"... and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him." Acts 8:35
Opening Prayer: Father, it's very hard to know just when and how to share my faith. How can I make Jesus REAL to my friends and family?
This lesson is a continuation of our Transformed Life series. If you have read and applied all the previous lessons, you have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and have learned about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. If not, you might want to backtrack and review some of the earlier materials.
A few believers are gifted by God to be powerful evangelists. The word "evangelist" is from a combination of Greek words meaning "good news bearer." These gifted individuals have the ability and the desire to share their faith in a powerful way.
The rest of us have to struggle at it.
This lesson is for the rest of us -- including me. Jesus commands all of us (including cowards like me) to tell everyone about Him.
But I'm afraid to share my faith.
Good. So am I, even after 40 years of experience. Maybe we can learn something together.
Let's start with a story from Acts chapter 8, verses 26-35:Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." 34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
This passage tells us a lot about sharing. Here are a few observations we can make from the highlighted verses above:
- Verse 26: The direction comes from God. God wants everybody to hear the Good News eventually. And God is carefully preparing specific messengers to share with specific individuals. God knows exactly who will cross your path over the next 30 days. Out of those people, He has certain individuals He wants YOU to share with. There are others He does NOT want YOU to share the Gospel with. He might have you share a kindness or an insight with somebody on His "Not today" list. But God has prepared other messengers for these other non-believers.
- Verse 27: We must act in faith on His leading. Nothing happens if we ignore the command of God, or if we don't carefully listen for His direction. Hint: We do the best job of hearing when we spend daily time listening. Give God a holy, dedicated portion of your morning. Then you will be sensitized to His command, "Arise and go."
- Verse 29: The Holy Spirit will point out the individuals that we should share with. Prepare to be surprised. Philip was probably not expecting to encounter a Cabinet-level government official like this Ethiopian. It doesn't matter. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what He's doing, and He has prepared you for this day and hour.
- Verse 30: Tune in to the other person. Listen on two levels. Listen to his/her concerns, and listen to what the Holy Spirit tells you about those concerns.
- Verse 31: The Lord has been preparing the person with whom you share. This Ethiopian was one of the three or four most powerful men in his country, and seemingly had it all together. Nevertheless, this man needed and humbly welcomed Philip's help, because God had been preparing both of them.
- Verse 35: Speak up; the Holy Spirit will empower you. If the Lord calls you, He will enable you. Speak up, and let God be responsible for the results. It's God's job to supply the power. It's your job to act in faith, in obedience.
Remember these key principles. We will refer to them during the rest of the lesson.
Now let's turn to Acts 17 for our real lesson. Let's read verses 15-17:So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed. 16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.
The literal Greek for verse 16 tells us that the city was absolutely FULL of pagan images. So why was that bothering Paul? After all, the history books tell us that the city was full of beautiful art works -- statues, murals and decorated buildings. Even now there are thousands of "art treasures" surviving from those days. So why did Paul feel grieved in his spirit?
Have any of you been to Athens and seen their pagan art? The "art" of Athens wasn't the type of bronze works you see in Washington DC, like at the Lincoln Memorial or other places like that. Athens was completely given over to demonic religion, and the idols and murals were pornographic. Anatomically correct statues and paintings of naked men and women. And the temples of "worship" were actually houses of prostitution. The "priests and priestesses" were all prostitutes. The local citizenry literally worshipped sex, much like the United States.
The point is that God knew exactly where Paul would be that week, and God knew exactly what He wanted Paul to do about it. Like we said earlier, the direction comes from God.
God knows where YOU will be this week, and He wants YOU to look around and see people totally given over to "modern-day" idolatry. God wants YOU to be grieved at the thought of so many people in your home town going to Hell.
Back to our story. God stirred up Paul's heart at the thought of so many people in the process of going to Hell. So Paul responded in faith, as we see in verse 17.
So WHERE did Paul spend time sharing Jesus?
In the synagogues and in the city's marketplace, as we see in verse 17.
So how did these groups respond to Paul? Let's see in verses 18-21:Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods," because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 "For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean." 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
So who were the Epicureans?
The Epicureans taught that the ultimate goal in life was pleasure -- the sole intrinsic goal in life. But these were not all-out party people like the hedonists or cynics.
Epicurus taught his philosophy as a discipline. He taught that the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly, limit one's desires, avoid getting involved in politics, and gain KNOWLEDGE of the workings of the world (become an informed consumer).
The desired result: a state of tranquility, freedom from fear and absence of bodily pain. There was special emphasis on friendship, and good behavior was considered a social contract between yourself and society.
What did you encounter when you went to an Epicurean lecture or church service? They surely seemed like decent fun-loving folks. Friendly people. Good cooks. Nice folks to be around. They never talked about politics and religion. Very politically correct.
But what was the theological BASIS for their core beliefs? They believed that life was purely materialistic. They taught that the gods existed, and that these gods created the worlds, but they lived elsewhere, on their own planets or parallel universes. They didn't try to deny the existence of gods, but they believed the gods were UNINVOLVED in the lives of men. They denied the existence of a Supreme Being who would hold human beings accountable for their actions in this life. They taught that at death, POOF, life was over. So live life with the maximum pleasure and least pain here and now.
So do people still operate AS IF those were the core values? Of course they do: we see them on television in commercials and on news broadcasts. Those core values were held by the hippies we saw in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Tune in, turn on, drop out. Live simple lives on a communal farm. They sang: "All you need is love." Epicurean beliefs are still the shallow culture nurtured on college campuses. Teachers tell their students to "Follow your heart. Choose a career where you can make a DIFFERENCE. Save the planet."
And who were the Stoics?
The Stoics were the intellectual snobs of their day. Their main focus was on logic and ethics: teaching the development of self-control and fortitude (courage) as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. They taught that unhappiness and evil are the results of human ignorance of the reason in NATURE. Virtue, to them, consisted of a will that is in agreement with Nature.
What was their theology? It was VERY unlike that of the Epicureans, who taught that the gods were distant beings off somewhere else. The Stoics taught that the universe is a material, REASONING substance called Nature or god, and that we are all a part of that. In other words, they taught that there is no outside god, that we are all gods and that at death we merge with Nature. Therefore they taught that we all need to study Nature and live in accordance with it. And we should adapt ourselves to nature.
Does that sound familiar to you? In many ways, they were the philosophical predecessors for New Age, Environmentalism, and Scientology. What did you encounter at a Stoic church meeting? Very nice people. Very ethical people. Very educated people. They would give long-winded sermons on logic and ethics.
So what is the point of studying these two philosophies?
BOTH of these groups tried to make you focus on YOURSELF and your self-righteous behavior. BOTH of these groups viewed good behavior in terms of ethics and a social contract among humans. BOTH of these groups denied the existence of a living God who will hold each of us accountable for our actions and for our attitude toward His Son, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.
Did you notice what most interested those Athenians?
Well, yes. They choked on Jesus and the resurrection.
What's so significant about the resurrection?
Without the resurrection, the Gospel would just be a story about some religious nut who got himself killed. Instead, Jesus pointed forward to His death and resurrection as PROOF that He was telling the truth. If Jesus had NOT raised up from the dead exactly when He said, then everybody in Jerusalem would have figured out that the disciples were lying. Several books have been written showing how the resurrection of Jesus is the best-documented fact in ancient history. It can be proven in a court of law.
So how does this apply to me and sharing my faith?
The resurrection happened to vindicate three key facts:
- That sin demands a death penalty,
- That Jesus was executed to PAY the death penalty for your sins and mine, and
- To demonstrate that God accepted this atoning sacrifice.
This is the heart of the Gospel. Somebody or something MUST die for your sins and mine. If you aren't really sure about why this is important, please click here to review some earlier material.
All of this sounded very strange to the Athenians. They were very politically correct, and could tolerate every nasty type of sin in existence, except those that interfered with their personal comfort. They had no concept of a holy God who demands the death penalty for sin.
Paul knew that he could not make the Gospel real for the Athenians until he could bring them to repentance.
And YOU face the same problem trying to share the Gospel with pagan Americans. Even in mainline denominations, there is no fear of God and no strong teaching of the need for repentance. It's been more than 50 years since the Supreme Court declared the United States to be a heathen country, and the cultural shift is nearly complete.
Let's read the first part of Paul's message, in verses 22-25:Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 "for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 "Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things."
Paul begins by tuning in to his listeners. Unfortunately for us, his opening line is softened by most of the English translations. Our word "religious" -- or "too superstitious" in the KJV -- translates a compound Greek word (desidaimonesteros) meaning exceptionally fearful of demons. In their culture, they fully believed in demons and worshipped them. They had no conception of good angels and the God of the Bible.
So Paul did the next best thing: he used the altar "To the Unknown God" as a bridge to their understanding. He even used their admitted ignorance as an attention-getting hook.
Sometimes you and I need to build such bridges. Example: In my occultic years, we talked about "karma," the harmful consequences of our actions, which must be purged before we can graduate to the next level of consciousness. Then one day, it flashed through my head that Jesus paid the price for the "karma" of the whole world, and I could have all my "karma" purged in an instant through faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord may have a similar challenge for you, to bridge the language and culture gap of YOUR listeners.
Paul's got their attention now, but his next task is almost impossible: trying to convey the concept of the God of the Bible. Note how he starts: "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things."
Think about the sweep of what Paul was saying. Not only did Paul's God create the universe, but He rules ALL of heaven and ALL the little imps and demons that the Athenians worshipped. The Athenians fearfully worshipped their two-bit demon gods, so Paul was calling them to be DOUBLY fearful of the true God who CREATED the imps and demons. The logical question in their minds was, "What does THAT God expect from me?"
Paul partially answers that question in verses 26-28:"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 "so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 "for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'
Notice verse 26 is very different from the Athenian concept of petty demon gods. Most of the creatures they worshipped were actually called The Titans. These were the half-demon, half-human creatures we read about in the account of Noah, and who reappeared again in Canaan just before the Israelites arrived there from Egypt.
Before you start feeling superior to the Athenians, ask yourself: How many of your kids and grandkids have books or videos about Hercules or Ulysses, or Zeus, or Xena, or Thor or Poseidon or the Little Mermaid? And remember Wonder Woman of the 1970s, who used to call on "Mighty Isis" for her power? Remember the Jedi warriors (magicians) of "Star Wars" fame? And have you heard of the "Harry Potter" series? Our American "culture" worships TV and movies, which are filled with themes and characters from Greek mythology as well as latter-day magical characters. We shouldn't feel smug compared to the superstitious Athenians.
In fact, let me make a more-general statement. You can't possibly minister to anybody that you feel personally superior to. You just can't. That's why thundering in anger from the pulpit doesn't work. That's why Moses never got to enter the Promised Land, because he was ANGRY toward (and felt superior to) the other Israelites.
The only way we can minister to people is to be a changed person, softened by God and sensitized to the needs of others. If we're doing this right, God will give us a genuine love for the other person, so we can represent God's heart as well as His Gospel.
Notice in verse 26, Paul talks about "preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings." This means that the God of the Bible really CARES about humans and takes a personal interest in our daily lives. That is the God we must represent when we share the Gospel.
Are any of you old enough to remember "The Four Spiritual Laws" -- the pamphlet published by Campus Crusade for Christ? Can you remember what the four laws were? To refresh your memory:
- God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
- None of us, in our own merits, can qualify for God's heaven because of our sin. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). "Self" is on the throne of our lives.
- Jesus paid the price for all our sins, dying on the cross and resurrected as proof that God accepted His sacrifice.
- We can receive salvation as a free gift (Romans 3:24) by putting our trust on the merits of that perfect sacrifice and submitting our lives to God. Then God can take the throne of our lives. (John 15)
Anyway, verse 26 is like number one, that God CARES about you and me, and has a plan for our lives. Furthermore, verse 27 says God WANTS us to actively seek Him, and that He'll let Himself be found by us. Note that SOMETHING is required from us. God is not a senile old grandfather or Santa Claus type, toddling around looking for ways to bless us.
Now let's look at Paul's closing lines, verses 29-31:"Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. 30 "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 "because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead."
Paul's on a roll now. Note in verse 29 he makes one last dig at idols, stating that since God made us, then we can't possibly represent HIM by any of OUR art or philosophy. We aren't smart enough to make ourselves, and we surely can't understand the God Who is smart enough to make us. Notice that Paul is not insulting or acting superior to them; he's making an appeal to reason and logic.
Second, Paul is trying to instill a sense of urgency. God has been gracious UNTIL NOW, because y'all were ignorant UNTIL NOW. But NOW y'all aren't ignorant any more. Now you have heard the truth of the Gospel, and now God commands us all to repent.
But why should anybody repent NOW, when God has been gracious until now? Why is anything different NOW?
Because the Appointed Day is very near. Paul thought it was very near in his day. Personally, I don't know how God can hold back more than another couple of years. But if you can still read this, there is still hope for you.
Notice how the Resurrection is mentioned last in this message. It's Paul's trump card. We need to take it very personally to heart here in the United States. Most of the people you meet here in the United States (at least most folks over 30 years old) are willing to admit that they believe Jesus rose from the dead. They've been exposed to Easter and Christmas for decades, and have heard the story before.
Unfortunately, most of us take the Resurrection for granted. We've forgotten that the Resurrection implies there was first a death. And Jesus' death implies that God has clear standards of right and wrong. God's holiness demands the death penalty for sin. Unless Jesus had satisfied the requirements of the Law and died in our place, we'd be toast. And unless God had raised Jesus from the grave to PROVE that He accepted Jesus' sacrifice, we'd have no assurance of our salvation. But He did and we do.
With such a brilliantly conceived message, Paul must have gotten all the Athenians to immediately repent and become Christians, right?
Maybe not. Let's read verses 32-34:And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
So how many people really "got it" and began following Jesus?
Not many, but some. Interestingly enough, this guy Dionysius is described as an Areopagite -- a title that doesn't mean much in English. Apparently he was a professional philosopher and teacher. Dionysius was as lost as I was back in my guru-worshipping days. But he had apparently been sincerely searching for God. God had been preparing Dionysius' heart to hear Paul, just as God had been preparing Paul's heart to be ready for Dionysius.
But what about all the others? Weren't they moved by that powerful and unique message?
Face it: most people are hard-hearted. Most folks wouldn't give God the time of day -- until it's THEIR name on the medical report, or it's THEIR kids in a car accident.
God put this passage here to encourage you. Because He will have you share the Gospel with lots of folks who won't want to listen. Don't let that discourage you. The overall results are in God's hands, and He will bless you for being faithful to Him. People that reject the message now might remember your words six months from now and come to the Lord.
- The Lord will supply the opportunity.
- The Lord will move your heart with the need to share the Gospel.
- The Lord will give you the discernment.
- The Lord will give you the message.
- The results are in the Lord's hands.
All you have to do is be obedient and sensitive to the Lord and to the person you're sharing with.
Aren't you going to give us some special words or formulas or techniques for witnessing?
I already did. The Lord will move you differently in every situation, and HE will give you the words when the time comes.
If you would like to ask further questions or discuss this in more detail, please feel free to send an e-mail by clicking the "mail-to" link below. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can (assuming the first rapture event hasn't already happened).
Closing Prayer: Lord, I confess that I've been trying to share Your supernatural Gospel in my own natural strength. Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit and power, that I may share the Good News of Jesus in a supernatural, powerful way, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.