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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, February 24, 2008

“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:32-34).

It has been said by some that Paul’s preaching was a failure at Athens. But Dr. W. A. Criswell gave a correct evaluation of Paul’s preaching there, based on verse 34,

“Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Dr. Criswell said,

The statement of [verse] 33 at first implies that Paul was not successful…at Athens. However, this statement [in verse 34] reveals otherwise. Dionysius the Areopagite was one of the members of the upper echelons of the Athens Council… [From] tradition [Eusebius, an early church historian, and other church fathers] we learn that Dionysius was the first bishop of Athens and that he died a martyr (W. A. Criswell, Ph.D., The Criswell Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979, note on Acts 17:34).

He became the first pastor and died a martyr while faithfully preaching the Gospel he had learned from the Apostle Paul that day on Mars Hill, in Athens. Friend, when you get a man saved who goes on to become a pastor that is no failure!

Dr. J. Vernon McGee gave a similar evaluation,

Some critics have said that Paul failed at Athens. He didn’t fail, friend. There will always be those who mock at the gospel. But there will also be those that believe (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume IV, p. 591).

When the Apostle Paul preached in Athens, he ended his sermon by proclaiming that God “hath raised [Christ] from the dead” (Acts 17:31). There were three responses, as we see in verses 32 and 34.

“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter” (Acts 17:32).

“Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

The reason that some critics say Paul’s preaching at Athens was a failure is because a big revival did not occur. Yet it is a great mistake to think that every evangelistic service must end in a great revival. It is true that no widespread revival took place when Paul preached at Athens. Some people mocked and went their way unsaved. Others were curious, and wanted to hear Paul speak on the resurrection again. Paul left Mars Hill, where he had been preaching.

“Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed…”
      (Acts 17:34).

Some joined him and believed in Christ. Paul did not fail. As Dr. McGee said, “There will always be those who mock at the gospel. But there will also be those that believe” (ibid.). Amen!

We have a tendency to think that the work of evangelism was easy in the first century. We tend to think that everywhere the Apostles went great revival occurred, with little difficulty. We imagine that they prayed and fasted a few times, preached the Gospel a few times, and the people always rushed to believe in Christ in great numbers. We think it was easy for them. But, think again! A moment ago Dr. Chan read what the Apostle Paul wrote about his ministry. I will read it again.

“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:24-28).

How was he able to go on and on evangelizing, even though he was often rejected, his message unheard, and his life so hard? What kept Paul going on under such extreme hardships? I think there are at least three things that kept him going.

1.  First, he kept on evangelizing. Next we find him at Corinth. What is he doing? He is reasoning “in the synagogue…pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:4, 5). Brothers and sisters, nothing will revive our own hearts more quickly than doing the work of evangelism!

2.  Second, he moved forward, and didn’t look back. He said, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Like a Roman athlete, he pressed toward the “prize” which was “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!”

3.  Third, he depended on Christ’s strength, not his own. He believed Christ, who said to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). That’s why he could say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). We may not feel that we can do these things, but we will do the work of evangelism anyway! “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). We must go on in the strength God gives us. When we do that we cannot be stopped and we cannot be conquered!

Those were some of the things that kept the Apostle Paul going, as the greatest soul winner of the ages. And may those simple points encourage you to go on with the work: Rest in Christ’s strength, not your own! Move forward and don’t look back! Keep on evangelizing, no matter what! Let nothing stop you!

Several of you are either here for the first time this morning, or have only been here a time or two. What is our message to you? It is the same message that the Apostle Paul continually preached, wherever he went,

“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3-4).

We never tire of telling you the good news – that Christ died on the Cross to pay the full penalty for your sins; that Christ rose bodily from the dead and ascended back to Heaven; that Christ is alive today, seated at the right hand of God the Father; and that you can come to Christ by faith and be born again by His grace. That is our never-ending message. May you hear it. May you trust Christ and be washed clean from your sins by His eternal Blood. Amen!

Let us stand and sing the last hymn on your song sheet. And as we sing it, let the words of Dr. Oswald J. Smith be our watchword as we go out to evangelize a lost and dying world this afternoon.

Give us a watchword for the hour, A thrilling word, a word of power,
A battle cry, a flaming breath That calls to conquest or to death.
A word to rouse the church from rest, To heed the Master’s strong request.
The call is given, Ye hosts, arise, Our watchword is, evangelize!

The glad evangel now proclaim, Through all the earth, in Jesus’ name;
This word is ringing through the skies: Evangelize! Evangelize!
To dying men, a fallen race, Make known the gift of Gospel grace;
The world that now in darkness lies, Evangelize! Evangelize!
   (“Evangelize! Evangelize!” by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, 1889-1986;
      to the tune of “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: II Corinthians 11:24-28.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Make Me a Blessing” (by Ira B. Wilson, 1880-1950).