Acts 17:16-31

6th Sunday of Easter ‚Äď 5/14/2023

Our country is finally all about justice and equity. Did you hear about this? A California study commission on racial injustice has just issued its findings that the state of California owes every black man, woman, and child in the state an apology and financial reparations because of slavery, which hasn't existed in this country for well over 100 years. It is estimated, however, that these reparations will put taxpayers on the hook for 1.5 billion dollars. I'm afraid this decision is not interested in true justice," that is, the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty. No, this recommendation, if adopted by the State of California, would demand that the innocent pay compensation to those who have never been injured! That sounds like the justice Jesus received!

Neither would this forced apology be a true apology. This would simply be analogous to your dear old mother forcing you to tell your brother you're sorry for eating all his candy and then forcing you to buy him a whole new bag of candy when you're pretty sure it was your sister who was the real candy thief. Where's the real justice? Is being forced to confess guilt to something you're innocent of and then pay restitution for what you don't owe justice? Is it equitable?

Today, our text speaks to us about giving an apology, but it is the complete opposite of how we use the term today. The Greek word Peter uses here is our word "apology." The word means to "give a speech in defense."

In our first reading from the Book of Acts, we are allowed to see the apostle Paul and his associate, Silas, doing the very thing that the apostle Peter in our Epistle reading exhorts his readers to do. He says, "In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologetica) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." We are to give such an apology to the people of our world.

The Lord knows we are accustomed to "apologizing." As a general rule, however, we inappropriately use the term about a confession of wrongdoing, a failure to perform, or some inappropriate words said. Even at that, all too often our "apologies" resemble little of the expressions of godly sorrow and genuine repentance God exhorts us to do in His Word: "I am so sorry. I have sinned against you. I have done what is evil in your sight as well as in the sight of God."

Instead, our "apologies" actually tend to be more in line with what the word "apology" meant in its original setting. We give a little speech defending our sordid behavior. We say things like, "Well, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have done or said that, but you drove me to it with what you said!" Such "apologies" confess no real blame or guilt, but they sure do attempt to justify our behavior, putting the onus back on the person we harmed. This is not the confession of sins that God has in mind at all. In all actuality, our little apology is neither true repentance nor a true defense of the truth.

As Christians living in this world that is void of the truth about God, sin, death, forgiveness, life, and salvation, we owe the world a true "apology." Now, I'm not talking about our confessions of sin or failure, although there might be appropriate times for this as well. Nor am I talking about being "apologetic" to the world for the Biblical doctrine we teach and confess, as some Christians are insistent on doing today by saying things like, Oh, Jesus doesn't mean He is the only way to the Father, or heaven, but simply one way among many other pious paths... Or, oh, those passages in the Bible that talk about homosexuality being a sin and that those who practice it will be condemned. No, those are simply influences of the culture at the time they were written. God is a God of love. He loves everyone just the way they are." Such theological rationalizing and apologizing leaves the world with the false impression that God doesn't mean what He says. that the Bible is full of errors and that God can't love and discipline at the same time. Such rational defenses of God are sins! They are evil!

The proclamation of the truth of God as revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures never requires or demands excuses or expressions of our sorrow that somehow our teaching or preaching may have caused someone to be offended. After all, the world is dying to hear the real apology‚ÄĒthat is, the real defense of true faith.¬†There is no salvation apart from the revealed truth as it is given to us in the Holy Bible. And, yes, as Lutherans who have been blessed to have inherited a true exposition of the Holy Scriptures in our Lutheran Confessions, as well as an acute appreciation for the heart of the Gospel that a sinner is justified before God solely by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and a right distinction between the Law and the Gospel, we especially owe the world our unique apology¬†of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The unfortunate reality is that in most places in our world today if people don't hear our defense, they are more than likely not going to hear the truth at all. That would have tragic consequences for their eternity!

You and I of the church of the 21st century can learn a great deal about giving a defense of the true faith from one of the church's pillars and confessors, the apostle Paul. The first thing we learn is that this apology will meet with opposition. It will not be greeted in faith by all. There might be more people who will take offense at our apology than will ever rejoice with us in it. Peter further writes, "Be prepared to make an apology to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good if that should be God's will than for doing evil." Jesus likewise warned His followers, "If they persecute Me, they will persecute you." You and I can deduce, therefore, that if we are not meeting any opposition, then perhaps we are not proclaiming the hard truth but soft selling the gospel... not giving the whole truth, compromising the Word of the Lord simply to avoid confrontation. The bold apology of Christ will be opposed.

How well Paul knew that! It was such violent opposition that led him to the place we find him in our text, Athens. Just before this, he had been on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, preaching and teaching in Thessalonica. For three consecutive Sabbaths, he was in the local synagogue, attempting through the Holy Scriptures to persuade the Jews, as well as the God-fearing Gentiles, that Jesus is the Messiah and their Savior. However, the Jews rioted, forcing many of the key leaders who did believe Paul and Silas to be arrested, including the synagogue ruler Jason. Paul and Silas escaped to neighboring Berea. They continued there to defend the gospel, this time with a bit more success. However, the Jews from Thessalonica also came there in an attempt to stop Paul and Silas from preaching about Jesus being crucified and resurrected. Thanks to the efforts of several believers in Berea, in the dead of the night, Paul was placed on a ship bound for Athens.

Now, you would think that such close calls would have made Paul a bit gun-shy. But there was something within Paul that was more powerful than his fear of being rejected, arrested, or even killed. As he sat in Athens awaiting the arrival of Silas and Luke, Luke, as the writer of Acts, states: Paul's "spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols." The marked prevalence of crass idolatry around him gave Paul heartburn. He could only lament the thousands being led astray to their eternal damnation without the knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Paul could not, therefore, bear to keep quiet. He went both to the house of worship of the Jews, and the synagogue, as well as to the meeting place of the people of the community, the marketplace, and he "dialogued" with them concerning Jesus Christ. Paul didn't go door to door, talking to strangers and forcing a conversation with them about Jesus. He simply took advantage of every situation where people were already conversing to contend for true faith so that God, through his apology, might snatch more souls from the fires of hell.

You and I, likewise, don't have to go out of our way to look for opportunities to give a defense of the truth of Christ. We might not be apostles, that is, those Jesus specifically calls to publicly preach Him, but God has placed us all in situations where people congregate, like workplaces, family gatherings, and community events. And guess what? In many of these places, even without our initiation, those there are already engaging in conversations about the meaning of life, false philosophies, and even God's involvement in this world. It is prime time for our apology to Christ!

If it is not an opportunity we lack, why are we so often reticent to speak up? Could it be that we lack in our hearts a real passion for souls being lost? Have we become so complacent in our salvation that we have lost all concern for the eternal welfare of our family members, co-workers, and neighbors? Or have we been so influenced by the philosophies and attitudes of our world that we no longer believe in our message: that there is no salvation apart from the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ?

Now, I am not saying that giving the world our apology is simply babbling on about Jesus. As Paul demonstrates, giving a defense for the truth of Jesus Christ means rightly and wisely applying the Word of God in the right setting. King Solomon wrote: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (Prov. 25:11). And again Jesus warned, "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you" (Matt. 7:6).

When it comes to defending the faith and giving the world our apology, there is no substitute for being well-versed in the teachings of the Holy Bible. We can't expect to give a clear and correct apology to Christ if, through our negligence or lack of serious study of His Word, we are ignorant of God's truths.

But if, like the Psalmist, we do meditate on God's Word day and night, If we attend regularly to the preaching of the Word, If we attend Bible classes where the Word is being expounded correctly, God will be bringing His Word to bear on our minds and hearts, and He will be fitting us to be Christian apologists.¬†Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which can make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness"¬†(2 Tim. 3:14‚Äď16).

But from Paul's own experience, we can also see that beyond being well-versed in the Holy Scriptures, effective apologetics necessitates being observant of what's happening in the society around us, learning what the enemy of the truth is saying, and then always focusing people's attention back to Jesus crucified and resurrected.

Apologists for the true faith cannot be hermits. You and I cannot hold up in some monastery somewhere and expect to save souls. We cannot simply live in our isolated world and ignore what is going on around us, as though what is going on in our world is not going to affect us in any way. Jesus describes His disciples as those who are in the world, just not of the world (John 17).

St. Paul did not live in some ivory tower of theological academia or monasticism. First of all, he provided for himself through his trade as a tent maker. Secondly, he was an astute student of people and their behaviors. He also received not only the finest theological education available at the time but also a liberal arts education, which made him fully aware of the philosophies and rhetoric of previous ages as well as his own.

This all proved invaluable in the venue the Lord led him to the pinnacle of world thinking and philosophy, the Areopagus. According to legend, this was the place where Ares was supposed to have been tried by the gods for the murder of Poseidon's son, Alirrothios. Built on an outcropping of rock northwest of the Acropolis, Areopagus, meaning "Rock of Ares," was the place of the judiciary. By Paul's day, it was also the center of philosophical discussions. It was the meeting place of all the educated, who, like many of our university campuses today, loved to discuss anything new. Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who had heard Paul speak in the marketplace concerning Jesus had invited him there. What intrigued them most was the teaching of Jesus and the resurrection.

On his way to the Areopagus, Paul took note of all the idols and altars of the various gods. In his speech before them, he began by saying, literally, "Men of Athens, I behold that you are fearing all the gods... I even found an altar with this inscription: 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Wow, talk about placing the jewel of the gospel in a setting of gold! Paul did not lambast them for being heathens. In a truly winsome way, he used their desire to know and worship God to lead them, via the truth of God's Word, to the true God in the flesh of Jesus Christ. His education and his observations both became servants of the apology he had to share.

Paul went on to proclaim that he had come to tell them about that unknown God who was the Creator of all things. And, of course, he noted that you can't expect Him, as the creator of human beings, to dwell in temples made by human hands. Paul even used one of their poets to discredit their belief in man-made idols. He said, "Even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold, silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man." Paul used Greek logic and rhetorical techniques to defeat them in their own game.

Of course, even Paul could not have done this if he had lived his life in a cave somewhere or simply kept a junior confirmand's knowledge of the Scriptures.

Our culture today is not that different from that of the first century. True, we do not see the same crass idol worship. But that is not to say that there is no idolatry. Our society and world are very pluralistic and polytheistic. There are gods everywhere, and the prevailing notion is that none of them is to be declared the true god to the exclusion of others. It is held that all contain elements of the truth. The same notion of the Areopagus crowd covering all one's spiritual bases is still in vogue today. But as the First Commandment teaches us, the worship of anything or anyone other than the true God is idolatry.

You and I can talk about all the fine points of the philosophy of Aristotle or engage in a rational debate with Intelligent Design theorists, but ultimately, any true apology of the faith must point sinners to the flesh of Jesus to see the true God and find their salvation from God's impending judgment. As Paul states quite emphatically, "God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed, and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

And as Paul clearly shows us, any true apology for true faith must give attention to both the law and the gospel. No one can plead ignorance. God judges the whole world, and that day of reckoning has been set, so it is sure to come. But not only does God judge the world righteously, but He also does so in a man‚ÄĒthe man whom God appointed to be the sacrifice for all idolatry and sinful ignorance‚ÄĒthe one raised from the dead, assuring us of the truth of His word as well as the assurance of the resurrection of even dead idolaters. The world needs the truth. The world needs Jesus! That also means the world needs your and my apology!

And should we encounter opposition, which more than likely we will, we do not need to be afraid. As God has promised, His word of truth will not return to Him void without accomplishing what He pleases (Is. 55:11). His word of truth will win the day. It's not dependent upon our persuasive rhetoric, masterful logic, or winsomeness. His Word, especially His Word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the power of God unto salvation (Ro. 1:16). On top of this, He promises to be with us in our apology for His Word of Truth. Just as He was with Paul and with Peter to empower them, equip them, protect them, and deliver them, the Lord says to all who confess Him before men, "I will be with you always" (Matt. 28:20). "Never will I leave you, nor will I forsake you" (Deut. 31:7; Heb. 13:5). "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt. 10:22). "Whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father in Heaven!" (Matt. 10:32). Amen!

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