"While Paul was waiting in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols." -Acts 17:16
While Paul was dropped off in Athens and waiting for his co-laborer in the ministry Silas and his son in the faith Timothy, Paul walked the great ancient city of Athens. The hub of Greek culture, the beauty of ancient temples such as the Parthenon which, by Paul's time of arrival, was already four centuries old. Athens was a city teeming with spirituality and thinking. Paul discussed truth with a variety of thinkers in the marketplace only to be viewed as a collector of little spiritual tidbits ("babbler") and a teacher of strange gods.
The bold apostle to the Gentiles stood up on Mars Hill and doesn't waste a moment. The incredibly diverse, deep thinking, yet highly suspicious throng of diverse peoples listen to Paul consider their various religions and spiritualities toward the shrine dedicated to a god unknown, a god the Athenians pay homage to out of ignorance. Paul tells them the mystery of the ages: God created all things, He is Judge, and He alone is Savior.
What led Paul to preach so boldly in front of this intimidating crowd? Paul saw the overwhelming abundance of idols in Athens and his spirit was troubled to act.
America is not a land and a singular people without religion. It is a land teeming with both major metropolises and a great diversity of religions and spiritualities. They are a suspicious people which can intimidate the church of Jesus Christ into silence. If you are silent, dear saint, I ask you to consider having your spirit provoked.
Paul didn't wait for Silas and Timothy to tell them of his Athenian tour. Paul's visit to Athens didn't go like this: "Guys, look at this city. They are so lost and sinful. These people are hopeless fools. They really need to change. They need Jesus!" Then silently tour the city until moving on. No, Paul's spirit wasn't provoked to simply diagnose the Athenians and ignore the people. His provoked spirit spoke!
Go ahead and take in the sights of America. What do you see? Does the idols of our land disturb your heart? Does the lack of worship of the beautiful Christ in your neighborhood provoke your spirit? Can you be bothered to pray for the deliverance of those wicked, idol worshipers around you? Can you be troubled to reason with them, dine with them, invite them to small group or even church?
Recall our Savior's words in Luke 10: "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest." Pray for laborers to enter the great field of the Lord's harvest of salvation! So, they prayed. Then Jesus said, "Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." Basically, Jesus said, "Good news guys! Your prayer has been heard by the Lord of the harvest for more workers and is now answered! It's you guys! Go into field of intimidating teems of people who will mock you and hurt you!"
I confess to you, and I am certain I'm not alone, dear reader. I am too stubborn to go without a provoked spirit. So pray. Pray, "Lord, provoke my spirit! Bother me! Trouble me! Send me into Your field!" For those ignorant fools do not know that they are spiritual and religious but ungodly, that Christ died at the right time for the ungodly. The One, True Creator of the universe is a "strange deity" in their eyes.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And
how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How
beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-16)
The gospel makes your feet beautifully sent as lambs among wolves to save sinners through Christ. Go, and go boldly with provoked spirit and enter the Lord's field for harvest. "For faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Pray, then go and preach Christ and Him crucified, dear lowly saint.
Heavenly Father, I confess my spirit is all too comfortable with the idols in the land, homes, and hearts of those around me. I confess my heart is not troubled enough to be bothered by them. Be gracious to me and provoke my spirit, o Lord. Open my lips, give me the words to say, and open their ears to the rich treasures of the word of Christ. In Jesus' name. Amen.