Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
Can you see the gospel shape in Acts 17:22-31?
So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like 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.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.
What is the gospel shape of this text? Paul Helm in his book Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today writes that it only took Paul “eight verses to cover Genesis to Revelation. He moves effortlessly from beginning to end, from creation to consummation – speaking of God as Creator, humanity as fallen, Christ as resurrected, and Christ as returning in judgment on a day fixed in heaven.”
Here is the structure of Paul’s words:
- Paul turns iconic cultural objects into a conversation about God (vv. 22-23).
- Paul starts at the beginning, with God creating the heavens and the earth (v. 24a).
- He reveals that humanity’s universal problem is idolatry (vv. 24b-25).
- He emphasizes God’s eternality and desire to be in relationship with us (vv. 26-28).
- He proclaims human culpability and calls for repentance (vv. 29-30).
- Paul points to the resurrected Jesus as the One to whom our allegiance belongs (v. 31).
- He ends with God judging the world in righteousness (v. 31).
Again Paul Helm writes, “This sermon provides a model for how we might effectively preach while moving through the grand sweep of biblical history in a short space.” In short, each time a preacher stands up to preach God’s word, in whatever capacity, they need to point the listener to Jesus. They need to demonstrate how a passage fits into redemptive history as a whole, thus resulting in a gospel-shaped, gospel-driven, gospel-proclaiming sermon.