The Good News of Jesus and the Resurrection Acts 17:16-33

Last time you talked to somebody about Jesus, what response did you get? We have seen from the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul that the good news of Jesus Christ is like Marmite. Some people love it and some people hate it! Sometimes people believe the gospel and are saved. Sometimes they got so angry with Paul that they threw him in jail or even tried to kill him! We can see both those responses when Paul preached at Thessalonica at the beginning of Acts chapter 17. The apostles preach the gospel. Some people believe. Some people don’t. And sometimes they stir up opposition and persecution. As Paul and Barnabas encouragingly said to the new Christians in Antioch, ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’
So it was that Paul ended up in Athens, the capital of ancient Greece, the cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy. In Paul’s day Athens had a population of hundreds of thousands of people and it had been one of the most important cities in the known world for a thousand years. It was the centre for the different Greek philosophies of Plato and Aristotle as well as for the worship of all the Greek gods and the Roman gods and the Eastern mystery religions as well. In many ways, as we will see, ancient Athens was more similar to our society and culture today than anywhere else Paul had visited. So there is no surprise in his reaction to what he saw in Athens.
Acts 17 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 both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the market-place day by day with those who happened to be there.
The city was full of idols. Lots of religion, but all misguided, worshipping false gods. So Paul seized the opportunity to preach about Jesus. At least the people there were open minded enough to listen to what Paul had to say.
. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate 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.
The Epicureans believed that the gods were so remote that they could effectively be ignored. So they said, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” They were very similar to so many people today, trapped in materialism, worshipping the false gods of money and pleasure and entertainment and celebrity. On the other hand, the Stoics were very principled people, committed to duty and trying to live up to the impossible standards they set themselves. They were trapped in guilt or hypocrisy, trying but inevitably failing to live “good lives”. You can meet people living like that today too.
But at least these people were open to listening to Paul. And we are told the reason why that was.
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 would like 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.)
Doesn’t that sound just like today? “Doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” A culture of novelty. “Newest is best”. Everybody has to be up to date with the newest gadgets and the latest gossip. If we want to know how to reach today’s world with the good news of Jesus, without compromising or diluting the truth, then perhaps the best example we can have is the way that Paul preached to the people of Athens. His message wasn’t about novelty, but about the newness of life which Jesus promises to all who put their trust in Him.
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People 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. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
First of all, Paul didn’t go back to the Old Testament. That would have meant nothing to those Greeks. Instead he started from common ground. Human beings were created to have a relationship with God. Each of us has a “god-shaped gap” in our lives. As Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts find no rest until they find their rest in you.” Those Athenians were so religious that they even had an altar “To an unknown God” and so Paul started from there. He answered the fundamental question, where did we all come from, and pointed to the one true God as Creator of heaven and earth.
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 human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
Almighty God is Creator and Lord over all He has created. If we want people to think about spiritual things, a good place to start is to point at the majesty and the beauty and the wonders of the creation. Encourage people to enjoy sunsets and starry skies and mountains. At the top of Snowdon there is an inspiring plaque which reads, “Pause awhile and gaze on the works of God. Consider them and marvel.” Paul points to God as Creator and explains that this Creator God wants to have a relationship with the human beings He has made.
27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any 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.”
How did we get here? God made us. And what are we here for? Human beings are created in the image of God so that we can reach out and have a personal relationship with the God who is actually so much nearer to us all than we realise. These are the questions people are asking and the answers we have found in Jesus which we need to share with them. But then Paul was not afraid to challenge the idol worship he found in Athens.
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 human 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 everyone by raising him from the dead.’
There’s the punchline. That is the heart of the message Paul had been working towards – the resurrection of Jesus. The righteous and Holy God was as angry with all the idol worship in Athens as He still is with the worship of false gods today. And a day of reckoning is coming – the day of judgment. Again Paul is drawing on the experience of most human beings who all have a sense of right and wrong, of what is fair and unfair and just and unjust. When they see a great injustice, most people want there to be a “righting of wrongs” when evil will get its just desserts. And at the same time, most people’s consciences tell them that when that day of judgment comes we all have things in our own lives we are guilty of. The Bible tells us that there IS going to be a day of judgment when the holy and righteous God will be punishing all who have done wrong. And in the light of that day, God calls everybody to repent.to turn away from their sins and seek forgiveness from God the Judge.
Following Jesus does offer people a “better” life, a more fulfilling life, life in all its fulness. But even more important than that, Jesus offers everybody the only way of escaping the judgment of the Righteous and Holy Creator God. But why are Christians so certain that this is true?
31 For (God) 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 everyone by raising him from the dead.’
The resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrated that Jesus really is the Son of God. The resurrection gives us assurance that we can share in the eternal life which Jesus promises to all who believe in Him. “Because he lives, we will live also.” But for Paul preaching in Athens the resurrection is also God’s proof that judgment day is coming.
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 everyone by raising him from the dead.’
At first when Paul talked about the resurrection, people were just confused. But then after he started where they were, and explained the gospel to them, they understood much better.
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 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.
In Athens Paul preached the Good News about Jesus and the resurrection. The apostles talked about the resurrection and God raising Jesus from the dead 24 times in the Book of Acts.
From Peter on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 2 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
And we read how Peter preached about the resurrection and about God’s judgment in Cornelius’s house.
Acts 10, 40 God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
We saw a couple of weeks ago that this was Paul’s message at Pisidian Antioch.
30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
32 ‘We tell you the good news: what God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. ….
34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. ….
38 ‘Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin.
The resurrection is the heart of the gospel. God raised Jesus from the dead. And this is at the very centre of what Christians believe.
Romans 10 9 if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
So in Athens Paul started from God as Creator and the “God-shaped gap” in everybody’s life. He began where people are and led them to the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. In this world of so many competing false religions and misleading philosophies and people who are so busy chasing the latest novelties, this should be our message too. Judgment day is coming. God commands all people everywhere to repent. And the proof is that Jesus is risen from the dead.
The very hot weather recently has reminded me of the story about the messenger who was sent by the King to the prison with a message for the Governor. It was a hot day and the messenger stopped at a taverna along the way for a tequila. He was thirsty so he had another tequila. And another. And another. So it was dusk as the messenger arrived at the prison as yet another prisoner was executed. And the messenger delivered his message – it was a letter of pardon, for the prisoner who had just died. God has entrusted us with the life and death message about Jesus and the resurrection.
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 everyone by raising him from the dead.’

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