It seems that everywhere Paul went he incited either a riot or a revival — or both. After preaching the Word for three weeks in the Thessalonian synagogue some of the Jews were “persuaded” to believe the gospel, but some were infuriated by it (v.4-5). The place where Paul was staying was broken into by an angry mob of hired thugs. In Berea (v.10-13) the mob from Thessalonica tracked Paul down, and he had to be smuggled out of the city to make his way to hiding in Athens.
All alone in Athens, Paul continued to share the gospel while he waited for his companions. Athens was known as the intellectual center of the world. The Athenians had a lot of knowledge but they didn’t know how or what to worship. For fear of neglecting some god or goddess, they worshiped the images of many deities. Idols lined every street, stood at the door of each building, and filled the beautiful temples. One historian of that era, Petronius, said, “In Athens it was easier to find a god than a man.” Athens was smothering in idolatry, and all that lostness, spiritual blindness, and false hope grieved Paul deeply (v.16).
Paul began to witness to anybody who would stand still long enough: Jews in the synagogue, Gentile worshipers there, and anyone he found hanging around the marketplace. God arranged for Paul to be heard in the marketplace by representatives of the two great schools of philosophy in Athens, the Epicureans and the Stoics. These men took Paul by force to the Areopagus (the court of the intellectuals) for a kind of informal hearing. (God was sovereignly getting Paul into position to make the maximum impact with a gospel witness to some of the greatest minds of his day.)
Standing before these great thinkers, Paul found people who were very smart, but who admitted their own ignorance about the truth. They had an altar dedicated “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (v.23). Paul used that as his starting point to share the grand story of the gospel, from creation (v.24) to judgment (v.31). Paul presented his message in an intellectually appealing way, but he did not back down from the truth. He shared about the death and resurrection of Jesus and he told them that God commanded them to repent of their sins (v.30). The response was varied: some mocked Paul, some were curious and asked to hear more, and some received the gospel and became believers.
Be ready today for God to give you an opportunity to make the unknown known to someone who is lost and seeking the truth (v.23). Just share what Jesus has done for you and leave the results to Him. Like Paul, let the will of God lead you — and give ’em Jesus!