Misunderstood, Mocked and… Mission Accomplished in Athens

Message portion begins ~21 minutes into the live stream.

Forty years ago, an intrepid award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune named Lee Strobel set out on a mission. Strobel was an agnostic, and he was alarmed when his agnostic wife became a follower of Jesus. Strobel had graduated from Yale University, and as an Ivy League alumnus, he lived his life based on facts and logic. He thought organized religion was unnecessary and a waste of time and energy. When his wife became a Christian, he thought his marriage would collapse. Strobel said, “After my wife became a Christian, I began to see positive changes in her character and values.” He saw a difference in how she treated people and cared about others. It left him deeply unsettled. So Strobel set out on a mission to study the life of Christ and disprove the resurrection.

Strobel said, “As someone trained to deal with facts and logic, I wasn’t willing to put my faith in wishful thinking or make-believe. I needed solid evidence that Jesus is, indeed, the unique Son of God. Based on scientific evidence, I became convinced that there’s a Creator of the universe; and based on historical data, I became confident [in] Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. [He] backed up that claim by returning from the dead.”

The man who had set out on mission to discover the truth and shatter his wife’s faith—discovered the truth and embraced the grace that sets men free.

“Christianity is the only world religion that is built on grace rather than a system in which people try to work their way to God,” he said. “God’s grace is an inexhaustible topic that has so many implications for our life and eternity.” I really love Pureflix’s adaptation of Strobel’s journey in the film, The Case for Christ (available on Netflix).

The Gospel Can Be Misunderstood. God wants you and me to make the Gospel clear. Paul’s motives were pure. He was distressed about the spiritual condition of the Athenians. Some of the Athenians scorned him. Ironically, they called him an ignorant showoff or a babbler. The ignorant people here are the ones worshipping idols.

We get so wrapped up about what people think of us. Why? It’s exhausting. When I slip into this trap, the Spirit of God reminds me to abandon this fool’s errand and simply follow Him. It’s much easier to live life for an audience of One. This is Jesus’ invitation to take His easy yoke (Matthew 11:28-30. The Way of Jesus means setting aside the burden of worrying about everything and everyone else and simply following Him.

Paul doesn’t stress about being called a babbler or insulted by the Athenians. On the contrary he’s deeply troubled about their spiritual condition. Are you concerned about the spiritual condition of your family, your friends, and neighbors? If not, it could be an indicator you’re serving other gods. The reality is there are idols all around us. Material possessions, sexuality, greed, careerism, politics—these are all idols pervasive in our culture

People routinely misunderstand the Gospel. Most of the time people understand a caricature of the Gospel but they don’t understand what the Gospel really is.

Lee Strobel before he came to faith misunderstood Christianity. He didn’t believe God could bring him to faith thru logic and reason—until He did.  

The Gospel is Strange. Let’s face it. It’s not normal for someone to claim to be the Son of God. It sounded strange for people to hear 2,000 years ago, and it still sounds strange today. But something that is strange doesn’t make it untrue. The Resurrection is strange, because Jesus is the only person who predicted his crucifixion and his resurrection. Then He raised Himself from the dead. No one else has done that throughout human history. It is strange, but it’s also true. 

C.S. Lewis, famous for authoring The Chronicles of Narnia, was an atheist before converting to Christianity. He observed this reality about Jesus: “You must make your choice: Either this man was and is the Son of God or else a madman or something worse…Let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his just being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Four reasons the resurrection is true (h/t Alpha Film Series):

  1. Jesus’ absence from the tomb. No one has been able to persuasively explain how Jesus’ body was absent from the tomb on Easter Sunday.
  2. Jesus’ presence with the disciples—seen more than 11 times after the resurrection including once with over 500 witnesses.
  3. Transformation of Jesus’ disciples—fearful to fearless; nearly all were tortured, crucified or beheaded because of what they believed—Jesus was alive. They knew it was true.
  4. It’s still happening today. Over 2 billion people claim to follow Jesus around the world and speak of a real encounter with the risen Jesus.

Another great C.S. Lewis observation: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

The Gospel is an Invitation to Discover the Divine. The Gospel reveals how mankind is made in God’s image and exposes how we try to make God in ours. Paul quotes Epicurean and Stoic philosophy that align with the reality that we are made in God’s image. Verse 28—Genesis explains that God breathed into man and he became a living being. Because we’re created by God, we are in a sense His offspring. We are a result of His creation, and we reflect His image.

My older brother Trevin writes in his book, Rethink Your Self, “If there is a God and he really did make you and the rest of the world, then you don’t get to define him in relation to you; he gets to define you in relation to him. And unless you look up first, you’ll make God in your image rather than accept that you’re made in his. You’ll define God as you want him to be rather than discover God as he actually is.”

Our deepest desire is to worship—to love and be loved. But until we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength—as Jesus commanded—our worship will be misplaced. We’ll come up with all these idols—like the Greeks. Their idols looked like silly man-made images. Our idols look like mansions, beautiful fairways, advanced degrees, climbing the career ladder, human relationships. Any desire or dream we put before God becomes an idol.

The problem when we do that is we make God in our image. We want God to fit into our calendar, hopes and dreams. Sure, we’ll give our time, energy, money to God if we’re feeling generous. But God wants all of us.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9:10). Solomon, one of the wisest men that ever lived says wisdom—making good decisions that lead to good outcomes involves knowing God. Discovering the God who made you, who loves you, and gave Himself for you. Put pursuing God means trusting Him. Discovering God involves faith decisions. You’ll have decisions this week presented to you. Will you spend time with God reading His Bible each day this week and speaking to Him thru prayer. Or will you pursue other activities?

There’s this meme floating around the internet where a woman said, “I really wish I could have a conversation with God and really hear his voice.” Someone responded, “Read your Bible.” The woman responds, “No, I mean I wish I could audibly hear the voice of God.” Someone responds, “Read your Bible out loud.” And we laugh at this because it’s funny. But it’s also true. God does speak to us through His Word. But we fail to appreciate the relationship development that God offers us through the Bible.

Here’s another faith decision: Will you spend time with God’s people this week thru missional communities? “Walk with the wise and become wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Do life with the wise—God’s people, and you’ll grow in wisdom. You’ll make better choices with better outcomes.

Without realizing it at the time, Lee Strobel began a journey to discover the divine. By studying the life of Jesus and investigating the resurrection, God used his journalistic curiosity, gifts and talents to open his eyes spiritually to the truth and beauty of the Gospel.

Gospel Responses will Vary. The resurrection is essential to the Gospel. Verse 32—tells us some people mocked the resurrection. Others said, “Tell us more. Let’s continue the conversation.” Others received the message because the Spirit of God opened their eyes to see its truth. Was a Paul a failure because some people rejected the Gospel? Absolutely not. Paul was faithful in presenting it. That’s all Jesus commands us to do. The Bible says in Jonah, “Salvation is of the Lord.” The word salvation is healing. It comes from the Latin word “salve.” Spiritual healing is from the Lord. The past week or so, an American politician confidently stated he would “restore our souls.” Couple thoughts come to mind. First, that’s a lot of pressure to put on oneself. Second, that’s complete nonsense. Yet many Americans who’s god is government will believe it. But the Bible says that only God restores souls; only God Himself can heal us from our pain, our guilt and shame caused by our sin.

You and I need to be faithful to proclaim the Gospel. Tomorrow night at missional community training, we’re going to help you learn to do just that. Sign up on our Facebook page or just be here at 6 PM. We’ll train you to fulfill the Great Commission and make the Gospel clear.

Some people will mock us. To become a Christian means you surrender to the Son of God. It involves repentance which means abandoning a self-focused, self-centered way of life and in humility turning to God and acknowledging His way is the path that leads to life and meaning and purpose.  

Closing questions:

Are you helping people understand the Gospel before it’s too late? God loves us and came to earth to rescue us thru the person of Jesus. He died for our sins—the innocent for the guilty—and conquered death by rising from the grave. He did all this, so we can be reconciled to God and have our lives our desires transformed—enjoy relationship with God forever even after we die. Because one day God will bring us back to life. The Gospel is about grace. We can’t earn it. We choose whether to receive it. But we have a limited window to make the Gospel clear

Where are you on the journey to discover the Divine? Have you begun the journey? Are you on it but struggling with faith decisions to follow Jesus? The Way of Jesus means walking in faith and obeying His teaching and commands. This journey leads to new life, meaning, purpose, wisdom, knowing God and enjoying Him forever.

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