Saturday, February 11, 2017

Acts 17:16-34 – Reaching the Unreached

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?”  Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, (a place where people would debate religious and philosophical thought) saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’

What therefore YOU worship as unknown, THIS I proclaim to you...

According to legend, when Jesus returned to heaven following his death, burial, and resurrection, the angels gathered ‘round Him in amazement.  They gazed at his wounds…they shuddered to recall His suffering.  Finally Gabriel broke the silence… “Master, you suffered terribly down there.  Do they know and appreciate the extent of your sacrifice??”

“No,” answered Jesus.  “Not yet.  Right now, only a handful of people in Jerusalem know.”

“Then what have you done to let everyone ELSE know?” asked Gabriel.  “I’ve asked those who believe in me to spread the news until the whole world knows,” answered the Lord.

Gabriel, knowing the nature of humans, asked, “So what’s ‘Plan B?’”

“I have no ‘Plan B,’” answered the Lord.  “There is no other strategy…
…I’m counting on them.”

And some 2,000 years later…He still has NO OTHER PLAN. 

Right now, if it all depended on you, would anyone make it to heaven?  I’m not talking about what you have done in the distant past or what you hope to do in the future when everything in your life suddenly becomes ‘IDEAL,’ I’m talking about right now…what are you doing to influence lost souls with the gospel?

Paul had had a rough time of it.  Everywhere he went, he faced rejection and ridicule.  He was intimidated and put in prison.  He was beaten and left for dead.  But still he pushed on, knowing that the only hope a man has of seeing heaven and escaping that awful place called ‘hell’ is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

What made him ‘tick?’  Unlike Peter and John, Paul hadn’t walked with the Lord Jesus, hadn’t seen His miracles or heard His life-changing words.  I guess you could say - of all the Apostles, Paul had the least opportunity.  Why, then, do we see HIM ‘turning the world upside’ for Christ?

After he met Jesus, he was gripped by 3 attitudes that enabled him to reach so many for Christ.  And the truth IS - WE need these same attitudes if we are going to fulfill the great commission.  What are they??

1.  First, he had an Inescapable Burden.  Notice how Paul felt in v. 16, “...while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”
He didn’t pass his time waiting - detached.  Being a missionary was in his blood - even when waiting on his friends.

The word “provoked” is a candid revelation of the emotions Paul felt as he walked through that city.  “His spirit was provoked” when he saw all that man-made religion – all the confusion man's philosophy had invited upon this city.  It is describing how WE might feel when our concern for the lost meets the shock of people’s wrong choices.  We KNOW they need Jesus – but BOY – are they messed up!

There are so many barriers that the world and the devil will build in the human heart to prevent a man’s salvation… EVEN religion.  In fact, religion might be one of the BIGGEST hurdles we have to overcome.

You talk to people about the gospel TODAY - and you are likely to hear about how MORAL they are - or - that they BELIEVE in God -or- they BELONG to a church or civic club that meets the needs of the underprivileged - BUT WHEN YOU PRESS THEM, it is obvious they have never repented of their sin and in faith trusted Christ to SAVE them.

Paul saw it when he toured the streets of Athens.  A city filled with religion… people who felt intellectually superior.  They already had ideas about God and the afterlife and really weren’t as open about changing as they wanted it to seem.  They were already persuaded in their minds about what it meant to be spiritual.  Their philosophers had written books – their professors had presented arguments.  So the natural result was a city “full of idols.”  It was a confusing mess... but it was THEIR mess and they were content with it. It blew Paul's mind.

When WE go to places like this, we take photos.  We marvel at the architecture…we are interested in the culture and the food and the way people live on the other side of the world.  We come back with all kinds of stories to tell our friends, and we give almost NO THOUGHT to the prevailing darkness - the utter lostness in those places.

Not Paul.  As he waited for his friends to join him, Paul was broken-hearted.  He saw them the way GOD saw them.  He didn’t care about their culture.  Their buildings, streets, and food meant nothing to him.  He was gripped with concern, knowing if something didn’t change, they would ALL go to hell. 

It wasn’t a camera - but tears - that filled his eyes.

Paul was not always this way.  There was a time when he opposed the Gospel with the same strength he now uses to advance it.  He knew what it was to be blinded by religion.  And when the Lord spoke to Paul, it was not to congratulate him on how pure he had lived or how religious he had been.  No.  The Lord thundered out His error… knocking him off his camel, face first in the Damascus dirt.
Humbled and Broken, the message he had spent his life opposing, he would now be advancing.
Paul had an inescapable burden for souls – a burden birthed in him the moment he was saved… a burden that only grew the more he learned and read.  A burden that drove him to inconvenience himself, to pray and to preach – to spend whatever monies and energy he had, his very LIFE if need be, because of ALL that was at stake.

Do you have an inescapable burden for the lost? 
  •         Do you sometimes find yourself awake at night thinking about your friends and family who don’t know Jesus? 
  •         Do you get up on Sunday morning PRAYING, BEGGING God to get ahold of a heart??
  •         Do you look for opportunities to interject Jesus into your conversations? 
  •         Do you put your money where your faith is?

Don’t be so offended by their error that you remain SILENT.  Remember, you were once where THEY are - and those people are one heartbeat away from eternity.

2.  Second, not only did Paul have an Inescapable Burden, He also had an Indisputable Boldness.  He knew not everyone would be thrilled about his faith or interested in his message.  He knew that he would be hated, mistreated, and abused.  But he WAS NOT ashamed.  When he thought of all the abuse our Lord had suffered at the hands of the very men He came to save, Paul was more than willing to bear the reproach of Christ.  His concern for souls drove him to endure verbal and physical abuse – in the hopes that ONE might be saved.  As he said in 1 Corinthians 9:

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Are you bold like that?  Pushing through the harsh words – and clever put-downs to share your faith?
Let’s just be honest - Many of us HAVE caved to the pressure.  You know full well what it will mean when you start sharing Christ with your lost friends and family.  You know that you will be labeled a fanatic – people will call you a “hypocrite” or “judge.”  People you care about will start avoiding you.

Because of your fear of rejection and ridicule, Jesus has become your ‘best kept secret.’
How do I know this??  Because I know Christians, that's how.

One day I was out visiting, inviting people to church, when I came across a lady who seemed interested.  She told me where she worked and I said, “Oh, well you must know ‘so-in-so.’  She is a member of our church!”  Her response?  “She goes to church??  I didn’t even know she was a CHRISTIAN?!?!”

Sadly, that woman is NOT the exception.

I learned a long time ago - people talk a pretty good talk at church. They talk about how much they love the Lord.  They carry their 5 lb. Study Bibles to church.  They sing the songs and recite the scriptures.  Church has become their SAFE SPACE…  where they love sharing Jesus with those already saved and do almost nothing to advance the Gospel among the lost. 

“But preacher, you just don’t understand!” Yes – I DO understand.  Because every time I share my faith – I face the same battle.

Sure you will be ridiculed.  Sure there are people who will write you off and say ugly things about you.  So what???  One of these days, those people will go out into eternity and I don’t want their blood on my hands.  And besides all that, not everyone WILL reject the Lord. 

Which leads me to our final thought…

3.  Not only do we need an inescapable burden… not only do we need an indisputable boldness, third, his was an indispensable behavior.  God didn’t call you to be a tourist… but a witness.  God didn’t give you this precious message to hoard.  He wants you to GO.  Paul was COMMITTED to go where lost people were. 

Without the willingness to Go where they are, all those classes you’ve taken, books you’ve read, and seminars you’ve sat through to learn how to share your faith – are WORTHLESS.  That ‘plan of salvation’ card you keep as a bookmark in a Bible you don’t read - is worthless without a willingness to put yourself ‘out there’ for folks.

Paul was not a tourist; he was a witness.  He took seriously the command of the Lord, Who said, “Go be witnesses for me!”  He went where the people were. 
  • First to the synagogues where there were people who were lost. 
  • THEN to the market place where there were people who were lost.
  • Wherever they were, THAT’S where he went.

Not only did he go where they were physically, he approached them where they were spiritually. 
Not everyone who needs the Lord is in the same place spiritually. 

Some are completely ignorant of the truth… while others have been exposed to God’s Word. 
Some are cold and seemingly closed.  OTHERS are even under conviction right now because the Spirit and another Christian has been laying the groundwork for you.

Many seem so blind that it will take a miracle to get through to them.  And in those cases we have to trust what Jesus said: “What is IMPOSSIBLE with man, is POSSIBLE with God.”

When Paul went to the Jews in Athens, they were already very MORAL people.  But even GOOD PEOPLE need Jesus… amen?

Others he went to were so utterly blind by sin that they were ignorant of even the most BASIC of concepts of the one true God.  They were convinced that their INTELLECTUALISM … superstition… knowledge, would save them.  They were blind - blind to the truth, to their need.  But Paul was able to whet the appetites of those bound in darkness.  They said, “we want to hear MORE about this.”  He knew how to tap into a person’s basic desire for truth, forgiveness, meaning and purpose.

If we would be effective in our efforts to reach people, we must go where they are… we must understand their arguments and how to counter their mistaken ideas with God’s truth.  Get to know people, how they think, what they believe… and THEN articulate the Gospel in a way they can understand.

Although I have shared Christ hundreds of times over the years, and though I have been privileged to see many come to the Lord, it isn’t my nature to just approach people and start talking about Jesus.  I have to make myself do it.  I don’t like being rejected EITHER. 

But regardless their response, we are told to “GO!” And listen, you can't catch fish sitting on the couch.

Crotchety old Alice was a terror to neighborhood kids, stray dogs, and delivery boys.  Whenever someone came by, they were greeted with a sour face and waving hedge-clippers.

When James and Jean Mader moved next door, they mustered the courage to talk to Alice about the Lord.  “I’ve made it just fine all these years without the Him, I don’t need anyone telling me what to do.” 

But the Mader’s would not give up so easily.  They built a relationship with Alice, doing kind things for her, living the Gospel before her, and praying that God would change her heart.

Coming home from vacation, they found Alice’s house empty.  She had suffered a stroke while they were away.  She would spend her remaining days in the nursing home.  The Mader’s would visit her often… taking flowers for her room, bringing little things like lotion or puzzle-books she might need.  Each time they went, James would read a passage of scripture and pray for her.

One day, sensing the leading of the Holy Spirit, James asked, “Alice…would you like to ask Jesus to come into your heart and forgive you of your sins?”  Though unable to speak, the tears in her eyes and the gentle nod of her head gave him the answer he had been praying for.  He read John 3:16 and led Alice to Jesus.

It took the Maders 12 years to win that grumpy old woman to Christ… but they never gave up.
Will you be a witness?? 

Maybe there was a time when you did.  In fact, there are MANY things you once did that have fallen by the wayside.  Over the years you just sorta lost interest, got too busy, focused on other things.
Others of us NEVER HAVE shared our faith.  The fear of rejection or saying the wrong thing has nailed our shoes to the floor and we just don't think we can do it.

Others of us LONG to be effective witnesses.  And every time we hear a message like this there are names and faces that flash across our minds knowing how much they need the Lord.

There are three things we need to be effective witnesses:
  • We need an inescapable burden.
  • We need an indisputable boldness.
  • And we need Paul’s indispensable behavior – a willingness to go where they are – physically and spiritually.

So maybe you would like to pray that God would make you a better witness.  Will you?