from wonder to witness

I’ve had a few Turning Points in my life, as I’m sure you’ve had too. My first turning point came when I was 12. I grew up in a normal American dysfunctional home. My parents divorced before I could understand and we were nominal churchgoers. I was a troubled and angry kid. I rode the short bus and was labeled a special kid. I was so embarrassed. After my mom remarried, our family moved for work reasons to a small town in the middle of Wisconsin. We began attending a Bible Church. They used Bibles. So the next week mom went to Sam’s Club and bought Bibles. We grew like weeds. Within months, both my mom and I came to Christ. A few years later we got baptized together.

My second turning point came when I was 18. Since my salvation leaders in my church took me under their wing and helped me to grow in God’s Word and the gifts of the Spirit. I was encouraged to consider fulltime Christian service. That led me to Bible College, then a yearlong church planting apprenticeship in South Africa, then ministry for the past 8-years as an assistant pastor in Indiana, and then marriage to [Congolese] Sarah who I had met years before in Bible College.

My third turning point came on a vision trip Sarah, Justus, and I took to Chad last year this time. I clearly remember walking the dry dusty roads of northeast Chad, the hot sun beating on my face, and a sense of thirst on my tongue. While walking through the abstract streets I could hear the calls from the local mosque, donkeys laughing, and the Spirit of God convicting me. I though to myself, “You got Someone these people do not. 100% of the people in this town do not know your Jesus. Who will help bring the church to unreached Chad?”

The book of Acts is full of turning points.  Today I want to draw your attention to a turning point in Acts 1. Here the disciples are getting some last words from the resurrected Jesus. He had spent many hours, days, and years teaching these men who they were. He called them God’s servants, friends, beloved children, and brothers. Sometimes they seemed to understand who they were, but at other times they seemed clueless. And just before Jesus is about to leave them and ascend to heaven, He says, “You are my witnesses.” [Acts 1:8]

What is a witness? A good Christianese word. When the word witness appears in the book of Acts it most often refers to the role the 11-apostles had as legal eye-witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection.[1] At the end of the book, Paul uses the word of himself because he also had heard and seen the resurrected Jesus. But in Acts 1:8, when Jesus uses the word witness, He alludes to Isaiah 43. There the word witness applies broadly to all of God’s people:

Isaiah 43:10You are my witnesses,” says the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are My witnesses,” says the LORD.

How does Isaiah give meaning to witness in the book of Acts? First, being a witness is not something any of these people chose. It is something God chose for them. Israel was God’s chosen people; likewise, Jesus chose His disciples. We often talk about witnessing as if it is something you choose or don’t choose, but it is not. You are witnesses by God’s choice. And you cannot help but be witnesses when you are identified with Jesus. Either you’re a witness or you’re not. It’s like my wife saying she’s kind of pregnant. Either she is or she is not.

Second, what made them witnesses was not something they did, practiced or earned; it was something they were. It was a relationship with God that made the apostles witnesses. You are a mom/dad because you have children; you are a son/daughter because you have parents; you are a man/women because that’s how you were born; or you are a student because you are in school. You are a witness because you are a follower of Christ.

A witness is not a passive role you fulfill. Rather the biblical idea of witness is quite active. Jesus says you can bear witness or you can even bear false witness. There were specific things Israel did and did not do which affected their testimony as witnesses. So it is with a witness of Christ. What does your witness say about Jesus?

As a witness of Christ, I openly and publicly demonstrate what I have learned and seen while with Jesus. But my witness is much more than words; it is a whole way of life. The Greek word for witness is μαρτος, where you get the word martyr. As the early Christian gave up their lives for what they had seen, the word martyr began to mean “one who choose to suffer or die for his or her beliefs.” [i.e. Stephen, cf. Acts 7:58] To be a witness, means giving my whole life, even giving up my life for what I have seen and heard from Christ. To be a witness is not a fatalist. But as a witness I am unwilling to bow to the god of comfort and safety or muzzle my mouth because the gospel will offend someone. Jesus says the cross is foolishness to unbelievers. Recently, I’ve been challenged by the story of Mark, a brother serving in North Africa,

Mark was part of a team of two families serving Muslim. Late in August, the team received death threats. The families were evacuated, but Mark stayed for one last meeting with believers before joining them. The night after the meeting while at home preparing his dinner, Mark was shot. He was discovered the next morning in his home, but he had lost too much blood to survive. At his passing, Mark left a young wife and two infant twin daughters. Mark’s agency feared the possibility of legal action from Mark’s father, who was not a believer and who vocally opposed his son’s service among Muslims. But at Mark’s funeral, Mark’s father was among fifteen people who gave their lives to Christ. His wife plans to minister in the same region where her husband was killed.

Third, being a witness is first “so that” you may know God and then “so that” others may know your God. Being a witness is about knowing God, seeing His steadfast love, observing His work in creation, hearing His voice. Being a witness is not something directed only toward others—though it has implications for those around you. Being a witness begins by being grounded in your relationship with God.

“Witness-ship” is a mark borne by getting near God. There is something so powerful about God’s character that it is impossible to get near what He is doing without being marked. The closer you get the more profound the mark.

Not only can you see God at work in historic acts, but also if you keep your eyes open you keep seeing him at work today. You see God at work in your life, in your friend’s lives and in the world around you. You still see God doing things that you long for but can’t make happen on your own. You see God’s forgiveness and love. You see how God transforms messed up lives and redeems them through His Son.

You—His witnesses—play a huge role in God’s plan.[2] You are the evidence of God’s work. The Bible tells the story of ordinary people so you can learn about an extraordinary God. How do you know God’s love is steadfast? By looking at the story of God’s people. How do you know God keeps His promises? By looking at His people. How does the world hear about God’s salvation? By hearing and seeing the witness of God’s people, like you and me. God has made His people messengers of His love, ambassadors of His kingdom, lights on a hill, salt in society. God has called you to be His witnesses.

The disciples stood on the mount starring with wonder into the sky, like a crowd at Cape Canaveral watching the shuttle launch or Superman making his classic exit, only this was no space shuttle or superhero it was the coronation of Jesus Christ. And with the rest of our time today, I want to uncover what Jesus expects from you, His witnesses.

1. You are commanded to live in the power of the Holy Spirit [Acts 1:4–5, 8a]

The book of Acts is often referred to as the Gospel (or autobiography) of the Holy Spirit. If you want to learn about the person and work of the Holy Spirit read Acts. In Acts 1:2-8 Jesus gives a concise theology of the Holy Spirits work. And amazingly Jesus receives the instruction from the Holy Spirit on the Holy Spirit.

First, His followers are guaranteed baptism by the Holy Spirit, which fulfills the promise Christ gave of the Helper who would come after He ascended [vs.4-5, cf. Luke 24:44-49].[3] For the first time, God would not dwell in a temple, but His temple would now continually dwell in His people. Jesus cautioned the disciples not to leave Jerusalem without the Holy Spirit. Why? If they did not waited they would be powerless.

Second, His followers are guaranteed power from the Holy Spirit to do miraculous works among the people [v.8a].[4] Jesus has completed His earthly ministry and now inaugurates the apostle’s earthly ministry.[5] These men witnessed Jesus’ teachings and miracles, and now they would continue on His ministry after Him. Although you might not exercise signs and wonders quite like the apostles, His ministry through you is still powerful and miraculously changing lives.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones’ book Joy Unspeakable he uses an illustration to describe the difference between common Christian living and what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person with this unusual and unmatched power.

It is like a child walking along holding his father’s hand. All is well. The child is happy. He feels secure. His father loves him. He believes that his father loves him but there is no unusual urge to talk about this or sing about it. It is true and it is pleasant.

Then suddenly the father startles the child by reaching down and sweeping him up into his arms and hugging him tightly and kissing him on the neck and whispering, “I love you so much!” And then holding the stunned child back so that he can look into his face and saying with all his heart, “I am so glad you are mine.” Then hugging him once more with unspeakable warmth and affection. Then he puts the child down and they continue their walk.

This is what happens when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit. A pleasant and happy walk with God is swept up into an unspeakable new level of joy and love and assurance and reality that leaves the Christian so utterly certain of the immediate reality of Jesus that he is overflowing in praise and more free and bold in witness than he ever imagined he could be.

The child is simply stunned. He doesn’t know whether to cry or shout or fall down or run, he is so happy. The fuses of love are so overloaded they almost blow out. The subconscious doubts—that he wasn’t thinking about at the time, but that pop up every now and then—are gone! And in their place is utter and indestructible assurance, so that you know that you know that you know that God is real and that Jesus lives and that you are loved, and that to be saved is the greatest thing in the world. And as you walk on down the street you can scarcely contain yourself, and you want to cry out, “My father loves me! My father loves me! O, what a great father I have! What a father! What a father!” [cf. Acts 2:11]”

The Holy Spirit’s all-consuming passion is to exalt Christ to the end of the earth. And the reason He has a white-hot passion is to empower you to witness to the ends of the earth:

  • “All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” [Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14]
  • God brought His people into Canaan “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty” [Joshua 4:24, cf. 1 Samuel 17:46].
  • David commands, “Sing to the Lord all the earth…Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!” [Psalm 96:1–3]
  • “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” [Isaiah 49:6]
  • Jesus himself said, “Go make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19].
  • “This gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations” [Mark 13:10].
  • “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and by Your blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” [Revelation 5:9–10]

The Holy Spirit wants the world for Christ. So He equips you as His witness with power to do it. He gives you absolute confidence that as you go out making disciples in His authority  nothing will thwart His name from reaching the nations.

2. You are called to share the gospel with people near and far, and similar or different than you [Acts 1:6–8]

Imagine you had the opportunity to ask Jesus any question. What would you ask? The disciples have an honest question for Jesus. Since Jesus and the OT prophecies talked a lot about this coming kingdom, and many anticipated a Messiah who would reign and release His people from the oppressive Roman Empire they ask, “Will you now restore your kingdom?” Jesus does not belittle their question, but reminds them that the timing is not for them to know. Instead, He refocuses them on being ready for the great task of sharing the good news with the known world.

The geography boundaries mentioned becomes an outline for the remainder of Acts as the apostles take the gospel from Jerusalem [1-7], to Judea and Samaria [8-12], and to the edges of the globe [13-28]. Jesus calls them to share the gospel with people like them in Jerusalem, the hub of the Jews. But He also calls them to share the gospel with people on the other side of the tracks in Judea and Samaria. These were people the Jews did not like. But God loved. For centuries the Jews had a sour spot for the “half-breed” Samaritans. But God intended Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. Since, Israel failed in this mission, Jesus is calling the apostles to carry His torch to their lost neighbors and be a bright light to the world. This is also the reason for your church and you: be a light locally and globally.

As witness we are team players. We are no longer just bystanders on the bleachers. We’ve been trained by the Master to carry the ball (gospel) up and down the field. I think of the five men who lost their lives in Ecuador to reach the Auca Indians. One wife and sister returned to the village and the wife raised their daughter among the tribe that killed their husband. Many in the tribe converted. Months ago, I met a man from North Africa whose church had been bombed a dozen times by Muslims. These are people on the front lines of Jesus’ mission shining the light in darkness. Near, far, similar, or different there are not boundaries to the gospel.

Who are your Samaritans? Is it your annoying co-worker or boss? Is it a relative? Is it a sassy celebrity like Lady GaGa or Katy Perry? Is it the Hispanic or black down the street? Is it the poor person you see on the corner always seeking a hand out? Is it your fellow Democrat? If you’re from Ohio, could it be people from Michigan? You know your Samaritan. It’s the one who makes your skin crawl and you avoid them like the plague. Jesus died for them too and He is calling you to be a witness to them.

3. You are urged to be diligent, even as you long for Christ’s return [Acts 1:9–11]

The purpose of God and the passion of the Spirit are not yet completed. We might question why, but Jesus’ answer will always be, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” The great danger we face in the American church is the illusion that the purpose of God is complete, that the world has been evangelized. But there are over 2.7 billion (that’s billion!) people in the world who have not heard the gospel; they have no missionary, no church, and not enough Christians in their own people group to reach themselves.

That boggles me, as I am sure the apostles were boggled that day they starred into the sky wondering when Jesus would return. I love what happens next. Two messengers dressed in white came to the apostles. What message did say to the apostles? Why do you wonder? Witness! Jesus will come back. Not yet. So get to it”

Proof of the disciples diligence is in the remaining 28 chapters of Acts. They confidently expected Jesus’ return, but didn’t twiddle their thumbs in the meantime. With their own ears they heard their calling from the lips of Jesus: you are witnesses not stargazers. Owning the Spirits passion they spread the name of Jesus to the ends of the known world.

Turn to Acts chapter 29. Ah, this chapter does not exist! This is your chapter or appendix. The apostles are gone, but the work is unfinished. There are still billions of lost people lined up to hell all around you. 99% of Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan are unbelieving, unchurched, and lining up to the gates of hell. The picture of the young boy looking to the sky is a reminder of a need for a Savior. Who will tell him? As you wait in line for Heaven or Jesus’ return, people next to you need a turning point. Be a witness. Speak up for Jesus. Remember how He was the greatest turning point in your life?

Jesus died on the cross for the people of your church. He is returning for you soon. Jesus is worthy of your absolute surrender. God opened your eyes so you could believe in Him. When God saved you He gave you His Spirit. He has clothed each of your with His power. You live among a world of sin, darkness, and great need. God has charged you to take the gospel to these people and ends of the earth. The stakes are high. But Jesus says, “You are my witnesses.” To whom will you share?


[1] Cf. 1:21-22; 2:21-33; 3:14-16; 5:31-32; 6:13-14; 7:58; 10:37-41; 13:30; 22:13-15, 20-21; 26:15-16

[2] You and I are an indispensable link in the chain of redemption. See how the Spirit deploys people in Acts 8:29, 39; 9:17, 31; 10:19–20; 11:12; 13:4; 16:6–9; 19:21.

[3] Cf. Luke 3:16; cf. Mark 1:8; Matt 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 2:3

[4] Power, δυναμις, is used almost exclusively in Acts to describe the supernatural, miraculous power of God through them to confirm they are from God, representing Christ, and their work is from the Holy Spirit. Note: Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7-9, 33; 6:8; 8:10, 13; 10:38; 19:11; cf. Hebrew 2:4.

[5] During Jesus’ ministry, there is no reference to the Holy Spirit being upon anyone except Jesus. The Spirit descended upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:22), filled him as he returned from the Jordan (Luke 4:1), led him both in and out of the wilderness (Luke 4:1, 14), and rested upon him in his sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:18).

Is the book of Acts descriptive or prescriptive?

Acts tells the story of how His church began and how the message Christ spread. Christians who read the book of Acts are inspired by the explosive expansion of the early church. Thousands of people were coming to Christ, people were being miraculously healed, supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues were heard, and believers preached the gospel with boldness. Honestly, many desire this kind of outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the church today.

It is certain that Luke, a disciple of Christ, wrote the book of Acts. He writes the book as history in action,[1] particularly related to redemptive history and the spread of the message of salvation to the world.[2] Luke adds further details and personality sketches that help us understand what happened in the first century church.[3] He tells us the outcome of the story of Jesus contained in the Gospels and introduces the apostolic writings and their historical context, especially those of Paul.[4] He tells us what is happening during the early church days, but he rarely indicates what should happen today.

A Descriptive and Prescriptive View of Acts

Is the Books of Acts descriptive or prescriptive? In other words, are the facts in Acts for the church today? In Acts 6:1-6, Luke describes seven men who were chosen to wait on tables these men became the leaders of their churches. Then there are some amazing events like the extraordinary miracles God did through Paul (19:11-12), striking claims that caused people to perish (5:9-10), speaking in tongues after the filling of the Spirit (2:2-3), and so much more. Are we supposed to follow these orders within the church today? How are suppose to know if we are to follow them or not?

Much of the material in the New Testament falls into two categories: descriptive or prescriptive. Descriptive is a narration of what took place (i.e. Acts 10:45,46). Prescriptive are commands about how to live the Christian life through direct teaching on spiritual truths (i.e. 2 Timothy. 4:2; Colossians 2:9). Readers must be cautious to identify the type of passage they are reading, especially in the book of Acts. John Stott gives some great wisdom on how to deal with such texts:

What is described in Scripture as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us, whereas what is promised to us we should appropriate, and what is commanded us we are to obey . . . What is descriptive is valuable (in determining what God intends for all Christians) only in so far as it is interpreted by what is didactic . . . We must derive our standards of belief and behavior from the teaching of the New Testament . . . rather than from the practices and experiences which it portrays.”[5]

A good principle is to interpret the descriptive in light of the prescriptive. We are not commanded to copycat what the Bible describes unless it is prescribed in direct teaching of timeless spiritual truth. In other words, we must interpret descriptions in the book of Acts in light of what the Gospels and Epistles prescribe and teach as timeless truths.[6] For example, Christians today cannot be witnesses in the same foundational sense that the apostles were (8:4; 11:19-21), but we can share in the task of testifying and witnessing Jesus’ redemptive message (1 Corinthians 15:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 John 1:2; 4:14).

The books of the Bible were written occasionally, which means they were written to particular people in particular places at particular times. Acts must be read as a history of God’s redemptive work in the early church, and only follow theological and doctrinal “patterns” that are clearly repeated and/or commanded within the text also appearing in the Gospels and Epistles. There is no one sentence of the Bible addressed to me today telling me what to do. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t apply to me today. This means that we must do theology with every book of the Bible, regardless of its descriptive or prescriptive character.

Since Acts is a narrative it is primarily descriptive telling us what the apostles did, and not necessarily prescriptive telling us what we should do.[7] There are numerous sermons in Acts, many of which record the basic message of the early church. Many of these sermons teach spiritual truth that transcends time. Just as Acts 1:8 gives a rough geographical preview of the book of Acts, so Luke gives us a preview of the theological message (Luke 24:46-49). Several sermons in Acts contain a portrayal of the gospel. These particular sermons argue that Jesus is the Messiah, that He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, that God raised Him from the dead, and that He is the answer to Jewish and Gentile hope. These sermons are timeless truths placed within history.

Read the book of Acts Purposely

The purpose of Acts is not to serve as a model in every area of practice or experience for what individual believers or the church should do now. Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive—it is history, not law. However, there is much to learn from the experience and history of the early church. As Gordon Fee sates,

“We must not lose sight of the fact that Acts purports to narrate historical events such as: the founding and growth of the church, the career of Paul, and without Acts we would knowing nothing of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, Stephens martyrdom, the early Jerusalem church and how the gospel first came to the Gentiles.”[8]

What we read in Acts does serve as a model for us in areas that are mandated in the rest of the New Testament when it comes to such dogma as evangelism, missions, prayer, sacrificial giving, church leadership, ministry and more. Acts overarching purpose that the church today can take home is that we must be risk takers for the sake of Christ redemptive message.


[1] Graeme Goldworthy shares that “Acts is a highly selective history and the presentation is carefully controlled by the author’s summary statements and transitional notes. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL. 2000. 286.

[2] Frank Theilman. Theology of the New Testament. Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI.  2005. 114.

[3] “Luke is probably writing in the manner of the Greek historians Xenophon and Plutarch. What this means is that a selection of the hero’s acts…, historical vignettes which set forth the hero’s character, are his major concern. The Book of Acts, then, is not a mere chronicle of events, but a portrayal of the kinds of people and kinds of things that were taking place in the early church” William H. Baker, Acts: Evangelical Commentary of the Bible, edited by Walter Elwell, page 884).

[4] Goldworthy, 290.

[5] John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975, pp. 15-17.

[6] Examples of interpreting the descriptive in light of the prescriptive:

Narrative: Acts 2:42 // Prescriptive:

Apostles’ teaching // Col. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:2

Fellowship // Heb. 10:24,25

Breaking of bread // 1 Cor. 11:23-34

Prayer // Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17

Narrative: Acts 2:43 Wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12).

Prescriptive Scripture: The phrase “signs and wonders” is used in connection with the apostles and their close associates to validate the truth of their message.

Narrative: Acts 2:44,45 Those who believed were together and had all things in common. They began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

Prescriptive Scripture: The New Testament never prescribes communal living. Rather it affirms the legitimacy of private property (1 Thess. 4:11,12; 2 Thess. 3:11,12) and teaches us to be generous (1 John 3:16,17).

[7] Gordon Fee. How to Interpret the Bible for All It’s Worth.

[8] D.A Carson. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI.  2005. 316-317.

from unknown to renown

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 [16]. 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.[1]
  • Christ is omnipresent in His children [24b]. He does not dwell in temples made with hands,[2] but hearts.
  • Christ is completely self-sufficient [25]. He needs nothing from man; man depends on God for everything.[3]
  • Christ is sovereign sustainer [26]. He’s not distant or indifferent, but as ruler of all He’s intimately involved.[4]
  • 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 [28]. 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]![5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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]


[1]  cf. 14:15; Exodus 20:11; Psalm 24:1, 146:6; Isaiah 37:16; 42:5

[2] cf. 7:48-50; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1–2

[3] cf. 14:17; Psalm 50:9–12; Isaiah 42:5

[4] cf. Genesis 1:28; Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 2:21

[5] 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.”

[6] cf. Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Daniel 7:13; John 5:27; Romans 2:16

[7] cf. Acts 17:18; 4:2; Romans 4:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10