The Apostle Paul would love the Avengers. In fact, he would do what I do with Reel Parables and use the Avengers to share God’s story.
How do I know? Because he did this very thing in Athens.
This would make Paul sad.
An Unknown God
While visiting Athens (Acts 17:22-34), Paul saw an altar to an “unknown god.”
Know what he didn’t do? He didn’t go all “us vs them” or “them vs God” on them. Instead, he used their art, their poetry, and their own religion as a way to introduce them to Jesus!
So Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’
Notice why Paul saw this altar to an unknown god. He didn’t happen across it, he didn’t accidentally see it; no, he went and found it!
Paul made a point to familiarize himself with their culture, even their religious culture.
He “observed closely” their religious stuff. So yea, he was checking out their culture, including their religious art.
He didn’t hide from it. He didn’t avoid it. He examined it closely.
I know that God!
Know what he did next? He basically says, “hey, Athenians, I know that God!”
Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
Yea, Paul used their culture – even their false religion – to share God’s story. Yes, Paul used their culture to share the Gospel!
For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.
This might be my favorite part of this whole story. Not only does Paul use their religious art (the altar to an unknown god), but he also used their very own poets, their own writers, to point to God’s story!
While presenting the Gospel – God’s story – Paul says, “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Now, their poets were not writing “Christian” poems. Their poems would not show up on radio stations that are “safe for the whole family.”
Regardless, Paul knew what we know – that all truth is God’s truth – and used that truth to present the Gospel.
And share the Gospel he did – Paul even gets to the resurrection!
Sharing God’s Story
Does this actually work? Yes, yes it does.
Now when they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul left the Areopagus. But some people joined him and believed. Among them were Dionysius, who was a member of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Sure, some scoffed. Notice that it wasn’t at Paul’s use of their culture, but at the resurrection.
Some, however, agree to talk about it/listen to it later. Paul started a conversation.
But some believed. Some believed in the Lord Jesus Christ because Paul was familiar – and friendly with – their culture!
Who Will Save Us?
So back to that shirt.
This shirt saddens me. Truly.
I saw this shirt on a kid at AWANA. At first I got excited when I saw the cool 8-bit looking super heroes. Then I read it. Why oh why do we need a shirt like this? Why do we need to do the whole “us vs them”or “them vs God” thing?
Personally, I am super excited to see the Avengers: Age of Ultron. Why? Because I hope it is good Reel Parables like the first Avengers movies was.
Yes, the first Avengers was a great Reel Parable.
Remember the ongoing conversation/argument between Captain America and Iron Man? Throughout the Avengers they go back and forth about sacrifice and character.
Captain America makes it clear that when the times comes, being the hero – being the savior – requires sacrifice. He tells Tony Stark/Iron Man that he is no real hero because he only thinks of himself.
In the climactic New York battle, Iron Man does think of others and does make the sacrifice play – flying the nuclear bomb/missile into the space portal. The other Avengers tell him it is a one-way trip. He knows that it is (more than likely) a one-way trip.
But he does it anyway. Why? To save others.
Iron Man shows us what Lent is all about.
Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. (Philippians 2:3-4
Iron Man is willing to sacrifice himself to save New York.
Yea, it’s just a silly super hero movie, but we still know that the emotions are true.
No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (John 15:13)
Like Paul did, we can use the Avengers to share God’s story.
Like Jesus did, we can use stories to teach God’s truth.
So who will save us? Jesus, of course. But since so much of the world doesn’t know that, lets use their culture, their stories, to introduce them to the God that we know!
I can’t wait to see Age of Ultron on Mother’s Day.
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Thanks and God bless!
Simon L Smith