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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 17

Verses 1-15

  1. Intro:
    1. Fathers fight dragons almost daily. They hurry away from the breakfast table...off to the arena which is sometimes called an office or a workshop. There, with callused, practiced hands, they tackle the dragon with 3 heads: weariness, work, & monotony. They never quite win the fight, but they never give up. Knights in shining armor as they march away, to each new workday.
    2. 3 kids bragging about fathers:
      1. 1st My dad’s so smart he can talk for 1 hour on any subject.
      2. 2nd My dad’s so smart he can talk for 2 hours on any subject.
      3. 3rd My dad’s so smart he can talk for 3 hours & doesn’t even need a subject!
    3. Released from jail in Philippi, Paul & Silas with sleeves rolled up, minds engaged, & hearts ablaze,…head deeper into Greece!
      1. Enthusiasm, zeal, drive, vision…these are the characteristics of a person who is fully alive! (living the abundant life)
      2. John Powell describes in his book Fully Human, Fully Alive “Fully alive people are not necessarily happy all the time. No they experience failure as well as success. They are open to both pain & pleasure. The have many questions & some answers. They cry & they laugh. They dream & they hope. The only thing that remains alien to their experience of life is passivity & apathy. They say a strong “yes” to life & a resounding “amen” to love. They feel the strong stings of growing, but their sleeves are always rolled up, their minds are whirring, & their hearts are ablaze.” (Adapted from Chuck Swindoll; Acts 17; pg.151.)
    4. Full life – The abundant life, comes from Jn.10:10.
      1. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
      2. The thief came to take advantage or even kill the sheep; in contrast, the Good Shepherd came to benefit the sheep.
        1. He gives life which is not constricted but overflowing.
        2. The thief takes life; Christ gives it to the full!
    5. So strap on your hiking boots & let’s see if we can keep up with Paul.
  2. THESSALONIONS! (1-9)
    1. ​​​​​​​THIS JESUS! (1-4)
    2. Following the Egnatian Way (main highway through Macedonia) they arrive in Thes.
    3. (1) Philippi to Amphipolis(33 miles); Amphipolis to Apollonia(27 miles); Apollonia to Thessalonica(10 miles?). [Prob stayed in Inn’s in 1st 2 cities]
    4. Thessalonica – the crown jewel of Macedonia, placed in a striking setting on the Thermaic Gulf by the Aegean Sea. [2nd largest city in Greece...& still is]
      1. ​​​​​​​Behind it the majestic mountains of Greece, including the fabled mount Olympus.
      2. It had a nice harbor, was the chief center of commerce, & military strength. Nearby Hot Springs made it a fashionable luxury resort.
    5. (2) Three reminders:
      1. [1] Reasoning – “To select, distinguish, then to revolve in the mind.”
        1. “To have give & take conversation, using the OT.”
      2. [2] Explaining – “To open”, “to place alongside”, “to present evidence”
        1. Making them clear so the people could see that the Messiah must die & rise again.
      3. [3] Demonstrating – He gave evidence. He placed his own illustrations alongside Scripture to strengthen his argument.
        1. Result? Jesus is the Christ! [suffer/atonement & rise again/proof of victory]
      4. Paul presented the gospel accurately, clearly, & practically.
        1. Q: Are you able to do the same?
    6. UPSIDE DOWN! (5-9)
    7. (5) Like magnets, some people are drawn closer(4), & others are repelled by it.
    8. Evil men from the marketplace – It seems like every big city has these guys.
      1. They don’t have jobs but just hang around & harass others in the marketplace. They were the city loafers & hoodlums.
      2. They swarm Jason’s house where the missionaries had been staying.
        1. (Like swarming Gordon Oney’s house, for housing Dennis Strittmatter)
    9. (6) 3 unlikely desperados “upset the world!”
    10. Turned the world upside down – (adapted from Herschel Ford; Acts)
    11. In a sense the charge was true. Christianity is revolutionary!
      1. The world today needs turning upside down, or right side up.
      2. This revolution must take place in the hearts of individuals.
        1. [from revolve=a complete circular turn]
      3. The way to change the world is to change the individuals in it.​​​​​​​
        1. ​​​​​​​You can’t have a better world w/o better people!
    12. When Christ comes into a life He turns it upside down. How?
      1. Jesus turns our beliefs upside down – The things we once thought were false, now we believe to be true.
      2. Jesus turns our pleasures upside down – What we used to find pleasurable, vs. now.
      3. Jesus turns our home life upside down – Different level of home commitment.
      4. Jesus turns our hopes upside down – From a hopeless life He gives us a hope of heaven & eternal life.
    13. So, First, the world is wrong side up; Second, the world must be turned upside down; Third, we are the men to set it right.
      1. Father’s, here is your Fathers Day challenge! May we be the change!
      2. Let’s “flip our Valley”…1 heart at a time!
        1. Let’s start w/our own hearts being touched!
    14. Let’s learn how to care & not only believe!
      1. You may believe there are kids starving, but do you care? (see diff)
      2. What we need to change about us is what we care about not what we believe!
    15. Men, we have the opportunity to unwrap God for people! ☺
  3. BEREAN’S! (10-15)
    1. ​​​​​​​RECEIVE & SEARCH! (10-15)
    2. He targets another town for the gospel…& the way they go.
    3. Berea – a smaller community located about 50 miles from Thessalonica.
      1. The atmosphere is different. [Today, Veria]
      2. They were fair(noble)-minded, or had noble-character, (i.e.) they were sensitive & responsive to the truth.
    4. How? 2 ways:
    5. Received the word with readiness
      1. Not arms folded, with a critical heart.
        1. [Some think that’s actually spiritual, no that’s critical]
      2. Some love apologetics & forget it’s about loving people!
    6. They searched the Scriptures to back up these things were right –
      1. A spirit, not to prove him wrong, but prove it right.
      2. Obviously dangerous for us to blindly accept what people teach.
        1. That’s how cults get started.
      3. Instead ask: Did Jesus/Gospels teach it? Did Acts/early church reveal it? Did epistles expound on it?
        1. May we always ask, “does the bible or Jesus say”…rather than “what does this man or this movement say”!
    7. As an athlete needs to keep fit in their core exercises; and musicians better practice their scales; so Christians must exercise God’s Word.
      1. Jesus is never boring & always relevant! (Erwin mcManus)
    8. Fully alive people don’t always have it easy:
      1. They do however know how to handle life’s storms with enthusiasm, grace, & balance.
      2. If Paul could give us 4 ropes to moor/tie down our ship, they’d be:
      3. [1] Stay determined – Paul had the courage to stay on course in spite of hardships, beatings, even public slander.
      4. [2] Expect rejection – When truth is declared, not all will receive.
        1. If nobody rejects it, we probably aren’t telling the whole truth.
        2. If they reject it, remember, they are rejecting God not you.
          1. Q-TIP = Quit Taking It Personal!
      5. [3] Don’t wait for appreciation – not always expressed at the right time. No one held banquets in Paul’s honor.
        1. But we can’t survive w/o encouragement, & our most unfailing source of that is Christ!!! [He cheers us on; reminds us what we’re fighting for; & supplies the power to win the victory!]
      6. [4] Be enthusiastic – enthusiastic means “one inspired (by a god)”
        1. It’s from 2 Greek words “en” & “theos”, “in” & “God”.
        2. To be enthusiastic then is to be inspired by God.
      7. Prayer: Lord, where our life is flickering, stoke the divine fire in our hearts!

Verses 16-34

  1. Intro:
    1. I’d like to start by looking at our California State Seal. [Show]
      1. Ca. grizzly bear (official state animal) feeding on grape vines, representing California's wine production;
      2. Sheaf of grain, representing agriculture;
      3. Miner, representing the California Gold Rush and the mining industry;
      4. Sailing ships, representing the state's economic power;
      5. San Francisco Bay or the Sacramento River.
      6. The phrase "Eureka," meaning "I have found it!" is the California state motto.
      7. But I’m most interested in the Lady on the Seal – Who is that? She is the Greek goddess Athena (Latin: Minerva), the goddess of wisdom!
        1. The folks in her hometown are who we’re talking about today!
    2. Pick up in 17:14 - Paul travels about 200 miles south to the famous Athens.
      1. What a fascinating place this Athens!!!
        1. Most celebrated city in all Greece. Home of literature, art, politics, & thought.
      2. With its Acropolis (that fortified stronghold situated on a hill); its illustrious Pantheon building with its massive pillars could be seen for miles.
      3. Pop. in Athens was around 10,000…yet, 30,000 statutes of gods!
        1. These idols were etched into public buildings, stationed along the streets, & memorialized in shrines & temples.
          1. Many statues by the famed Phidias (generally acknowledged as the greatest sculptor of all time)
      4. Maybe similar to Kyoto Japan & its 1600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shintō shrines, & hundreds of stone statues near their temples.
    3. Let’s here from some historians of the day regarding Athens:
      1. Petronius (Pe-tron-ius) remarked, “In Athens it was easier to find a god than a man.” {Roman Historian}
      2. Pausanias (Pau-sani-us) said, “Athens had more images than all Greece put together.” {Gk. Geographer & Historian}
      3. Xenophon (Zen-o-fin) calls Athens “one great altar, one great offering to the gods.” (Lenski, Acts pg.708) {Gk. writer}
    4. Athens was also home to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.
  2. AN UNKNOWN GOD MADE KNOWN! (16-34)
    1. GOBS OF gods! (16-21)
    2. (16) No time to wait for backup(Tim & Silas)…let’s role.
      1. Note: he felt, he saw.
    3. Jesus beheld the city Jerusalem, & wept for it; Paul beheld the city Athens, & was stirred by it.
      1. Jesus wept because, “they knew the truth, & didn’t want it”;
        Paul was stirred because, “they wanted the truth but did not know it”.
      2. Which better depicts your city?
    4. Where should we take the Gospel?
    5. [1] RELIGIOUS PLACE! (Synagogue)
    6. As was his custom.
    7. [2] MARKET PLACE! (The Agora[Agg-er-a] )
    8. In 1976 The Doobie Bro’s sang about Takin it to the Streets [Here Paul does exactly that]
      1. He doesn’t limit his sharing about Jesus, on the Sabbath nor inside the synagogue.
      2. Our last generation bought into the lie, “never discuss religion or politics.”
        1. But Jesus isn’t only for Sunday church; but for Monday work; Tuesday sports; Wednesday shopping; Thursday at the dentist; Friday appointments; & Saturday neighbors.
    9. (18) Epicurean & Stoics were at opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum!
      1. Epicurean – Followers of Epicurus(400 yrs earlier). Taught pleasure as main purpose of life, & regarded gods as living in calm happiness, far removed from all earthly things.
        1. So Paul will preach Jesus, God come near!
      2. Stoics – Followers of Zeno(300 yrs earlier). Materialism, pantheism, fatalism, and pride were the leading features of this philosophy.
    10. Babbler – “seed-picker”. Evokes images of a bird pecking indiscriminately at seeds in a barnyard. - “One who picked up scraps of learning here & there & purveyed(sold) them where he could.” F.F. Bruce
      1. They accused Paul of “peeping borrowed ideas”.
    11. [3] ACADEMIC PLACE! (Areopagus, Mars Hill/after the Roman god of war)
    12. So Paul hit the religious folk, the regular Joe, & now the intelligentsia of Athens.
    13. (21) Spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing!
      1. ​​​​​​​Some go to church today for the same thing. They are looking for “something new & exciting!” [a new doctrine to teethe on]
      2. Unfortunately for many, the search for Novelty seems to overshadow the search for Reality! /
    14. We should seek “freshness” not “newness” when it comes to doctrine!
    15. Ever realize the Greeks had 800 years of Greek Mythology, & 500 years of Greek philosophy…& they were still searching!!!
    16. RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP? (22-34)
    17. Here the Seed-Picker picks his seeds wisely!
      1. Paul speaks eloquently & clearly, not about philosophy or culture but about God & His Son!
    18. 5 steps to effective witnessing:
    19. Step #1 Find a Positive Place to Start! (22)
    20. Start where they are, “You guys are obviously very religious.”
    21. He didn’t blast them with a mean spirited “you pagan Idolaters!”
      1. Most people have something in their background about religion that makes a good starting place!
    22. Step #2 Use the Familiar to introduce the Unfamiliar! (23)
    23. I would like to tell you of the unknowable God, who has made Himself Knowable!
      1. Our God is Incomprehensible, yet Knowable!
    24. What he does here is builds a bridge that would hopefully span the gap between their ignorance & the truth of Christ.
      1. Paul basically says, “You Athenians have given me a text. I start where you leave off!”
    25. (Spurg) “I believe a very large majority of churchgoers are merely unthinking, slumbering worshipers of an unknown God.” (Charles H. Spurgeon in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 11. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 1.)
    26. Step #3 Clearly Present God! (24-28a)
    27. (24) He is Creator! so He can’t be contained!
    28. (25) He is Self-Sufficient! so He has no needs!
      1. Ps.50:10-12 “For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. "If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.”
    29. (26,27) He is Intelligent! so He has a plan!
      1. He made man to instinctively long for God.
      2. But often times men aren’t seeking for God to find them!
        1. (Like when we’d play kick the can, & we all went into my friends house & left the guy that was it, all to himself)
      3. The turning point in our lives is when we “stop seeking the God we want and “start seeking the God who is.” (Patrick Morley in The Seasons of a Man's Life. Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3.)
    30. (28a) He is the Sustainer! so we are dependent on Him.
      1. Here he quotes from Epimenades (Gk. Poet) – “for in Him we live & move & have our being.”
    31. Step #4 Be Relevant! (28b)
    32. Here he quotes from Aratus (Gk. Poet).
      1. The entire poem: “Never, O man, let us leave him unmentioned. All ways are full of Zeus & all meeting-places of men; the sea & the harbors are full of him. In every direction we all have to do with Zeus; for we are also his offspring.” (F.F.Bruce, Acts)
        1. Showing them that their own Poets believe in a creator-god.
      2. Paul takes this Poem about Zeus & reveals its true subject…Christ!
    33. Step #5 Make it Personal! (29-31)
    34. (29) Augustine said, “Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that is meant to be worshiped.” (Augustine, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 4.)
    35. (30) Repent is a command! – It is not left optional.
    36. (31) He’s not only Creator…but Judge!
      1. Your actions today do impact your lives beyond the grave…where the resurrected Jesus awaits!
    37. 3 RESPONSES! (32-34)
    38. SOME MOCK! (32a)
    39. Did you know it is impossible to talk about God behind his back?
    40. Did you know you cannot speak of God in His absence?
      1. Then, to deny Him is to spite Him,…to His face.
    41. SOME DELAY! (32b)
    42. They put it off “till later”!
      1. Like shopping & you tell the clerk, “I think I’ll be back to purchase something”, when you really have no intention on getting it.
    43. Or, were interested in hearing them again…but only from an intellectual point of view!
    44. SOME BELIEVE! (34)
    45. One was Dionysius (Dia-nis’-sius). He was a member of the Areopagus council.
    46. The gospel wasn’t very well received in Athens! [Prob won’t be on Paul’s Highlight Films!]
      1. Matter of fact this was the 1st & last mention of Athens in scripture.
        1. We don’t know if any church was planted there?
    47. End:
    48. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Believers:
    49. Look around who is in your marketplace?
    50. Quote Poem: by George MacLeod (from Chuck Swindoll, Acts)
    51. I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church, I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles: But on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; At a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write in Hebrew & in Latin & in Greek…And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, & thieves curse & soldiers gamble Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that’s where Christ’s men ought to be, & what church people ought to be about.
    52. Let’s Jesus to our Marketplace, & not leave him between 2 candles in a church!
    53. Unbelievers: Remember the California state motto was Eureka, meaning "I have found it!" - Maybe this morning you found it! Truth, Salvation; Jesus!
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Acts 17". "Bell's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/acts-17.html. 2017.