After escaping the Thessalonian Jews who had traveled to Berea to threaten Paul’s ministry, (and possibly his life,) Paul has been transported about 150 miles to the south to Athens – the leading city of Greek culture in the world.
By this time the city of Athens had been in decline for more than a century, and yet it was still by reputation the seat of all of man’s worldly wisdom. All the great philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle had appeared there, and this alone placed Athens at the very center of man’s idea of what may be thought to be the sheer brilliance of the brightest of mankind.
Even to this day, the reputation of Athens as a seat of great knowledge lives on. People still travel there to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon, which are the sights where the gods invented by these supposed-brilliant men were worshiped.
From the moment Paul entered the city his spirit was provoked. What he saw with his eyes and felt in in his heart was grieving to the Holy Spirit present within him. This is a great picture of how a Christian is motivated by God. A simple snapshot of what takes place in the heart of the Christ-follower.
In the first place, there is a sort of amazement that this could even be possible, and then the recognition that if it were not for the grace of God, I could easily be taken in by the majesty of the architecture and the professions of men who are obviously so gifted of mind and argumentative speech. “I think, therefore I am.” Wow, how perceptive.
The flesh is so-easily led by art, architecture, music and perception of intelligence. Sometimes even as Christians it takes every fiber of our being to resist the urge to be taken in by it. We travel thousands of miles to view the great cathedrals, and our souls are launched into the stratosphere by the soaring interiors, brilliance of artwork, and sheer scale of accomplishment. The enemy knows this. Humans are readily taken in by the appearance of grandiosity.
Athens was, (and probably still is,) the world capital of all of this. Paul is angered in his heart and mind by what he sees the enemy accomplishing here. Athens is a launch-pad of eternal damnation.
But what can one man do in the face of such an onslaught of overpowering man-produced majesty? It is as if the Tower of Babel still stands. Can’t you just FEEL Paul’s anguish at the situation – not for himself – but for all the people who have been taken in by this, and by all the people who will be?
While not knowing a single soul alive in Athens, Paul becomes highly motivated to mount a frontal attack on what would seem to be insurmountable opposition. Our mind would tell us there is “no way” to make any kind of impact in this kind of environment. There is no sense even trying. Haven’t you felt this way in the center of some massive operation, like a college campus? How could one person possibly make any impact?
Paul’s example is one for the ages.