Message for Sunday 17 May 2020: “Powerful Proclamation”

The Apostle Paul was a neat guy. Aside from his saintly status Paul did some helpful, bold things. Consider today’s episode from Acts 17:22-31 wherein Paul spoke in an ancient capital while making a clever appeal to a religious, pagan, yet rational audience.

The dominant religion throughout the Roman Empire was what is often referred to pejoratively as polytheistic paganism. This ingrained worldview was filled with various lively deities and remained preeminent for millennia. Seemingly without fear, Paul challenged this Greco-Roman religion with its statues, icons, and the complex mythical universe within which people lived and breathed. And to top it all off, Paul spoke in Athens, Greece, the philosophical heart of the ancient Greco-Roman gods, goddesses, and divine heroes. Names such as Zeus, Jupiter, Athena, Aphrodite, Mars, and many others were engraved on statues and temples dedicated to these gods, some of whom continue to interest modern audiences as entertaining myths and fantasy movie characters.

Paul came to the heart of Athens and spoke intending to persuade his savvy audience, many of whom accepted without question the gods we now dismiss as Hollywood props and co-stars. Paul was speaking to successful, educated persons who were willing to consider his arguments. Rather than insult his audience, Paul looked around and prepared his speech in a manner relevant to the interests of those listening to him. Paul knew his audience and he gave them what he thought they could understand while also challenging them to consider something new. Paul’s words demonstrate that he took his role as Christian ambassador seriously.

Aside from writing most of the New Testament, Paul helped create and strengthen churches throughout the Mediterranean basin (the heart of the Roman Empire). Anyway, back to the scene in Athens, where Paul spoke to philosophers and similar folks who enjoyed hearing about interesting matters. Paul obliged their quest for knowledge and dedicated his oratory to a so-called unknown god whose inscription he had seen on one of the many statues throughout Athens. Paul knew his audience and because of this he was more effective.

Paul’s rhetorical appeal was brilliant. He linked the thirst for knowledge by his audience to a talk about the Judeo-Christian God. Paul presented his God as one whose reach was vast, a Deity whose life-sustaining premise underscored all life and all people. It seems like many of those listening to Paul were both perplexed yet intrigued because such a magnificent deity as Jehovah was far more powerful than the popular father gods Zeus and Jupiter.

A lesson for Christians today is to continue to phrase Jesus’ message in a manner that is attractive to and has relevance for a modern, rational audience. It is therefore good to be respectful to people who are listening to spiritual truths. Further, it is beneficial to know enough about what’s going on in contemporary culture to relate to the values and struggles of an American audience which is increasingly disconnected from church. Given recent cultural struggles it’s clear that an audience in the twenty-first century is any more open to facts and truth than people from two-thousand years ago. It remains a difficult task to make an appeal based on logic and reason when people replace both with ignorance and hate.

May God continue to strengthen you to proclaim the gospel to whoever will receive it. Strive to discover the most effective presentation of your faith to anyone who will listen. In sharing your faith you’ll have a wonderful chance to reveal the God of love and truth. Speak up and speak out. God will empower your voice for effective ministry.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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