Time is speeding by and I have so much to share! But it is so late, so I am obligated to be brief! I miss home, but more than anything I wish I had my entire family here. This place is beautiful beyond compare…so much more than I ever imagined…
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”
Acts 17:16-21 ESV
The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were incredibly academic. They based their education and knowledge on materialism and did not necessarily believe in deities at all. The epicurean philosophy was based on the teachings of the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, founded around 307 B.C. Similarly, stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy based on logic and self-control, developed by Zeno in 300 B.C. and was largely practiced throughout Ancient Greece. Both ancient philosophies were prevalent in Ancient Greece and challenged the central belief in the one true Living God being introduced by Paul.
When Paul waked through Athens over 2000 years ago, I imagine he encountered the same thing we saw as we walked his same route yesterday. Today, the streets are lined with vendors selling souvenirs and keepsakes for tourists, while in Paul’s day, vendors were selling some of the very same objects which were to be used as idols to the multiple gods the Greeks then were worshipping. As Paul passed by a statue of the “the unknown god,” he recognized an opportunity to speak to the Greeks about their faith in these mythological gods and idols, and introduce them to the living God and to Jesus Christ. He taught on Mars Hill, and in the scripture above he was questioned by the philosophers who challenged his words but were receptive to hearing what he had to say. His teaching transformed the belief system employed by these philosophers and the Greek culture, who previously had not known the truth of the Gospel.
Thus Paul brought the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Athens, and he taught the word at Mars Hill.
We walked up to Mars Hill yesterday and stood in the very place Paul taught.
The Greek text of Acts 17 is mounted in the stone of Mars Hill for anyone to see who visits the site today. From the top of the mount, you can look out over Athens and get an amazing view of the city and of the Acropolis. Truly this is breathtaking not just in the beauty but also in the rich history right out of the scripture we still read and study today.
As I looked around from the top of Mars Hill, and across Athens and onto the hilltop where the Acropolis stands, I am struck by the fact that so many people are here today but do not know the Gospel or have a relationship with Jesus. To be in the very place where Paul brought the message all that time ago, and yet to now not know the Gospel seems like such a paradox. And yet that is how the enemy deceives. We are living in the midst of idol worship even today, although it takes a different form. We aren’t sacrificing to the gods of Ancient Greece, but we are buying the trinkets and idols and rebuilding the monuments to their ancient gods in the name of history preservation and artistic expression…and is that ok in a culture whose faith is not firmly grounded in the Truth of the one true living God? These are hard questions, and I do not aim to place judgement on vendors or artists, nor do I want to remove the significance of history and the impact it has on a culture through time. Certainly our world history is incredibly vital to the understanding of God’s history through time.
Walking through the very streets where Paul walked, seeing the stones that were under his steps, and looking at the landscape that he encountered changed me yesterday and today. I think about scripture differently, in a more real and tangeable way. Paul had experiences in this very place which are similar to the experiences of people here today, and he taught the message then that needs to be heard today.
Our time is short on this trip, and our time is short in the world so we need to make it count! Paul’s life had greater impact on the spread of the Gospel than I can even comprehend and yet I have trouble taking a few weeks off from work to travel for this purpose. What is wrong in our lives that we prioritize so much above the one thing Christ commanded us specifically to do. We were not given the option of spreading the word, but we were commanded to do so!
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” Matthew 28:16-20 ESV