Sermon on Acts 17:22-31
Text: Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Most of us are familiar with the term “atheist.” This is a person who does not believe that there is a God. But, what about the term “agnostic?” This is a person who is not sure whether or not there is a God. When I was visiting with my son, Mark, the other day, he spoke about a lady who was an agnostic. She said that she believed in the Great Question Mark. She wasn’t willing to say that there was no god. She just wasn’t sure. She was hoping to find the answers to the unknown. There are many people like her in the world. In essence, the people Paul addresses in our text were also searching, though they did not know it. Paul quoted a Greek poet named Epimenides to show them what they did know. He went on from there to tell them what they did not know. This poet is quoted in verse 28 of our text. We, also, are reminded that IN GOD WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. 1. He Created Us. 2. He Directs Our Lives. 3. He Saves Us.
The apostle Paul was on his Second Missionary Journey and had arrived in the city of Athens. While there, he spoke to the people in the marketplace about Jesus Christ. Because his teachings were so foreign to what the people knew, Paul was summoned to a meeting of the Areopagus. This was a group of men whose job it was to have oversight of religious and education matters. This was not a place for trials, but rather a forum in which new ideas were aired. The men there said to Paul, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (Acts 17:19&20)
Paul began his address by saying, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.” (Verses 22&23) There were many altars and shrines in Athens to the various gods in Greek mythology. There were even some there to gods of other nations. Just to be sure that they covered all their bases and didn’t miss any god and thus incur his anger, they had an altar to an unknown god. Paul continued by saying, “So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” (Verse 23) You can imagine the ears of those of the Areopagus perking up at this. Paul was going to tell them about a god that they didn’t know.
As Paul continued, he didn’t begin with the teachings about Jesus Christ. They didn’t know about him. Rather, Paul met them on their own ground and began with statements that they were sure to agree with. He presented the gist of what all people know about God, which is sometimes referred to as the Natural Knowledge of God. First of all, Paul highlighted the work of creation. He said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” (Verse 24) Paul speaks of the fact that, when you look at the world around us, you have the sense that there is order. For example, look at the water cycle. You have water on the earth, which evaporates and then condenses in the form of precipitation. You look at the variety of animals that there are in the world, each one playing its part in the food chain. Think of the human body and all of the systems that work together to make the body work. If one of those systems was missing, the body would not function. They all work together in harmony so that we have life. Even the casual observer must see that there is some sort of order. Today you will hear about some scientists who will promote the idea of Intelligent Design. They can see that there must be something or someone behind all of nature.
By God’s grace, we know who that someone is. We have the detailed account of creation recorded for us in Genesis 1. God carefully planned out every aspect of creation. We see the care that he took when he created Adam and Eve’s bodies on the sixth day of creation. When we see what God has done for us and how he created us, we say with the psalmist, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)
Paul also highlighted the fact that God is the one who directs our lives. The Greeks that were listening would have been familiar with this concept. After all, the various gods that they worshiped all had control over some aspect of their lives. You had Poseidon, who was the god of the sea. You had Ares, who was the god of war. You had Athena, who was the goddess of wisdom. There was Demeter, who was the goddess of the harvest. Zeus was the ruler of the gods, and the one who, ultimately, controlled your life. There was a god or goddess for everything and everything had its deity. They believed that something directed their lives, so they came up with these gods.
While there are many people today, who believe that their lives are just a random set of events, many still feel that there is something or someone directing their lives. Think of the Christmas carol, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” There is the lyric that says, “Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow.” You will hear someone speak of future plans and then say “Knock on wood.” Some may actually knock on wood. Do you know what the origin of that practice is? It stems from the time when western Europeans thought that gods inhabited the trees. The people laid their hands on a tree when asking for favor from the gods that lived inside it, or did it after a run of good luck as a show of gratitude to the supernatural powers. People know instinctively that there is someone who is directing their lives.
By God’s grace, we know who is directing our lives. It is God. He knew us before the world came into being. God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5) The psalmist said with great certainty, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) God directs our lives, every step of it. He blesses us. He cares for us. He protects us. God makes the promise to us that he lovingly wants what’s best for us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11) Rather than our lives being a random set of events, God is control. Because we have this knowledge, we can confidently say with Paul in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is God who directs our lives.
It is here that the natural knowledge of God ends. There is a purpose to it. Paul told the Athenians, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Verse 27) God gives the natural knowledge so that people would realize that there is someone greater than themselves. However, this natural knowledge cannot do anything about that which most plagues people. It does not tell them how to get right with God. There is that voice inside of all people, the conscience, which tells the individual that they have offended God by their lives. All the natural knowledge of God in the world will not help them find the answer to calm that troubled conscience. That is why Paul told the Athenians, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when http://acheterdufrance.com/ he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Verses 30&31) Paul told them that there would come a time when all must stand before their Maker and give an answer for their lives. However, he also offers hope to them by pointing to Jesus. One of the reasons that Paul had been brought before the Areopagus was that he had been teaching about Jesus’ resurrection. Here Paul shows the importance of that teaching. If you want to stand before the judge on the Last Day unafraid, you must look to the one whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who saves you.
Because we have God’s revealed knowledge given to us in his Word, we have more than just a sense of right and wrong. We have his will spelled out for us exactly in his law. When we read that law, we see how far short of perfection that we have fallen. How often haven’t we worried about whether or not God will provide for us? Have we ever questioned God’s love for us when we have faced difficulties in our lives? These are just two of the many ways that we have not done what God would have us do. God is also very clear in his Word about what the consequences are of these actions. It isn’t some sort of shadowy threat. It is an eternity of punishment, being eternally separated from his love in hell. If we to stand before the Judge on the Last Day on our own, we would have every reason to be terrified at the thought.
However, Paul reminds us who that Judge is. It is Jesus, the one who was raised from the dead. He died to pay for all of our sins on the cross. He took the punishment that we deserved. God raised Jesus from the dead to show us that we have been forgiven. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that we will also rise from the dead on the Last Day and be taken to our Father’s house for all eternity. The fact that this has happened reminds us of God’s love for us. He made us his children. We don’t follow some shadowy idea of a god. We know exactly whom he is and what he has done for us.
This is a good reason for us to be thankful this morning. We thank God for revealing himself to us in his Word. This is a fact that we may take for granted. For many of us, we have known this our entire lives. Thank God for those faithful parents who taught us about our loving God. Thank God for keeping us in this faith. This is also a good reminder for us to pray for all of those people who only have the natural knowledge of God. They are searching for the truth. We pray that God would show them who he is and what he has done for them. We can also use that revealed knowledge that they have as a basis to share with them what we know. We have a God who created us, who directs our lives, and, most importantly, has saved us. Amen.
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