Turn in your Bibles to the 17th chapter of Acts, and we’re back at our same old stomping ground here, verses 22 to 31, the sermon that the apostle Paul preached in Athens. Not the only sermon he preached in Athens by any means; he was very busy preaching around Athens, but the only one that’s recorded for us.
And we’ve entitled his sermon “Getting to Know the Unknown God.” And this is the third, really, in the series on this particular occasion and on this particular sermon.
Now, as we have seen in the past lessons, from this chapter, and this sermon, man’s purpose is to know God. And I think we’ve made that clear. At least I hope we have. The meaning of a man’s existence is that he knows God. The reason men were created was that they might know God. That is what living is all about. That is what existence is all about: knowing God.
And that is precisely Paul’s message to the Areopagus court in Athens. And the Areopagus is the court to which he speaks. That is the actual translation of the words Mars’ Hill. It has to do with a court that was the supreme court of the great city of Athens. And Athens, as you remember, was the cultural and learning center of the ages. It was the university of the world. It was, at the same time, with all of that learning, loaded with idolatry and devil worship. And it was a super religious place. In fact, it was said that they were more religious in Athens than anywhere else. But at the same time, with all that religion, they didn’t know God.
And so, Paul arrives in a super religious atmosphere, and he presents to them the true God and how they can know that God. Now, the Holy Spirit had brought Paul to Athens for just that purpose, that they might know God. And you remember that going back to verse 16, Paul arrived alone. And it says, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens” – that is for Silas and Timothy to join him – “his spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons” – those are Gentiles that attached to Judaism – “and in the marketplace daily with them that met him.” And verse 18 indicates with certain philosophers.
So, being stirred by their idolatry, and though they had many gods, they had no God. He was prompted in his spirit to begin to preach. Well, his preaching and his disputing had such tremendous effect that he was taken before the ruling court, the Areopagus, and he was asked to give an account of what he believed. It really was a time of ascertaining what this new philosophy was, and at least, to some degree, judging its validity and making sure it didn’t blaspheme the other gods.
And so, they have taken him before this court to speak what he has been speaking before, that it may be evaluated. And he begins, in verse 22, and there he gives them his message.
Now, before we go back into the message a little bit, let me just give you some introductory thoughts that may set it up in your mind. There are only two kinds of people in the world. My grandfather used to say there’s two kinds: the saints and the ain’ts. And that’s basically true. There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who know God, and those who do not know God. That’s all. That’s the only kind of people there are.
Now, of those who know God, the know God through Jesus Christ alone, for there is no other way to God except Jesus Christ. So, there are two people in the world. There are the people who know God through Jesus Christ, and there are the people who don’t know God no matter what other gods they think they know.
Now, of the people who don’t know God, there are two kinds. There are those who know they don’t know God, and there are those who don’t know they don’t know God. Let me illustrate.
You say, “What do you mean by those who don’t know they don’t know God?”
Well, those are religious people who think they know God, and they don’t know that they don’t know God.
I’ll give you a classic illustration: Israel. And Israel historically and Israel contemporary. In John chapter 8, verse 54, Jesus had had a rather blistering dialogue with the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees, and informed them that they didn’t know truth, and that their father was not Abraham, but their father was the devil, and some very pointed statements.
And in verse 54 of John 8, Jesus answered, “If I honor myself, my honor is nothing. It is my Father that honors me, of whom ye say that He is your God. In other words, you claim that – that God is your God. Verse 55, “Yet you have not known Him” – you see? In their minds, they thought they knew God. Jesus says, “You don’t know God, but I know Him.”
Now, here is the case of the religious man. Religious? Yes. Knowing God? No. No. You can have a zeal for God but not according to - what? - knowledge. You can get very emotional about God and not know Him at all.
In Romans chapter 2, just to show you a further thought – in Romans 2, the very boast of the Jews was that they knew God. In 2:17 of Romans, Paul, in his most interesting self-structured dialogue, where he sort of argues with himself here, says in 17, “But if thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law” – in other words, the Jew’s salvation was sort of secured by the fact that he kept the law – “and makest thy boast of God, and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them who are in darkness, an instructor to the foolish, a teacher of babes, who hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.”
And there’s an awful lot of sarcasm in that, because that’s what they claimed: to have the law, to know God, to know His will, to approve excellent things, to be students of the law, to be guides of the blind, lights to those in darkness, instructors of the foolish – all these things they claimed.
He says if that’s true – verse 21 – “Thou therefore who teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” You sure don’t act like it if you have all that information. “Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, doest thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” You may not worship a little tin God, or a little wooden God, but are you blaspheming God with our gods of whatever fashion they may be?
“Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.”
In other words, the Jew boasted that he knew God, and Paul just shot the pins out of from under that and says, “The evidence is in that you do not know God. And that was quite a rebuke. But that’s the way it is with many people. They don’t know God, but they don’t know they don’t know God. And it’s important that they do know it.
In the 1st chapter of Titus and verse 16, a most interesting statement. Listen to this – and here he’s talking about the Cretan Jews. Titus, of course, was the first pastor in the area of Crete, that island, and he was talking about the Jews that were there. And he was having a lot of trouble with them.
And he says, “They profess that they know God” – now, that’s typical of religious people. “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” - given over.
Now, here you have then, again, a claim that they know God, but in the fact of their life, they deny such a knowledge by the way the act. In 2 Timothy 3:5, it says, “Having a form f godliness, but denying the power of it” – they have the trappings of religion; they don’t know God. And this, beloved, this is the pattern dominantly today, even in Christianity, where you have all these people who claim to know god, and they do not know god.
You say, “Well, what makes people think they know God if they don’t? What is it that would make somebody think they knew God if they didn’t?”
Well, I’m going to give you some thoughts. One, they know about God. They know about Him. Oh, they have a – a little bit of theology, and God created, and a few little things about God. And they know a little bit of Bible, and a little bit of some creed that they learned. And they have some – some knowledge about God. And so, they equate that with knowing God.
I’ll tell you, it’s one thing to know about God, something else to know Him. Just like it’s one thing to know about somebody, and something else to know that somebody.
Secondly, and I think this is another reason that people think they know God, they have religious feelings. They have religious feelings. Have you ever heard anybody say, “Well, I – I’m very religious. Very, very religious.” They sort of sprinkle their just regular old worldly activity with a little bit of religious salt. You know? And just have this little religious flavor to everything. They get spiritual goose pimples, you know, just thinking about God. They emotionally react to religion; they see God in nature, and they say, “Oh, I believe.” You know?
I heard one guy say, “I believe in believing.” That’s going nowhere. See? People have certain religious feelings, and they assume that’s the knowledge of God.
Now, the third thing that I think confuses people is they go to church. And people think that going to church automatically is knowing God. You know? You go to church, my, you know God. And they occupy a seat. In fact, they may put something in the offering. And then, actually they might even close their eyes when somebody prays or reads from the prayer book or whatever. And they may sing a song. And they go through the motions of those people who are supposed to know God.
So, they know about Him. They have religious feelings. They go to church. And here’s the real capper: people think they know God because they do good. See? They do good. They help people; they give to charity; they love their kids, etcetera, etcetera. And those are all nice things.
And then I think another thing that’s very, very subtle, I think, is the fact that people think they know God, because to one degree or another, they actually read the Bible. And they feel that if they know a little bit about the Bible, and they read the Bible a little bit, that’s equal to knowing God.
You know, you find an interesting thing in the Bible. Whenever Satan could use it for His advantage, he quoted Scripture. That didn’t prove anything. Absolutely nothing. But these people think they know God, but they don’t know God. And you know, beloved, this is true today of Israel. It’s true of a lot of people. It’s true of Jehovah’s Witnesses and every other cult and ism that comes along. It’s true of all kinds of modernistic and liberal factions within Christianity. But I think more than anything, I see it in Israel.
I’ll never forget, when I was there, watching the Orthodox Jews, who claim beyond on all things to know God. And you go to the temple ground there’s a big sign, “No Orthodox Jews allowed to go in.” He might inadvertently step on the Holy of Holies and blaspheme God and offend God. They don’t know where the Holy of Holies is, so you can’t get in there anywhere; you might step on it. And they have this tremendous idea that they know God, and they stand at the Wailing Wall, and they bob back and forth in their little prayers, and they put their little prayers on paper, and stick it in the cracks. And they really think they know God. And they do not know God. And there are a lot of people like that.
In fact, there may be some of you like that. And you think that because you go to church, because you do good, because you have religious feelings, because you know about God, because you own a Bible, and maybe you’ve read it a little bit, that you know God. That’s a very dangerous position to be in. That was the position that was the most dangerous. And it was – with all that Jesus did, it was the nut that never cracked: the Pharisees, who thought they knew God and didn’t. And this, beloved, is the absolute – now watch it – this is the absolute, ultimate deception of Satan. Do you realize why there’s so much false religion? Because if you can trap people into thinking they know God, you have really damned a soul. And that’s what’s so insidious and so dangerous about false systems of religion.
Well, that’s not the only group. There’s a second group. There’s the group that don’t know God, and they know they don’t know God. Have you ever met people like that? Have you ever had somebody come to you and say, “You know, you’ve got something that I don’t have.” Sure you have. “I don’t know God.” You ask a person that sometimes, and they’ll say, “No, I don’t know God.”
Well, listen; there are people who know they don’t know God. But they fall into two categories. You got it? Two categories: people who know God, and people who don’t. Two categories of people who don’t: those who don’t know they don’t, and those who know they don’t. Two categories of people who know they don’t: those who want to know Him, and those who know they don’t know Him and don’t want to know Him. Okay?
Now, the group at Athens fit into both of those. They knew they didn’t know God. Some of them didn’t care; some of them did. Without the law, without the Old Testament, here were these pagans, in the city of Athens, and they didn’t know God, and apparently they knew it.
You say, “What makes you think they knew it?”
Look at verses 22 and 23, and let’s pick it up again. “Then Paul stood in the midst of Areopagus and said, ‘You men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious. As I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, “To The Unknown God.”‘” Would you say that’s a slight admission they didn’t know God? They had a lot of God’s, but they still knew there was one out there somewhere they hadn’t met.
“Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.” Now, here were these pagans who knew they had not plugged in to full knowledge. With all the trappings of religion and all the gods they had – and there were thousands upon thousands of them, they still had this emptiness that they didn’t know the true God. And it was quite a confession.
So, very unlike Paul’s approach to the Jews, where he goes to the Jews and says, “You don’t know God, and you don’t know you don’t know God,” he goes to the pagans and say, “You don’t know God, but at least you know you don’t know Him.”
Now, you’ve only got two things to consider. Do you want to know Him or don’t you want to know Him? And the group falls into that category. And I think in all of our witnessing, we have to realize that everybody comes along one of these lines. The religious people who think they know God and don’t, and the non-religious people who don’t know God and they know they don’t.
And so, he says, “You don’t know God, and you have admitted it, whether you like it or not. And let me introduce Him to you.”
Now, we’ve used a little three-point outline, same outline, and we’re going to get through it this time. You know, believe it or not. Getting to know the unknown God involves three things. It involves recognizing God is, recognizing who God is, and recognizing what God is saying.
First of all, recognizing God is. And they recognize that God was up there. They were not atheists. Some of them were, as we mentioned last time, but for the most part, they were religious. They believed in gods. And they needed to recognize that God is. And so, he nails down this fact that there is a God up there that you don’t know. They had no problem accepting that. They were ignorantly worshipping that God they didn’t know.
Now, this is important. To begin with, knowing God means that you must believe that God is. Remember Hebrews 11:6, “He that cometh to God must believe” – what? – “that He is.” All right. And we saw in Mark 12, and I’ll just remind you of that illustration, that Jesus, in speaking in verses 29 to 34, very clearly says, in conversation with the scribes and the Pharisees here, verse 34 He says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Now, what made Him say that? Because the man said in verse 33, “There is one God, and there is none other but He.” That was step one; he believed God is.
Step two we saw was not only recognizing God is, but recognizing who God is. And we got into this last time. And we saw that, first of all, Paul says, “Let me tell you who He is.” Not enough to just believe in God, like some big vagary up in space, but believe in God who is who.
All right, verse 24, “God” – one – “who made the world and all things in it.” He is Creator (a). We covered that. He is Creator. That’s who He is. He is the God who creates. And we gave you an abundance of passages back in the book of Isaiah that indicates that God is Creator God.
I’m just going to refresh your memory with Isaiah 45:12, “I have made the earth and created man upon it; I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their hosts have I commanded.”
And then verse 18, “For thus saith the Lord who created the heavens; God Himself who formed the earth and made it; He hath established it; He created it not in vain; He formed it to be inhabited: ‘I am the Lord; and there is none else.’” Now, here God makes claim to being Creator God.
The second thing that Paul says about who this God is; He is Ruler. Verse 24, “Seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth” – and the heaven is His throne, and the earth is His footstool. God rules the universe. He not only made it, He continues to uphold it and to rule it.
Several verses of great significance along this line in Jeremiah 23:24, “‘Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?’ saith the Lord?” Listen. “‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ saith the Lord.” God rules the entire universe; He dominates it; He fills it with His very presence.
In Daniel 4:34, Daniel says, “And I bless the Most High, and I praised and honored Him who liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, ‘What are You doing?’”
In other words, God absolutely dominates heaven, He dominates earth, and it isn’t even questionable. He is Ruler. He is Ruler.
The third thing Paul says about this God, not only Creator and Ruler, but He is Giver, verse 25. It says – well, the end of verse 24, that such a God as that, “dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands” – He’s too big for that if He fills heaven and earth. But He is Giver – “as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”
God, who is Ruler of the universe, who occupies the heaven and the earth, can’t be confined to a shrine. So, you don’t worship God in a shrine. God doesn’t live in this building. You know, when we all leave, and this building is empty, God isn’t even here except in the fullness of His presence in the universe. He indwells us. This is – God isn’t here, spending His time in this building. God cannot occupy the confines of a building; He’s far too vast for that.
Nor is God served by us in the sense that He’s enhanced in any way by what we do. We don’t help God out; not at all. God is not helpless to any degree. And don’t ever think that, “Well, if I do this, this will really help God.” No, it’s just a matter of God deserving your service. And in the long run, it’ll help you. Let’s face it; we’re the ones that need help.
It says in verse 25, “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” Numbers 16:22, and again in 27:16 the same statement is made, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh” – in other words, God created everybody. God is the giver of all life to all people.” He gives life.
Job 12:10 says, “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. Remember what Job said later on? I think it’s chapter 33, verse 4, he said, “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.”
And so, it is God who gives life, and breath, and all things. We saw last time how every good and perfect cometh down from God. That God makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. That God dominates and controls the world.
And that leads us to the fourth point: He is the Controller. He is the Controller. He is Creator, Ruler, Giver, and Controller. And that is indicated in 26, “Hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and determined the times before appointed” – in other words, seasonal times as well as historical times – “and the bounds of their habitation” – geographical locations are even determined by God as to what area nations will occupy.
Now, here it tells us that God controls destiny and history. This God made everything; He keeps is all hanging together; He give everything that is a part of His creation its life, its breath, and everything it has, all of its properties, and as well He controls it. It’s an unbelievably powerful God. He is controller.
And I think of that in terms of what the psalmist said when he brought it down to an individual, and he said in Psalm 31:15, “My times are in Thy hands” – God is operating in history. So, God is Creator, Ruler, Giver, Controller.
Fifthly, He is Revealer. He is Revealer. And here’s the climax, verse 27, “That they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He is not far from every one of us.” Now, think about this fantastic statement. Do you know why God created, upholds; why He gives life, breath, and everything? Do you know why He controls history and destiny through what we call providence? Why? In order that He might reveal Himself, “That they should seek the Lord.” Everything that God has done in the creation and the sustaining of the universe and in all that He is doing in providence is for one reason, and that is that men may see God. Do you see? That’s what He’s saying.
You see at the beginning of verse 27 the word “that.” That is “in order that.” That is another purpose clause. God’s total involvement in the earth is in order that men might seek Him. This is the climax. God’s objective in creation, God’s objective in preservation, God’s objection in providence, God’s objective in history is to reveal Himself, that men might see that revelation and follow after to know Him fully. And God has disclosed Himself in all these ways in order that men might see that He is, and that they might see who He is, that they might follow on to find out what He is saying. See?
The natural revelation of conscience and the natural revelation of creation, inside-outside revelation are there that men may seek after the God they see must exist. And there’s no excuse for those who don’t. Right? Because the revelation is so absolutely dominant. It’s beyond my imagination how an individual can see a world like our world, and not conclude there is a God. God arranged everything in order that men might seek Him. Everything. And if men will only see that God is, and if they will only see who He is in terms of His creative power, sustaining power, in terms of His providence, in terms of His control of history, they can then follow on.
Look at verse 27, “They can feel after Him, and find Him” – and remember – “He is not far from” – what? How many of us? – “every one of us.”
You say, “But wait a minute; what about the people in the darkest part of Africa? What about the people over here that never have a Bible?”
He is not far from how many of us? Every one of us. They have the same revelation you and I have. In fact, it’s a little less uncluttered. And every man has enough of the revelation of God to be responsible. Every one. I like that. From every one of us. God has slapped man right in the middle of His greatest demonstration. If you were to go to an art exhibit, and somebody was to gather everything that was ever painted by whoever your favorite artist is – I don’t know what your particular thing is, maybe you’re a Gauguin fan or something, or maybe you like van Gogh, or whatever. But let’s say you go and – and all of this guy’s works are all in this fantastic art museum all over the place. And you wander through that whole thing, you know, and you’re just – you’re kind of a novice, and you wander through there, and you look around, and you say, “Oh, my. I wonder if there was ever an artist who did these.”
And somebody comes up, “No. No, you see, at one time there was a lot of paint rolling around in this building...”
And, well, now, wait a minute. You see, what the earth is, beloved, it is God on exhibit. And it is just as idiotic, or only more idiotic to wander through the world and say, “I wonder if anybody did this.”
And so, God has slapped man in the middle of an exhibition of His existence and His power. And not only that, just in case you can’t see well, or even if you’re blind, God just put it inside. And the point of all of it is that men might feel after Him and find Him.”
You’ll notice the word “perhaps.” It says, “And if perhaps” – the best translation of that is “in hope.” “That they should seek the Lord, in hope they might feel after Him and find Him.” Listen, I’m a believer in the sovereignty of God, but I don’t believe God sends people to hell. I can’t find that in the Bible. God is not willing that – what? – Any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. And God has placed men within the framework of His revelation. Here is human responsibility. And if a man will see God, and see God is, and see who God is, God’ll get to him and tell him what God is saying. Do you believe that?
But what happens? God has placed man in the midst of all this knowledge in hope that man would see the dim light of natural revelation, and he would feel after full light and find Jesus Christ and flip the switch. But what happens? Instead, man sees the light, and he takes a look at his own sin. And he loves his sin more than he loves righteous; he loves darkness more than he loves light, and he just takes a nosedive right into darkness. And he does it because the Bible says men love darkness rather than light because – what? – their deeds are evil. He wants his sin, and he doesn’t want his sin exposed. So, the dim light of natural revelation he runs from.
All nations – all nations, all men on the face of the earth have the same opportunity to see God, for God does not dwell in temples made with hands; God does not dwell in shrines; God does not live in a church; God is in and around every man in terms of being on exhibit. God is Revealer God. That’s who He is. And the tense, incidentally, in the Greek, which is an optative tense, technical term, indicates that God’s intention of revelation has not been fulfilled. That men have not accepted His revelation.
Well, the word “everyone” just really helps me, because I don’t know, for a long time, as a young guy, I wondered why people in parts of the world who didn’t really hear the Gospel like we know it to be would be held responsible. And then I began to see that God does not hold anybody responsible for what he doesn’t know; God reveals to every man God is not far from any.
In Jeremiah 29:13, he says – and this is a blanket statement, “You shall seek Me and find when you shall search for Me with all your heart. That’s so important. No man ever is deprived of the knowledge of God who desires that knowledge.
Listen to Psalm 145:18. “The Lord is near unto all those who call upon Him.” Did you hear that? “The Lord is near unto all those who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” Oh, that is so important. There’s – God is near, but He’s only near if you approach Him in truth. And Jesus said, “I am the way” – what? – “the truth.” “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him. He will hear their cry and will save them.” Write that one down, Psalm 145:18 to 19. Anybody ever questions what happens to the pagans, if they really seek to know God, God will hear their cry and save them.
And so, God has put Himself on display in the world, that men might feel after Him and find Him. But rather than feeling after Him, they reject the dim light of natural revelation, take a nosedive into darkness because they love their sin.
Now, to illustrate this, Paul pulled something right out of the hat that’s fantastic. He does, in verse 28, a very interesting thing that has sent commentators spinning around on their heels. “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” Now the interesting thing about this verse and what perhaps is bypassed too often, but dealt with in more critical commentaries is the fact that he is quoting here two Greek poets. Epimenides, who said, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being;” and Aratus, who said, “For we are His offspring.” And it was also quoted by somebody else; there’s some question about whether Aratus originated it.
But anyway, he quotes to Greek poets. And the interesting thing about it is, that, for example, Epimenides, when he said, “In Him we live, and move, and have our being,” was talking about Zeus.
And some people said, “Paul, what are you doing? What is the point?”
Why would he quote statements from poets that were in application to false gods? Why would he say, “Hey, your own poet knows, ‘In Him we live, and move, and have our being,’” when the poet was thinking of Zeus?
Well, I had to think about that for a while myself. And then I came up with an interesting idea, and I submit it to you. Whatever you want to do with it, feel free. What I think he is saying is this, “Your own poets, in the ignorance of the true God, have afforded us living proof that God is knowable as the Creator, the Sustainer, and the God of providence. Didn’t Epimenides say, “By whatever name He is, it’s in Him we live, and move, and have our being?” What he’s saying is, “Your own poets illustrate that God has revealed Himself so much so that even though they attach it to the wrong God, it is obvious to them that there is a God who made us, who holds us together, and who takes care of us. And we came from Him. And even Aratus had the sense to say, “We are His offspring,” even though the “He” was wrong.
What is he saying then? He’s simply saying that natural revelation is so obvious that your own poets can see it, though they attached it to the wrong god. That’s a powerful point. That’s powerful substantiation. Paul has been trying to say, “God is revealed in nature. You can see God in nature; you can know He’s Creator, Giver, Sustainer, Controller. And look; your on poets recognize there must be a God who does all of this, even though they don’t know who it is.”
And so, they are living proof, are Epimenides and Aratus, that much revelation is inherent in all men, and that God is obvious even to the pagan. Boy, what a powerful point, and right from their own Greek poets. Paul was a master at making the most of the situation.
And so, it’s a powerful illustration, then, of God’s universal revelation that He is Creator, Sustainer, and the God of providence, and even their poets can see it. Now, he takes it a step further because, you see, some, like those poets, just stop there. They said, “Hey, God is. Sure is.” And they said, “God is Creator. God is Sustainer or Ruler. God is Giver.” And all the way down the line, “God is Providence. Oh, yes, God is.” Sure, Epimenides knew that. Didn’t know which God, but they knew there was a God, and they knew that God was this. But that’s where they stopped; just whacked it off.
Paul says, “You’ve got to go further than that. You’ve got to go further than that. You’ve got to go past God is and who God is, and you’ve got to come up with what God is saying.” And they never did. You know, there are a lot of people like that. They believe God is, and they believe God is Creator, God is Sustainer, like those Greek poets. But they don’t know God.
And so, the worshipped a non-God. It’s sad to see somebody come that far, isn’t it? You know, that’s true of the pagans. You go to some countries, and you see them worshipping false gods or totem poles. You know, they believe God is; they believe God is Creator Sustainer, and all that, but they just have the wrong god. But at least natural revelation gets them to step two. And if they feel after and follow on, they can come to step three and hear what God is saying.
Before we see step three, let’s look at verse 29. And this is just a very important point that Paul makes, “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold, or silver, or stone, carved by art and man’s device.” Boy, this is really a shot. He says this, “If God made us, as your own poets have indicated – if God made us, and we are His offspring, His” – and that word means created beings – “if we are God’s created beings, then” – watch – “then God must be more than something we made.” You got it? “Then he can’t be stone, or silver, or gold, or some kind of artistic representation. If God made us, then we can’t make God.”
So, he just takes one great, big, theological sledge hammer and smashes all their idols and just says, “That’s the end of that. If you say that God is the Creator, Sustainer, and all of that, then we can’t make Him. So, what all this little piddly stuff is doing, I don’t know; plus the fact that He’s too big to be in any of these shrines.
So, he just, in a very careful way, just absolutely demolishes their whole idolatrous system. Destroys it. And by virtue of their own quotations from their own poets. And what is he saying? “If you really want to know God, don’t look at some idol. If you really want to know God, don’t go to some temple. If you really want to know God, don’t craw in some shrine. If you want to know God, look in, look out, and feel after God.
And that’ll bring you to step three. First, God is. Who God is. What God is saying. What is God saying? That’s verses 30 and 31. This is the last step. And, beloved, I don’t care if you go through step one and sep two, and really commit yourself to those. If you never come to step three, you’ll never know God. Sad, sad, sad are the people who know God is, and who know who God is, but they don’t know what God is saying in terms of their lives. And they never know Him.
Now, look at verse 30. “And the times of this ignorance God overlooked, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. Now, watch. We’re going to take this verse very simply. You notice the word “ignorance.” The cognate for that word is the word unknown. The times of this not knowing God, God overlooked. But now, He’s not going to overlook it anymore. He commands all men everywhere to repent.
The word “overlook” is interesting. It’s only here in the New Testament that word appears. An unusual Greek word. It means that God does not actively interfere. God does not actively interfere. The times of this not knowing God, the past history of the pagans who didn’t know God, God did not actively interfere. And it means with special judgment.
You say, “John, does that mean that the times of this – of this ignorance of God, when the pagans, before Jesus Christ came and all of that, when the pagans were doing their own thing, that God just said, ‘Oh, that’s all right; you don’t understand. So, just live it up,’ and there were never any consequences?”
No, no, no. There were, of course, consequences. Why, I don’t care when you sin, you’re going to have consequences. The wages of sin is what? Death. You can go back –
“That’s fine,” you say, “that’s New Testament.”
All right, go back to Ezekiel. “The soul that sinneth, it shall” – what? – “die.” There was already built into that, and the principle is here: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Now, that’s a principle of life, whether New Testament or Old Testament. “He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” So, if you’re in Old Testament, and you’re sinning, you’re going to reap corruption. He’s not saying that God didn’t punish sin. He is saying God did not actively interfere with special judgment.
In Romans 1, as we saw last time, the unrighteousness of man has been the key to the unveiling of the wrath of God. Paul says the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness and all ungodliness of men; it doesn’t matter if they’re pagans. Of course wrath operates. Of course sin has consequences. Always has. And they’re without excuse.
But the point here is that God did not actively interfere in the life of the nations with special judgment. Of course sin will always be punished.
You say, “Well, was there any judgment on sin?”
Yes, there was. It was what I call consequential judgment. It was just the natural reaping of sin, but it was not special judgment. Now, you have to notice a powerful transition, “But now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
Beloved, there’s a difference in the now than there was in the past.
You say, “What is this? Why now?”
Verse 31, “Because God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world.” God’s going to move in with special judgment, and there’s a new thing. He continues, “He’s going to judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained” – what man is that? Jesus Christ. We know it because it says, “Concerning which He hath given assurance unto all men that He raised Him from the dead.”
I believe, in this day, nobody can ever be saved except by believing in Jesus Christ.
You say, “Well, John, that’s going to cut out a lot of people.”
I don’t think so. John 1:9 says this, “In Christ is the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” I believe God gives His revelation. I believe if He could reveal the light of conscience, and if a man would today live up to that, God’ll reveal Jesus Christ to that man. Men must believe in Jesus Christ.
“No man,” said Jesus, “comes unto the Father” – what? – “but by Me.” Now, that’s why, don’t you see, that Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to” – how many? – “every creature.” Why? They must know.
Peter said, “Neither is their salvation in any other. There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we” – can be saved? – “must be saved.” Must be saved.
And Romans 1, Paul says - this is the point, the whole thing - he says, in verse 3, concerning His Son – this is our message – “Jesus Christ, our Lord” – verse 4 – “declared to be the Son of God” – verse 5 – “by whom we received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations.” In other words, all men must see Christ.
And, beloved, let me tell you something; men need to come to Jesus Christ, and that’s the only way you can ever know God. There is no other way to know God. That’s what God is saying in this day. And not to know Christ is not to know God; and not to know God is to await terrible judgment.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:7, “The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Only one way to be saved today. I tell you, we need to be busy telling the world about Christ.
“There’s coming a day” – watch it – “in which He will judge the world in righteousness” – that means strictly in justice; no injustice at that judgment. Perfect justice – “by that Man whom He hath ordained” – and it’s no other than Jesus Christ. And what that means is that He will judge the world by Jesus Christ. Did God give all the judgment to Christ? Yes, He did. God has declared that Christ is to be judge, John chapter 5, verses 22 to 27. Christ is going to judge, and He’s going to judge all of those who do not know Him.
It says in Jude 14, “The Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints to execute judgment on all and convict all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” And so, Jesus is going to sit in judgment on all who do not know Him.
Now, somebody would say, “Well, what gives Jesus the right? How do we know Jesus is to be the judge?”
And so powerfully does Paul say, “Concerning which He hath given assurance.” Listen, God guaranteed Jesus would be judge, “in that He” – what? – “raised Him from the dead.” God raised Him from the dead. And that – listen – that resurrection was God’s approval of Christ. Those were the credentials of Jesus Christ. The resurrection qualifies Him as judge.
Now, knowing God, then, is a matter of knowing that God is. It’s a matter of knowing who God is. It’s a matter of knowing what God is saying. And He’s saying there’s only one way to be saved, and that’s through Jesus Christ.
Let me close with these verses. Verse 32, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, and others said, ‘We’ll hear again of this matter.’ And so, Paul departed from among them.”
And some people say, “Well, wait a minute. He didn’t even give the Gospel. What are you doing Paul? You can’t leave without an invitation. You didn’t even give the Gospel, Paul.”
You missed the message. If you say that, you missed the whole point. And I’ve read commentators who said that. They said, “Paul blew it here, and he fouled up, and he gave a lousy speech, and he knew it. And when he wrote 1 Corinthians, he said, ‘I goofed, and I’m only determined now to know Christ and Him crucified. And I’m not going to get into that philosophy.’” I don’t buy that for a minute. I don’t think Paul goofed.
You say, “But he didn’t give the full Gospel.”
No, of course not. He didn’t give the whole thing on how to be saved. No, he just went away.
You say, “Why?”
Because he had just gotten through saying, “If you believe God is, and you believe who God is, if you’ll just follow on, God will reveal Himself.” And so, he just took off to see who’d follow, and beautifully separated the true from the false.
In verse 34, “Certain men” – did what? Don’t you love that? – “they joined him” - you know who those guys were? Those were the step three group. They were going to find out more. And Paul separated the group right out – “and believed.” See? To believe God is, to believe who God is, and then to follow on to hear what God is saying. And what do you think? I think they had a little after meeting.
You say, “What do you think they said?”
I don’t think what they said; I know what they said in that little after meeting. They said something like this, Matthew 11:27, “All things are delivered unto Me by My Father, and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father except the Son, and he to whomsoever the Satan will reveal Him.” Oh, fantastic. The only people who know God are the ones that know Christ. That’s all.
In 1 John, they may have – this wasn’t written yet, of course, none of this, but this is what they talked about. First John 5:20, “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true” – in other words, you can’t know God unless Christ gives you that knowledge – “and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”
And so, Paul told them that Jesus was the only one who could save them from the judgment that He Himself would execute. In John 17:3, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ.” They come together, beloved. They come together; never, ever separate.
And I love the fact that Paul put His sermon into application. He said, “Now, if you want to follow on to know God, you can follow on to know God,” and he just took off and let them follow him. Let’s pray.
Father, our hearts are enriched again this morning through the fact that Jesus Christ has again been glorified and exalted by the Father in our midst as we have seen the tremendous statement of Scripture that God accredited and approved Him as Savior and Judge by the resurrection from the dead.
Father, we just thank you from the deepest part of our being for Jesus Christ who reveals Yourself to us. And, Lord, we would pray for anyone in our midst, any dear one who does not know Jesus Christ and thereby does not know You, that, God, they might come into that meaning of existence, that purpose of life that is knowing You, that they might have that eternal life that is to know Thee, the true God.
And oh, God, we would pray that Jesus Christ would become irresistible, that He would draw men to Himself as He is lifted up, that they might know Him. We pray in His name, amen.
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