THE LINE IN THE SAND
"God overlooks it as long as you don't know any better -- but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and He's calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And He has already appointed the judge, confirming Him before everyone by raising Him from the dead.
"At the phrase "raising Him from the dead", the listeners split: Some laughed at him and walked off, making jokes; others said, 'Let's do this again. We want to hear more.' But that was it for the day, and Paul left. There were still others, it turned out, who were convinced then and there, and stuck with Paul -- among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris." Acts 17:30-34 (The Message).
Here is an evangelist at his best! First of all, he knew his audience. They were mainly Greeks with a philosophical background and, at the same time, steeped in the traditions of their Greek and Roman idolatry. Paul's point of contact was the shrine he found to the God nobody knew. At least they acknowledged that there was a God out there somewhere that humans didn't invent.
He set out to introduce them to this God, first of all as Creator, and then as Judge. That must have been a shock to his hearers. Creator, yes, but Judge? That meant that they were accountable to Him, and some didn't like that. The implication was twofold -- what did He require and when would this happen? In their religion, life was a haphazard affair. It was their role to appease the gods to avert annoying them with dire consequences. They needed their protection and their intervention when necessary but there was no guarantee that either would happen.
Anything bad was attributed to the wrath of the gods, but they were, unfortunately, unpredictable and capricious. There was no knowing what they would do.
Worst of all, the gods didn't always see eye to eye. They were selfish and self-centred and acted just like humans. They were powerful in their own portfolios but they didn't always use their power for the benefit of their devotees, and they often encroached on one another's territory. That's a problem when there are too many gods!
To introduce one God who had set a day to judge the world was a new thought altogether. That meant that He had a standard by which He would judge and that there would be some sort of punishment for those who didn't measure up. Oh and, by the way, He had also chosen the Judge -- a guy who died and came back to life again! That put the cat among the pigeons!
Gods could do that because they were gods, but a man! No way! The hearers immediately split into the typical three groups: Those who dismissed his words as a joke, those who were interested and wanted to know more, and those who accepted his words as the truth and embraced them.
As always, it was the resurrection that caused the parting of the ways. Why? It did not fit their world view. Paul understood that the world views of the Jews and Greeks were vastly different.
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:20-24 (NIV).
What was it that exposed the attitude of Paul's hearers? It was the foolishness of the message. A dead man rising -- that's what caught them out. Funny how many people who claim to be believers are happy to talk about God? But Jesus, dying and rising? Yet that is the cornerstone of our faith -- and the line in the sand.
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