Friday, April 5, 2013

Are Your Tags Hanging Out? (Acts 17:15-34)

For as many [of you] as were baptized into Christ [into a spiritual union and communion with Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah] have put on (clothed yourselves with) Christ.” (Galatians 3:27, Amplified Bible)

So Sunday was my turn in the piano rotation during worship service. Being Easter, church was packed.  About mid-service, as I sat at the piano – with my back to the congregation – I realized that I had forgotten to take the tags off of my new dress and sweater. I thought, ‘Could I discreetly rip off these tags so I don’t further embarrass myself?  Wait … Nicole is sitting behind me.  Surely she would have said something if they were hanging out.  Right?  Maybe that means they’re tucked in…. So how can I (again) discreetly reach my arms around to my shoulder blades to check? …’

Since I’m sure you all have a similar story, I’m hoping that you will be able to relate to our lesson today.  Turn in your Bibles to Acts 17 and read verses 15-34.  (That’s right; we finished Acts 17 this week!)  I’ll be here waiting when you’re finished …

… As you read, after leaving Berea hurriedly, Paul arrives in Athens and waits for Silas and Timothy to catch up with him.  While waiting, Paul’s spirit is provoked by the city’s complete saturation in idolatry.  When in Acts 17:16, Luke says that the city was “full of idols,” remember that includes in the synagogue itself.  Paul can’t stand it any longer.  He begins preaching Jesus and His resurrection to anyone who would hear him – first in the synagogue and also in the marketplace.

I find it interesting to compare how Paul and the Gospel were received in different cities – especially by those who refused to be convinced about Jesus.  Looking back just in Acts 17, the unbelieving Thessalonians were down-right hostile (vs. 5).  In Berea, on the other hand, we don’t see any conflict until the Thessalonians showed up (vs. 13).  To me that says that the unbelievers in Berea either were well out-numbered by believers or were more-or-less indifferent to Paul and his teaching.  Now in Greece, the Athenians seem neither hostile nor indifferent; rather they were curious, wanting to hear any and all new ideas (vs. 18-21) … simply for the sake of hearing them. Thinking back to shopping for that dress and sweater, the Athenians made a sport out of window-shopping for new religious ideas.

Like any good salesperson, Paul knows that the first step to completing this transaction is getting the Athenians away from the window and into the store.  We can learn a lesson from Paul here in how he approached the Athenians.  Paul doesn’t lead off with a direct rant about the inadequacy of their “gods.” This would have offended them, causing their minds to close immediately to his message.  Rather Paul uses the Athenians’ curiosity as well as their acknowledgement of an “unknown god” as an open door to invite them in and to tell them about the God (unknown to the Athenians) Whom Paul served.  Instead of attacking them outright; Paul contrasted God the Father with all of the others that the Athenians wasted their time worshiping (vs. 22-29).

Continuing our shopping analogy – when Paul concluded his message, the curiosity of some was satisfied by what they had seen through the window. These people mocked Paul and were ready to move on to see what was in the next window. Others however, including a judge of the Areopagus named Dionysius, saw something in Paul’s message worth exploring further (vs. 32, 34). This time just hearing the latest trend in religion was not enough for these people. They were enticed to do more than window-shop on that day, and so they followed Paul wanting to learn more of this Jesus Whom Paul preached.

Acts 17:34 counts Dionysius and Damaris (a woman) among those who “believed (became Christians).”  Remember/look back at Galatians 3:27 (quoted at the beginning of today’s post).  In becoming Christians –Dionysius, Damaris, the apostle Paul, … even you and I – we have all clothed ourselves Christ. Maybe, like Dionysuis, we saw Christ while out window-shopping and just couldn’t keep ourselves from running in and claiming Him right then-and-there. Maybe like a pair of shoes I bought a few summers ago, we visited the store time after time – checking every time to see if Christ was still waiting, wanting to try Him on one more time before we decided if following Him was worth the cost (Lk 14:26-33).

Friends, if we never did anything beyond walk by the window or briefly try Him on … if we never took the steps necessary to complete the transaction, then we may never have known that the price was already been paid.  The gift of salvation is free – paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:15-16).  As Paul said in Gal 3:27, “you have put on Christ,” but have you fully committed to Him by taking off the tags?  Tags are a way out – temporary ownership.  Whether left on intentionally or out of forgetfulness, they say, “I want the option of returning this.”  I ask you today, Do you intend to return Jesus Christ? Have you put Him on only temporarily? I beg you to take off whatever tag is still giving you the option of backing out! Jesus has claimed you as His for eternity. Will you claim Him likewise?

… If you have read this as one who has never put your trust in Jesus, I would be honored to lead you in a prayer to accept Him as your Savior.  As Paul told the men of the Areopagus, “He has fixed a day when He will judge the world righteously by a Man Whom He has destined and appointed for that task …” (Acts 17:31). 

Dear God, I come to You in Jesus’ name.  I have heard Your call on my life.  I was created in Your image, and I thank You for Jesus the Christ! I believe that He came to earth, lived among men, and died in my place.  I believe that You raised Him from death to life so that I, too, can be where You are.  Come now, Lord, and let Your Holy Spirit be with me where I am.  Amen.

If you prayed that prayer with a believing heart, then – brother or sister – I am humbled to be the first to welcome you into the family of God.  I’m sorry that I do not have any fancy pamphlets to offer you as to how to begin your Christian walk, but I would recommend that you find a Bible-based church and a pastor who can be there to hold your hand while you take your first steps in the faith.  I look forward to meeting with you in fellowship again – either in Sunday school or through this blog.  God bless you!

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