The More Things Change... - Acts 17:16-23 NIV
Continue our Acts study - Sequel & Requel. Our 45th today. How different are we than the people we study in Acts? The French journalist and novelist, Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr, is famous for this epigram:
"plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"
- directly translated the more things change, the more they remain the same. Many times we read the Bible as history and discount some truths as applying then but not now. Karr's entire phrase in the Google translator comes back in English - what goes around comes around. True!
8 Ways We Are Still The Same:
#1 - We are still a culture obsessed with _____________ .
"While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols." Acts 17:16 NIV
Everything about our culture is still filled with idols. Not made of rock and clay but lots of things take the place of God in our worship. Sports teams. Music groups. Political party. Technology. Anything we would prefer to do or cheer on than to worship the Lord God Himself. Self-evident! But does it break our hearts? Are we distressed? To know that people have supplanted the true eternal Creator God to be worshipped for temporal.
#2 - Our philosophy of life promotes _____________ .
When we study Acts 17 a little deeper, research it's background just a little more, we find so many details that help us to understand ourselves better...
"A group of Epicurean ... philosophers began to debate with him." Acts 17:18a
The Epicureans pursued pleasure as the chief purpose in life, and valued most of all the pleasure of a peaceful life, free from pain, disturbing passions and superstitious fears. They didn't deny the existence of gods, but believed that they had nothing to do with man.
Who does that sound like? Is that not the most perfect description of who we are in America? Often we take up a Christian version of this within the church. We find it easy to take up the Biblical teachings that describe the pleasure and peace of our faith, but leave behind anything to do with adversities.
#3 - Our philosophy of life also promotes _____________ .
"A group of... Stoic philosophers began to debate with him." Acts 17:18b NIV
The Stoics put great emphasis on moral sincerity and a high sense of duty. They cultivated a spirit of proud dignity. They were very religious. Moral. Many today substitute religion for relationship with Jesus: living a self-righteous life is the answer. The Stoics also believed that everything was god, and god was in everything. Many in our society believe in god in all things, which is another way of taking the true One God out of everything. Believe anything you want so long as your personal integrity, righteous, good-for-society way of life is ok, then we're fine with it.
#4 - We personally ____________ those with whom we disagree .
Our political gamesmanship has taken a turn to personally attacking those we disagree with. We find some element of the way they look, or their heritage, or something they've said in the past and come up with a clever name for it. This becomes our means of winning debates.
"Some of them asked, 'What is this babbler trying to say?'" Acts 17:18c NIV
Was Paul a "babbler"? Or was this a label purposely applied to disparage him personally and thus anything he might have to say? This has always been a tactic used - not new in our political arena. Grade school children learn this early on. It's hurtful. It's mean. It's beneath us. We should be better than this. But like the Athenians 2,000 years ago, we're not.
#5 - Our political leadership rests upon the perception of __________ .
"Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus." Acts 17:19
Areopagus literally translates to Ares' Rock. It was the rock upon which Ares (the god of war) was tried for the murder of Poseidon's son. The Romans called this same place Mar's Hill. (We actually have churches named after this now!)
The perception was that this was a place of power - a court for trying deliberate homicide, religious matters dealing with gods. Membership of those who could participate was restricted to those with high public office.
Our "Areopagus" today is polling numbers. Those with high favorability ratings translate into political power. Whenever what we say is taken for better or worse by where we say it or how popular our favorability is, then we will always say what we think people want to hear. Paul's message was the same whether at Areopagus or elsewhere.
#6 - In every area of our culture we are fascinated by the ______________.
"All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas." Acts 17:21 NIV
Couldn't the same thing be said about us? Consider how much television and YouTube programming is made up of talking heads? In every area? Politics? Entire channels! Sports? Entire channels!
Consider the game of football. Twenty-two men play a game for 60 actual minutes. Yet hundreds if not thousands talk about it - and get paid for talking about it - for an entire week and millions of people watch these thousands who talk about these 22 men who actually play the game.
My grandsons love to watch YouTube channels of people who comment on video games. I thought to myself, how silly, until I considered we do the same with football. Literally the same with every part of culture. We spend our time doing nothing but talk and listening to the latest ideas!
#7 - The Lord God remains largely _______________ .
"For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD." Acts 17:23 NIV
I love this verse for two reasons.
1st - Paul (as did Jesus before him) always found a way to relate his message by starting where his listeners were at. Here is Athens, many statues / idols dedicated to gods. But just in case they missed one, the "UNKNOWN GOD." That was all the transition Paul needed to launch into his gospel message. Brilliant.
We could take a lesson when we want to share the gospel with someone. Start where they are at. What are they interested in? What motivates them?
2nd - How very much like us today. The Lord God is largely unknown. Oh people know about God - at least what they think they know about God. But they don't actually know him. He is still a stranger to them. That should break our hearts.
So then, if we are like the people of Athens 2,000 years ago, what was Paul's answer? It wasn't a new religion! It wasn't a new god or even the True God! It wasn't a change in knowledge or a change in behavior or a change in beliefs - all the things we propose as answers all the time. The answer Paul shared wasn't even "Christianity!" Surprised? Then what?
#8 - The answer to every generation is ___________ and ____________ .
"They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection." Acts 17:18d NIV
Paul talked to them about Jesus and specifically the resurrection of Jesus! That man no longer needed to see death as the end. That there was a life after death. That life beyond death had been proven and experienced and that this life beyond death was available to all! That's the good news needed by the Athenians as well as by us today! Is this the same good news you are living out and telling others about?