Today 2.6 billion people are completely unreached with the gospel. They do not have a church or gospel message in their midst. Nearly 4 billion people are unengaged by the gospel. Meanwhile the world’s major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam—are making inroads along with a variety of cults and New Age philosophies. People are not shy to hide their beliefs like this bumper sticker I saw Friday, “Born-again pagan.”
The religious culture and climate of North Africa has been unreached for nearly 1200 years. Islam has long taken root and is blossoming even to this day, which can be heard from the daily prayers echoing from the tall spires of the local mosque. Islam mixed African animism is woven into almost every fabric of their lives from mealtime, to family makeup, to laws, and to greetings. To call them to Christ is to call them to live counter-culture.
I am sure you are around people every day that are unengaged with the gospel. You could say these people are ignorantly worshiping an unknown god. If you are like me you might wonder, how am I going to reach all these different kinds of people? How do I reach out to hardnosed sibling or parent, question asking co-worker, or philosophically intelligent neighbor? There is no cookie-cutter method. However, observing the apostles in Acts 17 you can learn some valuable principles for making known the gospel of Jesus Christ Here are three truths to keep in mind:
1. GO WHERE THE GOOD NEWS IS NOT [Acts 17:16-23]
It might seem obvious, but in order to reach the unreached or unengaged, you got to go where they are. In Acts 17, God directs Paul and Silas to crowds of unreached in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Wherever they went they met a mixed bag of people. Some were unruly and hostile, some studious and skeptics, and some eager to examine the Scripture. Where do you begin with the wide variety of crowds God has placed around you?
First, ask God for a burden for the unreached . Evangelism is something that doesn’t come natural to many Christ followers. In fact some dread it. Ask God for Christlike compassion for those you would normally ignore. I have been able to remedy this by paying closer attention to the forgotten people around me [waitress, postman, store clerk, etc.]. I will pray for a desire to reach them. Then ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them. It is amazing to see the opportunities God opens up along the way.
Second, learn about the unreached around you [17-18a]. Paul was in Athens, a pagan and philosophical capital. Athens is city similar to university towns like Madison or West Lafayette. It’s a town where the average person has plethora of PhD’s. Home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. As a secular city center, Athens was a melting pot of culture, philosophy, the arts, and a smorgasbord of gods. Towering above the city on Mars Mill sat the Areopagus. It was sort of a temple to the human brain that served as the chief courtroom and a place to hold philosophical discussions.
Two schools of thought dominated Athens. First, Epicureanism emphasized a world governed by blind chance, with the absence of an afterlife, gods were distant and uncaring, and the pursuit of pleasure was the only thing worth seeking. Second, Stoicism emphasized a world determined by fate, where human beings must pursue their duty. As John Stott said, Athens “resigned themselves to live in harmony with nature and reason, however painful this might be, and develop their own self-sufficiency.” It was a culture with a lot of similarities to ours today that challenged truth.
Third, expect opposition to absolute truth [18b-21]. The thinkers of Athens call Paul a “seed-picker,” which is a slang term [i.e. bird eating mixed grain] for a peddler of second-hand philosophy—an intellectual scavenger that picks and chooses what he wants to believe. However, Paul was no intellectual slouch. He was a straight-A student under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He was an expert in the law. And when he came to Christ, Christ, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit shaped his worldview. Viewing life through a biblically based, Christ-centered worldview is foolish to those who do not know God [1 Corinthians 1:17-21].
Proverbs says, a fool is one who does not consider all sides of a situation. Paul teaches that Gentiles “walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding” because of their “ignorance and hardened hearts,” [Ephesians 4:17–24] and their thought are “vain babblings” [1 Timothy 6:20]. In fact, all around you is undeniable and inescapable proof of God—for He has made Himself known through Creation and Christ—and all men are “without excuse” [Romans 1:19–20]. The knowledge of God is “suppressed in unrighteousness”, which places men under His wrath because they “know God, yet they glorify Him not as God.” Expect opposition when speaking up for Christ.
Fourth, uncover common ground [22-23]. Paul did not have much in common with the people of Athens. Certainly he had no common ground of agreement with their erroneous philosophies. He did not try to make the gospel more palatable or tolerable. But he did see one thing they had in common—worship. Everyone worships. They worshiped their knowledge and an unknown God, while Paul worshiped a knowable God.
I find it interesting that the Omega people we are reaching out to claim their roots to be with Solomon and the Ethiopians eunuch, but for centuries they have followed Muhammad the Prophet. Most Muslims have a fascination with the Bible and Jesus Christ. Pray for hearts open to hear the gospel. The Quran commands to read the Christian Scriptures including the gospel [Injil], which will introduce them to the Prophet, Priest and King.
2. QUICKLY POINT PEOPLE TO CHRIST & THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL [Acts 17:24-31]
I am sure Paul had a certain level of frustration with his audience. He probably wondered, “How am I going to reach this puffed up knuckleheaded people?” Notice he doesn’t scream at the audience, he does sweep them off their feet with irresistible oratory or amazing argumentation, he doesn’t sell himself to the audience, he simply shows them a soul surrendered to Christ. He deflects the attention off himself onto his Savior. This is key to any apologetics or heated spiritual discussions: point people to Jesus.
First, the power of persuasion is always in the Spirit of God [24-29]. Paul points to the character of Christ. And this is how Paul preaches Christ: He gives them a brief history lesson on God 101.
- Christ is the omnipotent Creator [24a]. He owns the deed to His creation, since He has created all things.
- Christ is omnipresent in His children [24b]. He does not dwell in temples made with hands, but hearts.
- Christ is completely self-sufficient . He needs nothing from man; man depends on God for everything.
- Christ is sovereign sustainer . He’s not distant or indifferent, but as ruler of all He’s intimately involved.
- Christ is a gracious pursuer [27; Romans 1:19-20]. He creates man and pursues their affection. He has placed within each man a GPS [Godward Pursuing System]. Your homing beacon searches and finds rest in Christ.
- Christ is the center of Worship . Even Greek poets acknowledge we are from God.
- Christ is eternally priceless [29; Romans 1:22-23]. People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.
Paul’s theology revolves around his Christology. Jesus is the blazing center of his universe. Athens could no longer claim ignorance, but were now cognizant of Christ and His character. The Son of God goes from unknown to renown. They could ignore the facts [as many do], but the unknown God is made known. Like a set of keys you’ve been looking for, but all the while they are in your pocket. He has not only made Him known; he’s revealed His renown!
Second, the character of Christ calls people to repent [30-31]. Paul challenges the foundations of pagan philosophy and calls the philosophers to full repentance. Paul is like Jeremiah walking into idolatrous hot bed preaching one message, “repent!” with little response. They are a people who have long thought they were god. They equated themselves with god. But God is not your co-pilot; He doesn’t even want you in the cockpit. Paul describes an incomparable Christ. He is like no one and no one is like Him.
However, God is knowable through His Son Jesus Christ. And the mystery of all ages has been revealed in Christ. The age of ignorance is over. Gentiles can know Christ too [cf. Ephesians 3:4–6]! In Romans 10:13–15 Paul says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” And “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]
Paul is not arrogant or a pompous jerk, but is gentle and humble in his approach. He is bold when confronting them with Christ for He knows Jesus is judge. After His resurrection Jesus charged the apostles “to preach unto the people and to testify that this is He who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead” [Acts 10:42]. This truth Paul shared in the Areopagus. The power in Paul’s preaching was provided by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The same power is available to you [Matthew 28:19-20]. The power is in the gospel—God is holy, man has fallen short of God’s glory, but Jesus pays man sins debt, and man’s hope is to respond with faith and repentance. That is the gospel.
3. PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL BOLDLY, BUT LEAVE THE RESULTS TO GOD [Acts 17:32-34]
Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It takes the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth. He does God’s work in God’s way with God’s power. Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt, some wait to hear more [sometimes the hardest to reach because they are no longer ignorant yet choose to reject the truth], but some are ready to commit to Christ. The mission to Athens was no failure. The gospel was preached and at least two people got saved that day, including one member of the Areopagus council. Two people had a radical turning point.
What are the implications today for you and me? First, today is the day of salvation. Preach the gospel boldly to all men, not hold back, but bringing them face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Second, today is the time to mobilize the church to send out locally and globally. If your church is completely inward focused you are missing your mission. Third, today is the day to live out the gospel with your life. The gospel is not just the ABC’s of your salvation; it is the A-Z’s of working out your salvation with fear and trembling. This is the desire of our family’s heart—we long to live out the gospel as parents, as husband and wife, as people living in North Africa spreading the fame of Christ name among the unreached.
Are you ignorantly worshiping an unknown god? If your faith is not rooted in a gospel-centered relationship with Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshipping, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If the gospel ceases to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction the day after you trusted Christ as Savior, you are ignorantly worshipping and unknown God.
Jesus has made Himself known. His renown will last the test of time. Only His name prevails beyond the grave. Do you know Him? Make Him known! “Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” [Psalm 135:13-18]
 cf. 14:15; Exodus 20:11; Psalm 24:1, 146:6; Isaiah 37:16; 42:5
 cf. 7:48-50; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1–2
 cf. 14:17; Psalm 50:9–12; Isaiah 42:5
 cf. Genesis 1:28; Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 2:21
 There are two parts to the mystery of Christ: 1) Gentiles are not second-class citizens in the body of Christ: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:14). Both are fellow heirs of the same inheritance. 2) This Gentile privilege comes only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where Christ is preached and believed, Gentiles are grafted into the tree of God’s people. In Colossians 1:26 Paul says that this mystery was “hidden for ages and generations but now is made manifest to his saints.” And in Romans 16:25 he says that the mystery “was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed.”
 cf. Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Daniel 7:13; John 5:27; Romans 2:16
 cf. Acts 17:18; 4:2; Romans 4:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10