How important is it to search the Scriptures (v.10,11)? Even the prophets who wrote the Scriptures searched them (I Peter 1:10,11), as did angels (v.12 cf. Eph.3:10). “Noble” (Acts 17:11) refers to noblemen (Acts 24:3), and Luke wrote Acts to a nobleman (Acts 1:1cf.Luke1:3; Acts 23:26). He was reminding Theophilus that he may be noble in men’s eyes, but he’d have to search the Scriptures to be noble in God’s eyes.
History’s greatest nobleman said, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Pr.25:1,2). It was the glory of God that He was able to conceal Paul’s mystery (ICor.2:7,8) from the devil himself. It wasn’t hid in Scripture, it was hid in the heart and mind of God (Eph.3:9). But now that Paul’s written 13 epistles about it, it’s our honor to search it out in those epistles.
We know God was thinking about the mystery when He inspired Solomon to write Proverbs 25, for verse 3 says it is the honor of kings to search out a matter, “the heaven for height, and the earth for depth” (cf.Eph.3:1-3,18). When Proverbs 25:3 ends, “and the heart of kings is unsearchable,” hindsight tells us God had the mystery in mind there, because the heart of the King of kings is certainly unsearchable!
But if Paul told the Bereans about the mystery, how did they search the Scriptures to see if it was so if the mystery isn’t in the Old Testament Scriptures? He said, “It’s not there. If you don’t believe me, search and see!” When they did, they found it was so! They also found what James found when he heard about the mystery from Paul—it “agreed” with the Old Testament (Acts15:15). He’d have known the mystery was not so if it didn’t, because God never contradicts Himself. And the Bereans knew it was so for that reason as well.
Only some in Thessalonica got saved (Acts17:4), but many Bereans did (v.12) because they searched the Scriptures.
Paul went to Athens (Acts 17:13-15) because it was such an influential city. He didn’t usually order his helpers around (v.15), but he knew the importance of fellowship, even for a great apostle like himself. Looking around Athens, he saw what history says were 30,000 idols (v.16). So he was itching to witness to some idolaters, but he didn’t let that keep him from doing what God sent him to do and go to the Jews first (v.17). You shouldn’t let anything you see around you keep you from preaching Christ & the mystery either.
The Greeks were famous for philosophers. Epicureans (v.18) believed man’s chief goal in life was to get pleasure, while Stoicks believed in stoically accepting whatever lack of pleasure life brought. These were opposite philosophies, much like Corinthianism and Galatianism. The Corinthians were guilty of pleasurable sins like fornication, but the Galatians were guilty of legalism. Legalism denied that pleasure, but it also denied the good kinds of pleasure, like giving(Gal. 4:15 cf.Acts 20:35). All the sins Christians commit fall into one or the other category, and all philosophies are either the lust of Epicurean flesh or the lust of Stoic mind (Eph.2:3).
Babble (Acts 17:18) means to speak incoherently, like a drunk (Pr.23:29,30). Greeks called anyone who wasn’t Greek a barbarian (Rom.1:14) because it sounded like they were saying bar bar to them. They had gods of abstract things like harmony and democracy, so they thought Paul preached the gods of Jesus and resurrection. This shows he didn’t believe you had to study a false religion to win proponents of it, as some say today (cf.Deut.12:30;Rom.16:19).
The “Areopagus” (Acts 17:19) was named after the Greek god Ares, whom the Romans renamed Mars, and “pagus” means hill, so Paul followed them to “Mars’ Hill” (v.22). This is a tale of three cities because those in Thessalonica were too closeminded, and the Athenians were too openminded (v.21). In between stood the Bereans, who kept an open mind to new truth, then searched to see if it was truth.
A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: “A Tale Of Three Cities” Acts 17:10-21