An Easter Sermon for Unbelievers by James Montgomery Boice

Friday: Repent!

Acts 17:29-31 This week’s lessons teach us how Paul shared the Gospel with the Gentiles in Athens.

Paul ended his sermon with a few inducements to repentance that we will look at now. 

1. God has been patient, overlooking ignorance for a time (v. 30). That should encourage us. Our land is as corrupt as theirs, even though we have known the Gospel for hundreds of years, which they had not. God has not yet destroyed America for its sins. Why? It is because God is patient. He has also been patient with you. He has overlooked your ignorance for a time. Pay attention to that, and let God’s patience lead you to repentance. 

2. God commands repentance. This is a great inducement. If God tells us to do something, we had better do it. It is no small matter. 

3. God has appointed a final day of reckoning when Jesus shall be the final judge. Paul’s exact words were, “He [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (v. 31). The resurrection of Jesus is what we remember especially on Easter Sunday when we see it as proof of all those good things that pertain to Christian people. But we find here that it is also a great warning. For it is evidence that God does not ignore sin, that justice will be meted out, and that Jesus Himself will be our judge at that day— if we will not have him as our Savior now. The philosophers interrupted Paul at that point, for these sophisticated hearers did not believe in resurrections. This was one point on which the Stoics and Epicureans agreed. They did not believe in and did not want a resurrection. In fact, there could not even be a resurrection according to their philosophy. 

Was Paul disappointed with the modest results of his address to these philosophers? He may have been. In other Greek cities, particularly where he had worked for a time, Paul had left a church behind him and this did not seem to have happened at Athens. This has led some to suggest that Paul’s approach in Athens was not right. 

Yet this may be unfair. Earlier in chapter 17, we are told that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks” (v. 17). When it says he reasoned with them it means he reasoned from the Scriptures. So he must have been doing the same thing in Athens that he had done in other Greek cities. He was teaching the Bible. And what about the invitation to address the philosophers? All he did was speak to people in terms they could understand. Moreover, he taught biblical theology. Some scholars may criticize the Apostle Paul at that point, but I know that I am not going to criticize him. 

But if you ask, “Was he discouraged?” well, he may have been. Athens was a great city. He had worked hard, and when he finished he did not have much to show for it. 

Yet he had something, didn’t he? We read at the end: “A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus [that is, one of the leading philosophers], also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (v. 34). “Others” means two at least. So there were at least four, and maybe more. Later there was a church in Athens, though it did not seem to have gotten established until after Paul’s day. It is hard to speak to intellectuals, even harder to speak to people who are basking in the glory of a former age. It is hard for us, too. Yet Paul did try to reach them. 

Some will sneer. Others will postpone a decision. But there will always be some who believe. Why should you not be among them? Remember the resurrection. It is proof that there is a day of judgment coming.

Study Questions
  1. What concept did the Athenians reject?
  2. How did Paul appeal to the Athenians? How did it differ from his normal method?
  3. Why was it difficult for Paul to speak with the Athenians?

Reflection: What characterizes intellectuals today? What do they tend to think about Christianity? How could Paul’s approach to the philosophers in Athens be used to address unbelieving philosophers and academics today?

For Further Study:  Download and listen for free to Philip Ryken’s message, “Worthy Is the Lamb.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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