Ask any preacher whether he feels it’s easy to introduce his sermon. Although he might have worked hard on understanding the text, his introduction and application are not normally found in a commentary or text book. The introduction is to arrest the hearers attention by providing some sort of road map as to where he is going and the application is to instruct people as to what they need to do in the light of the sermon they had just heard. Sometimes an introduction is started with an illustration, a hard hitting questions or two or some statement that jolts or arrests attention, giving a desire to hear what the preacher has to say as he expounds the Bible passage. Notice how Paul arrests the attention of the meeting of the Areopagus:
Ac 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
1) Getting their attention to listen. Although he used this, it was not his tactic. He use it as …
(1) A compliment. He told them that he saw them as very religious”. This was because of the many idols he had observed … but to the hearers it was indeed a compliment. Although some commentators feel Paul would never have spoken the words of verses 22-31, I can’t see how Luke would attribute this to Paul or that the Holy Spirit would include it in God’s inerrant Word if Paul was not the speaker. When one reads of his teaching how husbands need to relate to their wives, fathers to their children, slaves to masters and masters to their slaves (Ephesians 5-6) … as well as his teachings on remaining single or getting married (1 Corinthians 7), I cannot not see Paul being able to exercise love, gentleness and kindness to all, especially with his knowledge of Jesus’ instruction to him to reach Gentiles for salvation. An important approach in evangelism is to first offer some words of encouragement. As one grows evangelistically, one will look for some platform or the other to use as a launching pad from which to jump into the Gospel. You don’t go cold turkey. You need to get people interested and attentive to what you need to tell them about themselves and their need of Jesus and what they need to do. If one goes into action like a bull you will get the worst possible results. Look what he said … “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. How right he was … not only because of all the scattered idols, statues and temples … but because at heart, every person is religious. The Creator God (the God of the Bible) created all humans with a need to worship. Remember:
Ge 2:7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
This verse explains the fundamental difference between all animals and the human being. God gave the human body a soul and that soul makes the being a living being … living as in having a relationship with the Creator, such as Adam had. This dimension resulted in man being able to know God personally as he (man) is known by God. Even though through the fall into sin, Adam and all his descendants (the human race) lost their innocence, have an inherit sinful nature and the souls is dead to God, it still has a desire to worship. We could say, “worship … the soul must!” We see so many examples of this with our forefather, Adam’s offspring. They created all sorts of religions using idols and statues as a means of accessing the gods (demons) they created. All mankind outside of Jesus Christ are religious! Often people will say they are not religious! Even the atheist and agnostic say they are not religious. The former says there is no god and the latter says there might be but he needs to be proved first. The truth is that man creates his own god. If it is not one created in the mind and fashioned in words and materials into a religion, it is himself who is his god. “How so?” … you might ask. Well, who created Venus, Mars, the Moon and Sun as gods? Who created this religion and that one? If there is one, true, living God, the Creator and Sustainer who revealed Himself on the first page of the Bible … then only man could have created all the other gods and religions … with the help of God’s enemy, the devil! You see, even though the natural man’s soul is spiritually dead, it still has the need to worship and it will … so it creates its own gods, idols and religions. This has nothing to do with man’s basic morals and ethics. Many people are good members of their family, great citizens, wonderfully contributing to the economy through their employment and knowledgeable educators. They are valuable and needed to make the world work, yet at the same time, their religions, gods and idols are in total opposition to the true God … that of the Bible. When people ask me whether I am religious or not I normally respond by saying … “I am not religious. I am Christian.” My reason for saying this is that I do not want anyone to think my religion (Christianity) is reduced to the level of their pagan, ungodly religion.
(2) Carefully viewing their objects of worship. Paul says … For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship. The words “looked carefully” means “to survey a series of things, from the lowest to the highest.” In unpacking this it amounts to one being attentive and observing accurately. Remember Paul is courteous and friendly. He wants to create a solid basis from which to preach the Gospel. The words “objects of worship” refers to temples, altars, idols and statues that are religiously honored. Paul’s use of this phrase to us means “idolatrous images”. Anything that stands up against the true God is idolatrous … be it objects or persons. In speaking about the “man of lawlessness”, he expounds his thought more in:
2 Th 2:4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
Anything elevated to deity moving the true God off His rightful throne in man’s heart is idolatry and lawless. However we understand or see people and their religions, we need to exercise compassion. We need to be like the Lord Jesus as he looked over Jerusalem:
Mt 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
This is the condition of all who are not born again. They might be Christianized or sympathetic towards Christianity or they might be outright enemies of the Gospel, but if they have not received Jesus Christ as their only Lord, Savior and King, they are as lost as these men of the Areopagus.
Lord, grant us compassion for the lost so that we will get to know what they believe so that we may be able to explain the better way through Jesus Christ to them. Amen.