Paul speaking in the Areopagus…
The Bible readings for May 25 are: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1st Peter 3:13-22, and John 14:15-21, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
In Acts 17:22-31, Paul spoke in the Areopagus, “north-west of the Acropolis in Athens. In classical times, it functioned as the high Court of Appeal for criminal and civil cases.” As the International Bible Commentary noted, this was an opportunity “unexpectedly provided for a Christian witness before the intellectual elite of the day.” The IBC also noted that this was the first encounter “between the Christian message and Greek philosophy.”
He first noted that the Athenians in his audience were extremely religious, but worshiped “an unknown god.” He then compared that with the living God he worshiped, and further that, “‘In him we live and move and have our being;’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.'” (Paul was referring to a line from the Greek poet Aratus.)
He then indicated the time of such blissful ignorance was over, and that it was time to repent and turn to God. Unfortunately, some Christians prefer to focus on that “regret,” as if that’s all a believer is called to do. In that view, a “good Christian” is supposed to do nothing but go around feeling sorry for himself – and calling on everyone around him to feel the same way – which in turn tends to make people miserable. But such Christians forget that repentance is just a tool, not an end in itself. Repentance is or should be a tool leading to the greater possibility of living a “life in all its abundance” (John 10:10), but we digress…
The IBC says of Psalm 66, “Come and see what God has done,” and that this section (verses 7 to 18), calls on the people to thank God for delivering them from their recent trials. “For you, O God, have proved us; you have tried us just as silver is tried.” Which is another way of saying that God loves drama, and that a good Christian should expect some in his life, rather than thinking that when he turns to Jesus his life will be a succession of triumph after triumph. (Or as Evelyn Underhill said, “It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.”)
That’s supported by verse 14, “Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me.” Simply put, it’s in God’s best interest to have you – in the fullness of time – tell a story of personal triumph over great odds. (That makes for much better drama.) If all you can tell people is that your following God did nothing but make you miserable – or if your audience perceives that’s your message – your not going to attract many followers for God.
1st Peter 3:13-22 includes the line, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” Really? Gentleness and reverence? Are those the nouns people think of when they think of Christians these days? (That darned liberal media.)
But seriously, the IBC noted that in this passage, Peter called on believers to persevere in the face of persecution, if and as necessary, and that in view of the “blessedness” offered by God through Jesus, “reverence for God, not fear of man, should characterize them.”
Note also that in 1st Peter 2:13, the Apostle has just counseled believers to be “submissive to every human institution for the Lord’s sake.” (For a way around that – i.e., to be free to criticize our country’s leaders – see the post On dissin’ the Prez.)
And finally, in John 14:15-2, Jesus told the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit; “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
So, if you were to think of God as the Ultimate Judge, of Jesus as the Ultimate Public Defender (and of Satan as the “Ultimate Prosecutor”), you would think of the Holy Spirit as the Ultimate PTI Counselor. That is, by asking God to appoint His Son to be your attorney in the upcoming trial that you know will be coming (and the Judge’s son can get you such a deal), you can get yourself into the functional equivalent of earthly “pre-trial intervention.”
That earthly PTI is defined as follows: “Pretrial diversion is a type [of] informal disposition which involves the referral of individuals, often before arraignment, to rehabilitative or restitution programs in lieu of criminal prosecution.” See also John 5:24, in the Good News Translation, “those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.” (Emphasis added.)
And to help you along that path – the path toward Jesus spoken of in John 6:37 – you’ll be appointed an Ultimate Counselor. This then is the Holy Spirit spoken of in John 14:16-17, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
For the full readings see The Lectionary Page.
The “Aereopagus” image is courtesy of http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/files/2013/06/areopagus.jpg.
The “Greek poet Aratus.” See Aratus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and/or The Apostle and the Poet: Paul and Aratus – Dr. R. Faber.
On “vigour rather than comfort.” See Underwood’s Practical Mysticism, Ariel Press (1914), page 177.
On Satan (or “the Devil”) as Ultimate Prosecutor, see Revelations 12:7-10 (KJV): “there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon… [T]he great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying … the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”
Note also the Hebrew and Greek words “Satan” (“Satanas” in Greek) translate “an adversary,” while the root word for devil is “diabolos,” Greek for “slanderer.” (New International Dictionary of the Bible, Regency Reference Library, 1987, Page 899.) So like any “good” prosecutor, the Ultimate Prosecutor tries first and most to get a conviction, if necessary by slandering the character of the accused.
On pre-trial intervention, see Pretrial Intervention Law & Legal Definition – Help Build ….
The Lucy-counselor image is courtesy of http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-rU9LIYWVE9Q/T4vuEMr3UcI/AAAAAAAAAbI/Qb_hfSoAFTA/s1600/Counselor_Lucy.jpg.