Some New Thing
Acts 17: 21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
I love the story of Acts 17. Paul has left behind his accomplices Silas and Timothy to enter alone the City of Wisdom. Silas, the missionary partner coming to Paul out of that dissension with Barnabas over John Mark. Timothy coming to Paul from Lystra, the community which almost took his life by stoning, the community which fatherly love compelled him to re-visit.
But now alone he presents the good news in synagogue and market, until invited to the great centre of intellectual gymnastics, Mars Hill. Paul uses their superstition, their statues, their poetry, their love of nature and their incessant curiosity to bring them to the point of challenge that there is one supreme Lord of heaven and earth. This is One who is very close to them and their next breath. Though they still feel or grope after Him as if blind.
With the stage set, Paul gives his very best and most compelling shot:
28For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
That's it? Repentance, coming judgment by the One empowered so to do by His resurrection from the dead?
There are free thinkers these days, attempting to re-package the Gospel, who would mock a preacher for such a focus, saying, "Oh, so you're really in this thing only to save your own sweaty little neck from some ghastly Hell? What about the lifestyle of our Lord. His patient service, compassion and approachable friendliness? We would rather emphasize this. Play down the doctrine. Play down coming judgment and repentance. Warm up to a larger crowd of curious candidates. Use today's language. Better employ the power of contemporary anecdote."
These are the foundational arguments of today's Emergent Church movement. Paul, the greatest of saintly proclaimers next to Jesus looks down from above, and sighs at this near miss.
There is another very necessary phrase in Acts chapter 11. Peter has related his successful visit to the Gentile household of Cornelius. His colleagues respond as follows:
18When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
The Christ-like service, comfort and deportment come AFTER the threshold experience of repentance. All else is flesh. (Romans 8:8)