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                   "CONVERSIONS IN THE BOOK OF ACTS"

                        The Athenians (17:16-34)

INTRODUCTION

1. Our next example of conversion is another often overlooked...
   a. It is the conversion of "The Athenians", two of whom are
      specifically mention by name
   b. Yet they are usually not listed in charts showing examples of
      conversion
   c. Again, it likely because little is said, other than that they
      "believed" - Ac 17:34

2. But our purpose in this series is to also consider the sermons which
   led people to Christ...
   a. In this case we have a remarkable sermon by the apostle Paul
   b. A sermon proclaimed not to Jews or even Gentile God-fearers (like
      Cornelius), but to pagan philosophers and polytheists

3. So our focus in this lesson will be more on the sermon itself, with
   attention to...
   a. How Paul addressed those who did not know the God of Israel
   b. The themes Paul addressed in this sermon

[We begin our study with a look at...]

I. THE SETTING OF THE SERMON

   A. PAUL HAD JUST ARRIVED IN ATHENS...
      1. Following a hasty departure from Berea - Ac 17:13-15
      2. Provoked by the idolatry rampant in the city, he began 
         preaching at every opportunity - Ac 17:16-17
         a. Reasoning in the synagogues with the Jews and Gentile 
            worshipers
         b. Reasoning daily with any who happened to be in marketplace

   B. HE ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION OF SOME PHILOSOPHERS...
      1. In particular, certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers 
         - Ac 17:18
         a. Some of which viewed him as a proclaimer of foreign gods
         b. Because Paul was preaching of Jesus and the resurrection
      2. They brought him to the Areopagus and invited him to speak
         - Ac 17:19-21
         a. A rocky hill about 370 feet high, not far from the 
            Acropolis and the Agora (marketplace) in Athens - Holman 
            Bible Dictionary
         b. As Luke explains, it was a place where Athenians and 
            visitors spent their time discussing any new idea or thing
            that came along
         c. Not having heard the doctrine of Christ, they wanted to 
            know more

[With such an invitation, you can imagine that Paul was delighted to 
accommodate them...]

II. PAUL'S SERMON AT THE AREOPAGUS

   A. THE THEME:  THE GOD THEY DO NOT KNOW...
      1. Acknowledging their religious devotion, he made mention of
         one altar in particular - Ac 17:22-23a
         a. An altar with the inscription:  "To The Unknown God"
         b. So devout, they sought to worship a god they did not know
      2. He used this as an opportunity to preach concerning the True
         God they did not know! - Ac 17:23b

   B. THE MAIN POINTS...
      1. God is the creator of the universe - Ac 17:24
         a. He made the world, He is Lord of heaven and earth
         b. As such, He does not dwell in temples made with hands
            - cf. 1Ki 8:22-30
      2. God is the sustainer of life - Ac 17:25
         a. He gives to all life their breath and what they need
            - cf. Jm 1:17
         b. Therefore God is not worshipped as though He needs it
      3. God is the ruler of all the nations - Ac 17:26-27
         a. He has created every nation and determined their rise and 
            fall - Dan 2:20-21; 4:17
         b. Everything is designed to prompt men to seek God, who is 
            not far from any of us
      4. God is the Father of mankind - Ac 17:28-29
         a. From God we come; and in Him we live, move, and have our 
            very being
         b. Therefore we should not think that God is like any idol of
            gold, silver or stone
      5. God is the Judge of the world - Ac 17:30-31
         a. What ignorance He may have overlooked in the past, such is
            no longer the case
         b. He now commands all men everywhere to repent
         c. Why?  Because of the coming Judgment, in which...
            a. God will judge the world in righteousness
            b. God will judge the world through Jesus Christ - Jn 5:22,
               26-27; 12:48
         d. As proof such will occur, God raised Jesus from the dead
      -- These five points are from John Stott's book, The Spirit, The
         Church, And The World

   C. THE RESPONSE...
      1. The mention of the resurrection provoked a response - Ac 17:32
         a. Some mocked (to many philosophers, the idea of a bodily
            resurrection is foolishness)
         b. Others were more cordial, offering to listen again at 
            another time
      2. But as Paul left, some joined him and believed - Ac 17:33-34
         a. Specifically mentioned are Dionysius the Areopagite, and
            Damaris, a woman
         b. Others also joined Paul and believed

III. SOME OBSERVATIONS

   A. OBSERVATIONS REGARDING PAUL'S SERMON...
      1. Paul used tact - Ac 17:22-23
         a. He acknowledges their spirituality, though misdirected
         b. We should not hesitate to acknowledge the devotion one 
            might have; if in error, our task is to explain "the way of
            God more accurately" - e.g., Ac 18:24-26
      2. Paul began with the present spiritual condition of his 
         audience - Ac 17:23-27
         a. They believed in supreme beings, but didn't know the True 
            God
         b. With the Jews he began with the Law, with the Gentiles he 
            began with the nature of God; we too should take into 
            consideration where one is spiritually
      3. Paul made use of an accepted authority - Ac 17:28-29
         a. He quotes from one of their own prophets to make his point
         b. When appropriate, we can appeal to an uninspired authority
            accepted by others (when in harmony with God's Word)
      4. Paul led his audience to the main themes of the gospel - Ac 
         17:30-31
         a. Such as the need to repent, the coming Judgment - cf. Ac
            2:38; 3:19
         b. So our ultimate goal in preaching should be the gospel 
            message
      5. Paul used the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate proof 
         - Ac 17:31
         a. God has given assurance of the coming Judgment by raising 
            Jesus
         b. Indeed, if Jesus did rise from the dead, it is proof of:
            1) The existence of God
            2) The truthfulness of all of Jesus' claims
            3) The reality of sin, judgment, and the need to repent
         c. This is why we need to develop a strong apologetic for the
            resurrection of Jesus

   B. OBSERVATIONS REGARDING THE RESPONSE...
      1. People responded in three different ways - Ac 17:32-34
         a. Some mocked what they heard
         b. Some put off making a decision until later
         c. Some decided to follow with Paul and believed
         -- Since we have no promise of tomorrow, the only safe course
            is the last!
      2. Of those who responded favorably, it is only said that they
         "believed" - Ac 17:34
         a. Are we to conclude from this that was all they did?
         b. Did they not also "repent", as commanded in Ac 17:30?
         c. The term "believed" encompassed more than simply an 
            acceptance of the facts that had been proclaimed
            1) It involved a complete reception of the message preached
            2) It included an obedience to whatever conditions had been
               proclaimed by the apostles (such as repentance, baptism)
         d. Just as faith was not explicitly mentioned in Acts 2, or 
            repentance in Acts 16, but is fairly inferred from what 
            we know from other passages, so also with baptism here
            1) "There is, indeed, much to be said for the contention,
               independently advocated by theologians of varied 
               schools, that in the New Testament faith and baptism 
               are viewed as inseparables whenever the subject of 
               Christian initiation is under discussion, so that if 
               one is referred to, the other is presupposed, even if 
               not mentioned." - G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism In The
               New Testament, p. 272
            2) "Baptism and faith are but the outside and inside of 
               the same thing" - James Denny (as quoted by 
               Beasley-Murray, ibid.)
            3) "Where baptism is spoken of faith is presumed, and 
               where faith is spoken of baptism is included in the 
               thought" - N. J. Engelsen (as quoted by Beasley-Murray,
               ibid.)

CONCLUSION

1. Whether Jew or Gentile, philosopher or simpleton, the gospel of 
   Christ is for all...
   a. Where we begin may vary with the spiritual condition of our 
      audience
   b. Where we end must always be the same:
      1) Proclaiming the reality of sin, judgment, and the need for 
         repentance
      2) With Jesus as the only way to salvation!

2. When one becomes convicted of their sinful condition and their need
   for Jesus, the proper response should also be the same no matter who
   we are...
   a. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for our sins and was 
      raised from the dead, whom we are willing to confess before men
   b. Repentance from sin
   d. Baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of sins through His blood

One's reaction to the gospel will always be one of three ways:

   * Rejection ("some mocked")

   * Reluctance ("others said, we will hear you again on this matter")

   * Reception  ("some men joined him and believed")

In Athens, people such as Dionysius and Damaris exemplified the proper
response; are you willing to imitate their example?
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