Acts 17:22-31

Jesus
called His followers to be fishers of men. As in any fishing, bait and presentation
is everything. What would you think if a fishermen who hadn’t caught anything
all day told you he had been fishing with strawberries? You would probably say,
“Well, duh? You can’t catch fish on strawberries.” Fish don’t
eat strawberries. What kind of fishermen doesn’t know the proper bait to
use?

Too
many churches and Christians are fishing with strawberries. No wonder their
results are dismal. Paul knew that regardless of what kind of men we are fishing
for, the only appropriate bait for fishing for men is the gospel of Christ.
Just because a certain kind of person seems difficult to catch doesn’t
mean we change the bait. However the presentation may take some adjusting.

How
to catch the most difficult kind of people:

I.
Know the kind of people you are fishing for. (v. 22)

What
makes post-Christian people of today so difficult to evangelize? The answer
is the same thing that made it difficult to evangelize pre-Christian society
of Paul. They were very religious.

“Paul
then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: AMen of Athens! I see
that in every way you are very religious” (v. 22).

On
a positive note, religious people lend an ear to the gospel. The problem is
that they lend an ear to every wind of doctrine.

I
went to seminary in New Orleans. Some friends and I would go down to the French
Quarter and Bourbon Street to witness. New Orleans is filled with all kinds
of religions and beliefs. On any day, you can meet people who believe in all
kinds of gods.

They
were religious. They would be happy to discuss religion with us, but rarely
could we convince by argument that they should follow Christ.

The
men to whom Paul was speaking were Epicureans and Stoics. Epicureans believed
that the chief end of men was to avoid pain. They believed in God, but believed
that He had no interest in the earthly affairs of man. Neither did they believe
in the afterlife. The Stoics taught that the chief end of man was to master
himself to the point that he was indifferent to pleasure and pain. We must know
the people we are seeking to catch.

II.
Present the gospel in a relevant way. (v. 23-32)

Paul
understood who his audience was. This fact allowed him to address them in a
relevant way. His method was simple. Start where they are and lead them to the
gospel. The most difficult kind of fish in our day will be caught in the same
way.

A.
Start with what people can understand. In v.23, Paul noted that they had many
altars to the pantheon of gods they worshipped. They feared that they might
leave a god out, so they put up an altar with the inscription: “TO THE
UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul used this opportunity to connect these people with the
gospel message.

B.
Lead them to the truth of the gospel. Paul said, Let me tell you about the God
that is unknown to you. He is not just another God, but he is the only God.
He proceeded to lead them to the truth of God. He is the Creator God who made
the world and all things in it. He is the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.
This God is different than every other God. He doesn’t need anything. He
gives life to all and breath to all things.

Then
Paul added in v.27-28, “He is not far from each one of us. For in him we
live and move and have our being.” God is so close to the pagan that breath
would cease if God wasn’t there. Yet those on Mars Hill still didn’t
know Him.

Paul
continued to lead to them to the resurrection truth: “He has given proof
of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Christians
today stand again on Mars Hill. In the first century Paul debated with two groups
of Greek philosophers at a place in Athens called Mars Hill. Paul’s antagonists
were the Epicureans and the Stoics.

Like
Paul, Christians today are locked in debate with both Epicureans and Stoics.
When the American atheists met in Denver some years ago, Madalyn Murray O’Hare
declared that there is no god. Shirley Maclaine soon came to town and pronounced
that she and all her listeners are gods. Shortly thereafter, in a Denver crusade,
Billy Graham preached that Jesus alone is God. As at Mars Hill, our day contains
many worldviews. The diversity of belief highlights the need for the gospel
to be preached.

III.
Be delighted with whatever catch God provides. (v. 32-34)

At
least four people were saved that day. “A few men became followers of Paul
and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman
named Damaris, and a number of others” (v. 34).

Some
may say that was not very many. What mattered was that the gospel was preached.

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