Paul Preaches at the Areopagus
Open Your Bible
Acts 17:1-34, Zechariah 12:10, Romans 3:21-26
When I was in middle and high school, I was a part of a competitive cheerleading squad. On competition days, I remember the sinking feeling in my body as our entire team stood, waiting for our turn to go onto the mat. We had one chance to get everything right. My body pulsed with a combination of adrenaline, excitement, and stage fright. They would call our team’s name, and then there was no turning back.
I’ve never really had that feeling ever again. My life as a writer is fairly isolated. I work from home, where there is no one to cheer when I get something right, or gasp when I fall on my face. Thank goodness, I’ve never been asked to give a TED talk. I can only imagine the sinking feeling one must experience before walking out on that dark stage, all alone.
Though Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, I imagine he must have been full of nerves as well, that day in Athens, when a crowd ushered him to the top of Mars Hill to address the entire gathered city, unprepared.
As I read his words, I know I have much to learn from Paul and much to love about Jesus. Paul doesn’t come in disparaging Athenian culture—it is clear that as he’s moved through their town, his spirit was troubled, because he was paying attention. He read their poetry, paid attention to the engravings on their idols, and used those very things to gently point out the holes in their belief system. In Athens, there were shrines toward various gods, but Paul points them to the one true God, the God who made the world and everything in it.
Notice, Paul doesn’t go on to say, “oh, we’re all good! You believe you’re God’s offspring, and I believe I’m God’s offspring, so in general we all believe the same thing.” No. He tells them that God commands us to repent, because He is going to judge the world, and Jesus will sit as the head justice of that coming trial.
Paul focuses on their similarities, and then he boldly proclaims the truth of God’s judgment as well as the grace-filled resurrection of Christ. His words are kind, but they aren’t weak. His words are direct, but they’re not harsh. He wins as many people as he offends. We ought to expect the same in our lives.
I’m struck as I read in Acts 17 just how completely Paul, a former persecutor of the Church, has become the persecuted. Crowds are chasing him out of city after city. He is ridiculed, called names. And yet, none of this deters his work. The Holy Spirit fills Paul, not only with the right words to say, but also with the fortitude to endure the reaction to those words.
As we speak the gospel in a fallen world, we will be rejected, ridiculed, and called names. But the Lord is with us through it all. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).