If one of the challenges of preaching Acts is how to preach the sermons, i.e. does one preach the sermon or about the sermon, a greater challenge is how to preach two sermons in one lesson. In Acts 14 we have the second summary of a Pauline sermon. This sermon is worthy of intense study by itself. This context and sermon have several parallels with the earlier 3:1ff passage (cf. 3:1ff with 14:8ff). This provides a "Peter to Paul" transition that was likely clearer to Luke's readers than it is to us today. In Acts 17, we have an account of Paul's sermon to the philosophers in Athens.
In both of these sermons we have only brief abstracts. But we study them together, because their common concern, and thus the subject for us in this sermon, is the question how one can approach religiously illiterate pagans. We should learn from Paul's cultural flexibility--while the general substance of his message was unvaried, the approach, emphasis, focus was fashioned for his hearers. We have here a suggestion about how to begin in our communication with the general world of unbelievers. This material has great potential for instructing persons with roots in the contemporary post-modern cultural as well as Christians (with those same roots, but perhaps more desirous of escaping such world views) in what it means to think Christianly, and in thinking about the way in which the message of Jesus might be spread abroad.
Principles for Preaching in the Post-modern Culture
The truth--God is worthy of worship because of who he is, and those who proclaim Him are only human messengers. We proclaim the living and true God.
I. He is Creator of the Universe (24)
This is very unlike the Epicurean emphasis on a chance combination of atoms or the pantheism of the Stoics. This is a personal Creator God, a personal Lord. Such a God, overseeing all of his creation, could never live in a shrine built by human endeavors. One can never localize or limit or imprison this God. He created us, we did not create him, and we cannot create him now to our liking.
II. He is Sustainer of Life (25)
The one who can sustain life does not need to be sustained. He supplies our need, and does not need what we can supply. One can never tame, domesticate, or box in God. God is not to be reduced to any level below who he is; such is a ridiculous rversal of roles. We depend on God, he does not depend on us.
III. He is Ruler of all nations (26ff)
God is in control, 14:17. The world is under his control, and his purpose is that his human creation might seek him, reach for him, and find him. Seeking is natural, the alienation of sin causes us to grope, but such should not be blamed on God. He is not distant or unknowable. He is not far away. We are distanced, not He. If it were not for the separation of sin, he would be readily accessible, as Epimenides the 6th c. BC poet has observed: In him we live and move and have our being.
IV. He is the Origin/Father of humanity (28)
This quotation is from Aratus, 3rd c. Stoic author, from Cilicia. Such secular quotes are interesting. The church today has become critical of such secular wisdom, but here is Paul proving his points. There are glimmerings of truth, insights from general revelation, found in non- Christian authors.
The point here seems to be that we are alive, as he is alive. Not like gold or silver which are lifeless. This is a clear strike against idolatry. Idolatry is inexcusable.
V. He is Judge (31)
The sermon ends where it began--with human ignorance. God has given testimony (14:17). Certain judgment is coming--repentance is demanded. This judgment will be universal (the world), righteous, definite. God committed judgment to the Son (Jn. 5:27), and God gives public proof of this by raising him from the dead. The resurrection vindicates Jesus, declares him Lord and Judge. Nations created from the first Adam will be judged by the last Adam.
The mention of resurrection brings the sermon to an end. What can we learn? The Christian message should challenge us at the highest intellectual level. While there may be common ground between Scripture and other knowledge, the ultimate call is to repentance, and none can claim the Christ while rejecting the call. Ultimately, gospel preaching must call for repentance, from all, despite the fact that some will reject the call as too hard (cf. John 6).
Nonetheless, there are results. Some responded to the summons or repent. This is basic divine truth. God is God. There is none other. In a Christian sermon, we would ask "What will you do with Jesus?" But as we conclude now I ask, "What will you do with God?" Wrestle with God, let God be God, do not seek to diminish him, tame him, box him, belittle him.
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