26 May 2020Acts 17:15-34
'… I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription "To an unknown god." What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.' (v. 22b-23)
Psalm: Psalm 48:1-8
Paul’s approach to proclaiming the gospel to the citizens of Athens cannot be bettered. He had taken the time to learn something about those to whom he would speak, he knew where they were ‘at’, he understood something of how they thought, he even knew some of their poetry (verse 28).
Athens, a cultured and cosmopolitan city, was home to people of many races and nations; it was an important trading centre with routes going in all directions. As a result, there were many ideologies, faith systems, philosophies, in currency. Small wonder then that someone, perhaps the City Council, decided that, to be on the safe side, it would be a good idea to put up an altar to a god unknown, but possibly present, who might be offended if omitted! Paul seized the opportunity – he knew exactly who was present and to be proclaimed.
Captive to many ideologies, the Athenians were not averse to hearing of another. This God was the creator, the life-giver, the one who called all to himself – interesting! But there was thinking that some of them found difficult, as indeed others would too (eg 1 Corinthians 1:18 ff). However, some wanted to hear more and some believed. How very contemporary all that sounds – it might be any city or community we know. While a university chaplain, these were precisely the reactions I experienced from thinking students – scepticism, questioning and acceptance. Like Paul, I needed to recognise the need to understand where people were coming from and how to handle differing reactions. Don’t we all?
- How would you answer someone who asked you, as a student once asked me in the middle of a conversation about something totally unrelated, "What does Jesus mean to you?"
- What are the things in contemporary society that we might seize on to expound the gospel? What are the current altars to unknown gods?