You, I am sure, have heard 👂more than once the old saying:
“STICKS AND STONES CAN BREAK MY BONES, BUT NAMES CAN NEVER HURT ME.”
Really? I fear that we speak those words too glibly, too casually, and too rhythmically at times. There is nothing trite or trivial about someone being the target of stick hurling and rock throwing. It can do more than break your bones, it can kill you.
I can’t even begin to imagine what the pain felt like for Stephen to be stoned to death, as Saul of Tarsus supervised the rock throwing madness.
How many rocks does it take? Death is only one blow. Dying can agonizingly take forever.
The stone hurlers continued their target practice until Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stone cold dead. The target hasn’t moved for some time now. Cease fire! No sense in wasting good rocks. Stones can do far worse than break a rib or two.
What kind of animal would get turned on by throwing rocks at another human being? Man’s inhumanity to man knows no limits.
And about those names and name calling! Demeaning and degrading names may not be able to break bones, but they sure can break a heart. They can hurt deeply as I have seen it happen.
Just ask the little fella with protruding teeth how it feels every day at school to be called BUCKY BEAVER! Kids can be cruel, and names can really hurt. Everything from SHORTY to DUMMY to SKINNY to FATTY can leave painful and lasting scars. They hit like rocks splattering the heart.
So much for sticks and stones and names. The Apostle Paul was called some very demeaning names wherever he went and ministered Christ to people. Let’s take a look and give a listen. It is a revelation how the world 🌎 views Christians.
I. PAUL IN ATHENS – A BABBLER
THE CITY OF THE gODS
It was the Greek center of IDOLATRY and PHILOSOPHY. When the Apostle Paul arrived there, He ran into sights and sounds the likes of which he had never seen or heard before.
What stood out as he began to walk the city streets of Athens, Greece was the number of IDOLS everywhere. It was here an idol, there an idol, everywhere an idol idol. The landscape was like an unending IDOLSCAPE!
Very important to understand this. How could an entire major city become like this? Knowing human nature, I can hear it now, “My God is better than your god!” For to these people, those were not just idols, they were their gods!
If you are an IDOLATER, and you don’t repent of your sin, one idol will never be enough. You will move on to SERIAL IDOLATRY – MANY IDOLS.
I am sure that all real idolaters become polytheists. It was true in the Roman culture as well as the Greek culture, it is never god, but always gods. One idol, one god just doesn’t get the job done. One thousand idols can never satisfy the need for the ONE TRUE GOD in the human heart.
Just like an ADULTERER. If you are committing ADULTERY, and you don’t repent of your sin, you will become a SERIAL ADULTERER. One affair then is never enough! Hear it:
“SIN ALWAYS BEGETS MORE SIN.”
Because sin never really satisfies! It needs more sin and more sin. Only righteousness fulfills!
Like the old woman in the shoe, they had so many gods they didn’t know what to do.
If you will, Athens was literally a BUFFET OF GODS, an endless SMORGASBORD OF DEITIES wherever you looked. Rank idolatry that made the town look like a FLEA MARKET OF IDOLS.
This is not just ancient history. It goes on today all the time right here in America. The HOLLYWOOD GODS of movie worshipers. The SPORTS GODS of the NFL, the NBA, and MLB. The WASHINGTON GODS of American politics. The STOCK MARKET GOD’S to which people pin their hopes and place their trust.
PAUL IS STIRRED
We read in Acts 17:16,
“PAUL’S SPIRIT WAS STIRRED WITHIN HIM, WHEN HE SAW 👀 THAT THE CITY WAS WHOLLY GIVEN TO IDOLATRY.”
That spirit was in league with the HOLY SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit is causing great consternation in Paul’s spirit! That is the JEALOUS GOD’S REACTION to idols and false gods.
The HOLY Spirit in Paul was greatly troubled by something else! WHOLLY GIVEN TO IDOL WORSHIP. IDOLATRY was not just an aspect of Athens, IDOLATRY WAS ATHENS! Every where Paul looked, there were IDOLATERS IDOLIZING THEIR IDOLS.
I come from Holland, Michigan which is known for its beautiful tulips in the springtime. Gorgeous tulips every where. AMAZING SIGHT! It is called TULIP CITY! It was known as THE TULIP FESTIVAL! In Athens it was a year around IDOLS FESTIVAL.
So we could well name Athens IDOL CITY. Not just idols, but everywhere you look there are IDOLATERS! THEY ARE BUSY WORSHIPING THEIR IDOLS. It churned Paul’s spirit like spoiled food churns our guts.
I come from a city that has a church ⛪ on every corner. Athens had an idol on every corner. Each shrine was busy like a bee hive with worshipers.
I mean, take your pick, whatever turns you on idolatrously. It was literally a PANTHEON OF IDOLS. Something for everybody, as they had all of the idol bases covered.
And in case they missed one, gods forbid, they even had an altar to THE UNKNOWN GOD. (Acts 17:23) Just for good measure. SORT OF LIKE THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER.
They built SHRINES TO PLEASE EACH OF THEIR DEITIES. The Athenians were in a sense the original SHRINERS. Can’t risk having an UNSHRINED DEITY.
They were EQUAL OPPORTUNITY gOD WORSHIPERS. FILL IN THE BLANK. WE TRY TO BE FAIR TO ALL! THAT WAS ATHENS.,
GOD is terribly upset 😡 and Paul felt it big time. Thou shalt have no god’s before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.
ATHENS SUDDENLY BECOMES GOD INTOLERANT
Now then, something happens here that is stunning.
We’ve tried to capture the flavor
of this city – ATHENS. Hang in there with me.
Athens was gODS FRIENDLY. The people of Athens were really gODS OBSESSED. If anything, it was gODS OVERKILL. It was POLYTHEISM GONE BESERK. If your into gods, come to Athens and have a gODgone good time. Something for everyone!
Salt Lake City is the Mormon capital.
Springfield, Missouri is the Assembly of God capital. Grand Rapids, Michigan is the Christian Reformed capital. Rome, Italy is the Roman Catholic capital. Athens, Greece is the idolatry capital of Paul’s world.
Now watch it. The Apostle Paul in Athens goes into the Jewish synagogue. He goes into the market place. He goes to the Areopagus, a rocky out cropping in the middle of the city, where the many Stoic and Epicurean philosophers philosophize all day and every day, and come to no definitive conclusion. That’s what philosophy does, it comes to nothing.
And Acts 17:18 tells us that wherever he went,
“HE PREACHED UNTO THEM JESUS AND THE RESSURECTION.”
And boom, the CITY OF THE gODS ALL OF A SUDDEN BECOMES ANTI-gOD. Acts 17:18 now tells us that they accuse Paul of the following:
“HE IS A BABBLER AND A PREACHER OF STRANGE gODS.”
It comes very close to calling him a FOOL and a FOOLER.
You can’t be serious. I mean what’s one more gOD in this CIRCUS OF gODS. They are so open to gODS that they have turned their city into a GODSOPOLIS. What’s the big deal about one more. Anyway, who’s counting?
But, bring in Jesus, and now you are a BABBLER. Yes that’s right, you have the noise of a thousand shrines, and now IN that cacophony of sounds, one person is called a BABBLER! A JESUS BABBLER!
A BABBLER WAS AN OLD WORLD BIRD 🐦 WITH A VERY DISCORDANT AND ANNOYING VOICE. Paul was being called a very irritating BIRD BRAIN!
“AND NOW YOUR INTO STRANGE, WEIRD GODS, WHEN IN FACT THEY ARE SO OPEN TO gODS, THEY EVEN WELCOME UNKNOWN ONES.”
What’s the point? The point is this:
“SATAN DOESN’T CARE HOW RELIGIOUS YOU ARE AND HOW MANY FALSE gODS YOU WORSHIP, JUST AS LONG AS YOU STAY AWAY FROM JESUS, THE ONE☝TRUE GOD.”
Get involved with Jesus:
-And now Satan will oppose you tooth and nail.
-He will call you degrading names.
-He will accuse you of deceiving people with WEIRD gODS. After all, a God who died? What kind of God is that?
-In fact, Satan will get Herod to kill a thousand babies, just to kill that one God-baby 🚼 Jesus.
“BECAUSE SATAN KNOWS THAT JESUS IS THE ONLY GOD WHO CAN EMPTY HELL AND FILL HEAVEN.”
“SATAN’S NUMBER ONE GOAL IS TO CHEAT THE WORLD OUT OF THE ONE TRUE GOD, AND GET THE WORLD TO EMBRACE FALSE gODS AND RELIGIONS.”
That is right now in the good ole USA, where there is much more tolerance for and acceptance of ISLAM AND ALLAH, than there is tolerance for and acceptance of CHRISTIANITY AND JESUS CHRIST. People will defend Moslems and the Koran, and condemn those Christians who carry Bibles and guns. (says Obama and Clinton)
Suddenly Athens and America have developed JESUS HEMORRHOIDS. Athens isn’t that far away or that long ago after all!
“I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT SATAN WAS THE MASTER AND GRAND ARCHITECT OF ATHENS.”
Athens was one of SATAN’S great masterpieces, as it deceptively pointed toward heaven, when all along it was rooted in hell. All the IDOLS were lies, false gods, fictional, figments of SATAN’S wild imagination to deceive the masses away from Jesus Christ. It worked!
We read in Acts 17:32,
“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some MOCKED, and others said, we will hear thee (Paul) again on this matter.”
We don’t know what the mockers said. But for sure they made fun of Paul, and tried to turn him into a laughing stock.
But we joyfully read in Acts 17:34,
“That some men believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, and Damaris, a woman, and others with them.”
In other words, there were those who were converted from the worship of many gods, to the worship of the one true God.
Idols be damned! May Jesus Christ be praised! The BABBLER BABBLED PEOPLE RIGHT INTO THE ARMS OF JESUS. Perhaps some heard Paul at the Areopagus. Perhaps others in the market place. Or others heard him on Mars Hill.
The result – some of the ATHENIAN POLYHTEISTS became CHRISTIAN MONOTHEISTS. HEAVEN REJOICES!!! SO DO WE!
We shall one day meet Dionysius and Damaris and the others in Heaven. From the land of the gODS, to the HEAVEN OF THE GOD! They now know and see the unknown God face to face, and they know God even as they are known by Him.
And thank God for the BABBLER who led the way!
II. PAUL IN CAESAREA – MADMAN
THE KING AND I
It’s a scene that is so real, that I can almost here Paul’s voice before Governor Festus and King Agrippa of Judea. It’s a scene that rivals TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD for sheer drama in a courtroom.
Paul is being tried for blasphemy in that He preached that Jesus arose from the dead. The very Jesus Who the Jews crucified. This very Jesus Who said that HE IS GOD.
Paul was not being tried by a judge and jury. No, no, He is a much bigger threat than that. He is standing before the Roman King 👑 of Judea, King 👑 Agrippa himself, along with the Roman Procurator Justus who hates him. This is not a Judge Judy trial!
Of course, Paul didn’t have Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) as his incredible lawyer. Paul had the Holy Spirit as His unsurpassed advocate.
Attorney Finch was magnificent, but ultimately the demons of racism prevailed. Attorney Holy Spirit’s defense was truly inspired and flawless, but the demons of antiChrist prevailed in the end.
A DIFFICULT CONVERSION
C. S. Lewis did not become a believer easily. In fact according to his own words, Jesus was the last person that Lewis ever wanted to meet.
C. S. was basically a hard liner when it came to unbelief. His was not a cupcake conversion by any means. It happened in 193I, and he became one of the greatest Christian writers of all time. “MERE CHRISTIANITY” WAS HIS GREAT SIGNATURE CLASSIC.
Saul of Tarsus was also a hard liner when it came to being ANTI-CHRIST and ANTI-CHRISTIANITY. Very hard! Cement hard! Frankly he makes C. S. Lewis look like a cream puff.
Saul was the head of the JEWISH S.S. against Christians. Ironically, He was the HEINRICH HIMMLER of the Jewish police. Himmler rounded up Jews, and Saul rounded up Christians. Deadly were both!
Saul was a Jewish Terrorist of the infant Christian Church. He killed Christians. He imprisoned Christians. He threatened Christians with death if they didn’t deny Jesus Christ and dump their faith. Some did, as he caused them to blaspheme according to his own words. He told all of that and more to King Agrippa. You can read it in Acts 26.
Saul viewed Jesus as a DEAD JEWISH FRAUD. And like C. S. Lewis, Jesus was the last person he ever wanted to meet. But meet Him he would! Oh my did he!
THE DAMASCUS ROAD ENCOUNTER
Standing before Agrippa and Festus, Paul told them how he was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. For the Jesus Movement had spread to that great city, and he was on his way to stop ✋ it.
And as he went, He said that a light shone out of Heaven 🌞 brighter than the noonday sun.
Now let me summarize the rest of his testimony to the Roman King of Judea, King Agrippa:
-A voice in the blinding light spoke to me.
-He called my name twice, “Saul, Saul,” and then He asked me why I was persecuting Him.
-I asked Him, “Who are You Lord?”
-He told me, “I am Jesus Who you are persecuting.”
-Then He called me to be His preacher to the entire GENTILE WORLD. (That included all Romans, for if you are not a Jew, you are a Gentile.)
-Calling all Gentiles to ask Jesus to forgive their sins.
-And to repent of their sins before Jesus.
Whoa! Paul is saying all of this to a Gentile King, and to a Gentile Governor. What Paul is doing is this:
“HE IS PUTTING CHRIST’S FOOT ON THE NECK OF EMPERORS, CONTROLLING THE ROMAN SCEPTER WITH A CROSS, AND BEFORE THE FACE OF THE WORLD, OPENLY AVOWING CHRIST’S SUPERIORITY OVER CROWNED HEADS.”
That did it! All of a sudden Governor Festus has had enough! He says to Paul in Acts 26:24
“FESTUS SPOKE WITH A LOUD VOICE, ‘PAUL, THOU ART BESIDE THYSELF, MUCH LEARNING HAS MADE THEE MAD.'”
“PAUL, YOU HAVE LOST YOUR MIND, YOU HAVE BECOME A MAD MAN.”
Comes very close to calling Paul a LUNATIC. Paul makes reference to this in II Corinthians 5:13,
“IF WE ARE OUT OF OUR MIND, AS SOME SAY, IT IS FOR GOD; IF WE ARE IN OUR RIGHT MIND, IT IS FOR YOU.”
Let them call me NUTS, I will bear that for God! It is His truth that I preach. This is not about me, but I will take it for His sake.
Obviously it did hurt, otherwise why would he bring it up? It is a low blow to be characterized as MENTALLY DERANGED, A LOONEY TUNE, SEVERAL BRICKS SHORT OF A FULL LOAD.
But that is the world’s defense against the truth. They can’t disprove the truth, so they attack the TRUTH SPEAKER.
By the way, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. We read in John 10:20, that not only did they say that Jesus was INSANE, but that He was demon possessed!
Hear it good:
“I WOULD RATHER BE A MADMAN FOR JESUS THAN A FOOL FOR SATAN.”
We close with what King Agrippa said to Paul in Acts 26:28,
“THEN AGRIPPA SAID UNTO PAUL, ‘ALMOST THOU PERSUADEST ME TO BE A CHRISTIAN.'”
I have wondered about that statement. Why so near and yet so far? Why almost but not quite? Why so close, and yet so far away? I’ve been puzzled by that for a very long time. Somehow he just couldn’t come all the way!
Paul had told King Agrippa that he needed to get the forgiveness of his sins from the Savior Jesus Christ. But listen now,
“KINGS ISSUE PARDONS, THEY DON’T RECEIVE THEM.”
There is the rub! Agrippa could not get over the sin hurdle! He could not humble himself! God only exalts those who are humbled before Him.
AMEN AND AMEN, CRAZY FOR CHRIST!