Sermon Outline On Acts 17:22-31
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, 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. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Paul has left Timothy and Silas behind. The Jews have run him out of Thessalonica. He has been taken to Athens. He has moved from those who gave Christians the belief in One God to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who have scattered idols to their gods all over Athens. The Epicureans denied divine judgment and argued against a fear of death. The Stoics emphasized reason and self-control.(1) Paul wanted, I suspect, to scan the group with a scowl and shout, “You are a bunch of theological illiterates.”
But that is not what Paul did! Instead Paul met them where they were. He had carefully examined the objects of their worship. He acknowledged that they were “extremely religious.” When talking to Jews, he quoted their scripture and reminded them of their traditions. With the Athenians, he quotes their poets and uses their vocabulary.
In the Walt Disney movie “The Little Mermaid” the star is the little mermaid named Ariel. Ariel has this extreme desire to know more about the world of the humans. It is her dream to become a part of that world. She explores old ship wrecks and collects human artifacts.
Ariel has a friend who tells her all about these odd possessions left behind at the bottom of the sea. This friend is a Sea Gull named Scuttle. Scuttle is a wealth of information about human artifacts. In one scene, Ariel takes a couple of pieces to him to find out what they are.
The first piece we recognize as a fork. Ariel presents the fork and asks Scuttle what it is. “Oh, that’s a DINGLE HOPPER,” states with confidence. Humans use dingle hoppers to straighten their hair out. He then proceeds to demonstrate “It gives an aesthetically pleasing configuration of the hair that humans go nuts over,” Scuttle tells her.
Next Ariel presents a curved pipe for smoking tobacco. Scuttle says, “I haven’t seen one of these in years.” “This is a BANDIS BOVIS SNORF PLAK.” It dates back to prehistoric times, when humans use to sit around and stare at each other. It was boring. They invented the snorf PLAK to make beautiful music to relieve the boredom.
A fork he called a dingle hopper. A smoking pipe he called a snorf plak. Ariel believed every word. Scuttle was very convincing.
For Paul, the Athenians’ debates made about as much sense as Scuttle’s description of a fork and pipe. Scuttle sounded very intelligent, but he was very wrong. The Athenians sounded very intelligent, but they were very wrong. Their city was full of idols. They knew about God about as well as Scuttle knew about humans.
While Paul started where they were, he didn’t stay there. He shared with them the gospel message. He began with One God, creator and protector. He shared with them the human condition of incompleteness without God. He shared how our lives are a gift from God and how we are all brothers and sisters. Paul reminded the Athenians of their need for repentance. He reminded them of the assurance that was theirs in the resurrection of Jesus and the judgement that WILL come through him.
Paul reminds us that because of resurrection, we can no longer be like Scuttle, misinformed. We can not be like the Athenians, worshiping an unknown God.
Paul reminds us there will be a judgement day, and Jesus will be our judge. Paul shares with us the example of bearing witness to the good news. Paul shares with us the example of what it means to call ourselves Christians.
Meet people where they are with love and grace.
Share with them using words they can understand.
Share the gospel in it’s entirety without watering it down.
1. The Harper Collins Study Bible, 1993.