For the last 18 months or so, my wife and I have been going to my aunt’s house on Sunday evenings to play cards with a group of relatives and friends. We play the game called, “Spades”. Spades is like other card games in which you look at the cards in your hand and try to predict, how many of them, that when played will be higher in rank than everyone else’s cards. Each time your card is higher than everyone else’s, you win that “trick”. A two is the lowest ranking card, and Aces are the highest. Spades are trump, which means they win over clubs, hearts, and diamonds. You can bid zero tricks if you want. In the case when you have a hand full of 2’s, 4’s, 7’s, and maybe even one or two small spades, you can safely assume that someone else will play a higher valued card each time. The goal is to win the same number of tricks that you bid, because you get more points that way.
Even though we’ve played the game numerous times, almost every Sunday, at some point after bidding and while cards are being played, someone will blurt out, “Oh no, I didn’t see that card in my hand!” Immediately all the other players know that the person has a high-ranking card in their hand that is likely to take a trick they weren’t counting on. Bidding zero tricks only to find out later that you have the Ace of spades hidden behind another card is a guaranteed loss.
What we believe to be true and what is actually true, makes a huge difference in life, not just card games. When it comes to messages that we hear throughout our lifetime, pre-existing “premises” will affect our response to those messages. In Acts 17, we are going to see examples of how differing, existing beliefs of individuals affected the way they responded to the message of Jesus Christ. We’ll see that Paul understood this dynamic and fashioned what he said and the way that he said around those premises.
The events in Acts 17 take place at an approximate geographic half-way point from where Paul’s second missionary journey began in Antioch (slide). Have you ever wondered how Paul came up with his travel itinerary? Do you ever ask yourself, “How did Paul decide… what route to take, which cities to spend time in, which ones to pass through, which companion to take, which people to bring the gospel to and which ones to ignore?”
We’ve already learned in prior chapters that in some cases, the Holy Spirit was directly and obviously involved in the travel plans. For example, in Acts 13:1-4 …. “the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.”. In Acts 16, the Holy Spirit kept them from preaching the word in some places but sent them on to another.
We’ve also learned that when the Holy Spirit made an obvious declaration of what Paul was supposed to do, he did it. But those cases were few and far between. Most of the time there is no mention of God supernaturally directing Paul. Most of the time Paul “decided” what action to take. The ministry of Paul and his companions is accomplished by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and use of their wisdom, skills, instincts, passion, and knowledge of God’s word.
As we go through this chapter, pay attention to Paul’s approach and the characteristics of his listeners.
In verses 1-3 we are going to learn about Where Paul spoke, How he said it, and What he said.
Paul in Thessalonica (MACEDONIA)
1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom, he visited them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”
SYNAGOGUES CONTAINED A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE (WHERE)
In verse 1, we learn that Paul and Silas decided to travel through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and instead had Thessalonica as their destination. We aren’t told specifically why they decided upon this plan, but the text does point out that there was a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica. Since they were so far from Palestine, there is a high likelihood the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia did not have synagogues in them.
When it comes to synagogues, it is clear from Acts that Paul preached the gospel in those places whenever he had the opportunity (Acts 9:19-20, 13:5, 13:14, 14:1, 18:4-8). Synagogues contained a captive audience even though they didn’t necessarily contain an agreeable audience.
At that time, one of the overwhelming characteristics of the Jewish culture was that, even though they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, they still worshipped and taught about God, whom they called “Yahweh”, the One Who gave them the Mosaic law. It was more common for Jews to believe in God than not, and they were expecting a “savior”. For this reason, when the disciples embarked on the great commission after Jesus had ascended into heaven, they took advantage of the religious culture they found themselves in. We read in Acts 5: 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
The Jewish culture in Bible times was quite a bit different from the quickly changing culture of the United States in 2022. Today we have witnessed the successes secular people have had in removing God from the fabric of our society. Visual displays and oral proclamations about God, the Bible and prayer are being removed from public spaces, like schools, city squares, and buildings. Many of us have likely been to gatherings of family or friends, where there is a “rule” that the topic of religion is not to be discussed. A little over a week ago I read an article where an NFL player named Trevon Diggs, allowed his 5-year-old son to get up in front of some reporters during the Dallas Cowboy’s training camp. While in front of the cameras and microphones, the little boy named Aaiden, said, “I love the whole world, I love God and Jesus and I love my family.” The Dallas Cowboys’ organization and many news outlets shared Aaiden’s message. However, when the National Football League and the ESPN Television network referred to the boy’s words, they only included his love for the world, and edited out his love for God and Jesus.
Within this overall more welcoming Jewish religious culture, synagogues were the focal point of public discourse about God. The word “synagogue” means “to gather in, collect, or assemble.” Originally, synagogues didn’t necessarily represent a physical location or building, but just a group of people. Later they evolved into using a physical location or building for their gatherings. Once it became common for synagogues to be physical places, they were designed in a rectangular fashion with seats lining the walls so that everyone was facing the center of the synagogue. This configuration enables the congregants to clearly see anyone who stands to read or speak and have immediate visual access to all other congregants. There were “Association” synagogues, that were “semi-public” because they belonged to particular groups within a given city or town. The “Synagogue of the Freedmen” in Acts 6:9 was probably an association synagogue primarily made up of a group of former slaves. Other synagogues were “public” synagogues that belonged to the city or town as a whole. There were synagogues that existed inside Israel and ones that existed outside Israel were Jews were scattered in the “diaspora (διασπορά)”.
When it came to the religious activities that occurred in the synagogues, there was a minister who oversaw things like prayer, reading the Mosaic law, and instruction. Open discussion and debate were also part of the gatherings. Jesus often went to the synagogue, and he was invited to read and speak. “They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Luke 4:16-21).” In Acts 6:7-8, we learned that Stephen took the opportunity to speak about Christ in a synagogue.
Synagogues weren’t restricted to religious activities, however. From non-biblical literature and archelogy, we learn that ritual bathing and festivals took place there. Evidence shows that the structures were also built to provide food, water, and lodging. Synagogues sometimes contained a treasury, museum, library, schools, council hall, court, or society houses. Synagogues were attended by prominent, well-to-do people. And from scripture we also know that poor people went there as well as those who needed physical healing (Luke 4:33- Man possessed by a demon, Luke 6:6 – Man with shriveled hand, Luke 13:10-17 – Crippled woman). Jewish people went to the synagogue, but even Gentiles would attend (Acts 13, 14, 17).
A synagogue was a melding of all kinds of activities that occurred within this broader religious umbrella. Knowing everything that went on there and who might be in attendance, we have a better appreciation for the impact that Jesus had when He spoke in Luke 4:16–21:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
So, the synagogue was a place in which the Christian missionaries could find a receptive audience, primed for the gospel message.
PAUL WAS QUALIFIED TO PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL IN SYNAGOGUES (HOW)
The synagogue offered an environment, people, and customs that Paul was familiar with (Philippians 3:3-6, Acts 9:1-2), but he also had the right qualifications for speaking there.
One of the most important characteristics Paul had was knowledge. When we get to Acts 22, we are going to read where Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel, I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today (Acts 22:3)”. Paul also referred to the significance of his knowledge in 2 Corinthians 11:6. Another characteristic that suited Paul well was that when he was convinced of something, he was very determined and zealous.
Within the last 15 years or so, various social media platforms have arisen that allow anyone to communicate just about anything. If you’ve spent any time on those platforms you know that people often post short, pithy, unsubstantiated, impersonal barbs to criticize others who have different opinions or beliefs. Paul’s ability provided him a much more effective way to convince someone of the truth as compared to Facebook.
When it came to Paul’s communication style, it is evident from the books of the Bible he authored, that he had the ability to layout sound arguments in written format. Here in Acts 1:2-3 we learn that when he spoke, he used a similar approach – he used reason, explanations and gave evidence.
What is interesting is that even though Paul used every opportunity to speak in synagogues, his public speaking skills left a little to be desired. To his credit, Paul was aware of this and admitted his weakness. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, he said, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words...” When he wrote 2 Corinthians 10:1 he called himself timid. His underwhelming speaking skills led some of his critics to say that personally, he was “unimpressive and his speaking amounted to nothing (2 Corinthians 10:10).”
Paul’s weaknesses forced him to rely on the help of the Holy Spirit. With that final characteristic added to his toolbelt, Paul had the right amount of credibility, skill, determination, and power to get people to listen and to say the right things, all without coming off as overbearing or arrogant.
PAUL PREACHED ABOUT A CRUCIFIED AND RISEN MESSIAH TO THE JEWS (WHAT)
The message Paul delivered in the synagogues contained something different and more provocative than what was normally said there. In Acts 17:3 we have a one sentence summary of this key difference, "That the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. 'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."
Why was this such a key point? Though they knew of a Messiah, the Jews assumed He would be one who would make their earthly lives better by leading a religious, cultural, and political victory for their nation. They traditionally viewed the Messiah as a conqueror who would free the Jewish people from foreign domination and bring the promised Kingdom of God into existence, reigned over by David's victorious descendant.
Being Jewish himself, Paul knew this, so he made sure he said things in a way that they could see this critical point about this Messiah that they were overlooking from the Old Testament scriptures. He brought to their attention the fact that the Messiah had to be crucified and then resurrected. He told them that Jesus was the only one who qualified to be the Messiah they were looking for. This was a similar thing that Jesus did when He taught His disciples. In Luke 24 it says that Jesus “… opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.'" (Luke 24:45-46).
Paul’s speech in the synagogue referred to the guilt of Israel as a whole, as well as individuals. He told them of their need to become forgiven. This Messiah the Jews were looking for had to be a spiritual savior Who would take their sin on His shoulders, die because of it, then become victorious over it by rising out of the tomb. This Messiah is the only one Who could save them from the spiritual dilemma they were in. The people were guilty, collectively, and individually, and Jesus was their only way to become innocent.
Paul likely quoted from Old Testament scripture like Isaiah 53…"5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6). 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:10-12)
What he said verbally to the Jews in the synagogue was the same kind of thing he wrote in his letters. For example, Paul wrote… "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21). "For what the law was powerless to do ... God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering." (Romans 8:3)
This different, but good news that Paul brought was accepted as true by some in this Thessalonian synagogue.
4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and [g]a significant number of the leading women.
SOME PEOPLE WILL FIGHT THE GOSPEL TO PROTECT THEIR BELIEFS
When Paul spoke, his words were like a light bulb being turned on for some, and they believed. However, for many the concept of a “Suffering Messiah" went against their concept of a "Victorious Messiah". To most, Paul’s message seemed to be an offensive, contradiction in terms, so they sought to squelch what was being said.
5 But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and they attacked the house of Jason and were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6 When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset [h]the world have come here also; 7 [i]and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a [j]pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.
Paul had spent three Sabbaths speaking to these people, so he was in the city at least two full weeks. During that time Paul and Silas had been staying with a man named Jason. A mob of angry people went to Jason’s house hoping to find Paul and Silas there, but they were not.
As we have seen before in Acts, the people who disagreed or didn’t like the gospel message attempted to silence it. Notice the characteristics of the unbelieving people and their reaction to the message. They…
· Were jealous. There was something inherent in the belief system of the Jews that caused them to get upset when some individuals said something were converted out of it. They had a great amount of pride – they were God’s “chosen” nation, they thought there was no way they could be wrong.
· Resorted to threats and the use of physical violence. Sometimes people feel “morally justified” in using whatever means they can to put down certain beliefs and ideas. Sometimes the wrath of individuals is so severe that they feel compelled and justified to unleash it on someone. In this case these supposedly religious people found some thugs to help do their dirty work and they turned their hatred on to Jason.
· Altered or lied about what was said. Notice that they used the phrase Paul “upset the world”. They made a blanket statement to make it seem like “no one” of any merit would believe this message was the truth. What they are saying goes against “everyone”. They said that what Paul was saying was contrary to decrees of Caesar.
· Played on the emotions of people. The text says they “stirred up”. That is something done to get more people on your side and convinced something is far too radical and a huge issue.
· Attempted to use political or governmental influence. By getting the city authorities involved, this unwanted behavior could even be reported to Rome.
· Used bribery - Jason and other believers were forced to pay the people a large sum of money to satisfy their demands (Matthew 28:12).
Do you see any similarities between the way the Jews responded to a message they didn’t agree with and what we are witnessing in our country today?
THOSE WHO KNOW THEY ARE LOST SEARCH FOR THE WAY OUT
Most of the people who heard Paul’s message in Thessalonica were prideful, jealous, and dishonest. Those are characteristics that tend to make people numb or blind to the truth. Their interpretation of evidence was done through a self-righteous lens and with a predetermined end goal in mind. When we get to verse 10, we see an all-together different way to respond to the good news of Jesus.
Paul in Berea
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these people were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Therefore, many of them believed, along with a significant number of prominent Greek women and men.
Paul and Silas headed west about 45 miles to the small city of Berea. As opposed to Thessalonica, this city was off the beaten track, but it still had a sizeable Jewish population and a synagogue. Earlier we talked about how Paul and Silas ended up in certain places through a combination of their choices and the sovereign will of God. Notice that they strategically left Thessalonica at night because they were fleeing from a mob. The text doesn’t tell us, but it’s also possible they traveled to a place of less significance, like Berea, for a strategic reason, thinking it might be safer or have different results.
When Paul and Silas arrived in Berea, they found that the people were indeed more “noble-minded” than those in Thessalonica. In other words, they were open and honest people, ones who would seek answers regardless of what they might find and how it would impact them. They didn’t act like they knew everything but instead were eager for knowledge. Every day that Paul and Silas shared the message of Jesus with them, these Bereans opened the Old Testament scriptures and compared what they were hearing with what God’s written word said. In Berea, Jews and non-Jews, men and women believe in the gospel message. There is no mention of a hateful, violent faction of non-believers here. So, we learn that through God’s sovereignty we see a bad situation in Thessalonica turned into a good one in Berea.
13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then immediately the brothers sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.
(Slide) After some time had passed the unbelieving Jews back in Thessalonica heard that Paul was in Berea, so they sent the mob there, forcing Paul to flee again. Some of the new converts from Berea escorted Paul to the east to the coast of the Aegean Sea and from there they sailed with him south to the great Greek city of Athens. Perhaps Paul theorized that the mob would decide to stop coming after him if they had to get on a boat.
It seems that the mob wasn’t as concerned with Silas and Timothy as they were Paul. Paul was probably the one doing most of the preaching, so these men who were a little more behind the scenes were able to stay in Beria and continue to disciple the new believers after Paul left.
THERE IS HOPE FOR SPIRITUAL SCHIZOPHRENIACS
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which people interpret reality in abnormal or irrational ways. In the next several verses we are going to see that the city of Athens included a large contingent of spiritually, or at least philosophically minded people. However, they were what you might call spiritually schizophrenic. They saw, felt, and heard things that they perceived as being spiritual or associated with some supernatural being, but they came to inconsistent, irrational conclusions.
Paul in Athens (GREECE)
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them (Silas and Timothy) in Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he observed that the city was full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the marketplace (agora) every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers as well were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What could this [p]scavenger of tidbits want to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
Now in Athens, Greece, Paul one again has walked into places of opportunity to get into spiritual discussions with people. Verse 17 says that like “normal”, Paul preached in a synagogue. However, these verses focus on the fact that he also preached in a more public setting, a marketplace, filled with non-Jews. What caused him to conclude that this might be an effective place to bring the gospel? As Paul walked the streets of Athens, he noticed a lot of idols. This was a clue revealing that even though the people were ignorant of Jesus, they were at least spiritually minded.
Unlike evolutionists and atheists who totally discount the evidence around them and don’t even acknowledge the spiritual door in front of them, these Greeks were at least compelled to knock on that door and consider what God may or may not be like. Paul recognized however, that their beliefs about who God was, His involvement with mankind, and man’s position before God were quite varied.
The agora, or marketplace, was a large open space enclosed by civic and religious buildings. Similar to a Jewish synagogue, the agora was a place that was the focal point of political, commercial, and social life. Two of the groups of people Paul found here were Epicureans and Stoics. Epicureans are often described as having a philosophical point of view that considered happiness, or the avoidance of pain and emotional disturbance, to be the highest good. They advocated the pursuit of pleasures that can be enjoyed in moderation. Stoics, on the other hand, taught that virtue, was the highest good, and it was based on knowledge. In their opinion, wise people live in harmony with the divine reason that governs nature and are indifferent to the ups and downs of fortune, pleasure, and pain.
Paul’s message tweaked their interest because it involved beliefs and a philosophy different from what they had heard before. They were at least willing to let Paul expound some more.
Sermon on Mars Hill
22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything that is in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made by hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might feel around for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His descendants.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the descendants of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by human skill and thought. 30 So having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now proclaiming to mankind that all people everywhere are to repent, 31 because He has set a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead.”
It is worth noting that Paul doesn’t stand in front of these people completely ignorant of Greek culture. Either through his formal education or from his recent travels, Paul became aware of what Greek poets had written about God. This helps him start his message out on common ground with these people. He says that he is a descendant of God just like them and refers to the evidence that they all have seen in this world, concluding that human life could not be a result of an accident – it must have been created by a god or God. Paul gives these people a little pat on the back, giving them credit that they were at least seeking God. But he tries to get them to see that the conclusions they’ve come to about who this God is and what He is up to are self-defeating and don’t align with the evidence.
Paul points out that if God has the means and pleasure to initiate and create everything around and in us, it doesn’t make any sense that people resort to using an opinion based, majority-rule process to decide what He is like and what He desires. God has specifically revealed that to mankind.
It also doesn’t make any sense for the people God created to turn around and recreate Him as someone or something that has even less ability, power and personality they do (“we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by human skill and thought.”).
Now, the disciples of Christ knew, as do we from the pages of the New Testament, that through the life and death of Jesus, God ushered in a new era of His plan, one in which people can have a personal, dynamic, joyful life, and one that extends into eternity. However, Paul recognizes that spiritually, this group of people he is speaking to isn’t ready for spiritual meat and potatoes, so he gives them an appetizer. In the address that Luke recorded in verses 23-31, Paul appealed to their conscience without using the word Jesus or Christ at all. He probably said many things based upon the concepts he wrote at the beginning of Romans.
"14 When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." (Romans 2:14-15).
Sometime after the appetizer, Paul seizes on another opportunity and takes one additional step. He isn’t just going to let this group of people merely file what he has to say into their catalog of religious beliefs. He tells them that God is not going to overlook their mistaken conclusions - they are going to be held accountable for them. He nudges the people of Athens to the point of deciding whether what he said was true and to respond accordingly. This truth will either set them free from their spiritual schizophrenia or will judge them for it (John 8:31-32).
At some point in these conversations, whether it be towards the end of his visit, or with a smaller, more fully interested group of people, Paul goes deeper and talks about people coming back to life. At some point there is a group of people to whom Paul preaches directly about Jesus, because Luke names some of them and calls them believers.
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We shall hear from you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out from among them. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
1. Followers of Christ are supposed to be filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit, but they aren’t supposed to be mindless, irrational robots. Use your strengths, let God take care of your weaknesses.
2. Look for places and situations where people are at least willing to listen to the gospel. In the “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13, the seed that was scattered had varying degrees of success and failure, but the farmer knew enough to scatter the seed on the ground, and not in the ocean.
3. The gospel message is not appealing to those who are defensive, proud, self-centered, or self-righteous. Those are the kind of people who fight against the gospel the most. Bashing stubborn people over the head with scripture won’t work.
4. When the message of Jesus is met with rejection or hostility, it is okay to move on. Take it somewhere else.
5. Offer the gospel message to those who are lost, looking to be found. The message of Christ is more appealing to those who have been beaten down by this world and recognize their weakness. These people are more likely to see that being forgiven through Christ is a necessary and good thing. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This means that everyone needs to be saved. Yet even Jesus invested His time in the sick - those who recognized they were sinners, rather than the healthy - those who thought they were righteous (Mark 2:17).
6. The evidence in creation does not support the belief that all roads lead to heaven, nor the belief that we can mold a God of our choosing.
7. Salvation is a gift of forgiveness that required the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). This gift can be received by anyone, but it requires the admission of guilt (Acts 3:19, 17:30).
8. When proclaiming the message of Christ, we shouldn’t immediately jump out of the gate spewing deep spiritual concepts. But neither should we deemphasize essential elements of the gospel, just because our hearers have trouble believing them. Paul preached a crucified Messiah even though it was difficult for the Jews and Greeks to accept.
1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-24:
"18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.... 23 We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."