Now, we’re studying in the 17th chapter of Acts the familiar portion of the life of Paul, the days that he spent in the city of Athens on his second missionary journey. We’re progressing through the book of Acts in our study and finding ourselves in 17, we find ourselves with Paul, alone in Athens.
And when he comes to Athens, he is overwhelmed by the idolatry of the city. They worship thousands upon thousands of gods. Their artwork is all a matter of their religion. In other words, the gods are the great masterpieces of art. And so, we see a city that is tremendously cultured, but at the same time greatly idolatrous.
Now, when we think about the word idolatry, I don’t know what it conjures up in your mind, but if you’re like most people, you think idolatry and immediately you think of a whole lot of savages groveling in some dirt in front of a totem pole or maybe you think about a cruel-faced statute that you saw in a picture of a Hindu temple. Or maybe you think of whirling dances by the priests of Baal as they skittered around the altar of Elijah; I don’t know. But if you’re like most people, idolatry is sort of a remote, low-culture kind of thing. But I think that’s wrong.
I think that in the terms of the Greek idolatry of the city of Athens at this time, it was a tremendously sophisticated and cultured society. They were the – the philosophical and the intellectual class of the world. They were the philosophers; they were the educated people. They were the people who studied. They were way ahead of a lot of other of the people in that part of the world, or for that matter in any part of the world.
And so, idolatry with them wasn’t groveling in the dirt before a totem pole; it was a very classy, a very sophisticated, and a very contemplated and complex kind of thing, all in the framework of very astute quote-unquote philosophy.
And I think we have to recognize today that even in America, as in all parts of the world, we are victims of idolatry. In the truest sense, nobody really chooses whether to worship a god or not. You only choose which god you’re going to worship. Everybody bows down somewhere.
You say, “Well, what about the atheists?”
He bows down to himself, which is the most extreme kind of idolatry, the worship of self, which is also the most hopeless kind, incidentally. If you had to look to yourself for the salvation of your soul and the answer to your problems, that’s a pretty disastrous view. But everything, apart from God, is idolatry. And so, idolatry is a part of Western civilization. Billy Graham asked a student at the University of North Carolina if he believed in god, and he said, “Yes. I have my own, private gods.” That’s a sophisticated young man. And I think we see this all about us.
A few years ago, from 25 years on to the present day, we might say that the dominant idolatry of our country and of Western civilization was – well, there were three little deities, and we still bow down to those deities. One was humanism, that man could solve his own problems. You know, this was the time when science was exploding, and we were really being able to conquer all of these problems, and we were going to solve them. We’re running a little thin on humanism about now.
The second little deity that everybody worshipped was materialism. And I think that the panic of the energy crisis and the panic of a lot of these things that are going on is the panic that somebody is whittling away our little god called materialism. And we’re not going to be able to get all the goodies we want. And life may reduce itself down to the very dull, boring, basics, and we won’t be able to entertain ourselves with a multitude of things. And so, little by little, somebody is whacking away at our – at least a few of our little gods: humanism and materialism.
The third little god that our society worships is sex. I mean everything from advertising to zoos is propagated through sex. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s cars, or deodorant, or toothpaste, or whatever it is, it all comes to the same avenue. And, of course, films and books now beggar language. Like Billy Graham said, “They rival the drippings of a broken sewer.” And it’s true.
We are living in a world where we have our little gods. And then the little god that dominates everything is self. You know, we have “In God We Trust” on our coins and “Me First” engraved in our hearts. And that’s pretty much our little god.
And it’s interesting to me, I think, that in the time in which we live now, with this kind of a supernaturalism creeping into our society, we’ve now gone backwards in terms of culture, and people are beginning to go to the old things, like they are actually worshipping superstitions and the occult and all of this. And some people even have physical idols that they worship now in our society. We’re getting back to that.
Western man, with all of his culture, with all of his information, with all of his scientific knowledge is in the same satanic trap that governs the life of an aboriginal individual, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, who’s bowing down to a rock. We all have our gods, you see. Everybody bows somewhere. Idolatry is just that – watch it – idolatry is worshipping anything but God himself. That’s idolatry. And it comes in all kinds of packages.
But, you know, the thing about it that is continually brought to light, I think, is the fact that with all of man’s little gods and all of his little deities, he never gets any satisfaction. And the reason is this, God has created you and me and every man to know Him. Do you believe that? Of course. That’s clear in Scripture.
We are made to know God. Not to know God is not to know what you’re made for. It’s not to know what the meaning of existence is. It’s to be totally disconnected from purpose and significance. And you may try a lot of non-gods, and you may try to have your little deities, and you may bow down, but there never will be any ultimate satisfaction, because as Augustine said, you’ve got a God-shaped vacuum that only he can fill. And a zillion other little deals don’t bring satisfaction. And so, we are in a world today where all of these little gods have failed to satisfy.
And so, it’s a tremendously frustrated world. And, of course, people are taking drugs, and they’re getting stoned on alcohol, and they’re killing themselves at a rate like never in history. And the reason is because they cannot cope with the fact that they can have a multiple of things that they bow down before and no satisfaction.
Now, this is precisely the problem in Athens, as we look at 17. They had all the gods imaginable; gods all over the place. But in desperation, they had, in verse 23, and altar to the unknown God. And I told you the significance of that is this: with all their gods, they had no satisfaction, so they knew somewhere out there, there’s a God we haven’t tapped yet who’s going to satisfy us.
And that, of course, is the ultimate agony of idolatry. It never gives satisfaction. Why? Because man was created to know the true God. And until he knows the true God, he knows no peace; he knows no satisfaction I the truest sense.
And you go back into the garden, you know, and Adam and Eve were there, and God was there, and they were having a great time. And they knew God, and all was bliss and beautiful. And then they fell and – bang – God cut off Himself from them; they lost the knowledge of God. And since that time, men are born into the – been born into the world apart from the knowledge of God. And men come into theirs world, and they don’t know God.
But it’s interesting, God has a little two-pronged socket that he plugs in, and every man is plugged into that little two-pronged socket. It may be only about a five-watt bulb, but anyway, there’s a dim light. And the two prongs are creation and conscience. Right? In other words, even in a world where the lights are out in terms of the true knowledge of God, there’s at least a little five watt glowing, and it’s conscience and creation.
In other words, God has planted within me the knowledge of Himself in my conscience and around me as I look at the world that He has made. And by those two things, I am both surrounded and indwelt by a limited knowledge of God.
Now, some people, because they love sin so much, have pulled that plug. And there, the five watts have gone out, and they’re in blackness. And the Bible says they love their darkness rather than light for the simple reason not that they’re philosophical, but that they are sinful. They love darkness rather than life because their deeds are evil.
And so, God has put in this world the knowledge of Himself, dimly, in conscience and creation. If a man will take that light and follow it, he can know the full light of God.
Now, if you were to ask me, “John MacArthur, I want to know what Grace Community Church exists for,” I would tell you it exists to just so that you might know God. That’s why we exist. Because that is the purpose for existence. There is no other purpose. For you to live your life apart from the knowledge of God is for you to be a worthless individual I don’t care what else you do.
You say, “Well, what if I help my fellow man.”
That’s fine, you’re going to die, and so is your fellow man. And if all you’ve done is given him some physical help, you’ve just prolonged his death. That isn’t consequential, ultimately. Oh, it’s consequential in terms of momentary comfort, but it’s inconsequential in terms of eternal vale.
A person who doesn’t know God has no reason to exist, because you were made to know Him. You were made for Him as well as by Him. And your purpose is to know God and to spend eternity basking in the blessing of such knowledge.
Now, in Jeremiah - and I’m going to spend some time in some Scriptures, so you’re going to need to keep your Bible handy – but in Jeremiah 9:23, “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him that glorieth glory in this: that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord.’”
Now watch, in this life you might be smart, and you might be strong, and you might be rich, but you are nothing unless you know God; that’s what He says. That is the meaning of existence. That is the purpose of life. God made us for fellowship with Him, that we might know Him. And I’m telling you, when you come into the knowledge of God, all of a sudden the whole key to the universe is unlocked. You know what you’re for. And so, the purpose of man is to know God. That’s simply it.
Now, God doesn’t even want your worship and your religion; He wants you to know Him. You remember in Hosea He said, “I’m not interested in your sacrifices; I want you to know Me.” And there’s all kinds of religion going on and people who are talking about God, but they don’t know God. It’s one thing to know about God; it’s another thing to know God. See? It’s like it’s one thing to know about holiness; it’s another thing to be holy.
Now, God doesn’t tolerate any rivals because the single purpose of man is to know Him. Therefore, any rival violates man’s purpose. And listen, beloved, it’s not that God is some kind of a nasty ogre; it’s that God knows what you were made for, and He knows that you’ll never be satisfied till you come to that knowledge.
And so, God gets really uptight when other gods are introduced that suck men off from the true purpose. And that’s why in Exodus 20, verse 3, God said – this is in the Ten Commandments – “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Why? Is that just because God is selfish? No. That isn’t the main point. The main point is it is a violation of His creation. You shouldn’t be suckered off to worship anything but the true God.
Verse 4, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any carved image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Though shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them, for I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” Did you get that? “I am a jealous God.” God says, “I tolerate no rivals. You were made to know Me; you are Mine; I made you for that purpose. I tolerate no intruders.
Now, I just want to give you an idea.
You say, “Well, I know a lot of nice people, and they don’t know God, but they’re such nice people.”
Well, I know a lot of nice people like that, too. But, you know, they’re nice people who haven’t got any reason to live. Absolutely none. Listen to this; this is a very provocative verse, 1 Samuel 2:12 - and you probably have never even read it before, but listen to it. It says this, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men.” Now, let’s try to get over the hump of the inadequacies of English, because we’ve overdone it. When you see the word “worthless,” what does that mean? Just that. They’re no good for any purpose. They’re strictly useless. The sons of Eli – Eli was a nice guy, a lousy father. You can read about that. But the sons of Eli were worthless men.
Now, would you like to be a worthless individual? I mean would you like to, say, you come to the end of your life, and God writes your epitaph, “Here lies worthless?” “Here lies no value.” “Here lies pointless.” Jesus said of Judas, “Better for him if he’d never been” – what? – “born.” Better if he’d never been born.
You say, “What – what is that worthless? How – how does a man become worthless?”
“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men” – listen – “they knew not the Lord.” You know why they were worthless? Why? They knew not the Lord. For a man to exist apart from the knowledge of God is for that man to render himself worthless. Why? Because you were created to know God.
In 1 Corinthians 15:34, Paul says, “Some of you know not God, and I speak it to your shame.” Now, God is a jealous God.
And, you know, some people say, “Oh, well, God is some kind of – how could you say God is jealous? That’s a negative factor. That means God has an evil capacity if He could be jealous.”
No. Jealousy isn’t always evil, is it? And when God brought Israel out of Egypt to Sinai, gave them the laws already He said, “I’m a jealous God.” Later on He made a shocking statement to Moses. He said - in 34:14 of Exodus He said this; He said, “The Lord” – watch – “whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” I mean He even said, “Not only am I jealous, that’s My name.” well, I mean that’s heavy. You know, they used to name people commensurate with the kind of person they were. God says, “My name is Jealous.”
And you say, “God, what are you so uptight about? I mean there aren’t any rivals.”
Oh, yes, there are. There aren’t any rivals who are true rivals, but there are sure a lot of little nothings picking away. God’s in effect saying this – watch – “I made men. Every man that ever was made, I formed him from the womb,” is what He said. “I made him.” Don’t you believe it all happened in an evolutionary process. God made men, and He says, “I made them, and they are Mine. And anybody who takes them apart from the knowledge of Me is an intruder.” And God has a right to be jealous.
Now, there’s two kinds of jealousy. One kind of jealousy is this kind, “I want what you have. And because you have it and I don’t, I hate you.” Right? That’s one; that’s covetousness gone wild. But there’s another kind of jealousy. That kind of jealousy says, “You are Mine, and I love you, and I don’t want anybody to take you from Me.” Now, that is what I call pure virtue.
Tasker said, and I quote, “Married persons who felt no jealousy at the intrusion of a lover or an adulterer into their home would surely be lacking in moral perception; for the exclusiveness of marriage is the essence of marriage.” God has made us for Himself, and God gets very, very upset about intruders into His area.
In fact, if you’re going to read a verse that probably says it as heavily as any, it’s I Corinthians 10:22, “Are you going to provoke the Lord to jealousy?” It’s a question. Do you provoke the Lord to jealousy, or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? If you do, then listen to this, “Are we stronger than He?” What does that imply? That implies if you provoke the Lord to jealousy, He’s going to do something, and you better be stronger than He is or you’re going to get it. God is very, very possessive about His own. And He has created man in His own image, and man cannot know his meaning until he knows God.
And any kind of idolatry you see sidetracks from that. Ezekiel – I think it’s chapter 8 and verse 3, it says there that there as a particular image, and it calls this image the image of jealousy which provokes jealousy. Idols make God jealous. And when God gets jealous, that’s not good, because God will move to protect His own, and He will move vengeance upon the intruder.
So, you see, basic to the life of any man is the knowledge of God. And incidentally, in 2 Thessalonians 7:8 – 2 Thessalonians 1:7 and 8, it says that Jesus will return from heaven in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God. So, ultimately, it’s a disaster not to know God. It’s not just a question of dying a worthless life; it’s a question of spending eternity in hell to know not God.
Now you say, “Well, John, can everybody know God?”
Yes, because everybody’s got that little five watt plugged in with the two prongs: conscience and creation. So much so, Romans 1 says that there’s enough knowledge of God available in you and around you so that you are without excuse. Romans 1:20, remember that verse? No man is excusable. God has plugged that little light in in every man’s life. The knowledge of God is available. And some people choose to see the little light and follow the little light, and they know God. And they meet Him fully.
Now, getting to know God is so important that Paul says, “Now, I know you guys have an unknown God, and you haven’t plugged into Him yet. You got the little light glowing; at least you got the idea that He’s there.
Verse 22, “Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ Hill” – Areopagus, this is the name of a court; these were the really sharp guys; these were the best of the Athenian society, the court that stood in judgment on many matters – “and he said, ‘Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious. You guys are a religious bunch, and that’s obvious. You have stuff everywhere. But for as I passed y, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, “To The Unknown God.”‘” And this is really a shot. “‘You’re very religious, and I found among the things you worship is an unknown God, whom therefore you ignorantly worship.’” If He’s unknown, then you’re worshipping Him in ignorance. “‘I would like to declare Him unto you.’”
Now, there is his platform, “I’m going to tell you who the known God is.” So, we call this sermon, “Getting to Know the Unknown God.”
Now, isn’t it again interesting that all of this time with all of these God’s, there was no satisfaction? There’s a verse I love, and I can’t even remember the reference offhand; it just – I just know that it says, “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.” Happy is the people whose God is the Lord. You see, when your God is the true God, you’re happy. There’s satisfaction. Apart from that, no satisfaction.
And it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. To really know God is what life is about. And then circumstances may come and go; the knowledge of God abides.
I always think of those three guys that I like, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And back in the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, who thought himself to be some kind of a hotshot, demanded everybody worship him. And they had this idol built, this big image and so forth, and everybody’s supposed to bow down.
So, he comes to these three guys, Daniel’s three friends, and he says in verse 15, “Now, if you be ready that at that time that you hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, the lyre, the sackbut, the psaltery, the dulcimer” – just a little combo they used to have in those days – “and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image which I have made, okay.”
In other words, when you hear the music, you fall down and you worship, okay. “If you worship not, you shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” And then he says this, “And who is that God hat shall deliver you out of my hand?” Boy, did he have an exalted opinion of himself. “Huh. You think your God’s going to get you out of my hand?”
Listen to this, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.’” In other words, “We don’t mind, just telling you the truth.” What? “If it be so,” – we get thrown in there – “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace.” Now, he didn’t say, “Our God will deliver us,” he said, “Our God” – what? – “is able to deliver us.” See, he left the prerogative with God. “He’s able to deliver us, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.’” If He so chooses. “‘But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we still will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.’” Boy, that’s terrific, isn’t it?
“Look, if we go in there, our God may deliver us. But if not, we still won’t bow down.” Why? They knew they had the right God; they feared nothing. Now, that’s the confidence and the satisfaction and he blessedness that comes to life of one who knows the Lord. And no substitute can bring that.
Someone wrote, “Lord, it belongs not to my care, whether I die or live/To love and serve Thee is my share, and this Thy grace must give./If life be long, I will be glad that I may long obey/If short, then why should I be sad to soar to endless day?” That’s confidence in the right God.
Now, Paul is going to present how they can know God. Now, there’s three things involved. We started on these last time; we’re not going to get much further than where we started. But anyway, one is recognize God is. Two, recognize who God is. Three, recognize what God is saying. In order to know God, you’ve got to start with number one, recognize God is.
At the very beginning, a person must recognize God is. And isn’t it good that they did? They actually had an altar to the unknown God. They didn’t know who He is, and they didn’t know what He was saying, but they at least believed He was there. God is. Hebrews 11:6 - what did we say it was last week? – “Him that cometh to God must believe that He is.”
The fool is the guy who denies God is. And, you know, there are always people who deny God. They – now they – some of them are atheists. An atheist denies God. You know, that is such a ridiculous position, atheism. I mean it – to me, it’s like a cactus, sitting in the desert, telling another cactus that there’s no ocean. What does he know? You know? See, he looks around, and he sees the sand, and he figures that’s the way it all is. That’s the atheist who stand and says, “There is no God.” See? He stands on one infinitesimal peanut point, in the midst of an endless universe. It doesn’t make sense.
But there are those who come to that conclusion that there is no God. And it’s an accommodation for their sin. They like to do what they want to do, and they don’t want to live with the prospect of judgment. So, you get rid of God, you get rid of the potential of judgment and you can live easier.
And then, secondly, there’s agnosticism. And agnosticism is the guy who doesn’t know. But it’s usually not, “I can’t believe;” it’s “I won’t believe.” He just doesn’t want to believe there’s a God.
Then there’s evolution. And evolution is the – is somebody who thinks that, “Oh, there may be some God; there may be some cosmic intelligence,” etcetera, etcetera. But the whole thing is God has never manifested Himself; everything’s an accident.
Then there’s the polytheist. The polytheist says, “There are many gods, all over, everywhere.” And that’s what’s being propagated in America today so fast it’s unbelievable. The spirit beings. The demons are propagating stuff that you can’t even believe.
Listen, I’ve been reading some books in the last few days that have spun my head around and around. It’s amazing. You know that all the spirits, the books about the spirit world – not written by Christians, but written by demons, you know, and dictated by demons – and it tells about all the hierarchy of the many gods and the prince of Venus, and this ruler over here, and this ruler over here. And, you know, they’ve got a whole strategy. They’ve got even a – this one thing illustrates they’ve got a strategy for the rapture, about what they’re going to say when the rapture happens. We’ve often wondered, “What’s Satan going to do when the rapture goes? Aren’t people going to immediately believe?”
The world is going to get dominated, and is fast getting dominated by this whole meditation bit. Right? The Eastern religion. And they’re trying to get everybody to get to a higher level of consciousness, raise everybody out of the third dimension to the higher level of consciousness. Meditate. Transcend. Transcend. Transcendental meditation. Get out of this thing. And when the rapture happens, the announcement by all the demons is going to be, “Well, these people were holding back the whole world from transcending, and so, we eliminated them.” Now, think about that; it’s pretty smart. Pretty smart.
Because, you see, they’ve already got the whole world to believe that meditation’s where it’s at, and Christians are the hang-up. And so, we just got rid of them. And then they’re going to rule in the tribulation. And boy, the world’s going to be ready to buy that whole bag, aren’t they?
And so, you see, of course they are propagating that there are many gods everywhere, spirits, and you’re a god, and everybody’s a god. A guy was in my house the other night, and he told me that he went to one of these – one of these meditation teachers, and after several lessons, why, she told him, “You are Jesus Christ.”
And he said, “I’m not,” and now he’s a Christian. He said, “I knew one thing; I knew I wasn’t Jesus Christ.”
So, polytheism is being propagated tremendously today. And this is a position that you see there’s no God; there’s just gods all over everywhere.
And then there’s what we call pantheism. Pantheism is – is a different kind of atheism. Instead of saying there is no God, it says everything is god, and that’s just like here is no God. If everything is God, then God isn’t anything.
The other view that’s kind of atheistic is deism. You know what deism is? That’s the view that god – there is a god somewhere, and he wound up the world, made it. It was a kind of a little fun thing for him. So, he made it, wound it up, and he went away and let it run down. And he’s totally uninvolved.
Now, all of those are forms of the denial of the true God. To begin to come to God, you must believe that God is, and that God is knowable. You see? That God is, and that He is knowable.
You say, “Well, John, what’s the evidence for that?”
Well, I told you conscience. It’s written in your mind. You’re – a man who becomes an atheist or denies God has to reason against his own nature. Not only – and it’s in creation. You look around; the Psalmist said the heavens declare – what? – the glory of God.
Oh, listen, you can look – you could get your science book out, and you read about the macrocosm, the unbelievable intricacy of space and the stars. And, you know, I could talk for an hour just on scientific phenomena – and that’s what people always say when they don’t know anything, right? I could talk on this on and on.
But anyway – but there’s so much material available just in expanding your mind to understand the fantastic intricacies of – of space. And to say that it all just happened, it just doesn’t – it doesn’t happen that way. So, there’s a conscience, and so there’s creation that are testimonies to God.
But let me just say this; that’s fine, but I think the greatest testimony to God is right here in this book. I think this is the testimony to God. And the Bible, in Deuteronomy 6:4, stated it, “Here, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” That’s it. There’s no other. That’s all. God is God. There is no other beside Him. Now, there are many Scriptures on this, and I want to take a minute to show them to you, because this is the heart of Christianity.
Listen, Deuteronomy 4:35, “Unto thee it was shown, that thou mightest know that the Lord He is God” – listen – “there is none else beside Him.” Don’t you like that? There is none beside Him. He is God.
Now, Isaiah has some of the greatest statements regarding God’s character and nature in the 40th chapter and following chapters, but in chapter 42, verse 8, listen, “I am the Lord”: that is My name” – oh, I like that, that authoritative kind of thing – “And My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to carved images.” God tolerates no idols; He alone is God.
Listen to 44:6, Isaiah 44:6, “Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer the Lord of Hosts” – two persons of the Trinity joining together here – “I am the first, and I am the last; and apart from Me, there is no God.” Did you get that? Boy, that is powerful. There is no God.
And then I like verse 8, “Fear not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? Ye are even My witnesses.” Listen. “Is there a God beside Me? Yeah, there is no God; I know not any.” And believe me, if God doesn’t know of any, there aren’t any.
Now, some people don’t realize that there’s only one God. Boy, there’s all kinds of people caught up in the occult. They think there’s all kinds of gods. All kinds of spirit beings. And they’re right, but they’re not gods; they’re demons. But they think there are all kinds of gods. Some people just don’t understand.
First Corinthians 8:6, Paul says, “To us there is but one God, the Father” – that’s all, just one God – “of whom are all things, and we in Him; and there’s on Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him. However, there is not in every man that knowledge” – see? Not everybody knows that, but you can’t even begin to come to God until you believe He is. That’s the start there. And if you want to know, get into this book and you’ll see that He is.
Illustration that I think is just powerful, Mark 12:28, “One of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together” – that is Jesus and the Sadducees – “and he perceived that He had answered them well” – now, he was – he was really amazed that Jesus answers to the Sadducees. They were giving Him all that stuff about whose wife, and all that, would she be in heaven.
And he says to – this scribe says to Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
“And Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, with all thy strength;” this is the first commandment.’” When you’ve knocked that one off, you can go on to number two, right? “‘The second is this, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There’s no other commandment greater than these.’
“And the scribe said unto Him, ‘Well, Master, Thou hast said the truth’” – Jesus didn’t need him to commend Him; Jesus knew He said the truth, but the man recognized it. He said – “‘for there is one God; and there is no other but He’” – now, here was a man who – who believed the testimony of the Old Testament, this scribe. “‘You’re right,’ he said to Jesus, ‘there is only one God. And you’re right again,’” – verse 33 – “‘to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, this is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’”
Now, watch this, “When Jesus saw that he answered so discreetly” – so intelligently – “He said unto him, ‘Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’” Now, wait a minute. Stop right there.
You say, “What does He mean, ‘You’re not far from the kingdom of God?’”
Because he’d already taken step one. Go to verse 32, back up. “Well, Master, Thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; there’s no other but He.” Now, that is where it began. He was not far from the kingdom of God because He believed God is, and God alone is God. Right? That’s where it starts.
And I say to you this morning, you’re not far from the kingdom of God, either, if you believe there is one God, if you believe that God is.
Second thing, in knowing the unknown God, back to Acts 17, in knowing the unknown God, we must believe that God is. Secondly, we must believe who God is. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, I believe in God.” You know? That’s too vague; it’s got to be identified. Who is God?
Now, verse 24 to 29 gives us this information. Paul then starts and tells them who God is. Verse 24, watch, “God, who made the world and all things in it” – now, God is, first of all, Creator. We’ll give you five of these before we’re done. Not all of them today, but five of them, beginning with Creator. God is Creator. He created everything. I get to thinking about God’s creative power, I can’t handle it.
Job 26 – this is just absolutely unbelievable, talking about God as Creator, beginning in verse 5. And he’s going to get into God’s creative power expressed even in Sheol, or in the grave. Verse 5, “Dead things tremble from under the waters.” It probably should be “trembled” rather than “are formed.” “Sheol is naked before Him, and destruction hath no covering.” In other words, God’s power extends to even Sheol, the place death, Hades. Then His creative power is expressed in the heavens. Fantastic. “He stretcheth out the heaven” – or the north, which means the heaven here – “over the empty place.” In other words, over nothing, over chaos, God stretched heaven. Creative power. “And He hangeth the earth upon nothing.” Oh, fantastic. Think about it. Everything hangs on something. The earth hangs on nothing. On nothing. There is as much pressure exerted in every direction on the earth as in any direction. It is suspended. God just somehow said, “Let it be,” and it all spun out, and there it is. He even took chaos or nothingness and slung the heavens over it.
“He bindeth up the waters in His thick clouds” – now, there’s a miracle, that water stays in those clouds. What holds that water there? – “and the cloud is not torn under them.” Amazing. The cloud remains while it’s full of water. “He holdeth back the face of His throne, and spreadeth His cloud upon it.” Circular bounds regarding the water.
Verse 10, “He hath compassed the water with a boundary until the day and night come to an end.” Fantastic. The horizon he’s talking about. “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His reproof.” He divideth the sea with His power, and by His understanding He smiteth through its pride.” God controls the sea. “By His spirit He garnished the heavens; His hand hath formed the crooked serpent.” This probably refers to the course of the stars. “Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him? But he thunder of His power who can understand?”
When you start thinking about creation – and now, of course, there’s no way to think – but just imagine, now watch this one, just get this in your head: God can easier create a universe than you can think a thought. Got that? God can easier create a universe than you can think a thought. Whew, fantastic. He is so powerful.
You imagine, first of all, He created everything out of nothing. Want to hear what’s amazing? He did it without any advice. And He did it without any assistance.
Isaiah 44:24 – you ought to read through Isaiah 40 to 48 or so and get that information about God there. But 44:24, “Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer, and He who formed thee from the womb, ‘I am the Lord who maketh all things; who stretcheth forth the heavens alone; who spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself.” Don’t you like that?
I was reading in this book written by these demons, and they were claiming to be the creators. God did it alone. They didn’t create anything. He didn’t have any engine but His word, and He didn’t have any pattern but His mind, and He could as easily create a world – easier create a world then you can think a thought.
He created the universe by projecting His own thought into existence. And listen to Jeremiah, Jeremiah 32:17. This is how the verse starts out, “Ah, Lord God!” Exclamation point. “Behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and outstretched arm, and there is nothing to hard for Thee.” God made everything. He made it out of nothing.
There’s a second thing that’s fantastic about His creative power, and that is that He made it by a word. Example, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and” – what? – “there was light.” That’s something. I don’t how you handle that.
You ever read Romans 4:17? It says this - don’t look it up, just listen – “He calleth those things which are not as if they were.” Whew. Calls them into existence. “Exist.”
Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” One day He stood in the middle of nothing and said, “Heavens.” There they were.
Psalm 148:5 says, “For He commanded and they were created.” Not only the things that exist obey Him, the things that don’t do. And do you know what’s so interesting about it? You know, if you and I had a – you know, we put in a good day’s work and we’re pooped. God never gets tired. He never gets...
You know, you say, “Where do you get that, John?”
Isaiah 40:28, “The God, the Lord, Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary.” Do you know He did the whole thing and never diminished His energy one bit?
You often hear people say, “Well, the Lord must be weary of all...”
The Lord doesn’t get weary. He is absolute energy and has no capacity to dissipate. And He is just as active now, upholding what He made; that’s the second point. He is not only Creator; He’s Ruler. That’s point two in verse 24, “He is Lord of heaven and earth.” He holds it all together. Remember Hebrews 1? “He upholds all things by the word of His power. It’s – it’s His power that made it; it’s His power that hangs it together. The earth is the Lord’s, don’t forget it. Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, and everybody who dwells on it.” And so, He holds it in that tremendous power.
Well, His power is unbelievable. We could talk about a lot of different verses, but let me just give you a couple of insights. Isaiah 40 talks about His upholding power. He is the God who holds it together.
And I’ll tell you, and all the little nations that think they run the world, listen to this, Isaiah 40:12. Think about God in terms of these, “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and measured out heaven with a span, and measured the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighted the mountains and scale, and the hills in a balance?” In other words, God has everything ordered and set in right perspective and balance.
And then I like 13, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counselor taught Him?” What school did God go to? See? “With whom took He counsel? Who instructed Him and taught Him in the path of justice, and taught Him knowledge, and showed Him the way of understanding?” Nobody. “Behold, the nations are like a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance. Behold, He taketh up the coasts as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn.” In other words, most real big, strong nations aren’t even good for kindling to start a sacrifice. They’re nothing.
Verse 17, “All nations before Him are as nothing; they are counted less than nothing” – and that’s not much; nothing is not much; less than nothing is not much at all – “and they’re counted vanity.”
The point being this: when you start comparing things with God, you don’t – you come out less than nothing. He’s running the universe; it’s His. In verse 22, here’s a beautiful thought, “It is He who sits on the circle of the earth” – oh, man, is that a fantastic statement. That’s the Hebrew word chug. Do you know what that word means? Sphere. Did you know that Isaiah knew the earth was a sphere when people thought it was flat? Hundreds of years before they did. Boy, you better watch when you read the Bible; it’s right on.
“And the inhabitants thereof were like grasshoppers. He stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain, spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” - it’s God who runs the universe – “He brings the princes to nothing; He takes the best of the world’s judges and they’re vanity.”
And verse 25, “‘To whom then will ye liken Me, or shall I be equal?’ saith the Holy One.” You want to start comparing Me with anything? “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things.” Down in verse 28, “Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of His understanding.” There He is. He not only made it, He holds it together.
You know, and it’s – it’s fantastic to see this in action. You know, we send off our little men in these tin cans and fly them around in space for all these days, and then we shoot them back, and they land where we expect. Why? Because the universe is constant, and the laws – can you imagine if all the laws were just diminishing, if the world was decaying, an somebody wasn’t holding it together, and that just a fraction of an inch or whatever, a small, minute point was just reducing all the time, we couldn’t calculate anything? Everything is held together. Everything is consistent. That’s God.
Well, you know, that kind of a God just – you know, you just can’t go and bow down to a little rock and worship him. Verse 24, “He dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” That kind of God is way too big. Solomon built the temple in 1 Kings 8:27; and he says, “God, I got a problem; you’ll never fit in my temple.” And he was right. He was so right. God couldn’t get in His temple. Far too infinite. God said, “My throne is heaven, and earth is my footstool.”
Third thing, God is Giver. This is fabulous. God is Giver. Not only Creator, and one who upholds or rules, but Giver. Look at verse 25; this is so good, “Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything” – isn’t that terrific?
“Well, I’m doing this because God needs this.”
Wait a minute, “He’s the one who gives to all life, and breath, and all things.” We talk a lot about how much God needs us. I’m not sure that’s biblical. In a sense it is all right to say that God needs us to be faithful to the calling He’s called us to, but in terms of Him being dependent on us for something He doesn’t have, no. No.
Job 22:2 says, “Can a man be profitable unto God?” I mean do you think God’s going to benefit by you? God can’t benefit. He has no capacity. He’s as good as He could possibly be. He can’t get any better.
And the pagans, you know, they didn’t see this. They were always bringing food and putting it down. And they were thinking the gods would consume it. The Hindus still do that today. They think the gods consume the food. They don’t really know it’s those guys in the back room. You know? But there’s always been that kind of thing, serving the gods and enhancing the gods, and all this kind of thing. God says, “I don’t need your – I don’t need you piddling around with little shrines. I don’t need you fancying up little diddly stuff. I don’t need your routines. I’m the one who gives you everything; I don’t need anything out of you.
One psalm that I just love – listen to this. Just listen to it, don’t try to turn to it. I won’t tell you what it is till I’m done. Listen, “I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds.” You know why? They thought they were doing God a favor. Well, let’s go give God a few animals. That’ll – God’ll like that if we do that. He says, “I’ll take no bullock out of your house, no he-goats out of your fold. For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” You think I need yours? Guess again. “I know all the fowls of the mountains and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.” Now listen, “If I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you.” “The world is Mine, and the fullness thereof.” Do you think God needs you to bring a little offering of porridge and put it before some altar? I don’t. He doesn’t need that. God says, “If I get hungry, I can handle it.” That’s Psalm 50, verses 9 to 12.
Now, the point that he’s making here, you see, he’s shooting down their idolatry, isn’t he? He’s just knocking the props out of their whole system. In effect, you see, he’s saying, “God does not need you to do all this little routine. You need God, because it is God” – watch it in verse 25 – “who gives to all life, and breath, and all things.” Those three things are important. Life: that’s being born. God is the one that brought you into the world. Breath: that’s the sustaining of your life. And all things: that’s everything that comes to you while you live. Everything is of God.
Psalm 104, the psalmist says, “If you get food, you got it from God; if you don’t get food, it’s because God didn’t give it to you.” Everything - everything is from God. God is the Giver. He doesn’t need us to give to Him.
I like Romans 11:36, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” He is the Giver of everything.
James said, “Every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father above. He is the one, the Father of lights, in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
Listen to 1 Timothy 6:17, “Charge them that are rich in this age, that they be not high minded” – you know, the rich people say, “Well, I have a lot of – a lot of this and that, and I’m very wealthy” – “and tell him not to trust in his uncertain riches, but better trust in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” Whatever he’s got, he got it from God.
You say, “You mean God actually gives things to unbelievers?”
Yes. “God makes the rain to fall on the just and” – what? – “and the unjust.” Whatever you had, it came from God. You need to recognize that it did. So, God is Creator, Ruler, Giver.
Lastly, for this morning, He is Controller. This is a fantastic thought, verse 26. We’ll stop with this verse. “He hath made of one blood all nations” – now, that alone would have been a shot to those Athenians. They believed the world was made up of two kinds of people: the Greeks and the – what? – and the barbarians. And they were the Greeks, and everybody else was the barbarian. And they prided themselves, “We have sprung from the native soil of Attica.” You know, they were really the – they were the international hotshots. They were the – they were the super race.
And so, he says, “God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth. Every nation is God’s ordaining, and God even determined the times before and the bounds of their habitation.” What does that mean? That means God is controlling history and destiny of men and nations.
I’m telling you, beloved, you couldn’t live in this day and see what God is doing in Israel and Russia and Egypt and the Common Market and all of these things without believing God was controlling history could you? History is His story. He is in control.
Now, when it says “the appointed time,” it refers to the seasonal times as well historical times. God has appointed the times of winter and summer and all of that, as well as the historical times when certain nations exist.
And then it says “the bounds of their habitation.” That’s continental. In other words, God set a certain kingdom in a certain location. And it’s also imperial, how far they reach out in conquering others. And so, God is Controller.
Well, this is some God. History is on schedule, and God is running it, and it’s going to culminate in the coming of Jesus Christ.
The fifth thing, God is a Revealer, and we’ll take that next time. I’ll tell you, when I started to think about God, I just – I can’t handle it. But then, you know, I always get the second thought. I think about God, and I go further and further and further, and think about God. And then I stop somewhere out in there, and I always come back and say to myself, “But the thing that amazes me most is that He lives in me. That I actually know God.”
You say, “John, how do you get to know God?”
Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” There’s no knowledge of God apart from Jesus Christ. He is the one who introduces you to God. You can know God. I trust and pray no one will go from this place not knowing God. Let’s pray.
Father, we’re thankful this morning that You’re knowable. Beyond that, that we don’t have to search for You; You came searching for us. It’s not a question of whether we can find You or not; it’s a question of whether we respond when You find us.
Father, I pray that each of us this morning who does know You would be more able to give You praise because of our study today. And, Lord, for those who may not know You, that this might be that day when they come to know You, when they come to know that eternal life that Jesus gives. And this is life eternal, that we may know You, the only true God. May it be so, Father, in Jesus’ name, amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.