When the Apostle Paul preached for the first time, he spoke to Jews in the diaspora of Antioch of Pisidia. Even though he spoke to them of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, they shared a similar frame of reference. Paul could speak of Abraham, Covenant, Moses and the 52nd and 53rd chapters of Isaiah. They would get that. They have heard the words of Isaiah read aloud in worship. When Paul said, we have always been taught that this passage describes Israel as the suffering servant. They could nod in agreement. And then, he would say – this also describes and foretells the suffering of Jesus. They may be hearing a new thing, but they are all standing on the same platform, they all have the same basic understanding.
What a marked contrast that experience is with where Paul is now. There is no shared story, no shared back ground, no linguistic connections. In fact, as one commentator speculated, there isn’t even a similar level of devotion.
Michael Rogness suggests that at this point in the culture and life of the Athenians, religion was turning into mythology. And, those who had the time and energy to think of such things were becoming increasingly skeptical of the role, place, and power of the gods.
So, how does Paul speak of God and the role of the cross and resurrection without a shared cultural or religious background? What he proceeds to do gives us all encouragement as we speak of our own faith in Christ in our own time.
First, Paul connects with creation. The one God has created all things, visible and invisible.
Second, God does not live in shrines created by human hands. The one God is free from and above human homage and bounds.
Third, the unknown god the Greeks have an altar to is not served by human hands – the Lord God gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.
Fourth, unlike the Greek gods who are full of mischief – the Lord God chooses to enter fully into humanity’s existence in order to save us. Jesus redeems us in a way the Greek gods could never imagine – Jesus dies for the sake of humanity so that all of us may benefit from God’s freedom and sovereignty.
Freedom from the everlasting power of sin. We are on account of Christ free to love and be loved. Free to forgive and be forgiven. Free to trust in a God that does all the hard work of saving us so that we may respond with devotion and obedience. On account of Christ, we are free to trust that our future is in the hands of the Lord God who is kind, gracious, and righteous. God chooses to give us freedom from death. The promise to us is that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection.
Because of those touch points with the Greek culture that Paul was in, a number of people came to faith in Christ.
These days, I don’t think people are ushered into the arms of the church solely because of an argument. It is certainly important to be able to say why Christ matters. And why it matters that you are here worshiping a God you cannot control or manipulate.
The witness is more powerful and convincing when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into the Truth. The Truth is born out when love of God translates into love and care for the neighbor. The Truth is born out when we forgive as well as receive forgiveness. The Truth the Spirit leads us into it is to cherish the gifts we have through Christ Jesus.
All God’s people say…Amen.