Acts 16:6-17:34, Psalm 34


Two days ago I promised to compare Paul's message to a predominantly Gentile audience with how he preached before a mix of Jewish and Gentile listeners. When Paul preached at the Areopagus in Athens, most of the audience would have been non-Jewish polytheists who still showed by their reverence of “An Unknown God” (Acts 17:23) concern about whether their pantheon actually appeased all possible gods. They didn't want to take a chance and omit worshipping an important deity. Certainly this doesn't sound like a problem that Pharisees and Sadducees shared, since they believed in the one God of heaven and earth. So it is no surprise to see some of the following differences in Paul's two sermons. First, Paul built common ground in Athens through addressing their belief in an unknown god and proclaimed that the God of Israel is the God of all. Paul claimed the one they overlooked was the only One that mattered. Paul established that creation and providence belongs in the hands of Israel's Lord alone. Secondly, Paul pays short attention to the crucifixion in Athens in comparison to in Antioch. This leads to the third point about how Paul tells the Athenians they are primarily culpable for their ignorance of God rather than their guilt or disbelief. As I noted previously, when Peter preached in Jerusalem, he held those in Jerusalem morally responsible for Jesus' crucifixion and preached about their need of forgiveness for guilt. When Paul preached in Antioch, however, their moral responsibility was to believe, and so disbelief would have been their great danger (Acts 13:38-41). But ignorance requires a penitent heart just as much as guilt and disbelief. Hear Paul's words: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) When sharing the Gospel, we should remember that ignorance demands repentance just like guilt and disbelief. Whether we feel like we are dealing with those who realize their guilt, ignorance, or disbelief, all of people need to repent of what keeps them from God. Believing the Gospel, that is the truth about the life, death, and resurrection gives us adequate knowledge of God, reason to trust the Lord, and cleanses us of all unrighteousness.