The First Reading for the sixth Sunday of Easter is from the Acts of the Apostles. The text is Acts 17:16-31 and is the fascinating account of Paul’s speech/sermon in Athens on Mars Hill (Areopagus). Paul was disturbed by all the paganism in Athens and found a ready audience to talk about these things. In fact, this was the preferred form of entertainment in Athens, debating philosophy and religion. As verse 21 says, the people would spend all their time telling or hearing, “something new.” This gave Paul the opportunity to tell them about Christ Jesus. However, he never mentions Jesus by name in his sermon! He simply refers to Him as the Man… interesting approach!

Paul incorporates a great object lesson in his address—the altar of the unknown god. Apparently, he had little trouble gathering an audience. Basically, Paul goes on to explain the difference between pagan gods and goddesses and the LORD God. The main difference was in their roles. Men manufacture and worship their gods and provide them with things. Man provides for the gods! This is the kind of god man devises for himself from his human nature. This kind of god gives man an opportunity to do something to endear himself to the god.

The “unknown God,” the God our human nature in its sinful corruption cannot fathom, is One who provides for the needs of His creation. Our LORD is identified as the One who provides for our needs, serves us to the point of obedience unto death on a tree so that we who can do nothing are rescued and redeemed by His actions on our behalf. This is the God Paul speaks of before the people on Mars Hill. The Christian God is the One who provides for us… even offers His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Then, Paul makes it clear this reality is assured by the resurrection of the Man from the dead.

This “unknown God” reveals who He is in His Son. Pretty easy sermon material for today! Our world is caught in doing stuff to please/appease God when the reality is, God does everything for us so we might walk in relationship with Him. It is interesting in reading this text that Solomon was right: There is nothing new under the sun.

17:16 ἐκδεχομένου from: ἐκδέχομαι Present, middle participle: “to expect; to wait”

παρωξύνετο from: παροξύνω Imperfect, passive: “to be angry; to be provoked; to be irritated”

θεωροῦντος from: θεωρέω Present, active participle: “to see; to observe”

κατείδωλον “full of idols; full of images”

17:17 διελέγετο from: διαλέγομαι Imperfect, middle: “to reason; to teach (with the method of question and answer)”

παρατυγχάνοντας from: παρατυγχάνω Present, active participle: “to happen to be near, present”

17:18 συνέβαλλον from: συμβάλλω Imperfect: “to throw together; to discuss; to converse”

σπερμολόγος “seed picker” First used in reference to birds who pick up seeds and then concerning men who pick up odd and ends at the market and then men who sought after the second rate and finally to a worthless person.

καταγγελεὺς “announcer; preacher; speaker”

εὐηγγελίζετο from: εὐαγγελίζω Imperfect, middle: “to proclaim good news”

*Epicurean: Epicurus (341-270 BC) one who taught that the good were not involved, nor interested in the affairs of men.

*Stoics: Zeno (340-265 BC) one who taught that it is man’s greatest pleasure to carry out his duty and act reasonably.

17:19 ἐπιλαβόμενοί from: ἐπιλαμβάνομαι Aorist, middle participle: “to take hold of” ἤγαγον from: ἄγω Aorist: “to bring”

γνῶναι from: γινώσκω Aorist, active infinitive: “to know”

17:20 ξενίζοντα from: ξενίζω Present, active participle: “to surprise; to astonish (with something new)”

17:21 ἐπιδημοῦντες from: ἐπιδημέω Present, active participle: “”to dwell as a foreigner”

ηὐκαίρουν from: εὐκαιρέω Imperfect: “to have time; to have leisure”

17:22 Σταθεὶς from: ἵστημι Aorist, passive participle: “to stand”

δεισιδαιμονεστέρους from: δεισιδαιμων Comparative: “to be religious” As a comparative, “to be more religious than normal”

17:23 διερχόμενος from: διέρχομαι Present, middle participle: “to pass through”

ἀναθεωρῶν from: ἀναθεωρεω anaqewrew Present, participle: “to observe; to look at”

σεβάσματα “object of worship”

βωμὸν “altar”

ἐπεγέγραπτο from: ἐπιγράφω Pluperfect, passive: “to inscribe”

Ἀγνώστῳ “unknown”

17:24 ποιήσας Aorist, active participle: “to make; to do”

χειροποιήτοις “made with human hands”

17:25 θεραπεύεται from: θεραπεύω Present, passive: “to attend; to care for; to serve”

προσδεόμενός from: προσδέομαι Present, middle participle: “to want; to need”

17:26 ὁρίσας from: ὁρίζω Aorist, active participle: “to mark out (boundaries); to determine”

προστεταγμένους from: προστάσσω Perfect, passive participle: “to assign; to appoint; to prescribe”

17:27 ψηλαφήσειαν from: ψηλαφάω Aorist, optative: “to touch; to feel”

17:28 κινούμεθα “to move”

ποιητῶν “poet”

17:29 χαράγματι “an engraved work; engraved inscription”

τέχνης “art”

ἐνθυμήσεως “design”

17:30 ὑπεριδὼν from: ὑπεροράω Aorist, active participle: “to overlook”

17:31 ἔστησεν from: ἵστημι Aorist: “to set: to appoint; to fix”

ὥρισεν from: ὁρίζω Aorist: “to determine”

παρασχὼν from: παρέχω Aorist, participle: “to furnish; to bring evidence”

ἀναστήσας from: ἀνίστημι Aorist, active participle: “to raise”

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 17:16-31.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 17:16-31.