“But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
A tremendous example of successful evangelism is Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 2. Peter boldly preached the message of the Cross and the Resurrection, and thousands were saved.
The people who heard his message had an Old Testament background. They believed in the Creator God and understood sin and its penalty of death. When Peter was preaching to the Jews, it was like building a house, knowing that the foundation was already there. He could go straight to the structure to be built on the foundation.
In Acts 17:18–34, however, Paul preached to a totally different culture. Paul was speaking to the Greek philosophers. They had a different understanding compared to the Jews.
1. The Greek culture had no concept of a personal, infinite God who was responsible for, transcendent to, and an upholder of His creation.
2. The Greeks did not have the Scriptures. While they saw “sin” and “evil” and recognized the importance of laws, they had no concept of an absolute authority, absolute truth, or the inherent sin nature of man.
3. The Greeks had no understanding concerning their first ancestor, Adam, and original sin—nor had they received the Law of Moses. So these people could not understand or accept the absolute authority of the Creator God, the Lawgiver.
How could Paul get them to understand?
Once they understood creation and our descent from the first man, Adam, Paul turned to the message of the Resurrection, the central part of the gospel.Paul knew that he could appeal to nature and their consciences to explain the concept of the true Creator God (Romans 1:20, 2:15). So Paul explained the Christian message from the foundation upwards. Paul pointed to one of their own altars that they had inscribed to the “unknown god.” He explained this unknown god was in reality the true God. He urged them to repent from their erroneous ways and believe in the true God.
Finally, once they understood creation and our descent from the first man, Adam, Paul turned to the message of the Resurrection, the central part of the gospel.
Generations ago in nations like America and England, evangelists could assume a foundation upon which the gospel could stand. However, there has been a major change—and the church has sadly missed it.
Are our modern nations like the model in Acts 2—or like the very different situation in Acts 17?