Joy is... a big rock.
I journeyed through ruins today, and oh what joy that fills my heart. I told you I'm weird. The highlight of my day was when I stood atop a small yet steep hill in Athens, desperately willing myself not to slip and fall to my death, but enjoying both the breathtaking view and the personal sense of completion. It's sort of as if I have reached an 'Achievement Unlocked' screen in my travels.
Today, I stood upon Mars Hill and looked at Athens.
I had to exert every ounce of self control in me not to break out into a loud recitation of:
I have always loved this sermon of Paul's. So gutsy, so relevant, so strategic. So. Much. Chutzpah. One of my favorite sermons to preach is on this sermon that Paul delivered in the city of Athens. I told my friend, Elvry, that the one place I really, really, really have to see in Athens is Mars Hill. Or the Areopagus.
I've always imagined Paul's speech to be at a courtyard where people were exchanging ideas. Yes, he was talking to people in the marketplace, and that would have happened in the Ancient Agora, just a bit aways. No. Paul's impassioned sermon was delivered at a meeting of the 'court' of Athens, up on a really steep rock.
The Areopagus is a place and a group of people. Areos Pagus, literally translated "Ares' Big Rock" is a place where the council of elders (something like the Greeks' version of a Roman senate) convened to settle criminal cases and heinous crimes back in 462 BC. (Somehow this reminds me of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.) In Paul's days, this place and group of people still exist, but their function had changed. Mainly they convened to investigate corruption.
Maybe they have their meetings there to give easy access to push people they deem guilty off to their deaths. The marble rocks were very slippery.
Ooh! This is getting juicy. Paul's sermon was pretty much ancient Athens courtroom drama. How exciting! (I absolutely ridiculously love courtroom dramas.)
The Areopagus convened to put Paul on trial for corrupting the people of Athens with his strange teachings, and on that rock Paul preached one of my absolute favorite sermons. I'm just giddy writing this!
The Areos Pagus has a breathtaking view.
One thing I realized, though, was that this big rock gave Paul a view of the entire city of Athens. Not only that, this big rock gave Paul a clear view of the Acropolis, the entire complex of the gods - all the way from the famous Athena Parthenos to Nike to Zeus to Dionysius. In my head, I just can imagine Paul speaking to this group of elders and pointing up at the Acropolis.
Gentlemen of the jury. I present to you Exhibit A.
The outcome of Paul's little interaction on the big rock is the change in the lives of two influential athenians: Dionysius, one of the Areopagus council members, and Damaris. Damaris would have been a respected, influential, and - dare I say - intelligent woman to have been invited to the Areopagus council that day. But that day, on a big rock, two lives changed.
The interesting thing is if we read the entire Acts 17, we'll learn that Paul was driven to go to Athens, not by his well-planned itinerary, but because the people he was with was trying to save him from troublemakers. He was fleeing persecution. He'd been preaching in Berea, and Jews went there to stir trouble, and the people with Paul brought him to Athens to get away from all the mess.
Of course, we know that there's no such thing as coincidences.
The place God positions us will always demand courage and invites trust. And sometimes it feels like we didn't have a choice. We find ourselves standing on a big slippery rock, having to be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have. But maybe, just maybe, when God place us on a big slippery rock, he also gives us some of the best adventures with him. Often it results in some of the best ministry experiences of our lives, and we know that it's all God's doing.
You might find yourself in a tough position like this, but I encourage you, friends... Trust God, have courage, and live the gospel boldly.
[Love always, T.]