What an amazing place Athens must have been for Paul to visit. Even from the port of Piraeus, Paul would have been able to see the Parthenon, the gleaming marble temple to the goddess Athena crowning the Acropolis.
According to Acts 17, he visited the synagogue in Athens and reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks. But all around him he could see the symbols of pagan idolatry, distressing to him, an ambitious, well-educated Pharisee, whose encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ, son of the living God, had transformed his life into one of service and mission to a new Master.
Centuries later, a visit to the Agora still reveals the things Paul could have seen from that market place. Nearby is the Temple of Hephaestus, dedicated to the god of the forge. Above him he could have seen Mar’s Hill and the Pnyx where the Ecclesia of citizens met for discussions and to pass judgment on criminal issues. All around him in the Agora, the market place of ideas swirled opinions and ignorance and ideas flowing as easily as today’s talk shows on radio and TV.
Some of these people, the philosophers, wanted to hear Paul’s ideas – “he seems to be advocating a foreign god.” So they took him up the hill to Mar’s Hill, or the Areopagus where people met to discuss more formally.
Paul’s speech there is both careful and bold. Virtually in the shadow of Athena, he is confronting the pagan powers on their own turf. He compliments them, quotes their poets, and then tells them that according to the God of Creation, they are ignorant of His commands and should prepare for a day of true justice – which God has proved, by Resurrection power, will take place.
Some people sneered when they heard about the Resurrection, but Paul did gain a small following there.
Seeing these places through the eyes of Paul increases my respect for his oratorical ability, his missiological skill, as well as for his dedication to Jesus Christ.
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