Acts: Turning Our Town Upside Down #3 Practical Power
Introduction: Our sermon is about Paul preaching in Athens to a culture
that knew nothing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They knew nothing of
God, his truth, his people or his Word. It is very much a parallel with our
society today and as such there are some tremendous lesson to learn. Paul and
the First Century Church turned the world upside down and they did it all in a
hostile, alien pagan culture. We should see these times as they did, challenging,
hard but also exciting, but too many times we are pessimistic, apathetic and defeatist.
tell you a story about two brothers from Texas, Boudreau and Bufford, their daddy’s
name was Beauregard and they came from Beaumont. Their momma’s name was Betty
and their little sister’s name was Beatrice. And their last name was………Boniface.
and Bufford heard that the Texas Cattleman’s association was offering $500 a
piece for wolves pelts because the wolves were destroying their cattle herds.
So Boudreau and Bufford invest everything they have in traps, guns and bait and
go out hunting for wolves. They search for days and find nothing, they search
for weeks and find nothing.
Finally, after months with nothing to show for their labor
and running out of food, Boudreau says to Bufford, “I miss Papa Beauregard,
Mamma Betty and sister Beatrice.” Bufford said to Boudreau, “Yeah and I miss
Beaumont and my girlfriend Belinda too.”
decided to spend one more night in the woods and then head back home. That
night Bufford heard something as they were asleep around the campfire and he
woke up and look out into the dark. When his eyes adjusted to the dark he saw a
ring of 2 or 3 hundred wolves
slowly creeping toward him and his brother. He could see their yellow glowing
eyes and deadly fangs reflected in the now dying firelight. Slowly and quietly
he reached over and nudged his brother Boudreau.
“Boudreau, he whispered, Wake up, wake up.!”
“What is it, Bufford?
“Wake up Boudreau. Look out there. We going to be rich!”
Too many of us today are looking at the culture we are in
and think we can’t do anything, the tide has turned against us. Instead we
should be like Bufford. “Oh, Lord there are so many lost people around me, it’s
a great time for a revival!”
Athens at the time of Paul.
population of Athens was at least a quarter of a million people. As the seat of
Greek art and science, Athens played an important role even under Roman
sway—she became the university city of the Roman world, and from her radiated
spiritual light and intellectual energy to Tarsus, Antioch and Alexandria.
Philo, the Jew, declares that the Athenians were Hellenon oxuderkestatoi
dianoian ("keenest in intellect") and adds that Athens was to Greece
what the pupil is to the eye, or reason to the soul. –ISBE
Motivation Acts 17:16
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was
stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
Athens The Ancient And Old Idolatry
The city of Athens was wholly given to idolatry on a scale
that we growing up in a Christian influenced world cannot possibly imagine. Barnes
Commentary quotes several ancient pagan writers about the idolatry of Athens, Pausanias
says, “The Athenians greatly surpassed others in their zeal for religion”
Lucian says of the city of Athens, “On every side there are altars, victims,
temples, and festivals.” Livy says, that Athens “was full of the images of gods
and men, adorned with every variety of material, and with all the skill of
art.” And Petronius says humourously of the city, that “it was easier to find a
god than a man there.” –Barnes
This is the city that Paul found himself in in Acts 17 and
though we don’t have the experience of the deep paganism of Paul’s time, still
there are things in our own city of Athens, and in the culture of our age that
make us realize that this society today may be closer to Paul’s than it was to
Athens The Modern And New Idolatry
Today, are we, like Paul, finding ourselves in a an
increasingly non-Christian world and neo-pagan society?
Post Christianity and Neo-paganism in America
Today there are over 195 million non-churched people in
America, making America one of the top four largest “unchurched” nations in the
In 49 of 50 states the population is growing faster than
Despite the rise of mega-churches, no county in America has
a greater church population than it did ten years ago.
During the last few years, combined membership of all
Protestant denominations declined by 9.5 percent, while the national population
increased by 11.4 percent.
George Barna polls the nation every year on the state of the
church. Based on his definition of church attendance, at least once in the past
month, only about 33% of Americans attend church. Many feel this number should
be about 15% since people tend to lie when asked about their lifestyle.
Each year 3,500 to 4,000 churches close their doors forever;
yet only as many as 1,500 new churches are started. – American Church in Crisis
In other words for every church that starts four have
closed. To keep pace with population Christians must start 2900 churches each
There are now nearly 60% fewer churches per 10,000 persons
than in 1920.
In 1920 there were 27 for every 10,000.
In 1950 there were 17 for every 10,000.
In 1996 there were 11 for every 10,000.
“Today 4 out of 5 are plateaued or declining.”
Obviously we are a Post-Christian Nation, but I would also
challenge you to realize that we are a Neo-Pagan Society as well.
In an online article Albert Mohler writes, “In several ways,
though, Paganism was waiting for modernity to catch up with it. The emphasis on
the worship of nature in virtually all variations of Pagan faith, and the
embrace of a female divinity in many, situated the religion to mesh with the
environmental and feminist movements that swept through the United States in
the 1970s exactly. The resurgence of
paganism in our times is not the recovery of ancient traditions simply
reasserted in a new age, but a selective New Age embrace of pagan symbols,
themes, and practices in order to add "spirituality" to ideological
movements such as feminism and the radical ecologists. The gynecological and
pantheistic focus of ancient paganism is exactly what Judaism and Christianity
rejected in full - and the embrace of these ancient heresies is further
evidence of the widespread rejection of Christianity.”
I remember when I was a young boy that preachers would warn
the church members about their boat being their god, or their lawn or their
favorite football team. Anything that took the place of God on Sunday was in
their way of thinking idolatry. I wish it was still that simple. I wish we were
only dealing with people who mow their lawn or go fishing on Sunday instead of
the deep rooted culture of idolatry we are facing today.
Today we are facing not just a personal lack of faithfulness
to God or his church but the wholesale replacement of the one true God with a
substitute being of worship. A being that has the complete devotion of those
worshipping it. As pagan a god as anything Paul faced in Athens and just as in
Athens we as a society are “wholly given over to it.”
What is this worshipped being which has supplanted the true
creator in our nation? Actually, it is not hard to recognize the new god of
America’s neo-paganism. This new god is none other than man himself. Man has
supplanted God and is now the idol of which our nation is prostrating itself.
Man has become his own God and he worships himself.
In ancient times if you wish to give yourself over to sexual
appetites, you worshipped at the temple of Aphrodite in which young women were
employed as temple prostitutes and for a donation you worshipped the goddess
while given yourself to fornication. Now you no longer need a goddess, a temple
prostitute or even a temple. Sexual sin and sexual perversion is looked upon as
the ultimate defining experience of physical life.
Nor is sexual worship the only area of neo-paganism. We
worship athletes, we worship politicians, we worship entertainers, we worship
fame and we worship wealth, we worship debauchery and drunkenness but in all
these what we are really worshipping is ourselves. We have replaced the true
God of the Bible and even the false gods of the Greeks with an even poorer
substitute for worship, ourselves.
This is what Paul said in Romans 1:24-25 Wherefore God also
gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour
their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie,
and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed
for ever. Amen.
And you may say, but we have always had these sins and
always will and you are right but there is now a cultural difference, a
societal difference. In the past we as a society, as a people, knew that these
sins were wrong and we believed that we would be punished for indulging in
them. We as a society believed that one day each of us would stand before a
holy and righteous God and be punished. Today, however, we actually believe
that these sins are not wrong but indeed are right, good and desirable. When a
woman says she is proud of her abortion, and marches to encourage others to
kill their unborn child, something has changed. We have made ourselves our own
god and “the god that is myself” wishes us only to do whatever we want to do. There
is no right nor wrong there is only selfish desire and the fulfillment or
unfulfillment of that desire.
The question is, what does knowing that our world is
increasingly pagan do to our spirits? Stir them or stifle them.
Illustration More ducks than you can shake a stick at.
A man was showing off his new hunting dog to his friends as
they drove down the road in south Louisiana. He stopped the truck and sent the
dog out to a pond and when the dog came back it barked once and then sat down.
The man’s friends asked what the dog was doing. “Well, this dog is so smart he
is telling me there is one duck on the pond up ahead.” They laughed at him but
when they checked, sure enough there was one duck swimming in the pond. The man
sent the dog ahead to another pond and he came back and barked 5 times. Again,
the men were skeptical but when they checked they found 5 duck. They asked him
to do it one more time and there was a big pond a little further up the road. So
they drove down and once again sent out the dog. In a few minutes the dog came
back with a stick in its mouth, shaking it and even running up and down hitting
everybody in the group with the stick. The man’s friend thought the dog had
gone crazy and were up in the back of the truck scared for their lives. “What
is wrong with that crazy dog?” “There ain’t nothing wrong with my dog. He is
just telling us that there are more duck on that next pond than you can shake a
For us today, when we consider the world around us, we
should be thinking, “There are more people to share the Gospel than you can
shake a stick at.”
Paul’s spirit was stirred up and he preached to pagan people
in the most pagan city of the Roman world, people who had never heard the
gospel. Our attitude should be the same, but notice how Paul preahed that
message. Let’s look at the medium, the
channels he used to tell people of Christ.
Medium Acts 17:2-21
17 Therefore disputed
he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the
market daily with them that met with him. 18
Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks,
encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He
seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them
Jesus, and the resurrection. 19 And they
took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new
doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? 20
For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know
therefore what these things mean. 21
(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time
in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
Three Channels of Communication in Ancient Athens
The Luke records that Paul disputed with the Jews in the
synagogue, the devout persons in the Agora marketplace and with the
philosophers and judges in the Areopagus. These were three mediums, three
channels of communication that in some cases he chose and in other the medium
The Agora, the Marketplace -The Channel of Commerce and
The Synagogue - The Channel of Religion and Education
The Areopagus, the Court and Intellect -The Channel of Law
and the Intellect
I am calling them mediums but they are really three arenas
of battle for the souls of men.
The main battle arena in Acts 17 is the Areopagus and so let’s
spend some time there.
The Areopagus saw that the laws in force were observed and
executed by the properly constituted authorities; it could bring officials to
trial for their acts while in office, even raise objections to all resolutions
of the Council and of the General Assembly, if the court perceived a danger to
the state, or subversion of the constitution. The Areopagus also protected the
worship of the gods, the sanctuaries and sacred festivals, and the olive trees
of Athens; and it supervised the religious sentiments of the people, the moral
conduct of the citizens, as well as the education of the youth.
Without waiting for
a formal accusation the Areopagus could summon any citizen to court, examine,
convict and punish him.
To this court Paul was summoned, at this time it was
probably meeting in one of the porticoes, the porches that surrounded the Agora
marketplace and was probably not physically on Mars Hill any longer though it
had begun there centuries ago.
Paul may or may not have been forcibly arrested. In vs. 19
it says “They took him.” It appears that he was taken but not arrested yet still
under the judgment of the Areopagus court Paul could be condemned and killed it
was found he was “preaching a new god.” Preaching a new god was in this time a
capital offense in both Athens and throughout the Rome empire
Those who brought him to the Areopagus were mainly the
Epicureans and the Stoics. Two very different schools of philosophy. These two
schools had taken a philosophy and changed it to a belief system.
The Epicureans. This sect of philosophers was so named from
Epicurus, who lived about 300 years before the Christian era. They denied that
the world was created by God, and that the gods exercised any care or
providence over human affairs, and also the immortality of the soul. His
followers had embraced the doctrine that voluptuousness and the pleasures of
sense were to be practiced without restraint. Both in principle and practice,
therefore, they devoted themselves to a life of gaiety and sensuality, and sought
happiness only in indolence, effeminacy, and voluptuousness. Confident in the
belief that the world was not under the administration of a God of justice;
they gave themselves up to the indulgence of every passion; the infidels of
their time. - Barnes
The Stoics. These were a sect of philosophers, so named from
the Greek stoa / porch, because Zeno, the founder of the sect, held his school
and taught in a porch, in the city of Athens. Zeno died at the age of
ninety-six, two hundred and-sixty-four years before Christ. The doctrines of
the sect were, that the Universe was created by God; that all things were fixed
by fate; that even God was under the dominion of fatal necessity; that the
fates were to be submitted to; that the passions and affections were to be
suppressed and restrained; that happiness consisted in the insensibility of the
soul to pain; and that a man should gain an absolute mastery over all the
passions and affections of his nature. They were stern in their views of
virtue, and, like the Pharisees prided themselves on their own righteousness.
They supposed that matter was eternal, and that God was either the animating
principal or soul of the world, or that all things were a part of God.–Barnes
Do you recognize these groups? Interestingly, they are still
here and more powerful than ever. They are the atheists, the agnostics, the
hedonists, and the materialists of our modern world. They may not know what
they believe but they practice it with the same devotion as the Epicureans and
It is interesting what the philosophers and judges said as
the reason they were interested in what Paul had to say.
First they asked in vs. 18, “What will this babbler say? The
word babbler literally means seed-picker. They were liking Paul to one of the
little birds in the Agora which would swoop in and opportunistically snatch
seeds that had fallen to the ground in the market. It was a common phrase and
had the meaning of someone who is grabbing bits and pieces of teaching or truth
from others and then trying to present it as their own coherent and systematic
Others said, He seems to be a setter fourth of strange gods.
This was a serious charge for as we have said to introduce a strange god in
this culture and time could be considered a capital offense. The reason they
thought he was introducing gods rather than God was because Paul was preaching
Jesus and the resurrection. The Greek word for resurrection was anastasis and
they thought he spoke of Jesus and Anastasis, two gods.
To Paul it did not matter why they had brought him to court.
All that mattered was that he was going to have a chance to sow the Gospel to
all these spiritual arenas.
Three Channels of Communication in Modern Athens
What we see in Paul’s actions in Athens is that he was
willing to use any medium to reach men. The application of this point to us
today is that we must take the gospel to where people are by all means
We must take it to where they are physically, intellectually
I know we are willing to preach in church, the medium of the
religion, but are we doing all that we can to communicate the gospel through
the other channels of communication we have today, in order to meet people
where they are.
Paul was eager to take the truth to any arena, the
synagogue, the marketplace or the court of law. So must we be willing to do as
We must dispute with them as Paul did. The passage says that
Paul “disputed” with them. The word is the Greek word dialegomai, it means
dispute, reason, preach, or dialogue with. The TDNT says it means to “mingle
thought with thought.”
In order to do that you have to reach people through the
channels that are open to us today.
They really haven’t changed that much. We must still reach
them in the arena of religion through our churches, writing and preaching. We
must reach them the arena of the marketplace, and commerce, the places where
people congregate and share their thought and ideas. Today that is TV, radio
and the internet. It may still be a marketplace like fairs, festival and
community parades or even Whataburger. We must reach them in the area of the
law and the intellect. This is the voting booth, the colleges, the schools and
the legislatures of our nation and our state.
So let me directly confront you here in the arena of
religion, Are you doing all that you can to battle for lost souls through every
channel, every medium that is opened to you?
If you are on Facebook then use it to tell others about
Jesus. You should be informing, warning and challenging people and sending the
gospel into the world.
We as a church and as Christians should be willing to in the
arena of the law.
Did you know that in 1954 that it became illegal in this
nation to preach against a candidate by name from the pulpit? Do you know why?
Because Lyndon Baynes Johnson, was being attacked from the pulpits of Texas by
Baptist preachers and in order to shut them up he introduced a law that still
bears his name in the Senate siccing the IRS on any pastor who dares to point
out sin in a candidate and names him.
Today more than every Christians are being sued, driving out
of business and taken before courts because they dare to stand for what the
Bible teaches. We should be wiling to stand with them.
We were have for too long refused to fight in the arena of
the ballot box and our nation, churches and families have paid the price.
We have neglected the channels that God has opened up for us
and we are losing the battle for souls and our nation because they have not
even been challenged with the gospel. We have forgotten that we are to be on
the offensive. We must enter into all the arenas and challenge those that are
there. We must be there to “mingle thought with thought” and open their mind to
God and their heart to Christ
Paul prepared himself and then trusted God for the channels
to open and when they did he stepped through eager for the battle. So must we.
1 Corinthians 9:19
– 22 For though I be free from all men,
yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto
the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under
the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law,
(being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain
them that are without law. To the weak
became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men,
that I might by all means save some.
Illustration: Adonirom Judson
the great Baptist missionary to Burma of the early 1800’s, endured untold
hardships trying to reach the lost for Christ. For seven heartbreaking years he
suffered hunger and privation and preached without a single convert. During
this time he was thrown into prison as a spy, and for 21 months was subjected
to almost incredible mistreatment. As a result, for the rest of his life he
carried the ugly scars made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly
bound him. Upon his release he asked for permission from the same ruler who had
imprisoned him to enter another province where he might resume preaching the
Gospel. The godless ruler indignantly denied his request, saying "My
people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might say, but I
fear they might be impressed by your scars and turn to your religion!"
Adonirom Judson was a preacher in a pagan land who was not
afraid to enter any arena and stay there as long as he must to preach the gospel
of Christ. He once said, “I will not leave Burma until the cross is planted
Finally, we must know this that the as important as the
medium is it cannot replace the message. No medium no matter how powerful will
bring revival or save a single soul but the message Paul shared changed the
world and it still can today.
Message Acts 17:22-31
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men
of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I
passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription,
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto
you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of
heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as
though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all
things; And hath made of one blood all
nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined
the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they
might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own
poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think
that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and
man’s device. And the times of this
ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which
he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained;
whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from
An Unchanging Message to a Unknowing People
Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus, the council not
the actual hill where the first Areopagus used to meet but now in a portico in
He said, “I perceive that in all things ye are too
superstitious.” The word here for superstitious is the word deisidaimwn it is a
neutral word not a negative one (from deidw, to fear, and daimwn, deity). Paul
was saying to the Athenians I see you are very religious, very reverent and
worshipful. He then began to preach to them the “unknown God”
He tells them as he went through the city he saw altars,
places of devotion, inscribed to “the unknown god.” These were pillars or small
columns which had been set up at various places in Athens many years previous
to Paul’s visit. During a plague that killed many in Athens a flock of sheep
was let loose and everywhere the flock stopped one of the sheep was sacrifice
to the god that was closest to that spot. If there was no god near then the
animal was sacrificed to the “unknown god” and a pillar set up to mark the
Paul preached to them the unknown God, by doing so he could
not be accused of introducing a “new god” they already worshipped the unknown
God but did have a full knowledge of Him. Paul would now fill in the gaps of
Paul then proceeded to preach a masterful message of the one
true God, and the man appointed by God, Jesus who will judge all of the world
and His resurrection.
He told them that the true God was the creator of all. He
was Lord of heaven and earth, He needed
nothing from man as He was the giver of
all life and breath. The true God is the
maker of all nations from one blood. The true God was sovereign. He
determined the times and the boundaries of their lives.
An yet even as sovereign and creator he had made it possible
for man to seek after him.
He is the God of life and existence. All man, everywhere are
his offspring. How could we possibly think then that the one we sprang from was
constructed of gold, silver or stone.
Finally, Paul says God has overlooked those times but now
commands all men everywhere to repent. Repent now because God has appointed a
day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man, the man
Jesus Christ, who God has ordained to be the judge of the quick and the dead.
He concludes and says God has given evidence of this truth
through the resurrection of Jesus.
An Unchanging Message That Changes The World
When we enter into the arenas of this neo-pagan world we
must always carry with us one weapon the Gospel.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power
of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also
to the Greek.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must
the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in
him should not perish, but have eternal life.
John 12:32 And I, if
I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
You must never underestimate the power of the Gospel. Paul
says it is the power of God unto salvation. If we are to believe what Paul is
saying then we must realize that there is a power, unmistakable, undeniable and
yet also unfathomable in the good news of Jesus Christ. There is something
supernaturally intrinsic in the story of the death burial and resurrection of
Jesus that draws men to salvation. We have to believe that. We have to act on
that belief. We have to preach Jesus above all other subjects of our sermons
Paul could have argued philosophy with the Sophist, the
Stoics and the Epicureans. It is obvious in his quotes that he was schooled in
the philosophies from his time in Tarsus. He often uses Aristotelian logic in
setting up his arguments of theology in the book of Romans but he does not try
to use these things to win lost souls.
As a good pastor friend of mine has said, “You don’t argue
people into the kingdom of God” – David Pittman.
Paul takes only one weapon with him when he enters the arena
of the Areopagus, he takes the Gospel of Christ. The message that overcomes the
ages, crosses the centuries and pierces the power of sin is and always will be
the gospel of Christ. No matter how much
this world changes, no matter how alien it may become to us we can only effect
it, change it and turn it upside down once again with the gospel of Christ.
What was the result that day in the Areopagus?
Acts 17:32 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.
Did all believe? No. Do most believe? No, But did some
believe? Oh, yes! And those few changed the world until that some message came
down to us.
What will be the result or our taking the Gospel to the world
around us using every channel and medium God opens? What will happen in our own
neo-pagan culture? Will the United States be swept into revival? No. I don’t think it will. Will many be saved?
Probably not. But will some be reached? Will some be turned from death and
destruction? Will some be brought to repentance and faith? Will some exchange
their burden of sin for the joy of a relationship with God their Creator? Yes,
yes and yes, and every time it will be worth it. And every time there is the
potential for turning our town upside down.
Let me close with a favorite story that took place about
this same time in the Roman Empire and shows the change that the early church
had made through the message of the Gospel.
In the days of the
Roman Emperor Nero, there lived and served him a band of soldiers known as the
"Emperor's Wrestlers." Fine, stalwart men they were, picked from the
best and the bravest of the land, recruited from the great athletes of the
In the great
amphitheater they upheld the arms of the emperor against all challengers.
Before each contest they stood before the emperor's throne. Then through the
courts of Rome rang the cry: "We, the wrestlers, wrestling for thee, O
Emperor, to win for thee the victory and from thee, the victor's crown."
When the great
Roman army was sent to fight in Gaul, no soldiers were braver or more loyal
than this band of wrestlers led by their centurion Vespasian. But news reached
Nero that many Roman soldiers had accepted the Christian faith. Therefore, this
decree was dispatched to the centurion Vespasian; "If there be any among
your soldiers who cling to the faith of the Christian, they must die!"
The decree was
received in the dead of winter. The soldiers were camped on the shore of a
frozen inland lake. It was with sinking heart that Vespasian, the centurion,
read the emperor's message.
the soldiers together and asked: "Are there any among you who cling to the
faith of the Christian? If so, let him step forward!" Forty wrestlers
instantly stepped forward two paces, respectfully saluted, and stood at
attention. Vespasian paused. He had not expected so many, nor such select ones.
"Until sundown I shall await your answer," said Vespasian. Sundown
came. Again the question was asked. Again the forty wrestlers stepped forward.
with them long and earnestly without prevailing upon a single man to deny his
Lord. Finally he said, "The decree of the emperor must be obeyed, but I am
not willing that your comrades should shed your blood. I order you to march out
upon the lake of ice, and I shall leave you there to the mercy of the
The forty wrestlers
were stripped and then, falling into columns of four, marched toward the center
of the lake of ice. As they marched they broke into the chant of the arena:
"Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the
victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!" Through the night Vespasian
stood by his campfire and watched. As he waited through the long night, there
came to him fainter and fainter the wrestlers' song.
As morning drew
near one figure, overcome by exposure, crept quietly toward the fire; in the
extremity of his suffering he had renounced his Lord. Faintly but clearly from
the darkness came the song: "Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O
Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!"
Vespasian looked at
the figure drawing close to the fire. Perhaps he saw eternal light shining
there toward the center of the lake. Who can say? But off came his helmet and
clothing, and he sprang upon the ice, crying, "Forty wrestlers, wrestling
for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's
What are you fighting for today? What are willing to risk
everything for? If not for the Gospel, if not for eternity, if not for the love
of Jesus Christ….then what could be more important or powerful or needed in
this world today?