As a kid, we all wanted to be the hero. The dream of coming to the rescue of others is standard fare for the imaginations of children and continues into the heart of adults. We tell them as bedtime stories to our sons and daughters. As adults, we spend hard-earned money on nights at the movie theaters to experience the fantastic tales in IMAX-sized scale.
But then the next day shows up and we are reminded… Time to go to work. The fantastical break was fine for a night but the project must get done, the meeting must be attended, and the reports must be completed. But the life of the believer is more than the mundane movements of 40+ hour work weeks.
We look into the world and see that tragedy has struck. People are in danger. The world needs a hero. So, what can you do about it? In Acts 17:16-33, the apostle Paul faced one of these moments and reacted as we all should.
Understand Reality. When Paul came to the megacity of Athens, he stood atop Mars Hill. It is a bit of a nob that juts out from the Acropolis that overlooks the city. At the top of the Acropolis stood The Parthenon, the temple to Athena. On Mars Hill, philosophers and religious teachers would gather to debate and discuss truth claims. As Paul stood there, he saw a valley filled with idols to all sorts of gods. He saw the world for what it is.
Believers must never turn away from the reality of our world. With over 7 billion people on the planet, we can easily determine the numbers. In general terms, around 32% of the world claims Christianity, 24% are Muslims, 16% have no religious affiliation, 15% are Hindus, and the rest adhere to Buddhism, folk religion, Judaism, or some other religious group. We need to understand this reality.
In the United States of America, though many claim Christianity as their religious identity, much fewer have a testimony of faith. Meanwhile, the Nones (those with no religious affiliation) have risen to almost an equal number to Evangelical Protestants. If the trends stay the same, in a few years, there will be more Nones than Evangelicals.
We must see our cities and world through a spiritual lens, just as Paul saw Athens. The world demands that we view people through the rubrics of politics, ethnicity, social class, and economic status. But not those who are owned by Christ. We see people as they relate to Christ.
Stirred by Lostness. Paul had a choice to make: help create a religious subculture for the church to hide in or lead it to deliver the transforming message of the gospel to difficult people. Acts 17:16 tells us that he was “deeply distressed” by what he saw in Athens. The Greek vocabulary used is akin to the anger that Jesus showed when he was flipping tables in the Temple. It was a moment of anger and scorn for the state of people’s hearts.
As the church, we must learn to hate sin like God hates sin. We need a holy agitation that moves us to action because of what is happening to our neighbor’s soul. Paul was distraught at the idea of so many deceived people going about their religious duties while also headed at full speed into judgment.
A question we need posed to each member of the church is this: What do you get mad about? Lots of answers emerge that range from social injustice to bad drivers. But do we get mad about the brokenness of families, the loneliness of orphans, the addictions gripping our neighbors, and, most importantly, the possibility that even one person could exist on the planet who has not heard the Good News of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin.
Hoarding the gospel should be an unthinkable position. Yet, so many Christians go about their days as if someone else will tell their neighbor or the family on the other continent. In this, we desperately need a return to the heart of Paul, who followed the heart of Jesus.
Engage the Work. Paul did something about what he saw. In fact, he used the very idols of their false worship to lead them to the one true God. In Acts 17:22-23, Paul highlighted the idol to the “unknown god.” He took something familiar to the crowd and pointed them to the God who they had not yet known. It was a simple image to create so that they could get a glimpse of the God that they longed to know.
We are surrounded by people who worship all sorts of false idols. They do not set up shrines on their lawns but they do in their hearts. Searching for wealth, pleasure, and meaning in every way, they’ve missed the one true God. The mission of the church is to do something about it.
To make committed followers of Jesus, we must tell people about Him. It requires personal witnessing and congregational actions. It happens when we care for the outcast, orphans, widows, and immigrants. We must plant churches and partner globally with those who are faithful to the gospel. Each believer and church needs to take on a going lifestyle. Just as Paul. Just as Jesus.
In do so, you will not necessarily become a hero to the world. In fact, we don’t need to be the hero of the story. Jesus is. He is the Hero that we all need to rescue us from our sin and the rightful judgment we deserve.
Instead, I’m inviting you to become a trouble-maker for grace. It’s time to up-end the world with God’s message of salvation. Let your heart be stirred today for your neighbor who is a raging alcoholic, your CEO who thinks she has it all together, and the unknown billions who’ve not heard the gospel yet. It is time for us to once again see the world for what it is and what Jesus wants to do in it. Get going and shake things up.