The Church at Sin City

 

In Acts 17, Luke, writing under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives an account of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:40-18:23a).  In the opening verses of the chapter we find him in Thessalonica, then moving on to Berea, before finally arriving in Athens.  Here, the Apostle is confronted by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers regarding the content of the gospel message which he was proclaiming

“And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.  And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Acts 17:18-20

These rival schools of philosophy found a common enemy in the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Epicureans rejected a belief in the afterlife, thinking that the body and soul were annihilated upon death.  On the other hand, the Stoics were more of a mixed bag regarding the afterlife, though a consistent denial of eternal life was common among them.  These were the chief opponents of the Apostle Paul’s message in and around the Balkan Peninsula.

As a consequence of their disagreement, Paul was escorted to the Areopagus[1] where he gives his infamous speech on Mars Hill regarding the “Unknown god” (Acts. 17:22).  Key to the context of our discussion here is Paul’s statement, 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he 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. Acts 17:30-31

To which we read of the hearers response, 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

All of this, by way of contextual introduction leads us into Acts 18, where we find Paul leaving Athens, traveling a short distance – about 50 miles – to Corinth.  The doctrinal continuity between Paul’s message in Acts 17, its reception, and Acts 18, is his proclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

By all respects, Corinth was a melting pot of immigration and subsequently varying religious views.  It’s political and economic hey-day had come during the Hellenistic period some 200 years before Paul’s arrival.  Prior to its collapse in 146 B.C. at the hand of the Roman Empire, Corinth had a population anywhere from 100,000-200,000 people (though some have suggested upwards of 400,000).

Left desolate after its destruction as a devotion to the gods, it was rebuilt 100 years later (~46 BC) under the administration of Julius Caesar and became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire due to its location of 2 major ports on the sea.  Its geographic location was largely responsible for the migration of people (and their religious views), particularly Romans, Jews deported from Rome, and migrants from Athens.  Corinth was also home to the temple of Aphrodite, as well as a multitude of other temples and pagan shrines as noted in the paragraph below describing the tour of ancient Greece by 2nd century historian Pausanias[2]:

“Upon entering Corinth through the gate which probably bore the name of Cenchreae, Pausanias proceeded to the Agora, where the greatest number of temples stood. He mentions an Artemis Ephesia;–two wooden statues of Dionysus;–a temple of Tyché (Fortune);–a temple sacred to all the gods;–near the latter a fountain, issuing from a dolphin at the foot of a Poseidon in bronze;–statues of Apollo Clarius, Aphrodite, Hermes, and Zeus. In the middle of the Agora was a statue of a bronze Athena, on the basis of which were the figures of the Muses in the relief. Above the Agora was a temple of Octavia, the sister of Augustus.”[3]

Some accounts note that Corinth was such a drunken, lust-filled city that the name was actually turned into a verb, to corinthize, a derogatory term meaning to fornicate.  Others have stated that due to the high traffic, transient nature of the port city, visitors did not and could not bring with them enough money to satisfy all the desires of the flesh that Corinth offered.  Still others have recounted that the city was home to 1000 temple prostitutes that descended upon the city each night.

This was the climate into which the Apostle Paul was bringing the gospel.  The challenges that he faced are well documented in Acts 18, as well as the two epistles to the immature church at Corinth.  Understanding this cultural and religious background is helpful for clarifying what the Apostle was facing in during his Second Missionary journey and why he wrote the epistles to Corinth addressing the various errors that he did while asserting specific truths that they needed reaffirmed.

We sometimes think that our current cultural malaise is the worst in history, but we needn’t go far to find comparable if not substantially worse cultural times.  Yet despite that, the gospel was not thwarted and the light was not overcome with darkness.  If that was true then, how much more so is it in our day?  Let us not be afraid nor ashamed to take the gospel into the darkest, depressed regions and trust that in our day, though rejection and suffering may come, may God likewise say “for I have many in this city who are My people”. Acts 18:10

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areopagus

[2] http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/pausanias-bk2.asp

[3] http://www.bible-history.com/maps/romanempire/Corinth.html

 

The Antiquity of the Covenant of Grace

 

From Charles Spurgeon’s sermon The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant :

But now, in the second place, we come to notice ITS EVERLASTING CHARACTER. It is called an everlasting covenant. And here you observe at once its antiquity. The covenant of grace is the oldest of all things. It is sometimes a subject of great joy to me to think that the covenant of grace is older than the covenant of works. The covenant of works had a beginning, but the covenant of grace had not; and blessed be God the covenant of works has its end, but the covenant of grace shall stand fast when heaven and earth shall pass away.

The antiquity of the covenant of grace demands our grateful attention. It is a truth which tends to elevate the mind. I know of no doctrine more grand than this. It is the very soul and essence of all poetry, and in sitting down and in sitting down and meditating upon it.

I do confess my spirit has sometimes been ravished with delight. Can you conceive the idea that before all things God thought of you? That when as yet he had not made his mountains, he had thought of thee, poor puny worm? Before the magnificent constellations began to shine, and ere the great centre of the world had been fixed, and all the mighty planets and divers worlds had been made to revolve around it, then had God fixed the centre of his covenant, and ordained the number of those lesser stars which should revolve round that blessed centre, and derive light therefrom. Why, when one is taken up with some grand conceptions of the boundless universe, when with the astronomers we fly through space, when with we find it without end, and the starry hosts without number, does it not seem marvelous that God should give poor insignificant man the preference beyond even the whole universe besides?

Oh this cannot make us proud, because it is a divine truth, but it must make us feel happy. Oh believer, you think yourself nothing, but God does not think so of you. Men despise you but God remembered you before he made anything. The covenant of love which he made with his Son on your behalf is older than the hoary ages, and if ye fly back when as yet time had not begun, before those massive rocks that bear the marks of gray old age upon them, had begun to be deposited, he had loved and chosen you, and made a covenant on your behalf. Remember well these ancient things of the eternal hills.

An Old New Year, Part 2

 

The Book of Exodus in many ways lays the foundation for the nation of Israel and much of the remaineder of the Old Testament as God reveals His plan of redemption that culminates in the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  The Israelite exodus from Egypt typifies the believer’s exodus from bondage and slavery to sin.  The former was marked by the tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn, from which a household may be delivered if it followed the Lord’s instructions and spread the blood of a spotless lamb over the lintels of the doorway, likewise typifying the deliverance that would come by way of the shed blood of the Lamb of God.

This Passover event is inaugurated in Exodus 12.  In reading this passage, I was again struck by a detail that has so often been overlooked.  At the opening of the chapter where God outlines the instructions for instituting the Lord’s Passover, we see the following,

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” Exodus 12:1-6

Notice the time period given by the Lord:

“It shall be the first month of the year for you.”

As in An Old New Year Part 1, we again have a significant time marker.  While in that post the New Year was slightly ambiguous and general, here we see a more narrow date given, namely the establishment of the Jewish calendar commensurate with the Exodus from Egypt.

Later in chapter 13 verse 4 we read, “Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out.”  Abib (called Nissan now) is the first month on the Jewish calendar, equivalent to the March/April time frame of the Gregorian calendar.

So is this date significant?  What is God trying to communicate by tying this New Year to the Exodus and subsequently the celebration of Passover?

As in the New Year given to Noah, which signified a new creation or the beginning of a new humanity, if you will, this date memorializing the inauguration of the nation of Israel follows suit.  As Noah functioned as another Adam, again in a typological sense, Israel appears on the scene as another Adam (Exodus 4:22-23). Like the first Adam, the nation of Israel will be placed in the garden of God, given covenant obligations, and like Adam will fail (Hosea 6), anticipating once again the last Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will in every way fulfill the promises of God and succeed where those who preceded Him failed.

This brief meditation on one verse read in a yearly reading plan demonstrates how valuable all of God’s Word is, even those things that on the surface seem insignificant.  It also shows that we needn’t feel like we can only profit from familiar passages that “tell us what to do”.  There is profit everywhere, on every page, in every verse, to be had, if we only slow down and listen to what the Word of God is saying.