Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 11/12/06
"For: Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor?" (Rom. 11:34).
We last left Paul and Silas and their companions in Philippi, where they persevered through torture, and imprisonment, and by grace and miracles, brought the glorious Good News to the people whom God had called to receive it. Their journey brought them to Thessalonica, where Paul went into the synagogue, reasoning with them "from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. 'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,' he said" (Acts 17:2-3). This reminds me of the time when Jesus walked the Emmaus Road with the two disciples after His resurrection. Though they did not recognize Him, He taught them: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:13-27). How I have longed to have eavesdropped on either that conversation or on one of Paul's lectures in the various synagogues where he preached. And yes, I realize that this is how the Holy Spirit operates in our lives today, revealing the Christ to us, but still, how wonderful it would have been to hear it from the lips of the Master Himself and from Paul as well.
Some of the Jews who heard him in Thessalonica were persuaded, along with a "large number" of God-fearing Greeks, but some of the Jews became jealous, and rounded up some "bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city" (Acts 17:5). They rushed over to Jason's house, with whom Paul may have been staying as a guest, but Paul was not there, so they seized Jason and dragged him before the city officials, hurling the charge that "They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus" (Acts 17:7). The study note observes that "Blasphemy was the gravest accusation for a Jew, but treason, to support a rival king above Caesar, was the worst accusation for a Roman."
The brothers helped Paul and Silas escape under cover of darkness, to the neighboring town of Berea. The text relates: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). The daily Scripture reading which was the point of this verse was drilled into us as kids. As had happened in Iconium and Lystra, the insurgent Jews followed them from Thessalonica to Berea and stirred up the crowd. Because the Jews' "hit list" centered on Paul, Silas and Timothy remained in Berea. The brothers sent Paul to the coast, and from there, escorted him to Athens.
While he waited for Silas and Timothy in Athens, he had occasion to get acquainted with this remarkable ancient city, home of the famous Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato, whose ideas have influenced Western civilization down through the centuries in ways most people can't imagine. Paul was disturbed to find that the city was full of idols. Thanks to the generosity of my sister and her husband, Mary and Bob Blattner, Lenny and I were able to visit Athens in 2004. We went to the Parthenon (temple of Athena, patron goddess of the city), which sits high on a hill (the Acropolis), overlooking the Agora, or marketplace and the Areopagus ("hill of Areas" the Greek god of thunder and war).
The Areopagus had once been "the site of the meeting of the Court or Council" but in Paul's day, it "retained authority only in the areas of religion and morals, and met in the royal Portico at the northwest corner of the Agora. They considered themselves the custodians of teachings that introduced new religions and foreign gods." When we visited Athens in 2004, the Areopagus was a hill visible below the Parthenon, with no structures on the top of it. One of our tour group climbed to the top and I think I have a picture of him, but after getting to the top of the hill where the Parthenon sits, clambering over stones made slippery by time, weather, and the feet of countless tourists, Lenny and I decided to view the Areopagus from afar. I thought of Paul the whole time we were in the city, especially as we strolled through the Agora, enjoying the sites and sounds of people strolling or sitting outside, visiting and enjoying a meal or a drink.
In Athens, Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue, and in the marketplace (the Agora) with whomever happened to be there. He encountered a group of "Epicurean and Stoic philosophers" who began to dispute with him (Acts 17:18). The wikipedia.org encyclopedia gives the following: "The Epicureans believed in the existence of gods, but ... It was thought that the gods were too far away from the earth to have any interest in what man was doing; so it did not do any good to pray or to sacrifice to them. The gods, they believed, did not create the universe, nor did they inflict punishment or bestow blessings on anyone, but they were supremely happy, and this was the goal to strive for during one's life. However, the Epicureans contended that the gods were in no position to aid anyone in this, that life came into existence by accident in a mechanical universe, and that death ends everything, liberating the individual from the nightmare of life. Although it was believed that man has a soul, the soul was thought to be composed of atoms that dissolve at the death of the body, just as water spills out of a pitcher that breaks."
".....Epicurean philosophers were among those who took to conversing controversially with Paul in the marketplace at Athens and who said: "What is it this chatterer would like to tell?" "He seems to be a publisher of foreign deities." (Acts 17:17, 18) The philosophy of the Epicureans, with its idea of "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die," denied the resurrection hope taught by Christians in their ministry. (I Co 15:32).". End Quote.
The Greek philosophers Paul encountered in the market place took him to the Areopagus, where they asked him to explain what he was teaching: "You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)" (Acts 17:20-21). This was exactly the invitation Paul had been waiting for, and he began his discourse on the altar he had found dedicated to "AN UNKNOWN GOD" (Acts 17:23). The Athenians were worried they might offend some god by not giving him proper attention; "so they felt they could cover any omissions by the label "Unknown god" (NIV Study Note). This gave Paul the opening he needed to begin to share with them the amazing Good news about the one true God, "who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else" (Acts 17:24-25).
Paul went on to say that this God whom he served made all men, all nations, and "he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live" (Vs. 26). He continued his remarkable declaration, "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is NOT FAR FROM EACH ONE OF US. For in him, we live and move and have our own being" (Acts 17:27 -28). This was a shocking statement to these Athenian philosophers, who had so many gods they didn't know how to please any of them, or even if it was important that they do so. They were in all things, very superstitious, leaning first this way and then the other. Paul was an educated man, and I'm impressed that he spoke to these men in a way they would respect because he quoted their own poets. 1) "In him we live and move and have our being" (from the Cretan poet Epimenides), and 2) "We are his offspring" (from the Cilician poet Aratus.)" In this encounter, we see the wisdom of God's plan to call an educated man to deal with educated people. Paul was born in Tarsus, where he received his training and education. He was fluent in Greek as well as Hebrew and Aramaic. Both languages served his calling from God.
In researching this writing, I felt led to review Plato's philosophy, since he and his mentor Socrates have influenced so much of western thinking. Though these men lived almost 500 years before Christ, their concepts are still evident today. Socrates did not write much, but Plato quoted him extensively in what he called his "dialogues" (a teaching method), so that scholars have a good idea of what Socrates believed.
What struck me as I was reading the wikipedia.org articles, is the influence of Plato's ideas today. Regarding metaphysics: "Plato's metaphysics divides the world into two distinct aspects: the intelligible (invisible) world of "forms," and the perceptual (visible) world we see around us. The perceptual world consists of imperfect copies of the intelligible forms or ideas." End Quote.
Plato's ideas have survived for centuries and no doubt, represent the best of what the mind of man can conceive, but they fall woefully short of the eternal truth given to Paul by the Spirit of God. Plato's ideas were the counterfeit of Paul's theology. For instance, Plato's concept of the "forms," roughly corresponds to what Paul calls the "eternal," that which is not seen with the eyes; Plato's "perceptual world," aligns with what Paul calls "temporary," or that which we perceive with our eyes and our senses (II Cor. 4:16 -18). Paul, however, did not deny the value of what we see and hear, nor our humanity, as did the Gnostic heresy, which I believe was another fallout of Plato's philosophy.
Gnosticism constituted a great threat to Christianity, by teaching Jesus did NOT come in the flesh, because flesh (the visible) is evil; only Spirit (the invisible) is good. The Apostle John addressed the Gnostic belief: "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist" (II John 1:7). Some today still teach Gnostic ideas by distancing themselves from their bodies, and their humanity. By doing so, they nullify the incarnation of Christ. The Christian Science religion is based on the belief of mind over matter. If a person has physical symptoms, they are taught to confess that they are not the real truth about their condition. This has a pseudo spiritual ring to it, but Paul never hesitated to say what he felt, be it pain, persecution, deprivation or illness. What you say about your condition has nothing to do with what God plans to do about it. If it did, you'd be on the throne!
In addition to Gnosticism, as I was reviewing Plato's ideas, I saw that he is possibly an ancient forerunner of Secular Humanism. That philosophy, so feared and abhorred by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals alike, says that we don't need God and we certainly do not need Christ, for man has within himself everything he requires to lead a successful, overcoming life. Mind over matter is the basis of Eastern mysticism and all New Age doctrine as well, a doctrine which says all will be well if a man just looks within himself for truth and begins to remember who he really is, which they say he forgot. As I was pondering this and mulling it over, it flashed in my spirit that there are many similarities between Eastern Mysticism and Secular Humanism and some of the religions ideas (which I'll call Religious Humanism) that prevail among some Christians today.
In 2003, the Spirit gave me 14 lessons under the heading of "Second Hand Religion" (see link at end), which considered the differences between self effort (fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and Life in the Spirit. I write what I get, but I wondered at the time why the Lord saw fit to spend so much of my time on it. He wanted me to get it, to see it, to feel it; I have and I do!
When God booted me out of Fundamentalism into the arms of the Charismatics, I grabbed hold of their teaching hook, line, and stinker. Looking back, I see that it appealed to me excessively because of the seductive control it offered the participant. If you name it and claim it, quote scripture, stand on your affirmation and make positive confessions, God has to give it to you, the Word of Faith gurus claim, because He has a contract with you (the Bible). Oh really?
I'm convinced that God doesn't worry about these little detours we take, or as Alan McSavage puts it, the rabbit holes we run down, because He will bring glory for His name out of ALL things, good and ill! The realization that only God has control, ended my foray into the Charismatic nonsense that we can tell God how to run HIS kingdom. Secular Humanism Claims that human beings can control their destiny by use of reason, logic and enlightened thinking. That puts man at the helm of the ship, which offends and frightens many Christians. That's the deception, but the subtle look alike perversion infecting so many Christians is to think that we ARE in control of our lives, our destiny and our eternal salvation by the choices we make. This denigrates the gift of faith to a work we must do (Eph. 2:8-9). Some believe in Christ and His sacrifice for our salvation, but to that they add WORKS, even as the Judaizers who hounded Paul from city to city, tried to add circumcision and other requirements of the Law to the finished work of Christ.
The heavens declare Your glory, O Lord, and Your children manifest Your handiwork. We leave behind philosophy and vain deceit, and move on in Your Spirit to everlasting life. Glory to Your name, Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Map of Paul's Second Journey
Second Hand Religion
Dragon Slayer (Ephesus)
The Incorruptible Corinthians (Corinth)
The Galatian Conundrum (Galatia)
The Macedonian Call
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 11/10/06
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/09/08.