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St. Paul in Athens: Being Ready to Give A Defense of the Hope!

May 17, 2020

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Easter 6                                                                 Trinity Lutheran Church

17 May 2020                                                         Murdock, NE

 

+ Jesu Juva +

 

Acts 17:16-33

 

Paul finds himself in Athens.  He’s given the golden opportunity to explain and defend the Christian faith in a “city full of idols” inhabited by very religious pagan philosophers and idolatrous citizens.  Yes, supremely religious Athenians are.  But not Christian.  The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena.  Areopagus literally means “hill of Ares.” Ares being the Greek god of war.  The Romans called him Mars.  So religious are the Athenians that they have an altar with no idol on it.  Inscribed on the altar are the words:  “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.”  Covering all their bases. Or hedging all their bets I guess.  Like professional Las Vegas poker players.

 

Talk on the streets about Pastor Paul’s teaching goes from: “What does this babbler wish to say?” to “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities … because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”

 

Did you catch that last part?  Preaching “Jesus AND THE resurrection.”  The Athenians mistakenly think that Paul is pushing two unheard of divinities:  Jesus is one and the other is perhaps His female consort called Resurrection or literally in the Greek, Anastasis!  That’s how the Athenians did religion.  Deities in pairs.  Paul must be preaching a new pair.  Intriguing.  Or as Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame would say with eyebrow raised:  “Fascinating.”

 

The Athenians are willing to hear more.  They’re into anything novel or “new … spending their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”  It’s like living on the UNL, UNO or Creighton campuses.  Everyone hanging around Starbucks or the hip coffee shop on a Saturday morning, sipping freshly brewed piping hot lattes, nibbling on scones, and debating all things new in philosophy, technology, politics and yes, even the latest and the newest in theology.

 

And now with all the buzz of two new divinities being taught the Athenians graciously invite Paul to fill them in.  Give them the 411.  The skinny.  The inside story.  “Hey Preacher Paul!  Put on you bow tie and meet us at the Areopagus.  Lattes and scones are on us.  We’ll even throw in some chocolate mints.  Tell us what this new teaching of yours is.  Sounds strange but maybe you could turn it into a doctoral thesis at Athens U. Let’s see if your teaching measures up to Athenian standards!”

 

Paul takes full advantage of the opportunity.  He is not intimidated.  To paraphrase the Epistle today he was always “prepared to make a defense to anyone” that asked him “for a reason for the hope that is in [him].”   Paul preaches full steam ahead. He’s not afraid.  He’s not worried about failure or success, rejection or acceptance.  He’s a preacher.  A truth teller.  He’ll let the chips fall where they may.  He may endure slander and suffering.  Disapproval. Disrespect.  Maybe even jail time, fines, beatings or perhaps martyrdom.  It doesn’t matter.  Given the opportunity he will defend the Christian faith and preach the gospel in the midst of the most skeptical and cynical people of Athens.  And the Holy Spirit will create saving faith when and where it pleases Him in those who hear this gospel that Paul preaches.  So he’s off and running.  At the mouth that is.  Typical preacher.  But a faithful one!

 

Did you note that Paul preaches God the Creator!  God made the world and everything in it.  And more!  Check it out!  It is a profound biblical truth.  He preaches God as the Categorical Giver.  “He himself GIVES to all mankind life and breath and everything.”  That’s a huge point.  Most miss it.  Let’s push it for all its worth.  Paul is teaching that God made us and all creatures.  That God GAVE us our body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members; our reason and our senses and still preserves them.  That He also GIVES US clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, protection from danger and everything that sustains life.  That God gives these gifts ONLY out of fatherly divine mercy without any merit or worthiness in us!  All gift!  From God!  God serves.  When Paul preaches God’s creating it is all about DIVINE SERVICE!  You don’t create yourself.  Before God you’re passive receivers.   Most people, especially the Athenians and 21st century Americans get it backwards.  Namely, the gods would never GIVE but needed to be given to. Paul declares the opposite!   “Nor is he served by human hands.” In other words, God exists FOR YOU!  God doesn’t exist for Himself.  That’s bold!  Audacious!  Faithful!  Comforting!

 

No doubt the Athenians and the philosophers are getting a little edgy.  Are you?  Does such preaching make you a bit nervous?    Or give you great comfort and joy?  Just wait. Then Paul proclaims a Last Day judgment.  There will be a final reckoning.  By God!  “He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.”  That man is Jesus!  The Good Friday-ed Jesus!  The Savior of the world Jesus.

 

Since there’s going to be a Last Day and a Last Day Judgment, Paul dares to use the “R” VERB!  Yes, that’s right “repent.”  REPENT before it is too late.  All the OT prophets preached the same sermon to Israel generation after generation.  John the Baptist did.  Jesus did.  All faithful preachers do!  God “commands all people everywhere to repent,” Paul declares.

 

Now, let me let you in on a biblical secret.  It’s this.  God repents people.  It’s why He sends preachers to preach His Word.  God repents folks through His Word of law so that they tell the truth about themselves, believe that they are sinners, confess their sin and quit the hellacious religion of justification of the self! And then God does the most important and critical part of repenting people.  He faiths them!  Works the miracle of faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the gospel.  Again, this is why He sends preachers to preach His Word.  “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ,” (Rom 10:17)! “The gospel is the power of God FOR SALVATION to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16)!

 

So Paul preaches repentance.  The turn from sin and the turn in faith to Jesus the Good Friday-ed but resurrected Savior.  So that when the Last Day Judgment takes place Jesus will judge you faith-ers in the way of righteousness, namely, that He has given you His righteousness as pure gift for your salvation.

 

Remember, Paul had been preaching Jesus and the resurrection.  Not two divinities.  But Jesus and His bodily Resurrection from the dead on the Third Day!  For salvation!  Now for Athenians, especially the philosophers, dead men don’t rise from the dead.  But Jesus did!  And that’s Paul’s point.  As you can imagine the reaction to Paul’s sermon was mixed.  Some scoffed.  Others wanted to hear more.  The Holy Spirit brought a few to faith through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Among them were Dionysius and Damaris.  Praise God!

 

Now, I want to make one more point.  It’s this.  Like St. Paul you will be asked, if you haven’t already, why you are a Christian?  Why do you go to Trinity, Murdock?  Why do you believe in Jesus?  Why do you worship Him?  Why do you eat and drink His Body and Blood?  Why do you call yourself a Christian?  What does this mean?  People will want to know.  Sometimes the questions will come from your own children or grandchildren.  And you need to be able to give the answers.  Faithfully!

 

Here I fear, is where we as individual Christians, as a congregation and the church at large need to be repented and do better.  Can you give a reason for the hope that is in you?  Could you, if asked, defend the Christian faith in a very basic way against a skeptic or agnostic let alone an atheist?  What would you say to the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries if you let them into your living room to talk?  Could you defend the Christian faith against their lies and attacks of the faith on any level at all?

 

Would you ever be so bold to tell someone caught in sin to repent?  Would you ever dare to warn people that there will be a Judgment Day and that if they’re not a believer in Jesus it will be hellacious?  If someone asked you who Jesus is, could you tell him in a way that would be biblically faithful?  Could you even find a passage in the NT that would confess Jesus to be the Savior if someone asked you? If someone asked you, “How does a person get saved?” could you give him the biblical answer?

 

We are always given opportunities to speak to others but I fear we don’t. Very hesitant to do so.  Why?  Could it be that we don’t know why we believe or what we believe?  Probably.  If surveys of ordinary Christians are somewhat accurate most cannot give a biblical answer of who Jesus is let alone how a sinner is saved.  The fact that most Christians do not attend a Bible study regularly with their pastor is another factor.  There is really no excuse for this.  We offer Bible study after Bible study, we all have Bibles and have Small Catechisms.  Opportunities to learn abound.

 

Another reason we don’t speak is that we judge our lives entirely in terms success and failure.  We are scared that if we speak we will be rejected.  Mocked.  Laughed at.  Scorned.  Lose friends.  Or family.  Maybe even a career.  Failure.  That’s what we fear.  So it’s best not even to take the chance.  Paul’s business was to make a defense for what he believed whether people listened or not.  Failure is certain and sure if you do not open your mouth especially when asked.   If you live as a Christian, you live as one who has hope because Jesus rose from the dead just like He promised.  People will want to know what makes you tick.  Why you’re different.  Tell them.

 

Don’t let your old Adam win the day.   Your old Adam doesn’t want Jesus, His Word and His resurrection discussed.  And your ability to defend and speak the faith to others and for the sake of others is so much weaker or virtually nonexistent.  So our old Adam needs to die!  In repentance! So that we and those to whom we speak will live by faith!

 

Now, for our sin of apathy, ignorance, misspeaking or silence I’m here to tell you that Jesus forgives you.  His forgiveness Good Friday-ly won FOR YOU means freedom.  Freedom to take risks like St. Paul in Athens and speak Jesus and His resurrection in the midst of an unbelieving world full of idolatry and idols.  Freedom to study God’s Word in Bible classes or other studies with your pastor.  Freedom to attend to the divine service to worship Jesus despite all the scoffers and skeptics that call you dangerous, babbling fools.

 

Like St. Paul, if anyone asks, the Lord will use you as His mouth to give them the reason for the hope you have in this life.  And what is that?  It’s this.  That because Jesus Good Friday-ed you, because He covered you with His sacrificial, divine, Blood, all your sin is forgiven.  You are justified before God in Jesus!  You are covered with a righteousness not of your own but Christ’s!

That because Jesus lives, you will live and that not even death, YES NOT EVEN DEATH, even if it would come from COVID 19, can separate you from God’s love in Jesus.  That in your baptism you have been hooked with Jesus in His Good Friday atoning-for-all-sin-death and that you have been buried with Him. That in the Lord’s Supper Jesus actually gives you the body and blood of His Good Friday sacrifice that answered for all your sin.  That Jesus, through the pastor, or any Christian for that matter, speaks the words of forgiveness into your ears.  That He repents and faiths you daily.  And you believe all this because? ….  Because Jesus rose from the dead bodily on the Third Day and He lives and reigns to all eternity!

Brothers and sisters, you have nothing to fear.  In your hearts regard Jesus the Lord as holy, continually learn and study God’s Word and you’ll always be ready to make defense to anyone that asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

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