How did the story of the Jewish messiah so transform the world? How did the life, death and resurrection of Jesus so dramatically impact the entire world?
In part this question is answered by what is often referred to as the Great Commission. In Matthew 28: 19, Jesus gave this command to his disciples, “therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
For two thousand years, disciples of Jesus have gone. In doing so, the gospel of Jesus has spread from a remote corner of the Roman Empire to the ends of the earth.
Yet, is that all there is to mission? Just going? We can go, but if we have no interest or concern for those we go to, it is not consistent with the way of Jesus.
In Acts 17 we have the fascinating moment when the Apostle Paul is invited to speak at a place called Mars Hill. He is invited there by a group of philosophers.
This is a group who are interested in the new ideas which Paul has been bringing.
Paul has gone and he has brought the message of Jesus to a city which is very different to many others to which he has gone. So Paul stands up in their midst and said these words.
“‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 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.” (Acts 17: 22-23)
Did you see that line? “For as I walked around and looked carefully.” These are the actions of someone who understands there are cultural differences between
himself and the citizens of Athens, so he takes time to try and understand them. What is good, what is bad and what is just different about their culture.
As he walked around he saw an altar to a god whose name has been forgotten. There is an inscription which simply says to the “unknown god.”
Paul starts there, and then he goes on to quote their poets.
What is interesting in this encounter is that Paul is looking for points of connection, when so often we focus on points of difference. He understands that culture can create a barrier, so he goes, and then looks to build on points of connection with those in Athens.
Paul is a smart man. It’s naive to think that every culture is the same and that we will not have to work hard to overcome barriers which occur when people of different cultural backgrounds come together. Paul understood this, and person after person, city after city, and region after region were transformed, as he came, crossed the cultural divide and told them about Jesus.