Let’s continue what we began this morning and open your Bible to the seventeenth chapter of Acts. I know it’s a little unusual for me to begin a sermon on a Sunday morning and wrap it up on a Sunday night, but it is unusual because this is the Sunday that I am introducing to you the series on the attributes of God.
I tried to establish this morning how important it is to know our God. You remember, don’t you, the prayer of our Lord in John 17, where he prays to the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and the Lord Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
The prayer of our Lord is that we would have a true knowledge of God. And you remember that the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 9 and verse 23 and 24 and said, “If you’re going to boast, don’t boast about your wisdom. If you’re going to boast, don’t boast about your might. If you’re going to boast, don’t boat about your riches. If you want to boast, boast that you know Me.” And then God goes on to say it is in that that I delight.
And then we were instructed from Hosea 6 and verse 6, where God speaks again through the prophet and says, “It is not sacrifice that satisfies Me, it s not burnt offering that satisfies Me; it is the knowledge of God that I desire.” That we may know Him so that we may worship Him in truth. In truth.
We read this morning from verse 16 to the end of the chapter. I’m not going to read that again, because most all of you were here this morning. And we find that in the narrative of the book of Acts, the apostle Paul arrives in the great city of Athens, one of the great cities of the ancient world. And he is basically there to rest. He’s there to catch his breath after having to flee from the prior cities Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea because of hostility and anger at the preaching of the gospel. He’s there alone. He’s waiting there for the arrival of his two friends and partners in ministry, Timothy and Silas, who are not there yet. And the idea is for him to have a little bit of anonymity to get away by getting lost, if you will, in the crowd in this great, ancient metropolis.
However, verse 16 says while he was waiting for his friends, his spirit was provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. This is a kind of provocation that stirred up his heart emotionally. It stirred it up in a very passionate way because what he saw was a very religious city, maybe as religious as any city in the world, well-known for its obeisance to an endless array of deities, a polytheistic culture to be sure. But there was no knowledge of the true God.
He saw religion as a blight; he saw religion as, of course, what it really is, false religion. The greatest, most universal, damning influence of human history. He sees religion, but it isn’t good. Because with all the God’s that they identified, and all the idols that they have to worship, they don’t know the true and living God. They cannot boast that they know Him. They do not know the one true living God.
Religion did not encourage him; it discouraged him. He felt about it the way Jesus did when He went into the temple at the beginning of His ministry, made a whip and cleaned out the house of prayer because they had turned it into a den of robbers. Religion stirred up his emotions, the widespread religion in that city was far from the truth, and he burned with emotion inside.
I told you this morning that I understand that, that few things exercise me the way false religion does. There are lots of philosophies in the world. There are lots of psychologies in the world. There is a lot of worldly wisdom being offered from a purely secular vantage point that is to be rejected, but nothing is as concerning to me, nothing raises the fire of my passion more than a false representation of religion, a false God, and idol, a misrepresentation of Christ or God or the gospel.
And I told you this morning that it abounds in our society. And sad to say it abounds in the name of Christianity. A few weeks ago I was preaching back in the South, and preaching the gospel. And I enjoyed the opportunity to do that in a somewhat unlikely place where I knew there would be people who didn’t understand the gospel and didn’t understand the God of the gospel or the Christ of the gospel. And now I’m starting to get letters from them, asking me to recant, asking me to change my view, saying it’s not fair that anybody and everybody be excluded who doesn’t believe the gospel the way I believe it.
I told you this morning there is not only widespread misunderstanding of the gospel, there is widespread propagation of a false God all around us. And we looked in particular at the popular God of evangelical Christianity, as manifest in the TV preachers and Trinity Broadcasting Network is the haven where all of them seem to find a place. This deeply pains me. It is a somewhat excruciating experience for me to have to watch this, but I need to. My wife doesn’t understand why I do. But I need to watch this because I need to be able to discern the error, and I need to be able to help protect people from its insidiousness. Paul had that same feeling. All this religion and they didn’t know the true God.
In our case, we might as well have a sign in the midst of contemporary evangelicalism that says, “We are devoted to the unknown god,” or, “We are devoted to the god of our own devices, the god of our own imagination, the god of our own creation.” We have managed to make a god who suits us, like Isaiah 44. Metaphorically we’ve taken a piece of wood, and we’ve carved our own god; we’re comfortable with this god. He’s not really the God who should be honored in all things; he is a god who is limited in power. He is a god who is limited in knowledge. He is a god who is limited in wisdom. He’s a god who is limited in holiness. He is a god who is limited in authority, as we saw this morning. He’s a god who’s limited in uniqueness. And we’ve camped on that a little bit, because we share his powers, and we can, by our faith, create our own worlds. This is not the true God, and any manufacturing of a false god is a form of blasphemy that dishonors God.
I keep going back to John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God.” There is no eternal life for anyone who doesn’t know the true God and the Lord Jesus Christ whom He sent. A true theology, a true Christology – absolutely essential.
Well, the apostle Paul has all of these emotions burning within him. He cannot restrain himself. He sets his time of rest aside. And in verse 17, his pain drives him into public discourse. He needs to set the record straight. He needs to advocate the true gospel of the true God and the true Christ.
So, he is reasoning in the synagogue. He goes to the place where he is most at home, where he is most familiar, and where at least he can begin with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and introduce them to the fact that the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob is also the God who is One in essence with the Lord Jesus Christ. As he always did, in every place that he went, he starts in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles – that is a reference to Gentiles who had joined Judaism. And that’s where he began to proclaim the gospel of Christ and the gospel of the cross, and the gospel of the resurrection, to introduce them to the true God who is one in nature with the Lord Jesus Christ.
And then passing beyond the synagogue, he goes to the marketplace every day with those who happened to be present. Could we say that he is a street preacher? Absolutely. He goes right out into the agora, right out into the open. He knows what he will meet; he will meet contempt in the synagogue, and he will meet contempt in the street as well. But his pain over the dishonoring of God drives him into this discourse.
Now, we are further introduced to the people with whom he engages himself in verse 18. “And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him.” Epicureans were those who followed the teachings of Epicurus who lived about 350 B.C. and formed this kind of religion that is still around these hundreds of years later. He’s a famous philosopher who lived and taught in the city of Athens. He believed that everything happened by chance. Okay? Everything happened by random chance. “Death,” he said, “was the absolute end of existence. There is no afterlife.” No afterlife. All you get is what you get here, and you get nothing else. He said, “There are gods, but they don’t care. So, since this is all there is, live it to the max.” And the Epicureans believed in pleasure as the chief end of life. So, they gave themselves over to pleasure without any hesitation.
He also engaged with the Stoics. The Stoics belonged to the philosophy of Zeno who also plied his philosophy several hundred years before the arrival of Christ. This philosophy took its name not from Zeno but from stoa. Stoa is the word for porch, and that is best understood as a porch where Zeno taught in Athens. Now, Zeno believed that everything was god and everyone was god. He was a pantheist. We talked about that this morning, and I tried to let you know that there are sort of modern quasi-pantheists in the Health-Wealth-Prosperity Faith Movement because they believe that part of God is in you – at least enough of God is in you that you can activate your own creative powers and create your own world the way you want.
Well, Zeno was a pantheist. “Everything,” he said “is god, and everyone is part of god.” He also taught that everything is determined by fate. “And every so often,” he said, “the entire world disintegrates and starts all over. If you haven’t seen that happen, it just didn’t happen in your lifetime. The soul,” he says, “is ultimate, and every person has the power, because he is part of god, to change his own life. You design your own destiny.” Hmm. That’s very close to what we heard this morning, isn’t it? “You are the one who designs your own destiny.” It sounds like destiny. It sounds like Invictus, doesn’t it? “I’m the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
So, here are these representative philosophies of the many philosophies in the city of Athens, and Paul is grappling with them, endeavoring to communicate with them the truth about the true God. So, “The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him.” Here’s what they said, “Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’” And that’s a term of derision; that’s an expression of derision. By the way, the word “babbler” is literally seed picker. It’s a funny word, isn’t it, a seed picker? It refers to gutter sparrows who were all over the place, as they are even today, picking up seeds and crumbs off the ground. It’s a way of saying, “This man is no legitimate philosopher. This man has no cohesive system. This man has no intellectual integrity. This man has demonstrated no great powers of cohesive reasoning; he’s like a sparrow who just goes along in the gutter and picks up a bit of this and a bit of that.” These are the kind of designations that they would give to a poor person who didn’t have acceptance in the culture, who roamed the marketplace and picked up scraps of garbage; a kind of parasite who lived at the lowest level off his very base wits. That’s Paul: he’s a lowlife; he’s a seed picker.
Their derision implied that Paul’s message had nothing but bits and scraps of throw-away religion not worthy of consideration, picked up in the gutter of anti-intellectualism and proclaimed by an ignoble nobody. He’s an uneducated babbler, trying to act as if he has some kind of profound insight, and his ideas are just the lowest of the low. That’s a typical reaction, by the way, to the preachers of the gospel by philosophers. Not only in Paul’s case, but throughout history – even today. Check the philosophy department of any university you want in the country, and you will get the same kind of attitude toward biblical preachers.
Well, some thought a little better of Paul, according to verse 18. “And another said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities.’” They weren’t attacking the lack of systematic, rational thinking in his philosophy, but rather they said, “He’s talking about deities we have never heard of.” That’s not necessarily bad, since they were happy to embrace any deity that hadn’t come along yet, evidenced by the fact that they put up a sign or a statute to an unknown god.
But what it does tell us is they’d never heard of the true God. They had never heard of the one true God, the only true God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. What was the nature of this strange God about which this man spoke? Well, he was preaching Jesus as that God and the resurrection. This is a very hard sell, and I think you would be very aware of that. Right? He’s preaching Jesus, which means he has to define who Jesus is. Jesus is a Jew who was crucified by the Romans. Now, the Romans know, and the Athenians know as well because they’re part of the ancient world very familiar with Roman things. They would know that anybody who was crucified would be considered the lowest of the low; only the most ignoble, base people were crucified by the Romans. And a Roman citizen could never be crucified; it was too ignominious a death unless he was guilty of sedition against the emperor himself. So, to say that, a man – a Jewish man – was crucified by the Romans and is now risen from the dead and is the Savior of the world and is God – a very God – is indeed a strange story.
In fact, Paul acknowledged that it is so strange, in writing to the Corinthians, that it is to the Gentiles foolishness. Right? Foolishness, stupidity, an unacceptable story that a crucified man – an act of execution reserved only for the lowest of the low criminals – could be God and that God would die and rise again in the form of this Jewish criminal is just beyond comprehension. That is why in the city of Rome today, you can go to the Circus Maximus and you will find there an inscription on stone that’s barred off so that people don’t continue to rub it away. It’s a picture of a cross, and hanging on the cross is the body of a man with a head of a donkey. And there’s a man bowing down, and the inscription says, “Alexamenos worships his god.” How foolish is that to worship a crucified man? It’s a joke; it’s a cartoon. This is some strange god who is crucified – so impotent, so powerless – who dies and rises from the dead.
So, they were having a hard time accepting this message. It was to them foolishness. Foolishness. But it was entertaining, and it was novel, and they loved the idea of the new and the novel. And they needed to be entertained. And though Paul, at least according to the Corinthians, was not an impressive person, and his speech is even contemptible – “His presence,” they said, “was unimpressive; his speech was contemptible” – at least it’s something new and it’s something novel.
So verse 19 says, “They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?’” Areopagus is a hill, a hill of Aries or Mars – the god Mars, the God of war. That hill was where the supreme court of Athens met - the supreme court of Athens.
So, this was so novel they wanted to expose this teacher and his new teaching to the supreme court in Athens. This is the very court that once had tried and condemned Socrates centuries before. It was, at one time, the most celebrated tribunal in the world. The court took care of philosophical issues; it took care of religious issues; it took care of criminal issues; it prosecuted murderers; it prosecuted other felons. And the court also rewarded various works of nobility by the citizens of Athens. They were the ones who were responsible for arraigning and prosecuting criminals who blasphemed the other deities. They were the protectors of the religions of Athens.
So, there’s a new teacher in town. And the new teacher in town has a new God that they have never heard of, this Jew who was crucified and supposedly rose again, who is the Savior of the world. Paul, then, is espousing something no one’s ever heard. That means that he needs to go before the supreme court and give an account of his teaching. That’s where they take him. I’m not sure this is where he planned to end up, but it was inevitable; the protectors of the religions of Athens would see to it. And in so doing, Paul gets a hearing for the gospel at the very highest court in Athens. And the Lord opened all kinds of doors for him. They may have appeared to be backdoors, but nonetheless, he was ushered into the very important place. He was not there to defend a personal philosophy. He was not there to add another imaginary deity to their long list. He was there with one purpose, and that was to introduce them to the true God, the only true God, the one true God. The one true God as revealed in Holy Scripture and as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
As I told you this morning, our country is happy to give God a place, “In God We Trust” on the coins, “under God” in the flag salute. We’re happy to give God a place as long as we don’t narrowly define Him, as long as there’s room for everybody to feel free in defining God the way they would like to define Him. But it’s un-American; it’s intolerant; it’s unacceptable; it’s unconstitutional to affirm that there’s only one true God, and that is the true God as revealed on the pages of the Old Testament and the New Testament, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, Paul is in that same dilemma. He is in a position of having to present the one true God who negates all the deities of Athens. He is there to introduce the one true God.
Now, his approach – and we finally get to it in verse 22 – is very, very basic, and I want to just give it to you very simply. You can dig a little deeper on your own. First thing I want you to know is that Paul lets them in on the fact that God is knowable. God is knowable.
“So Paul” – verse 22 – “stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you’re very religious in all respects. For I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN God.” Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.’” It really is a brilliant strategy because he doesn’t begin by eliminating all their deities; he doesn’t go on the attack and obliterate the whole Pantheon. He simply finds a point to begin to proclaim the true God.
But it is obvious from what he says that, “I am going to eliminate your ignorance; I am going to proclaim to you the God you’d do not know, the God you admit you do not know.” The assumption then is that he is knowable, that he is revealed. They’re very religious.
Pausanias, an ancient writer, said, “The Athenians greatly surpassed all others in their zeal for religion.”
Lucian said, “On every side, in Athens, there are altars, victims, temples, and festivals.”
Petronius wrote, “It is easier in Athens to find a god than a man.” They were everywhere. And there were actually many altars to the unknown god. They were trying to cover every base. Why did they develop that? Why did they insist on identifying this unidentifiable god? Why would they want to give some kind of homage to an unknown god? Six hundred years before Paul arrived, there was a terrible pestilence that hit the city, and nothing could stop it. There was a Cretan poet – name may be familiar to you: Epimenides – who came up with a plan to stop the plague. A flock of black and white sheep were set loose through the city from the Areopagus. Wherever each laid down, it was sacrificed to the god nearest to that animal. If it wasn’t near a god, it was sacrificed to an unknown god. So, wherever there wasn’t a statue to a god, as a result of all these animals going all over the city and being sacrificed, they raised an altar to an unknown god. They were everywhere; there were many of them. This is just one of them.
I think they were very well aware of the fact that they had not been able to tap into divine help. That’s understandable, isn’t it? Who were they praying to? “All the gods of the nations are demons,” the Old Testament says. First Thessalonians 4:5 says, “The Gentiles know not God.” Galatians 4:8 says, “When you didn’t know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” So, they groped the way people do today who worship the wrong god. There are agonies in agnosticism. There are agonies in not knowing the true God. They realized the impotence of their deities. Maybe there’s a God out there that they haven’t been able to identify because they aren’t getting the help that they wanted from the gods they have identified.
So, Paul uses their self-confessed ignorance and says, “What therefore you worship in ignorance, I’m here to proclaim to you” – let me introduce you to the unknown God, and let me let you know that he doesn’t need to be unknown anymore; He is knowable.
Reminds me of Einstein who said, “Of course there’s a cosmic power; not to believe that is foolish. But,” said Einstein, “we can never know Him.” We can never know Him. Einstein couldn’t Him in the quantum leap, so he thought He was unknowable. The same dilemma now: God is out there somewhere; we don’t really know Him; we can’t really know Him. And so, we go on in the folly of our confused religion unsatisfied, needs unmet, without any real divine intervention. Nothing is getting better; it all seems to be getting worse. Where is divine help?
So, Paul gives us the good news, gives the Athenians the good news, “I’m going to tell you about the God you don’t think you can know. You can know Him.” So, God is knowable.
The second thing he tells them is God is eternal Spirit. God is eternal Spirit. Paul puts the one true living God at the center of the universe and leads them away from idols to the one true God. Without saying anything about the idols, he assigns everything to the one true God, and there’s nothing left for the supposed gods. He is not something you make; He is Spirit. He is not a statue. He is not the product of your own invention. This Spirit God is the one true God. That becomes obvious as the words of Paul roll out that day on the hill.
First of all, he says, “This God is the Creator.” This God is the Creator. Of course, the pantheon of deities in a polytheistic world of religion split up the creative powers to many gods, like Mormonism today. You’ve got all kinds of gods, all kinds of emanation from god rising up and down a sort of ladder of importance. And all these gods play some role in the fact that this is, and that is, and the other thing is, and this is, and that is. And, of course, to the Mormons, for example, the God of the Bible is not really the original god; He is simply a God that proceeds from the original god. And all these deities share elements of creative expression in the way things are. But what Paul says is this, “The God that I’m talking to you about is the God who made the world and all things in it.” He made the world and all things in it. He is the Creator God.
Epicureans, by the way, denied creation. They were the original Darwinians. They believed that matter was eternal. Stoics were pantheists: everything was god. Paul is saying matter is not eternal; God is eternal. God is the eternal Spirit who created matter. God is not what the Mormons say; God is not a perfected man who is a creature like us. He is the One who made everything that is. Maybe he quoted for them Psalm 146:5 and 6, “How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God who made heaven and Earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” Maybe he told them the words of Isaiah – Isaiah 40:28, “About the Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the Earth.” Maybe he quoted to them the Old Testament words of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, “But the Lord is the true God. He is the living God. He is the everlasting King. At His wrath the earthquakes and the nations cannot endure His indignation. Thus you shall say to them, ‘The gods that did not make the heavens and the Earth will perish from the Earth and from under the heavens. It is He who made the Earth by His power, He who established the world by His wisdom, and by His understanding He stretched out the heavens.” There’s only one Creator, and that’s the true God.
So, he introduces them to the God they do not know, who is the sole Creator of everything that exists. That strikes a blow at the divided responsibilities of their pantheism, their many gods and the fact that they believed that god was everywhere and in all of them, and therefore sharing this creative power on a broad level. He is the sole Creator.
Secondly, He is the Ruler. He is the Owner; let’s just put it that way. He is the Owner. It says in verse 24, “He is Lord of heaven and Earth.” They would understand kurios to mean master. “The Earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” He is in charge of everything. He owns everything. The Old Testament says, “The cattle on a thousand hills are His.” Everything is His.
At the end of the horrible judgment that fell on Nebuchadnezzar, according to Daniel 4, the end of that period, “I Nebuchadnezzar raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me. And I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. ‘And all the inhabitants of the Earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of Earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”‘” Nebuchadnezzar learned through that judgment who is the Owner of absolutely everything that exists in the created universe.
There are not many gods; there is only one God. “Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains; everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you, for the world is Mine and all it contains,” Psalm 50 says.
So, Paul is unfolding to them the knowledge of this true God, which knowledge is knowable because it is revealed in Scripture. He’s also transcendent. Go back to verse 24 again, “He does not dwell in temples made with hands.” You can’t confine Him to a building. He is beyond the bounds of the physical. The idols, of course, were placed in temples and shrines. This is ridiculous. It is inconsistent with the transcendence of God. That is why we are told in Exodus 20 to make no graven image. Of course, that’s how the Ten Commandments begin. That diminishes God. That reduces God. That confines God. He is not confined to a human image; He is not confined to a physical structure.
Psalm 139 says, “O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me. Thou doest know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou doest understand my thought from afar, doth scrutinize my path, my lying down; art intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before; You’ve laid Your hand on me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain it.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to You.” He’s everywhere – transcendent, not confined to a temple. They’re beginning to get a theology here.
And then, not only is He Creator and Owner and transcendent, He is the sustainer of everything. Verse 25, “Nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything.” Nobody contributes to His purposes; nobody contributes to His power. Nobody contributes to His plans. He doesn’t need anything; He doesn’t need any help He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things. It all comes from Him. God needs nothing from anyone. He is the giver.
“From Him every good thing comes,” James 1 says. “He is the one,” Hebrews 1 says, “who upholds all things by the word of His power.” No wonder the doxology of Romans 11 says, “Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! Who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For of Him and from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” And so, Paul leads them to an understanding of God as the One who sustains everything that He Himself alone has created.
And then he introduces them to the One who is the Ruler of all things. In verse 26, “And He made from one” – that’s Adam – “every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the Earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” That is to say He has created every human being individually and collectively. He has designed every nation. He has determined their place in history, and the boundaries, the geography of their habitation. This would strike a blow at the popular Athenian philosophy. They thought of themselves because city states had so much pride in the ancient world, and they had more than most because they were more prominent than most. They had come up with the theology that they had sprung these Athenians from the soil of their native Attica. They had arisen beyond the uncultured and despicable barbarians. You remember the whole world for them was divided into the Greeks and the barbarians. Barbarians were called barbarians because it’s an onomatopoetic word – bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar. They couldn’t understand what they were saying. They didn’t know their language, and that’s how they expressed their identity. They thought that they by, somehow, their own powers had arisen to the prominence that they had attained and separated themselves from the barbarous people.
On the other hand, they hadn’t. God made every one of them from one man. God brought their nation into existence on the face of the Earth, along with every other nation on the face of the Earth. God determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation. Their place on the map even was designed by God. Their geography even was designed by God. Their time in history was designed by God. Their place on the world stage was designed by God. Deuteronomy 32:8, “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples.” Deuteronomy 32:8. They existed as a nation because God brought them into existence. The same truth can be said of every nation. Every nation in every period of time, including this nation and every other nation.
You say, “Would that be true of Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan?”
Absolutely. Absolutely. Are they enemies of the gospel? Yes, but they serve within the framework of God’s purpose. That doesn’t give them a divine right to do evil. It doesn’t give anybody a divine right to do evil, and it doesn’t deliver them form just judgment when they do. But nonetheless it’s true that God controls everything. He is just systematically eliminating every deity they have because they had spread the wealth among their deities, making various gods responsible for various things. And here Paul says, “There’s one God, and He’s responsible for everything.”
Then he tells them in verses 27 and 28 that He’s immanent, meaning He’s near. He has chosen to reveal Himself. Verse 27, “- that they would seek God.” Every nation that God brought together in the world, every nation that He placed in human history, every nation whose borders He determined, whose boundaries He established, He established so that they would seek Him. Amazing.
Romans 1 says, “That which may be known of God is in them.” Right? Romans 1 – the whole human race – “That which may be known of God is in them. But when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God and made idols.” Romans 2 says that He wrote the Law in their hearts, inscribed it on their hearts and gave them a conscience as a reacting device to the Law written in the heart. God gave evidence of Himself in man by means of reason which takes you back to the first cause who is God. God gave evidence of Himself in man by moral law which is in every human heart as part of being human. And He placed every man on this Earth and every nation on this Earth so that collectively they would follow the path of reason to the first cause who is God, and they would follow the path of moral law to the great Judge, God Himself.
He designed to disclose Himself. If you go back to the fourteenth chapter of Acts, in verse 15, Barnabas and Paul again in a Gentile pagan area – in fact, the people start calling Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes. And the priest of Zeus gets engaged. But verse 14 says, “When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed into the crowd, crying out, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Men, why are you doing these things? We’re also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you so that you should turn from these vain things to a living God” – because all your idols are dead – “who made the heaven and the Earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
Whenever the apostles evangelized the Jews, they started with Scripture. Whenever the apostles evangelized the Gentiles, they started with creation because that’s the big issue to explain. And then in verse 16, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; but He did not leave Himself without witness” - you have the Law written in the heart; you have reason which leads you to the ultimate cause for the massive effect of creation; you also have the witness – “in that He did good and gave you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your heart with food and gladness.”
In other words, God put Himself on display in reason, put Himself on display in morality, and put Himself on display in beauty and goodness. Where did that come from? This is God displaying Himself. And He allowed all the nations to go their own way. He created them, organized them that they might seek after Him. But He allowed them to go their own way. When they failed to worship Him as God and created idols, He let them go. And that’s the cycle of history, and it goes over and over and over and over, and we’re living it in America now, aren’t we?
But God can be known. He is near. Transcendent? Yes. He’s a Spirit who fills the universe. At the same time immanent, meaning present. Back to verse 27, “If perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He’s not far from each one of us” – how far is He? – “for in Him we live and move and exist, even as some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” He is near.
Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” Paul was saying God is knowable. You can know the Creator. You can know the Owner of everything that exists. You can know the Governor, the Ruler of all things. You can know the Sustainer of all life. Yes, He is transcendent; He is the eternal Spirit, infinitely greater than His creation, but He is alive in His creation. He is immanent; He is near to all who desire to know Him. But you have to leave all the non-gods and come to the true God. “Even your own poets have said, ‘We also are His offspring.’” That is the recognition of some poets of ancient times who sought to communicate that the true God made them and cannot be a god they made. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? Pretty basic? You can’t make the God who made you. Those two poets were actually Epimenides and Aratus, who showed that God – the true God – can be seen in His creation. They followed natural reason, cause and effect, back to the original cause. If that is true, if God made us, then all idolatry is eliminated. You can’t, as Isaiah 44 says, take a piece of wood, use part of that wood to cook dinner and the other part to make a god, and then worship it as if it created you. There is one God, the eternal Spirit, who’s Creator and Ruler of the universe, who is Sustainer of the universe, who is Sovereign over the universe, who is knowable. He is the eternal Spirit, the one true God responsible for absolutely everything. He is knowable; He is near. You live and move in His power.
The third thing, God has spoken. This is really good news. God has spoken. In verse 29, “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and though of man.” I mean how stupid is that? You can’t make a god and then say that god made you. But that’s the way it’s been in the world. Instead of the nations of the world seeking God, groping, desiring to find Him, and He’s near, He let them go their own way. And they went away from Him. And they made gods. They were idolatrous – again, Romans chapter 1 – and the stupidity of it is clear in that one statement of verse 29.
But God didn’t leave us with no help. Verse 30 says, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” God is now declaring. Wow, that’s good news. God has spoken. Many of those Greeks, like their poets, may have kind have been at point two. God is near. There is a Creator. We can’t make god and then say he made us. Maybe there is a God, but has He spoken?
Hebrews 1 says, “He spoke in time past through the fathers, by the prophets, in many ways, through many means, and in these last days has spoken unto us in His Son.” We can know that God is, and we can know God. We can know the eternal Spirit because He has revealed Himself to us.
Notice that it says, “Having overlooked the times of ignorance.” Since the flood 2,500 years before, God had not hit the Earth with a massive judgment. And the last massive judgment, of course, was in Noah’s day, and He destroyed the whole human race, millions of people, leaving only eight survivors. God patiently tolerated sinners’ rejection of Him, then from the flood to the present hour. Still. Still. It was 2,500 years then; 4,500 years now. It doesn’t mean that people didn’t die and go to hell; they did, but there’s no special judgment.
“However,” Paul says, “you need to be warned. God is now declaring” – verse 30, he says it again – “God is now declaring that all men everywhere should repent, because” - there is coming a judgment – “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He’s appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Who’s that? Christ.
God is now declaring to all men everywhere that judgment is on the horizon. Repent of your sin, come to Christ. That’s the message of the New Testament. Repenting means – well, 1 Thessalonians 1, “They turned from idols to serve the living and true God.” And repenting means to turn from idols, to turn from sin to the true God through His Son Jesus Christ because He has fixed a day, appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man.
Read John 5:22 to 29. All judgment’s been committed to Christ. He will bring about that judgment. “Not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave the Son to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and all will come forth; those who did the good deeds” – evidencing their transformed lives by the gospel – “to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil to a resurrection of judgment.”
Be warned. He warns the Athenians. And we need to warn people today that you must know the true God and the true Christ because there is eternal danger in a wrong view of God and a wrong view of Christ. The proof is settled that Jesus is the Judge by the resurrection from the dead.
What was the response? “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We’ll hear you again concerning this.’ So, Paul went out of their midst. Some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” Some mocked, sneering. Some postponed, “Hear you again.” Some believed, repenting and believing. That’s the right response.
They came to know the knowable God who is the eternal Spirit, the Creator, Lord of heaven and Earth, the One who has spoken. And what has He said? “Be warned, there is judgment, but you can escape that judgment through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no way to represent the true God unless you repent Him based on the revelation of Scripture. So, sometimes, as I said earlier, when we preach the true God and the true Christ and the true gospel, we have people who mock and sneer and postpone, but also those who believe. It’s so important to know our God for who He is.
Well, all of that to introduce you to the series of the attributes of God so that you can know the fullness of God, for all that is true of God is also true of Christ. Right? Also true of Christ.
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