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The Book of Acts, lessons, commentary and study guide from the church of Christ


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Bobby Stafford And When They Heard
Acts Lesson 37 Acts Chapter 17 Verses 16-34

The Book of Acts

And When They Heard


When Paul entered Athens, he was entering the center of culture, philosophy and secular education for the entire Greek and Roman world.  Many great thinkers and philosophers had lived there, men such as Socrates and Plato.  The city boasted such artistic achievements as the beautiful Parthenon, the statue of Athena, and the temple of Zeus, the largest one in the world.

While waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him, he was very distressed at what he saw.  There were over 3,000 pagan idols on every hand with sacrifices being offered to them.  He didn’t see an enlightened culture making spiritual progress but rather a society filled with ignorance and error.  (I Corinthians 10:20 “Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” NKJV  Paul could not just sit back and ignore what he saw; he had to take action.  So he preached to them about Jesus and the resurrection.  He reasoned with them.  He knew what he was up against.

Text:  Acts 17:16-34


I.  The Preaching of Paul  Acts 17:22-23  “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:  TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.  Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:” NKJV  Paul’s sermon is a great example for us today.  We must start with people where they are.  They not only did not know God’s Word, they did not even believe in Jehovah, God of the Bible.  They were “very religious,” very reverent in worshipping demons.  The inscription:  “To the unknown God” was possibly an insurance policy in case one had been left out.  Athens was a politically correct, multicultural, pluralistic society but Paul doesn’t buy it at all.  Worship offered in ignorance is not a substitute for true worship.  Paul tells them that the one you thought was unknowable, I will make known to you.  What a magnificent job he does! Paul didn’t leave them in their ignorance.

Acts 17:24-25  “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.  Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” NKJV  Instead of them making God, God made them.  He didn’t need temples like all these false gods – demons – idols.  The Athenians needed Him.  He is not dependant on anything or anyone.  God created man and all life.  Paul didn’t believe in evolution.  Acts 17:26  “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,” NKJV  God is the one in charge – in control.  He is the real God.  No race is superior to any other.  God is in control of history.  Acts 17:27-28  “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ NKJV  Because of Who He is, the source of life, they [and us] should seek Him.  We are all dependent upon Him.  All nations have equal access to God and are accountable to Him.  Acts 17:29  “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.” NKJV  Since we owe our existence to God – Creator of all – source of life – how could we possible think that some man-made idol or image was actually God?  Absurd!  Acts 17:30  “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,” NKJV  Paul calls for repentance now that the unknown God was known to them.  They were commanded to repent, to turn away from false gods,  to change their attitude toward sin, to turn away from it and submit to God. 

  (I Thessalonians 1:9-10 “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” NKJV  All men can change.  Even though they were religious, they still needed to repent.  Acts 17:31  “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.  He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” NKJV

Their motivation for repentance was Judgment Day.  No possible mistakes!  All will be called before His bench.  (II Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” NKJV 

II.  The Response of the People  Acts 17:32-34  And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’  So Paul departed from among them.  However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” NKJV 

1.  Some mocked.  They began to sneer, laugh, ridicule.  Notice what forced an end to Paul’s sermon.  “the resurrection of the dead”  They had listened to him say that their idols, demons, false gods were as nothing compared to Jehovah God.  They even listened that they needed to repent; but when he mentioned a bodily resurrection from the dead, it was just too much. They could not stand it any longer.  They thought a resurrection was ridiculous!

(I Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” NKJV

2.  Some put Paul off to a later date.  Did they really want to hear more at another time or were they being polite?  It is hard to say.  That was a very dangerous thing to do.  Notice the following.  (Acts 24:24-25 “And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.  Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now when I have a convenient time I will call for you’ ” NKJV  Felix put things off waiting a convenient time.  But no such thing exists!  Putting it off can harden us.  Warning is given in Hebrews 3:12-15 “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said, ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’ ” NKJV

3.  Some believed.  Not many, but at least some became New Testament Christians, followers of Jesus Christ.  One soul is worth more than all the world.  (Matthew 16:26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” NKJV  One Christian, Dionysius, was one of the judges who heard him.


What is your response to hearing the gospel?

·  Ridicule it

·  Put it off

·  Believe it

Remember the words of Paul in II Corinthians 6:2 “Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.”

Won’t you come? 

Bobby Stafford 

April 10, 2016  [Evening] 

Acts:  Lesson 37  Acts 17:16-34

 More Studies on Acts


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