minded people at their meeting place. And every day he went out on the streets and talked with anyone who happened along. He got to know some of the Epicurean and Stoic intellectuals pretty well through these conversations. Some of them dismissed him with sarcasm: “What an airhead!” But others, listening to him go on about Jesus and the resurrection, were intrigued: “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more.”
These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were a little quieter. They said, “This is a new one on us. We’ve never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway? Explain it so we can understand.” Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything. —Acts 17:17-21
Far from a time godlessness, gods were abundant. They explained the who, what, where, how and when of life. The answers to everything—from cataclysmic occurrence to personal happiness, found residence in a deity smorgasbord.
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with. —Acts 17:22-23
In the early twentieth-century, Eduard Norden theorized about the god nobody knows, Agnostos Theos. “The Unknown God was not so much a specific deity, but a placeholder, for whatever god or gods actually existed but whose name and nature were not revealed to the Athenians or the Hellenized world at large.”
If one is unsure about a god or gods, why not hedge your bet and create one in which to place faith and fidelity? What do you have to lose, right?
At the phrase “raising him from the dead,” the listeners split: Some laughed at him and walked off making jokes; others said, “Let’s do this again. We want to hear more.” But that was it for the day, and Paul left. —Acts 17:32-33
Two millennia later, with television and social media serving as a more than adequate Areopagus, the names of the gods have changed but the situation remains eerily similar.
A p-k (preacher’s kid), Mark is the eighth of nine children born to Reuben and Henrietta Meeks, prolific planters of nearly 30 churches throughout the Central Valley of California. After four decades of teaching, discipling, and ministering, including to the hospitalized and imprisoned, Mark responded to God’s call to pastoral ministry. In addition to degrees in civil engineering and public administration, Mark received his Masters in Theology from Fuller Seminary.
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