The following sermon is by Ed Stetzer preaching at Jubilee Church. The video follows my brief notes.
Engaging the culture: What does it mean for us to be on mission ?
In Acts 17 Paul finds a space within the culture to proclaim the gospel. He uses this as a bridge to share Jesus. We want to avoid being stained by the world. We must not do certain things and go certain places. But it is also true that holiness is not about being separated from people. We must engage.
Paul acknowledged their spiritual questions. Just like today the world was believing in everything. Paul understands their views and then bring Jesus. He also did this in Acts 13. Here he was speaking with the Jews and he starts in a very different place, but ends in exactly the same way. The pattern is building a bridge from culture to a bloody cross and an empty tomb. Clear and uncompromising proclamation. See Acts 14:11 in Lystra he speaks of seasons and this tied in with their religion. All people ask why are we here and what must we do? Paul did not adopt their religious beliefs or say they were ok, however. He calls them to repentance. What people find in their quest is not good. Paul was troubled. Jesus is better than the idols. Context matters. The how of ministry is in some ways determined by the who when and where of people. Look to understand the actual questions people are asking. Be ready to give an answer.
Paul understood Athens. Culture is their air we breathe. We cannot preach against culture. It’s just where we live. We don’t adopt everything. There are some things in every culture that are positive and we should adopt. Eg family. Other things we can adapt, eg clothing and music. We can live different and look similar to the world. And there are parts of every culture we must reject. Jude 3 tells us to contend for our faith. Eg what Jesus does for us. 1 Corinthians 9:22. Says become all things to all people. So we don’t compromise but we do contextualize. Some people all they do is contend. Others only contextualize and change beliefs so they seem more tolerant and less judgmental. We should cry out give me London or I die.
Acknowledged the positive and rebuked the negative things. We inhabit culture so we can be agents of reconciliation. Many go to far and never stand for the truth. But we mustn’t go the other way and not go far enough. We don’t own the gospel so we can’t change it. We can change our music style or clothing, but the message is unchanging. Paul proclaims to them. He quotes a poet. It would be like us quoting a song or film. Later he says they are ignorant. He affirms them first, but says the things people don’t want to hear. The world will never like the gospel. The world has no problem if we believe in Jesus it has a problem that we think they should to. But Jesus says no one comes to God except through him. Cross is a stumbling point. Every religion says Keller is “I obey therefore I am accepted,” but we say “I am accepted therefore I obey.” Many apparent Christians have accepted moralism not Jesus. God commands everyone to repent. People are far from God but hungry for him. People consistently create gods for themselves. We live in a world that is deeply idolatrous. They will always hate our gospel but we must proclaim it anyway.
We must inhabit and engage the gospel with Jesus. Join Jesus in his mission to seek and save the lost. Can we live sent? Go to our neighbours learn who they are and what they believe and tell them Jesus loves then and died for them and wants a relationship with then?