The Gospel Gets a Hearing

Acts 17:16-34

Jerry A Collins



  1. What role does natural revelation have in debate?
  2. Why is idolatry so provoking to God?
  3. How should we witness to the wisdom of the world?

God commands us to know wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:1) but He also tells us there is a ‘human wisdom of this age’ (1 Cor 2:6-16). The wisdom of this age is wisdom in that it is often a well-thot out conclusion about how to live life. But worldly-wisdom has serious problems. (1) It is wisdom devoid of the illumination of the written word of God. Like the scientists of middle ages concluding world is flat, these were not simpleminded people but people uninformed of the truth. (2) Worldly wisdom is that it is Satan/demon inspired. And it promises to increase in the later days (1 Tim 4:1). (3) Worldly-wise have not confessed their sin as sin and sin causes foolishness (Romans 1:22, vs 18-32). The real tragedy today, however, is that xians often follow the world or mix world’s wisdom with God’s (1 Cor 3:1-3). How do we confront worldly wisdom? What should our message be? The apostle Paul’s response gives us guidance about answers to these questions. What should our response be in a city dominated by worldly wisdom like Athens? We can consider the answer by viewing 4 responses Paul had.


Here it says he saw a ‘city full of idols’. He was not on a vacation. He could have ‘done’ Athens. But he was captivated by the city literally ‘swamped by or smothered by’ idols. This is what man’s vaunted wisdom leads to. Idolatry always takes away from God in any form. There was no glory of God or of Jesus Christ to be seen anywhere. Can you discern and observe worldly wisdom around you? Is it possible that you, too, may be swamped by worldly wisdom like Athens was? You will be if you cannot discern the difference between the world’s wisdom and God’s. The worlds wisdom says things like, look inside yourself but God says the heart is desperately wicked who can know I, sot look up in prayer; save yourself but lose yourself; you can keep things a secret but every secret will be revealed (Lk 12:2-3); Love is a feeling but love is a decision (Jn 1:12); Seeing is believing but believing is seeing (Jn 20:25); many ways to God but only one way (Acts 4:12); Take care of yourself but regard others above yourself (Phil 2:3-4); tolerance is a virtue but tolerance leads to sin (Rev 2:20).


His spirit was ‘provoked within him’. The word is used elsewhere of ‘having a seizure or epileptic fit’. He was having an emotional seizure when he saw WW at work. Trying to take the best of the WW and God’s and unite them into some kind of standard to live by must never be our approach. God’s reaction was the same when He saw the golden calf formed by His people at Mt Sanai. Does a rival have any business being there? So we should share God’s jealousy in this matter. We must not assist others in including some of the world’s wisdom and some of God’s as they are making decisions.


Think about the fluidity of Paul. His ability to adapt to different cultures, ideologies and audiences. To speak to the religious, the casually religious and the intellectual philosophers. This is our model. We must become skillful enough with the Word of God to counter the worldly wisdom attempting to infiltrate our kids worldviews. Our flocks mindsets. Our families and marriages difficulties. We simply cannot ever cave into worldly wisdom. We must have discernment enough to know it when it’s there; provoked by it so that we are motivated to do something about it. We just do not have the luxury from scripture to tolerate it or hope that it will just go away!


In 18-21 we observe: (1) the attitude which lies behind worldly wisdom. Scorn of the messenger calling him ‘mere babbler’. (2) constant learning but no knowledge (new teaching, strange things, telling & hearing something new). Eager to hear some new thing they had acquired no permanent & certain knowledge. Now that’s WW for you. It resulted in a city full of idols and man’s wisdom multiplies his false beliefs but never brings him to the end of his inquiries. It is only the truth of God’s Word alone that sweeps aside man’s WW pursuits and gives him no urge to hear some new thing. So he begins to persuasively argue about the wisdom of God to them. He begins where they are with their religious fervor 22-23. The need to not just transfer worship from one God to another but to worship this one God in truth. He does not validate their gods or give them validity but he emphasizes their ignorance of God. Christianity is above all a revelation. It is not the culmination of human philosophy and reasoning. So we must persuasively argue with what the wisdom of this world does not know. This inscription is focal point of the argument. The Jesus Christ of Hinduism or Mormonism or Islam is not the Jesus of the Bible. Here is theology 101:

First: God is creator and Lord of the universe vs 24. Absurd to believe this he dwells in temples we make.

Second: God is sustainer of human life vs 25. He is not served by human hands as if he needs anything from us.

Third: God is the ruler of the nations 26-28. Historically and geographically he has ordained it.

Fourth: God is the Father of human beings 29. In salvation is Father of those adopted into His family. But as creator we are His offspring. So absurd to view God in form of brick and mortar and images of His creation. Nonsense.

Four powerful arguments against idolatry. Idolatry is both ancient and modern is inexcusable because it is an attempt to bring God under our control. A rebellious attempt to localize God and domesticate him. Whereas He is the creator, Lord sustainer, ruler, and father. Cannot comes to terms with this and still be an idolator. It tries to minimize the gulf between creator and created. To exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom 1).

Fifth: God is the judge of the world 30-31. In the past God had overlooked this (vs 23 & 30) Not that he did not notice it or that he acquiesced to it but in mercy did not bring judgment to it that it deserved. But now that Christ has come he will judge it all. The date is fixed and the judge is appointed by resurrection. Ignorance is at an end.

Some burst into laughter and others wanted to hear more but some did believe (cf to vs 4). To the Jews a stumblingblock and the Greeks foolishness! But God does claim a remnant even from the Areopagus.

1. Not a failure. Some and others did believe. 2. This is a sample sermon because he would have preached the crucifixion since he did speak about resurrection vs 18. (only 2 minutes)

3. Comprehensive nature of our message. God’s nature; creation to consummation; we know these things already so ignorance/idolatry inexcusable; indespensible background to the gospel.

4. Many reject gospel not because false but trivial. Not big enough for complex world we live in today. So we cannot preach gospel without preaching doctrine of God; the cross without creation; salvation without judgment. All of this is the gospel. Avoid minimizing this gospel but faithfully the whole counsel of God!