Today I spotlight an important way in how to share the message of salvation. I call it the “Fill in the Blank” style of evangelism. With all of the unhappiness in today’s world, clearly something is missing. There is a blank. In today’s world I hear a lot of doubt, confusion, discontentment. We have an opportunity to fill in the blank with Jesus Christ as the way forward.
I’ve often thought of this scriptere over the years as I listen to people’s struggles, confusion, doubts, uncertainties, grasping for answers. The unknown god statue means there is a disconnect with god, a missing piece/peace. The world is crazy today because people are discovering the answers they think will provide peace and security isn’t working…as a political end is accomplished, low and behold it wasn’t the answer….
Acts 17:21 makes me smile. It is an editorial comment from Luke, the author of Acts, pointing out the hollowness of endless arguments. READ. That is our world! Acts 17:21 is sarcasm. Let me read it with a twist for today…. “It seems like everyone on Facebook spends their time doing nothing but talking and listening to the latest ideas”. Paul’s experience in Athens 2000 years ago is no different from today… a ton of unhappy people debating nuances of dead end ideas to try and find peace and unity.
Our world is full of people with a blank. Fill in the blank for those who are searching. Jesus Christ is the answer for the searching, the rest for the weary, the confidence for the confused, the hope for the lost, the light for those in the dark, the joy for the angry, the blessing for those under a curse. The unknown god is haunting those looking for answers. Very few have confidence in their system which is why there is a lot of yelling in this world. Those who yell the loudest are only trying to convince themselves they are right. Paul quickly see that many people in Athens have a blank. He fills in the blank. We have the same opportunity.
Paul is in Athens, the center of Greek culture. He’s was run out of town in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and now he’s in Athens. No quit in this man. He’s waiting in Athens for companions to catch up. READ Acts 17:16. Underline the word distressed. Reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ begins with caring about them and being concerned about their choices/lifestyle. Paul is distressed. The Message translation says it this way: “The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got --- all those idols. The city was a junkyard of idols!” Our world is also full of misplaced solutions. Paul shows us it is possible to love the people but get angry with their answers! He’s angry at the answers, which translates into caring enough to confront them.
The next verses he goes to the synagogue as was his custom, but he also goes directly to the gentiles in the streets. READ Acts 17:17. This is the plan b I spoke about last week as Paul has learned to go as quickly as possible to the gentiles.
Epicureans and Stoics referenced in Acts 17:18a. READ.
* The Epicureans believe in no gods, atheists. A little bit of pleasure will bring happiness. Live for yourself. A good summary: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die. That describes a thousand people we all know, maybe even a little bit of ourselves. No great purpose other than a fun nice life. Epicurianism is wrong because we need a greater purpose to find fulfillment... The Jesus way is to find purpose in serving others. It’s a hollow philosophy if you believe the highest good is found in momentary pleasures.
* The stoics believed in all the gods. The more the merrier. Their highest goal: live life on an even keel. Emotionless. Logic is king. Don’t get too excited about anything or too afraid of anything. Stoicism is alive and well…Today I see Stoicism as a kind of protectionism ~ if I suppress all my emotions then nothing can hurt me. Guess what? God gave us emotions. Guess what? Fear is natural and God’s promise is to be with us. The story of Jesus Christ is one of overcoming, not avoiding.
Today there are still stoics and epicureans ~ people with big blanks in their life because their ideas are missing something….
Many don’t get Paul. READ Acts 17:18b. Name calling/labeling is still a way to try and dismiss those of whom we disagree… rejection is the risk Christians take. I am forever intrigued by the Resurrection as the central teaching of the Christian faith that makes Christianity so different from any other system.
The Aeropagus in Acts 17:19 is fascinating. READ. The Areopagus is an ancient court, interestingly enough, this is the same body that condemned Socrates to death centuries earlier. In Paul’s day they don’t have the same power, but they do act as the gateway for who is acceptable to lecture in the streets of Athens ~ gatekeepers. The philosophers march Paul before this body to present his credentials. The setting is complete for a most extraordinary speech, packed with wisdom in how to share the gospel/fill in the blanks for those who are searching. Paul is no longer speaking to Jews who know their Bible. The Athenians are steeped in a very different culture/background. Paul’s words provide insights for how to fill in the blank:
Acts 17:22: Paul commends the philosophers for the slightest good. READ. It’s a point of identity. He has listened. Though they were idolaters, he begins by approving their religiousness. When persuading people, it is good to find something good.
Acts 17:23: Paul studied their culture. READ. He walked around. We need to know the culture of the people we seek to reach. That’s respectful. It can’t be a game but a genuine love for others. To listen to people and seek to get to know them, what makes them tick, their values, is to find connections. It’s a way to serve them. It’s real people we are trying to persuade who have real brains and backgrounds.
The unknown god is a launching pad for Paul… a connection, a place to begin to fill in the blank. The unknown god spotlights a crack in their faith showing they didn’t have confidence in what they believed. Today, maybe it’s the movies, sitcoms, the attitudes towards the local sports teams… Jews for Jesus was so good at this in S.F. with their broadsides….
Acts 17:24 Paul stretches their thinking… READ. He challenges them to the fact that surely God is not limited to the temple… the true god is not an idol. Paul is positive, emphasizing more what he believes as opposed to telling them everything that is wrong with them. He’s filling in the blank of their system rather than pure condemnation. years ago, I was confronted by a person that did not like my style of ministry. He told me that I was loving people to hell, meaning he wanted me to be more condemning. I say, look at Paul before the Areopagus. It’s instructive to me that the prophets of the O.T. show us there is a time to condemn, but the vast majority of the harsh words are for Israel, insiders. When Jesus was on earth, who are his harshest words aimed at? The religious leaders. Those who are closest….
Paul shows us the importance of commending the people we are trying to reach. Find something they are doing right but challenge to fill in the blank with Jesus Christ.
Acts 17:24-26: When the time is right, Paul does not hold back the full vision of the power and majesty of God. READ. How much greater is the one true God compared to the dead end philosophies rooted in lifeless rocks. God is superior. He is the answer to the blank. Show how Jesus Christ will meet their deepest longings!
Acts 17:27 highlights the personal nature of God, he offers hope and assurance that a relationship with God is for all. Nobody is beyond his love. This is a verse of HOPE. READ. There is no need for a blank in your life.
Acts 17:28: Paul quotes their poets. This is more of how Paul knows something of their culture. He was well read and was able to make a point by drawing from sources with which they were likely to agree. READ. I can still hear one of my professors, Colin Brown, describe how some people treat the Bible like Aladin’s lamp: if you quote the Bible enough a Genie will appear and make amazing things happen. Bible verses are awesome having an obvious place in our testimony, but Paul shows us just talking from the point of view of the person you’re talking to is equally good if it reaches people and makes them think.
Acts 17:29-31 Paul stretches their thinking READ. He builds upon what they believe as he fills in the blank of what’s missing as he puts the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ on the image of the Unknown God. He challenges the people to repent, and warns them that a judgment is coming. Paul brilliantly preaches the whole gospel by finding connections in their world. He fills in the blanks.
Acts 17:32-34 outlines the results of Paul’s speech. He earns another hearing. Some are intrigued, some reject, a few believe.
Fill in the blank for those who are searching to find wholeness. Fill in the blank with Jesus Christ. Don’t be intimidated by Paul’s eloquence. Few of us will be given a public opportunity to share the gospel like Paul. Few are called to a street ministry. What’s important in this scripture for most of us is using the same ideas in our one-on-one encounters, our friendships, the world we live. God will use us in our setting with our gifts and abilities. Love those whom you are trying to reach. Listen to them to understand where they are coming from. Commend them, like Paul, i.e. learn from them. Admire them. Then when the time is right, fill in the blank with the message of Jesus Christ. People are searching for meaning in this old world of ours. Take advantage of opportunities to fill in the blank with the message of Jesus Christ to bring peace and contentment. Amen.