Paul in Athens

Last week, my daily Bible reading took me through Acts 17 and the story of Paul in Athens. I’ve always loved and been really interested in his sermon at the Areopagus where Paul used their altar ‘To the Unknown God’ to reason with them about Christ. What I had never looked deeply into, though, was what went into Paul receiving the opportunity to speak at the Areopagus. 
 
Did you realize that Paul was alone in Athens? He had no helpers, there were no churches and no fellow believers. He must have been tired having traveled halfway around the Roman world on his second missionary journey. This would have been a good time for him to rest while he waited on Timothy and Silas to join him.
 
Consider also that he was not only tired and alone, but he was also literally surrounded by idols. One historian satirically wrote that in Athens it was easier to find a god than to find a man. Athens was filled with temples to the Greek deities. There was the Great Temple of Athena that housed a grand ivory and gold statue of the Goddess. She stood almost 38 feet tall and sat atop a pedestal that was 12 by 24 feet. The statue was built out of 2400lbs of gold. But that was not the only temple. There was also the Erechtheion which was dedicated to the worship of numerous gods. It also featured a large central statue and a porch on the south side that with goddess statues for columns.
 
I would have wanted to hide. “What difference could one believer make in a city full of pagans?” That’s a question I would have asked as would, I think, most modern day western believers. Not Paul, though, for verse 16 says that when Paul saw all the idols, “his spirit was provoked within him.” I imagine Paul getting that look in his eyes, that look that said: “something has to be done.”
 
Luke reported that the provocation of his spirit moved him to enter the synagogues and begin reasoning with the Jews. Athens did have a strong Jewish presence, and there was also a lot of what Luke calls “devout persons,” that is Greeks who had converted to Judaism. Paul went to them one by one and began to reason with them about how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.
 
Paul, not content to just speak with the Jews, also went into the Stoa. The Stoa were large colonnade walkways where the Philosophers met and exchanged ideas. He reasoned with the Epicureans and the Stoics, the two competing humanist Philosophies of the Roman empire. Both the Epicureans and the Stoics were seeking to become sages in their own right, the Epicurean by ridding themselves of desire and the Stoic by overcoming with dogged determination any challenge that came their way.
 
You can just imagine what these philosophers thought about Paul. Here they were trying to overcome the world by their own human faculties and become like the gods when Paul comes and tells them that living a good life is not about fulfilling a purpose that one defines on their own. It is about living out the purpose that the one true God has already defined for them. Then, imagine what they thought when he got around to speaking to them about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. It’s no wonder that in verse 18 he was labeled by the Epicureans and Stoics as a “babbler” and “preacher of foreign deities.”
 
It was in his debates with the Epicureans and Stoics that Paul got noticed by another group of interesting people. The Areopagites were a cult, a sort of secular monastery, who lived in Athens. They followed neither the Epicurean nor the Stoic school of Philosophy. Rather they were devoted to hearing and discovering new things and new ways of thinking. The place where they met was called the Areopagus, a rocky outcrop atop Mars Hill. It is from this place and to this group that Paul preached his first public sermon in Athens. 
 
What do we learn? When you are alone, tired, and in an evil place, the thing to do is to go and reason with people. Just go share what God has done in your life and the truth that you live by. God can do amazing things through one person if that one person is wholly submitted to Jesus.