Throughout our study of ACTS, maybe you’ve noticed something: The Gospel is unstoppable.
It’s like a locomotive. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (Don’t get in its way). You can’t stop it.
It’s like a Boeing jet. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (It travels long distances). You can’t stop it.
It’s like a toddler after a bunch of fruit snacks. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (It doesn’t even crash after the sugar rush). You can’t stop it.
Will the run of the Gospel continue? Before we study God’s Word, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. When Workers are Few…
The lesson comes from Acts 18. Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. (18:1) Corinth was located about 45 miles east of Athens. The best way to get there was a long dirt road. That’s how Paul got there. He walked on his own down a long dirt road by himself.
As he approached, he would have seen a grand city. Corinth had one of the largest populations of the ancient world. It contained a large marketplace where all kinds of merchants gathered to sell their goods. It was money driven. People liked the finer goods of life. They were always busy buying and selling.
Corinth was also the location of the temple to Aphrodite. She was the goddess of love and sex. Just as the worship of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, influenced the philosophy and wisdom of Athens, the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex, influenced the city of Corinth. People were very loose with their sexuality.
In fact, it is recorded that once a week, the one thousand priestesses of Aphrodite would come down from the temple. They’d enter the city and “ply their wares.” They’d sleep with men. They’d sleep with women. They’d sleep with a bunch of men and women.
If preaching the Gospel in Athens was like talking amongst a large group of philosophy professors, preaching the Gospel in Corinth was like catching a group of porn actors on their smoke break.
Put yourself in Paul’s sandals.
As he walked towards the city.
On a dirt road.
Seeing the city in the distance.
He might have thought:
How am I going to do this?
I’m by myself, God! This Corinth? It has over 1,000 temple prostitutes.
And you teach that sex is a special gift for one and one woman in marriage.
These people? They sleep with one man and one woman before the morning coffee break! (It’s embedded in their culture.)
And…how am I going to get throughout the entire city? It’s huge. Markets and merchants everywhere.
Where am I even going to stay? The only hotel rooms come with a voluptuous roommate and a red light special?
God, is this the end of Gospel ministry?
But if Paul had those concerns, God answered Paul.
Not with words.
Paul met a Jew named Aquila…and his wife Priscilla. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. (v.2,3)
Tentmaking was an important ancient trade. Because people walked from city to city, tents were brought along in case you had to set up shelter and spend the night along the roadway. These tents were generally made from animal skins. Over time, those skins would wear and tear in the wind and grit. A tent maker would prepare the skin for being a shelter, sew it together, and fix up any tears in it.
Paul had training in this skillset. Granted, he had been busy preaching the Gospel. He hadn’t used these skills for a while. But as he walked around Corinth, unsure of where to go and what to do, the tentmaking shop felt familiar.
Hey guys! I’m a tentmaker, too.
I was trained up at Tentmaker Tech in Jerusalem. You?
How long have you been in the business?
Is that a Craftsman skinning knife in your hands? I love those.
Do you have a favorite animal skin? I’m especially fond of North African camel myself.
Eventually the tentmaking conversation leads to a job.
The job leads to housing.
The housing leads to Paul telling them about Jesus.
Before you know it, Paul has friends.
He has supporters.
He has funding.
He has a place to stay.
He has fellow believers and partners in his Gospel ministry.
And the Gospel doesn’t stop. Instead, it spread. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (v.4)
When WORKERS are few, God provides MORE.
This is something that we’ve seen in the history of Gethsemane church.
Gethsemane church started about 47 years ago when a group of people started worship services in their living room. They’d gather the family around one of those big old TV sets, turn off the TV, and put a cross on top. Instant altar. Then, they’d listen to worship cassettes (do you remember cassettes?) of neighboring church services that they had received in the mail.
All the while -- they had the hope that God would provide a pastor to help them Plant Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
And God did. A guy named Pastor Paul Schmiege who moved to Raleigh and helped plant the very church building that we are blessed to set foot inside of.
God provided More workers.
And God has kept doing that.
When we’ve needed musicians? God provided.
When we’ve needed someone who’s good with finances? God provided.
When we needed someone who’s good with technology? God provided.
When we needed an architect, a construction manager, and data analysts to help build the new facility to reach others with the Gospel? God provided.
Really recently – we needed someone to help teach PreK 4 students about Jesus. We sent a request to our church body’s worker training school. Get this -- there were hundreds of requests and only about 1/3 of them would be filled. I even received a phone call from our District President that said “Be prepared. We might not have anyone for you.” And yet – God provided. He gifted us a new teacher (some of you met her last week).
The same is true in your personal Gospel ministry.
If you’re the only believer…
…in your family.
…at the gym.
Remember: When workers are few, God provides more.
You’re the MORE.
II. When Some Reject
God kept providing more. Weeks later, reinforcements arrived. Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, so Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. (v.5)
This was Paul’s normal plan. He’d go to a city. He’d spend time in the local synagogue. He’d meet with the Jews: people who believed in Biblically defined marriage, who read the Old Testament Scriptures, and who were familiar with the concept of the Messiah.
This seems like a good plan.
The Jews opposed Paul and became abusive. (v.6)
Ok. Enough lecturing us on sin. Why don’t you go out into the world and tell those Corinthians about sin?
Stop telling us about a Savior. Have you seen what’s happening out there in sex-crazed Corinth?
Get out of our face. We don’t need you. We don’t need the Gospel.
And Paul listened to them.
He turned around.
He shook out his robe. (Just to get the stench of unbelief off it).
He walked out the exit.
He walked down the dirt path.
He turned right.
He walked up the entry path to the house next door.
In fact, Scripture says this: Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Notice it doesn’t call Titius Justus (let’s call him “TJ”) a Jew. Luke, the author of this book, usually records if someone is a Jew. He doesn’t here. It means TJ wasn’t a part of the Jewish synagogue. In fact, his name is Latin. He’s a Corinthian!
And just like most Corinthians, TJ probably had his own sexual history.
It could have been:
Sleeping with his boss’ daughter.
Experimenting with the guy at the bar.
Those Saturday nights with all the booze and all the wrong choices.
All of it left him feeling unclean.
Like there were these awful areas of his life that he couldn’t scrub off his soul.
Can you relate?
And even though he lived next door to a religious place like the synagogue, they hadn’t let him become a part of it.
He wasn’t worthy.
He didn’t belong.
Paul walked right up to his door.
Paul told him about Jesus.
About how Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
About how Jesus cleans us from the inside out.
About how Jesus transforms people…
From unclean to pure.
From just a body to an eternal soul.
From nothing more than a cheap thrill to a blood bought soul.
From sexual sinner to forgiven.
Get this: TJ doesn’t just become a believer. He becomes an active partner in the ministry: The Bible says: Crispus, whose name always makes me think of cereal, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (v7-8)
When the Gospel is THROWN OUT, it just goes NEXT DOOR.
That means if someone’s sharing the Gospel with you, don’t reject it.
Don’t try to stop it.
Don’t throw it out the door.
Because you won’t be able to stop it.
It’ll just move next door.
So will the promises of forgiveness, eternal life, and transformation.
But if you hold onto it.
No matter your past.
No matter your sexual past.
In Jesus you become pure, eternal and forgiven.
If someone’s sharing the Gospel with you, don’t reject it. Cling to it.
And if you’re sharing the Gospel and someone rejects it, don’t quit. Just…go next door.
A while back, I was walking around the neighborhood, sharing information about our church and inviting them to learn about Jesus. I had been to a couple of doors where they said things like: “I don’t need your religion.” “I don’t have time.” And “Get off my porch step.”
After many rejections, I knocked on one more door. It was opened by a large middle Eastern man with some big muscles. He had just moved from Iraq. In fact, he had fought in the Iraqi army.
I remember thinking: “This is probably not going to go well.”
So, I invited him to worship.
Years later? He’s a baptized member of our congregation.
If you’re sharing the Gospel and someone rejects it, don’t stop sharing the Gospel.
Just do what Paul did.
Shake your clothes out.
And move next door.
To the next cubicle.
To the next Facebook friend.
To the next, next door neighbor.
Keep sharing the Unstoppable Gospel Message.
III. When Persecution Happens
But for Paul, it all seemed too familiar. He’d had this happen before. He preaches the Gospel in the synagogue. Some believe. Some reject the message. He preaches until…
…A plot against his life.
None of this had happened yet, but based on his experiences, Paul may have been thinking of an escape route.
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (v.9-10)
So, he stuck around.
His haters stood in the background glaring, whispering, and folding their arms angrily, but Paul kept preaching.
Until one day, The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. “This man,” they said, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
You do know the Roman law, Roman governor?
New religions are illegal.
Greek mythology? That’s cool.
Roman mythology? Fine.
Thanks to your gracious ruling, Judaism is fine as well.
But this guy preaches new stuff!
He should be fined and arrested.
As they spoke, I know what I would have been thinking.
I would have started wracking my brain about a good defense:
How this really wasn’t a new religion.
How the Gospel was the real message of the Old Testament.
How Jesus was your Savior too, Your Eminency.
But before Paul could speak.
“If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law – settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” (v.14-15)
And with that – he threw the case out.
It’s exactly like God said.
And here’s the thing. That declaration of Gallio set a precedent. Paul was now free to continue to preach the Gospel in Corinth and there’s nothing anyone could do to stop it.
The Gospel is unstoppable because…it’s God.
Think about it:
God is the content of the Gospel.
God is the power of the Gospel.
God is the will of the Gospel.
God is the promise of the Gospel.
God is the deliverer of the Gospel.
God is in control of the Gospel.
God is the one that makes sure that his Gospel NEVER stops.
Because God doesn’t stop.
Even when some angry men arrested God.
Beat God up.
And nailed God hand and foot to the cross.
That didn’t stop God.
Three days later, he came back to life.
And the Gospel spread.
If death can’t stop the Gospel message, then nothing will.
In fact, look at the concluding verse to the Corinthian account: Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever. (Acts 18:17) The Jews were upset that Sosthenes – the leader of their revolt against the Gospel – did not do his job. Paul wasn’t convicted. The Gospel kept going.
Years later, Paul writes a letter to the congregation at Corinth.
Years later, He writes to believers to tell them about Jesus’ love for them.
Years later, in the very first verse, Paul writes this:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes. (1 Corinthians 1:1)
Did you see that? Sosthenes isn’t a very common name.
And in Corinth?
The Gospel did it again.
An enemy of the Gospel.
Not only becoming a believer in the Gospel.
But joining the movement and becoming a partner in the Gospel.
The Gospel doesn’t stop.
Join the movement.
Hop on the unstoppable train. Amen.
ACTS, All Powerful, Atheism, Attitude, Authority, Believe, Christian Living, Church, Comfort, Education, Faith, False Teachings, Impossible, North Raleigh, Raleigh, Repentance, Seriousness, Sin, True Heart, Urgency
Today we are continuing our walk through the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. Before we study God’s Words, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. About Athens
Last we left Paul, he had been in Thessalonica sharing the Gospel and he was run out of the city by a mob of people that had a volatile reaction to the message of Jesus. From there he went to Berea, where the people were of noble character and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:1-11)
But after Paul was in Berea for a while, Acts 17:13 says: When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the Word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. They found out where Paul would be preaching. They marched around shouting “Down with Paul.” They held signs that had a picture of Paul’s face with a mustache drawn on it.
In response, the mission team split up. Since the believers and church in Berea were still young in faith, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed behind to teach them, meanwhile, Paul, the main guy the crowds were protesting, went to the next city by himself. The next city was called Athens.
A bit about Athens:
Athens had been a key city state in that Greek empire. It was a place for thinkers and movers. It was the birthplace of democracy. It was the home of Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers. It had been important to Alexander the Great and it was still important under the Roman empire. It was artsy. It was academic. It was scholarly.
It was filled with idols.
While Paul was waiting…in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (v.16)
Idols in the temples.
Idols on the street corners.
Idols at work.
Idols at home.
Idols at lunch.
Idols at breakfast.
Idols at dinner.
Idols at the local restaurant.
Idols at the museum.
Idols at the sports arena, the fishing harbor and the laundromat.
It almost sounds like Dr. Seuss:
Idols, idols in a box.
Idols, idols with a fox.
Idols, idols here and there.
Idols, idols everywhere!
For Paul, this was strange. Athens was supposed to be a place of wisdom. Yet, here were all these wise people bowing down to worship tiny, stone statues.
So, Paul spoke: He reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace. (v.17) He told them about Jesus. He told them about the Savior.
While Paul was there two different groups of people heard him speak:
One group was Epicurean. The Epicureans followed the philosophy of Epicurus who lived from 341-270 B.C. His philosophy was that there was no afterlife. The gods existed but didn’t really care what humans did. They were too busy with the own affairs to care. Their slogan: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
The other group was Stoic. The Stoics followed the philosophy of Zero who lived from 340-265 B.C. He had the perspective that you had to do more than waste your life away. The gods put people here for a reason and that reason was to work. It was the highest form of pleasure to work (and to do so every day). Their slogan was a bit different: “Eat, Drink, and do work, for tomorrow…we do more work.”
These two philosophies were common opponents.
It was blue-collar worker versus free thinking hippie.
It was the constant busyness of Wall Street versus the laid-back jazz of Bourbon Street.
It was “Whatever man” versus “Get to work, man.”
They were common opponents.
But when Paul came to town, these common opponents had a common enemy:
What do you mean there’s more to life than pleasure?
What do you mean there’s more to life than work?
They asked: “What is this babbler trying to say?”…And they took Paul to the Areopagus. (v.19)
The Areopagus was the place for new ideas. It was named after the god of war: “Ares.” His name literally meant: “Hill of the war god.” It was an appropriate name for the place where people would go to battle for their new ideas against some of the brightest minds of the ancient world.
That is the reason that they brought Paul to the Areopagus.
They wanted him to battle for his new idea.
They wanted him to go to war for Jesus.
And Paul did.
II. About the Unknown God
Paul began his sermon:
Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. (v.22)
You have gods for everything.
A god of the sun.
A god for the moon.
A god for the sea; a god for the land.
A god for love; a god for war.
You even have a god for beer!
In fact, as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I…found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. (v.23)
You covered your bases.
Just in case you missed some god, you made him an altar.
Here’s the thing:
What you worship as unknown…
…I am going to proclaim to you… (v.23)
For starters, the Unknown God is not in HUMAN BUILT DWELLINGS.
He doesn’t reside in some epic stone arena.
He doesn’t kick up his feet in some tiny, jewel studded mausoleum.
You won’t find him down on 71st and Elm at a corner apartment with a jacuzzi and a view of the city.
He isn’t like Athena. The goddess for whom you built your city and for whom you built that gigantic Parthenon.
With its impressive columns.
And marble grandeur.
The Unknown God?
He doesn’t need that.
The Unknown God…
He made the world and everything in it does not live in temples built by hands. (v.24)
And he isn’t IN NEED OF SERVICE.
I’ve seen how ya’ll run about.
If things don’t go well for you. Maybe you lost your job.
Here’s what you do:
You go to the marketplace, buy a couple of apples, you run to the temple of Athena and place them on a silver bowl.
Maybe you lost your job because Athena was hungry.
The Unknown God isn’t like that.
He is not some pet that you need to feed.
He doesn’t need to be taken for a walk.
He doesn’t need you to scratch him behind the ears so that he’ll be pleased with you.
The Unknown God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. (v.25)
He’s all powerful.
But he isn’t ALOOF.
He’s not like Zeus, King of the gods. He isn’t up on Mount Olympus having a banquet with fine wines and beautiful goddesses, throwing grapes down his throat and afterwards gathering with Ares and Poseidon for a couple of rounds of Wii Bowling.
He doesn’t say: “Eat, drink…I don’t care if you’re passed out in a ditch tomorrow morning.”
Nor does he say: “Work; work…I don’t care if you’re stressed out all week long.”
The Unknown God is not aloof.
Because listen to this:
He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (v.26)
Did you hear that?
He made you.
He cared about you.
He placed you here.
He placed you now.
He determined your steps to take you to this exact moment.
Because he is not WANTING TO REMAIN UNKNOWN.
That’s why he did this.
That’s why you’re all gathered here in the Areopagus.
God brought you here.
God brought you now.
That you might seek him and perhaps reach out to him and find him, though he is not far from each of us. (v.27)
Finding God is what you want, isn’t it?
You’re here to find God.
It’s why you discuss the latest ideas.
It’s why you reason out the latest thoughts.
It’s why you talk about the latest meditations and popular trends for fasting.
It’s why you have been doing this day after day after day…
All in hopes that you will find God.
That desire to find God? It comes from God.
That mind for finding God? It comes from God.
Do you know what else comes from God?
And pay attention.
Because this message is important.
The Unknown God is NOT PATIENT FOREVER.
For a long time, God has been.
Think about it:
You’ve been worshiping rocks.
You’ve been bowing down to stone.
You’ve been shouting the praises of pieces of paper covered in glitter.
All the while the Lord is the one who created you, made you, sustains you, and nourishes you.
You’re giving thanks to a pet rock?
God has been patient.
He’s hasn’t struck you down yet.
In the past, God has 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. (v.30-31a)
You won’t be judged by some stone.
You won’t be judged by some rock.
You won’t be judged by some imperfect Mount Olympian with questionable morals who’s in a romantic relationship with some half-man, half-horse.
You will be judged by the Universe Creating, Almighty, Eternal, invested in your life, knowing everything about your life, God himself.
He will judge you.
All your sins.
God will judge you.
And he’s got Holy Fire in his eyes.
How do you think you’ll be judged if you’ve been worshiping rocks?
And you want proof?
This is not UNPROVEN.
Because that man that will judge the world for God?
He’s his Son.
He’s a guy named Jesus.
And God has given proof that Jesus will judge.
What kind of proof?
He did the one thing that Zeus couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that Aphrodite couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that your dear Athena couldn’t do.
He did the one thing that you and all your wisdom could never figure out how to do.
He raised Jesus from the dead. (v.31b)
III. WHAT NOW?
And it was right about that time, that the people stopped Paul from speaking. They said, “We’ll have to see more about this some other time.”
They let him go.
They didn’t throw him in prison.
They “tolerated” his message.
But…they didn’t believe it.
Don’t just tolerate the message of Jesus.
(1) Stop Searching
The other day I was down near the capitol building and I hear some music. On the north side near the street was a group of people. They were dressed in full religious garb. They had on jewels and bangles. They were playing tambourines and acoustic guitars. And as they were dancing, they were chanting a phrase: “Hare Krishna.”
Have you heard of it?
It’s a stranger type of religion made popular by John Lennon. The tenet is that the best way to connect with God is through music. Specifically – through playing the music to and chanting the words “Hare Krishna.” Through singing and chanting, you become centered in God. You become one with God. You find God…. (And the Beatles make some money as you buy their album).
Whether it’s musical chant.
Doing good work after good work after good work.
People are in search of God.
And maybe you are, too.
But you know what?
You can stop searching.
God’s right here.
God is Jesus.
That’s one of the reasons the resurrection happened!
It’s like one of those nighttime cyclists who is wearing neon green with flashing lights on his vest. He’s bright. He’s colored. He’s put his outfit together in such a way so that you don’t miss him!
The resurrection is like that.
It’s the Unknown God’s way of saying to you:
Here I am!
Don’t miss me.
I have made myself known.
I am Jesus.
I am your Savior.
I am your Redeemer.
And my message is this:
Repent means “to turn.”
To turn from sin.
To turn to God.
Whether you are a first-time hearer of this message or a long-time listener.
We are sinners who need to hear this message from God.
Turn from that sin.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God knows the one I’m talking about.
Turn from that sin.
God isn’t stone who couldn’t possibly know…
Turn from that sin.
God is the Unknown God who knows you so deeply.
Turn from sin.
And turn to God to be saved.
Because when you turn to the Unknown God…
When you turn to Jesus…
Something else becomes unknown…
God, who KNOWS all of your sins, says your sins are now UNKNOWN, because he KNEW the cross and you KNOW his resurrection from the grave that the God who was formerly UNKNOWN is now KNOWN by you and who says:
I KNOW you.
Last we left Paul, he was sharing the Gospel of Jesus in the city of Philippi. A time in his mission work that is filled with amazing stories: