Acts 17:23 “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
Paul adjusted his presentation to his audience. In his first missionary journey with Barnabas they always went to the synagogue first, because the Old Testament gave them an excellent entry point for presenting the Gospel, since there are so many prophecies of the Messiah. However, the synagogue in Athens gave him little exposure, so he had to use a different approach. I have heard some people claim that this approach was not good, since the results were sparse. (Acts 17:34) The point, however, is that God gave him an opportunity, he used it, and he did get some results in any case. He had a really rough audience, because these people had just about heard it all, and to them, Paul was just another “babbler.” (verse 18) Since these were philosophers, used to principles of logic and argument that we still recognize today, Paul laid out his case very logically, quoting Greek writers (verse 28) to generate a point of connection. When you think about it, the fact that any at all of his audience were converted is quite remarkable, since there were no miracles to shock people into receptivity.
I feel like Athens is a good parallel for ministry in Japan. Guinness claimed a few years ago that Japan has the highest average intelligence of any ethnic group, which would fit the philosophers of Athens. Also, the Japanese tend to treat religious ideas as perhaps interesting, but of very little practical impact on their daily lives. That too seems to fit what Paul found in Athens. (The Athenians loved to talk but did little about it, as verse 21 says.) I am faced with people who are often superstitious, concerned about whether something is “auspicious” or not, but who have little if any guiding principles in their lives, simply going by tradition and habit. Japan too is filled with shrines and temples, each one dedicated to a different deity of some sort. Preaching a singular Creator who loves them personally sounds very foreign to them, and they tend to be very afraid of becoming “un-Japanese.” Those obstacles are formidable, but as our Verse for the Year proclaims, nothing is too difficult for God. (Jeremiah 32:27) I am never to give up, but allow God to show me the right approach for each situation, not trying to apply set formulas but listening obediently to the Holy Spirit. If I will do that, He will get through to those He has chosen, and even use me in the process.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all that You have been and are doing in and around us. Thank You for helping me realize just how little framework most Japanese have for understanding and receiving the Gospel. Enable me to break it down and get it into their context so that the barriers may be overcome. Help me indeed nurture the brother who was just baptized, as well as reach out to those others who are showing signs of being ready, so that there may be solid harvest in Your kingdom indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!