Ancient Public Venue
During our Footsteps of Paul Cruise we walk from the Acropolis down 16 well polished steps. These steps are on a hill in Athens, Greece, called Mars Hill. Its Roman name is the Hill of Ares or Areopagus, meaning “rock.” Ares was the Greek god of war and according to Greek mythology, this hill was the place where Ares stood trial before the other gods for the murder Poseidon’s son Alirrothios.
Rising some 377 feet above the land below and not far from the Acropolis and Agora (marketplace), Mars Hill served as the meeting place for the Areopagus Court, the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal, and religious matters. Under Roman rule at the time of Paul, Mars Hill remained an important meeting place where philosophy, religion, and law were discussed. At one time there were two stones on Mars Hill, one the Stone of Wrath, where the prosecutor stood and the other, the Stone of Shame, where the accused stood.
Proclaiming God on Mars Hill
The biblical significance of Mars Hill is that it is the location of one of Paul’s most important gospel presentations at the time of his visit to Athens during his second missionary journey as outlined in Acts 17:16-34. It was where he addressed the religious idolatry of the Greeks who even had an altar to the “Unknown God.” It was this altar and their religious idolatry that Paul used as a starting point in proclaiming to them the one true God and how they could be reconciled to Him. Paul started his message by addressing the false beliefs of those gathered there that day and then used those beliefs as a way of presenting the gospel message to them.
Given Over to Idols
We know that when Paul arrived in Athens his spirit was provoked and he saw that the city was given over to idols.
Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say? Acts 17:16-18
The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who, having heard Paul proclaim the resurrected Jesus Christ, wanted to learn about this new doctrine he was teaching. So they brought him to the Areopagus to hear more. History records that the Epicurean philosophers generally believed God existed, but He was not interested or involved with humanity and the main purpose of life was pleasure.
On the other hand, the Stoic philosophers would had a worldview that God was the world’s soul and the goal of life was to rise above all things. These groups, and others with their dramatically opposing worldviews, loved to discuss and debate philosophy and religion. Intrigued by what they considered Paul’s “babblings” about the resurrection of Christ, they brought him to the Areopagus where the Athenians and foreigners spent their time in nothing else but to tell or hear a new thing.
For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing Then Paul stood in the midst of the and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. Acts 17:21-26
Paul’s Message of Christ
Paul begins with the observation that they were very religious based on the fact that they had many altars and objects of worship, including an altar to the Unknown God. Paul uses that altar to introduce them to the one true God and the only way of salvation, Jesus Christ.
His apologetic method and his knowledge that they did not even know what God is really like leads him to go back to Genesis and to the beginning of creation. Having a completely wrong view of God, those gathered that day at Mars Hill needed to hear what God really was like before they would understand the message of the gospel.
Paul began by explaining to them the sovereign God who created all things and gives life and breath to all things. He continued by explaining that it was God who created from one individual all men and nations and even appointed the time and boundaries of their dwelling. His message continued as he explained the closeness of God and their need to repent of their rebellion against Him. Paul completed his message by introducing them to the One before whom they would all stand one day and be judged; Jesus Christ, whom God had raised from the dead.
The Great Commission
Of course many in the audience scoffed at the idea that Christ was crucified and rose from the dead on the third day because the idea of the resurrection to the Greeks was foolishness. However, a few did become believers. This should be an encouragement to the modern Christian in the face of apparent rejection of the Gospel by the masses. God’s Word does not return without having accomplished His purpose.
Hardened hearts will scoff, searching hearts will ponder, and believing hearts will be saved. Rather than trying to discern the state of the hearer’s heart and tailoring the message to fit the hearer’s needs, today’s Christian must, in the spirit of Paul, passionately preach the truth of the Gospel in it’s fullness and leave the rest up to God. This is the essence of the Great Commission and is exemplified nowhere better in all of Scripture than in the account of Paul’s speech on Mars Hill.