WACO—When the world recognizes the golden arches of McDonald’s more readily than the Christian cross, the church has work to do, Cleophus LaRue told the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting in Waco.
The story of the gospel is for everyone, and it is every Christian’s job to go tell it, said LaRue, the Francis Landey Patton professor of homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary.
LaRue based his sermon on Acts 17:16-21, where Paul is found struggling to spread the gospel message in Athens, a proud city widely considered to be the cultural and intellectual capital of the Roman Empire.
“Her artists had filled her streets and temples with statues of the gods,” LaRue said. “Her myriad buildings and innumerable works of art stood in silent testimony to her former grandeur and greatness. Athens was some city, but it was a tough place for the gospel.”
A mission to Athens was not on Paul’s original itinerary. Instead, he arrived there on a wing and a prayer, having been rerouted when things hadn’t gone according to plan at other stops along his journey.
“He did not arrive in Athens fresh and friendly,” LaRue said. “He arrived there disheveled, unkempt, bedraggled, woebegone, battle-scarred and road weary, and because he was already in a bad mood when he arrived in Athens, instead of seeing a city filled with beautiful works of art, he saw a city full of idols.”
Paul might have been better received by the Athenians if he’d taken a moment to appreciate the city’s aesthetics and culture, LaRue suggested, but “when you’ve been stoned in Lystra, jailed in Philippi, threatened in Thessalonica and hounded out of Berea, it’s understandable that you might not be in a sightseeing mood when your friends drop you on the outskirts of Athens.”
Paul’s preaching in the Areopagus didn’t result in a mass revival in Athens. Luke reported some people scoffed, others wanted to hear Paul speak further, and some believed. Even though Paul is one of the greatest theologians and preachers in Christianity, only some believed, LaRue stressed.
LaRue encouraged pastors to remember—no matter how many preaching classes they take or how much homiletical theory they study, not everyone sitting before them on a Sunday morning will believe.
Paul’s apparent defeat in Athens raises a reasonable question: “Why bother? Why not move along to a place where the gospel might be welcomed?”
“The writing on the wall is clear: This gospel is to be proclaimed to everybody, even if only received by some,” LaRue said. “That’s why Paul has to go to Athens. That’s why Paul had to preach under less-than-ideal circumstances. Because this gospel that we proclaim is meant to be preached to all, even if only received by some.”
LaRue encouraged Texas Baptists not to lose heart when ministry gets hard.
“Sometimes we do our best work under life’s most austere and trying circumstances,” he said. “Sometimes we do our best work when the load is heavy. Sometimes we do our best work when life finds us in a place that we would prefer not to be and we hope not long to stay.
“When life finds you there, do not bemoan your plight,” LaRue said. “Like the Apostle Paul, lift up your head and lift up your heart and go forward with the work God has assigned you to do.”
Lauren Sturdy works for Buckner International.