Let us pray: Dear Savior, in perfect love Your heart goes out to us. It has brought us to saving faith in You and given us the quiet confidence that hallmarks Christianity. We know that You want that same love to impact others, too. So, give us the words and ability to reach out, speak to them, touch their souls with the Gospel, and help create more future saints. Amen
GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR LOVING LORD
TEXT: Acts 17: 22-31
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Perhaps it’s someone at work that you really like and want to deepen your friendship. Perhaps it’s a relative or a neighbor with whom you have much in common. We all know and care about such people. But one thing stands in the way of stronger ties.—They’re not Christian and change the subject when you bring up Christ, or His Church. How do you reach them? What can you say or do to prick their conscience? Well, today we have the answer to that conundrum. Our lesson provides us with an introductory course on:
HOW TO PREACH CHRIST TO THE UNBELIEVER
St. Paul found himself in Athens. Think Harvard Square. He was surrounded by really smart people who prided themselves in their intellectual prowess. They even had countless altars in the area above the marketplace, each dedicated to one of the known gods of that time. In order to hedge their bets, they even had one dedicated to the “unknown god.” Now, Boston, being a politically correct city, doesn’t do altars today. Instead we have temples to science, industry, banking, finance, biotech, etc. Instead of altars we have giant buildings dedicated to whatever “god” people currently need to counteract their multiple fears. “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said, ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To An Unknown God. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”
Most of the time the modern translation of Greek words in the Bible is pretty good. I fear that’s not the case here. The word translated “very religious” certainly can have that meaning. If that’s the case, then Paul is buttering them up a bit before he launches into his sermon. However, another core meaning of that word literally is: “demon fearing.” I believe this captures Paul’s tone much better. Think about this. Unless someone is living under a rock, they all know that evil exists. Likewise, evil, in the form of demons, fans the flame of fear in everyone’s heart. We all have phobias, fears. We fear being destitute. We fear getting older and suffering. We fear death. We fear being alone. We fear more things than I could ever list. Fears are born of evil. And so whatever we do to escape those fears, whatever we put our confidence in as an antidote to them; that “thing” becomes our religious anchor. The diehard scientist might not like that definition, but it’s true. Hence the “temples of modern religion” dotting the Boston skyline. So, Paul captures this internal phobia by using that “rabbit’s foot” altar to the “unknown god.”
Let’s go back to those unbelieving people we care about. How do you reach them? What’s the key to get them to think about God and Jesus Christ? It is addressing their fears. It is getting them to tell you what they are. Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe it’s economic collapse. Maybe it’s feeling lost and forlorn in a world with no real morals and principles to hang unto. But once you find out what those fears are, then you can address them. Then you can tell them about the God Who destroys fear with never-ending love.
This is what St. Paul now does in terms of their cultural setting. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” Yes, our God is the Creator God Who is bigger and far beyond the fearful confines of this puny world. “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” Again, God doesn’t “need” us, we need Him! “Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” We all come from common parents created by God. We’re not a product of blind chance. If we were, there would be no order, chaos would reign, and fear would win. No, God is in charge and in His wisdom He creates order out of chaos. That means you’re not a chip floating on a sea of uncertainty. That means your life really can and will have meaning if you care to listen to God instead of your own fears.
And the purpose behind all this? “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our very being. We are his offspring.'”
Living in fear over the unknown is awful. You don’t have a true sense of purpose. You cannot say that your life makes any kind of a genuine, lasting difference. You just go through the motions of life without embracing it. And fear stalks you and upends any true happiness because you know that death and some dark unknown awaits you at the end.
Yes, all fears find their seed in death and culminate in death. It’s the one inescapable of life. But the Triune God, the only God there is, has the answer to death and thus to fear. “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. (Like your many altars.) In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he 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 everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Ultimately, God’s answer to fear is Jesus Christ. He is God’s Son, God’s love in human form, Who was born to suffer and die for all human sin, thus taking the fear of it away forever. He even died on a cross and then rose to life to prove that He is the Conquering Hero over all fear, even death. Believe and trust in Him and you will be saved!
If God created life then everything about life rolls up into Him. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus has an answer and an antidote to all human fears and to evil. It is Godly love that rejects sin but extends love to the sinner. For Godly love is the only thing that can counteract and destroy fear. He provides such power to deal with fears in life and such inner bliss finds fulfillment in heaven.
This is how you preach Christ to the unbeliever. Start with their inner fears and show them how Christ conquers such fears. Folks, it’s not rocket science. It’s just humble love in action. And such love doesn’t quit after one try, it keeps on trying, because it comes from the eternal God Who never quits on us! This is the meaning behind Peter’s words in today’s epistle: “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.” And now, you know exactly how! Amen