Focus Week Six: The Unknown God Made Known


This is the sixth week of our eight-week long sermon series entitled Focus: Take A Closer Look.  

Throughout the first month of this series, we learned that even though we struggle sometimes to see Jesus at work in the world, we can learn to trust in what we can't see because of what we can see. 

And then we can't help but see Jesus everywhere.  This enables us to get to know Jesus even more fully, which in turn enables us to share what we know.  

Last week we began a new phase of this series that will take us through the month of July, and we'll be learning what it means to show Jesus to others.  

Today we're going to be talking about what it means to be a positive influence. 

I want you to think about someone in your life who was a positive influence on you.  Maybe something they said changed your life.  Maybe they did something that transformed you.  

Just picture them in your mind right now... and think about what you might say about them.  

One of the staples of college entrance applications is a series of essays that are required by the prospective student.  

And one of the most prevalent of those essays is where the prospective student is asked to write about someone who was a positive influence on them. 

I went online to do a bit of research on this because that's where you go to figure out how to write essays for guaranteed college acceptance, am I right?  

Because what's most important is being able to write an essay that stands out, that says the right things to capture the attention of some registrar somewhere who is processing hundreds of applications and reading hundreds of essays.  

I found a site that outlined the proper way to write an influence essay that strikes just the right tone.  It included the following guidelines: 

Remember what “influence” means.
Don't choose this prompt to try to sound impressive. 
Focus on the influence, not the person. 
Write an essay nobody else could write.

There's a reason why these essays are important to get right.  

Colleges and universities want to see that the prospective student has the ability to not only learn and be mentored, but also is able to reflect in a mature way about how they have been influenced.  

Why is this so important? 

Thinking maturely about someone who was a positive influence ultimately reminds you that you did not make it on your own--you had help.  And there's a responsibility you bear because of that.  

Let me break it down this way... 

You are watching this broadcast today because somewhere in your life's journey someone showed Jesus to you, and they did it in such a way that it was absolutely compelling, and you took a step, and then another, and another... 

Now it's your turn. 

Because When you show Jesus, others can know Jesus.  

Our guide today comes to us from Acts 17:16-34, the story of the Apostle Paul's speech in the center of Athens... a speech that captured the imagination of two people, who were influenced by Paul, and who in turn helped change the world.  

Paul's life had been changed forever by the influence of a man named Ananias.  And then he had been mentored by a man named Barnabas, who helped Paul come to truly know the Jesus who had called him on the road to Damascus.   

Paul lived the rest of his life feeling the deep responsibility to show Jesus to everyone he had a chance to show Jesus to.  

Let me get us caught up in the story so far... Paul has gotten kicked out of Thessalonica a city in Macedonia (which is now in northern Greece) for stirring up trouble.  So he and his merry band of church planters head to Berea, which is also in Macedonia, and then Paul stirs up trouble there, too, and has to flee.  

His friends send him on to Athens where they hope beyond hope that he'll stay out of trouble.  Paul takes a stroll through Athens and sees a city full of temples, full of people talking about ideas, philosophy, anything and everything that is new and interesting.  

So Paul maneuvers himself into a situation where he gets to go the Aeropagus, where all of the great debates in Athens take place.  Everyone that is anyone in Athens shows up at the Aeropagus to hear the newest thoughts on religion, politics, science, and the like.  

Now we're caught up. 

Here's the story: 

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

I want to focus on verse 34 of this passage for the purposes of the sermon today... 

34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

There are only two people who are named here.  Dionysius and Damaris.  Who were they?  And why should we care about them?  

Let's talk about Dionysius first.  There's nothing more in Scripture about this man except what we find here, but there is a great deal in church history about him.  

Tradition holds that earlier, at a young age, he found himself in Heliopolis of Egypt (near Cairo) just at the time of Christ's crucifixion in Jerusalem. On that Great Friday, at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, according to the gospel, "From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land." (Matthew 27:45). The young boy, Dionysius was shocked by this paradoxical phenomenon and exclaimed: "God suffers or is always despondent" ("God suffers or is lost all"). He took care to note the day and hour of this supernatural event of the darkness of the Sun.

When Dionysius returned to Athens, he heard the preaching of the Apostle Paul in the Areopagus Hill in Athens, talking about that supernatural darkness during the Crucifixion of the Lord, dissolving any doubt about the validity of his new faith. He was baptized, with his family in 52 AD. The acceptance of Dionysius of Christ refers to the Acts of the Apostles in chapter 17 and verse 34 "The men who have been sealed have believed in them, and Dionysius the Areopagite, and the name of Damaris, and the others in it." 

Thus, when Dionysius heard Paul preach on Christ on the Areopagus Hill in Athens, he recalled this experience which reinforced his conviction that Paul was speaking the truth on Christ as the long-promised Messiah and Savior of the World. 

Historical accounts wrote that when he learned that the Mother of Christ, Mary, lived in Jerusalem, he travelled to Jerusalem to meet her. From this meeting he said: "Her appearance, her features, her whole appearance testify that she is indeed Mother of God." In Jerusalem, he also discovered where Mary slept and departed this world to join her Son and her God. Then he wept sorely like the Apostles and other Church leaders torrents of tears and also attended Mary's funeral in Jerusalem. Dionysius suffered a Christian martyr's end by burning. His story was preserved by the early Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical history

After his conversion, Dionysius became the first Bishop of Athens.[1] He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. He is the patron saint of Athens and is venerated as the protector of the Judges and the Judiciary. His memory is celebrated on October 3. His name day in the Eastern Orthodox Church is October 3[2] and in the Catholic Church is October 9.[3]

In Athens there are two large churches bearing its name, one in Kolonaki on Skoufa Street, while the other is the Catholic Metropolis of Athens, on Panepistimiou Street. Its name also bears the pedestrian walkway around the Acropolis, which passes through the rock of the Areios Pagos.

Dionysius is the patron saint of the Gargaliani of Messenia, as well as in the village of Dionysi in the south of the prefecture of Heraklion. The village was named after him and is the only village of Crete with a church in honor of Saint Dionysios Areopagitis.

Damaris (Δάμαρις) is the name of a woman mentioned in a single verse in Acts of the Apostles (17:34) as one of those present when Paul of Tarsus preached in Athens in front of the Athenian Areopagus in c. AD 55. Her name means "Gentle." Together with Dionysius the Areopagite she embraced the Christian faith following Paul's speech. The verse reads:

As usually women were not present in Areopagus meetings, Damaris has traditionally been assumed to have been a hetaera (courtesan, high-status prostitute);[1] modern commentators have alternatively suggested she might also have been a follower of the Stoics (who welcomed women among their ranks)[2] or a foreigner visiting Athens.[3] The Georgian text of Acts makes Damaris the wife of Dionysius.[4]

She is a Saint of the Greek Orthodox Church, remembered on 3 October together with Dionysius the Areopagite and two other disciples of Dionysius, who also became martyrs.[5] 3 October in the Julian calendar, which is used by the Old Calendarists, currently coincides with 16 October in the Gregorian calendar. In modern Athens, Saint Damaris is also honoured by having a street named after her — Odos Damareos — siding the Profitis Ilias Square, which is one of the main urban open spaces in the Pagkrati neighborhood.


Damaris of Athens - Jessica Coupe

It was on Mars Hill
I first heard the small man preach.
He whom some called ‘the Babbler’.

“I noticed,” he said, “you have an altar
inscribed ‘To the Unknown God’.
Listen, as I tell you about Him
whom you ignorantly worship.”

His voice sounded as sure as a lion,
as he spoke of the God
who had met him
on the road to Damascus.

Around me people scoffed.
Each day we wake
to a multitude of stories.
Athens is full of stories.
Full of distractions.
To them this seems but one more.

But to me this story is different.
This story has a Spirit about it…
The Babbler, whose name is Paul,
says that we are the offspring of God.

Not just any god but the Almighty.
The Creator of sun and moon and stars.
The Creator of order and beauty and bounty.

“He is not far from us, his children.”
Not far from us…
My heart sings for very joy,
even as those around me mock.
The Spirit of Life, my Father’s spirit,
whispers through my soul,
brushing the cobwebs from my heart,
and filling me with heaven’s love.

The short man leaves the scoffers
to the cold comfort
of their own intelligence.

“Wait,” I call to him.
He turns with a smile.
I would learn more
of the Unknown God.
I will feel after him.

I will find him…

These two people were changed forever because Paul wasn't afraid to show Jesus.  When you show Jesus, you must might give someone the chance to change their life forever.  

And you have no idea what they might do with their new life... 

Here's some things to remember about showing Jesus so others can know Jesus... 

1.  Remember your own story---that only you can tell. 
2.  Live every day as an opportunity to be a life-changer. 
3.  Pay attention to the little moments--they matter.  

Here's a bit of my own story---some of the people who took a moment with me to show Jesus. 

Preacher William Swink--calling me Dr. Bloder when I  was 6. 
Rev. Ken Hale--taking time with me (I don't remember much of what he said). 
My Parents--showing me love and acceptance when it mattered most. 
My Wife--who told me I would make a great minister. 
Dr. Maxine Jones---who told me I wasn't stuck.  

I feel the responsibility of this... 

When you show Jesus, others can know Jesus. 

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