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Paul and the Goddess Anastasia?

Acts 17:17-18 (NIV)
17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

 This is a very interesting text that fits perfectly with our Easter celebration this week.  As you recall from last week, Paul is in Athens.  After he shared the gospel with the Jews in the synagogue (in every new town he would go there first), Paul ran into some philosophers.  Epicureans tended to be anti-supernatural in their thinking and sought pleasure through simple lifestyles.  Stoics, were also naturalistic and avoided destructive emotions.  Both tended to be pantheistic and open to other gods.

 And they were used to arguing.  So when they heard Paul, they became interested.  They heard him speak about the resurrection…  Interestingly, in the Greek word “resurrection” is anastasis…which is also a female name.  In other words, Luke tells us that these philosophers thought Paul was introducing a new goddess, Anastasia, to their pantheon.

 After the Apostle got their attention, he explained the gospel.  What better way to combat naturalism and anti-supernaturalism than with the resurrection of Jesus?  Resurrection is a concept so shocking to human understanding that these philosophers called Paul a babbler.  Resurrection goes against everything we know as humans: when we die, it’s curtains.  That’s it.  Only God can change that.

 And he has.  This is what we celebrate on Easter: the resurrection.  Without it, our faith is worthless.  Without it, we’re no better off than Epicureans or Stoics.  I was reminded today that you can visit Buddha’s tomb in Sri Lanka, or Muhammad’s in Saudi Arabia.  I’ve seen Stalin’s and Mao’s tombs.  The remains of these men are all still there.

 But visit Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem and you will find it empty.  He is not there.  He has risen.  He has risen indeed!

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