Strangers in Our Times (2)
For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. Acts 17.21
Strangers no more
It sometimes puzzles believers that their unbelieving co-workers or friends find the Gospel to be strange, and us who believe it, stranger still.
To us the Gospel makes perfect sense. We see our need, and we understand how Jesus meets that need; so we readily put our trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The indifference, mocking, scorn, and even hostility of our unbelieving neighbors can seem unreasonable, even ungrateful, to the point that Christians sometimes express a kind of “good riddance” attitude toward the lost: “There’s just no getting through to these hard-hearted people.”
Yet such an attitude is unbecoming those who follow Him Who humbled Himself to come among His enemies – including us (Rom. 5.10) – to remove the scales that covered our eyes, and lift us to the very presence and glory of God. We all at one time were strangers to God’s covenant, people with no hope, without God in the world (Eph. 2.12). To us, though we may not have thought of the matter this way, the Gospel was strange, and those who proclaimed it were strange as well, believing, as they did, notions so contrary to what enlightened secular thinking commended.
But now, by the work of God’s Word and Spirit, we are strangers no more; rather, we are fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God (Eph. 2.13, 19)! Why should we fear those who think us strange, when it may well be that, should it please the Lord, they, like us, may one day be enemies of God no more?
That was surely the attitude Paul assumed, as he wandered among the Athenians, talking with whoever would listen to this strange new truth.
I can imagine that Paul was not the least bit surprised to learn that the Athenians regarded as strange his message of forgiveness and new life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After all, it hadn’t been that long since he was in the same boat – an enemy of Christ and determined to rid his nation of those who insisted on following Him. The grace that reached Paul on that Damascus road was a constant memory. He rehearsed his testimony over and over in the book of Acts and in his epistles, so amazed and grateful was he for the powerful love that had come to him from on high, making a stalwart of a stranger, a saint of a sinner, and an emissary of an enemy.
Moreover, it was that same love of Christ that moved Paul to reach out to people immersed in false religions, blinded by faulty worldviews, and desperately in need of the Good News of Jesus (2 Cor. 5.14, 15). He understood that the people he encountered, especially among the Gentiles, had never heard the Gospel and its precious and very great promises, or its foreign-sounding doctrines and ideas.
He was not surprised that they found his teaching new or strange; rather, he relished their penchant for all things new, and used it to pique their interest and secure an audience wherever he went.
This is why we find him, in Athens, out and about among the unbelievers, listening carefully, discussing politely, gathering a picture in his mind of what he might be up against, and seeking open doors of opportunity to tell people the truth that is in Jesus.
It probably didn’t take him very long to realize that the typical Athenian was confused about truth and looking here and there for something new to plug the gaps and mend the breaches of his patchwork worldview.
Not unlike the innovation-hungry, world-weary secularists of our own day.
Seeking the lost
Athens was the home of Greek philosophy and a magnet for new worldviews coming in from the West and the East. People there thought of religion as a kind of add-on to their daily lives, and they added-on whatever deities promised to deliver the happiness they sought. Philosophy was useful for impressing others, finding a group of like-minded friends, and thinking about the world the way they thought it should be.
But Rome was the daily reality – the doctrines and demands of Caesar, staying on the good side of foreign political authorities.
Paul had come to Athens like Jesus came to Judea and Galilee – to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19.10). He seemed to brush aside what everybody in Athens knew to be true – the gods, the worldly philosophies, the Roman presence everywhere – as he held out the promise of full and abundant life through One Who had died and risen again. It’s no wonder these pragmatic, superstitious people found his truth so strange.
Being labeled as strange or weird might be enough to put off many of us (“those hard-hearted people”), but not Paul. The love of Christ that he had come to know, kindled in him – as it must also in us – a deep sympathy for lost Athenians, and made him even more urgent to speak to as many people as possible about the Gospel of the Lord.
And in our secular age, where worldviews morph to suit the desires of the moment, even a message so strange and new as the Gospel is powerful to save all who will believe (Rom. 1.16).
1. Think of the unbelievers you know – at work, in your neighborhood, or just in general. Do you think they’ve had an opportunity to hear the Gospel, straight and true? Or is their indifference or opposition to Christianity based on hearsay? Explain.
2. What was Paul’s attitude as he wandered about in Athens? Does this reflect your own attitude? How can we bring our attitude toward our lost generation more into line with that of Jesus and Paul?
3. In a few brief sentences, what is your testimony of coming to faith in Jesus? Why do you know yourself to be no longer a stranger to the covenants of promise?
Next steps – Conversation: Do you know what your unbelieving friends believe about life and the world? Why not try to find out? Visit with some co-workers and friends. Ask them their views about what’s wrong with the world, how we can fix it, and what they understand the “good life” to be. Listen attentively as they talk. Can you see why the Gospel might seem like “strange truth” to such people?
Do you understand the Gospel? Feel confident in proclaiming it? Our booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you share the Good News with confidence. Order your copy by clicking here. While you’re at it, order a copy of Joy to Your World! and see how you can conduct a consistent witness of joy to the people God sends you to each week (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.