Where in the world are the Christians?

So check it.  “The brothers” took Paul by night from the mad mob rioting at the house of Jason in Thessalonica (Acts 17:10).  Surely that was a rather traumatic moment.  This landed him in Berea where Paul, undeterred by the riots in the previous city, kept doing what he had been doing–preaching Christ.  The mob catches up with Paul in Berea so “the brothers” send him off again “as far as Athens,” and there Paul finds himself waiting for Silas and Timothy to show up (Acts 17:14).

One the one hand, persecution drove the mission.  On the other hand, “the brothers” executed the mission.  On every account, Paul was constrained by the Spirit who testified to him to expect imprisonment and affliction in every city” (Acts 20:23).   In the middle of all this was a man possessed by Christ, stubbornly committed to preaching the gospel at all costs, and prepared to fight the good fight of faith.

Apparently Athens was not on the agenda. The brothers took him “as far as Athens”, and, as Luke explains, he is there simply waiting for Timothy and Silas to show up.  What do you do while you wait? Check your Twitter updates?  Play video games on your iPod?  Listen to your last iTunes download?  For Paul, his waiting meant listening, learning, and leading others to Christ.

I am fascinated of all the place in which you can find Paul as a waiting man.  In one moment, he is in the synagogue reasoning with the Jews and devout persons.  In another moment, you find him in the marketplace “passing along and observing the objects of your worship” (Acts 17:23).  In another moment, he is “in the midst of the Areopagus” conversing with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers about the resurrection of Jesus.  That’s a lot of places to be as a “waiting man.”

Paul was accustomed to being in the world.  He was a missionary.  He did not retreat from the Jews–the same people who had just started mob riots in the previous cities.  He was not intimidated by fanciful philosophies of the intellectual elite.  He could not allow himself to be unmoved by a city and culture full of idols.  Paul was not doing a drive-by here.  He was dwelling deep in the city and reaching wide, calling all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

I can’t help but ask myself the question, “Where in the world are the Christians?” We know where Paul was.  He was everywhere.  There wasn’t a place he wouldn’t go or a people he wouldn’t engage with the gospel.  But where “in the world” are the Christians today?  Yeah, we are in the city, but are we really in the city?  Do we have such close exposure, such listening ears, such sensitive heart that we feel deeply the provocation of idolatry?  Are we such “worldly” people that we are accessible to have conversations with by secular intellectuals or pagan worshippers (Acts 17:18)?  While being provoked, do we come across to others as bombastic jerks or reasonable patrons of the city (Acts 17:17).  Are we transversing the city landscape so as to pass along the marketplace, listening and learning the baseline cultural narrative and discovering the “objects of their worship” (Acts 17:23)?

If we were to trace the steps of Paul, we would find a man who was in the heart of the city, tuned into the lives of both religious Jews and pagan Greeks. If people traced the steps of you and men, where would they find us? We may not be waiting for Silas and Timothy, but we are waiting–waiting for Someone who entered into our world, not to take us out of it, but instead engage it with the gospel.  And when He comes for us, my hope is that He will not find us anesthetized by the Christian subculture, giving out a harmlessly neutered gospel, or conveniently guarding ourselves from the real world.  Instead, I hope he finds us the way the world so often found Him–sitting at the dinner table of sinners, embracing the neck of a leper, and dying on the cross between two thieves.

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