In Acts17:16-34 we find the Apostle Paul in the great city of Athens, Greece. Athens was the premier city of the ancient world for education, philosophy, arts, and architecture. It was the great university city of the world for hundreds of years. Everybody knew about Athens. It had been the foremost Greek city-state since the 5th Century B.C. and it was the city of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. By the time Paul visits the city it has lost some of its luster, but it was still an often spoken of and reputable city. This is where the great philosophers lived. So, in Acts 17 we find the Christian Apostle Paul in the midst of the glories of ancient Greece. He was surrounded by some of the brightest people in the world. They spent their days thinking and debating. They were people who pursued knowledge and understanding. They wanted to understand the world and articulate what it meant to live in harmony with it.
You could not be blamed if you thought that Paul may have gotten caught up in all the glories of Athens. Paul was a great thinker. He was trained at the highest level of Judaism and was a leading Jewish Rabbi before he became a Christian. If you have read much of the NT then you know how intelligent this man was. He did not become a tourist when he entered Athens. He was not overwhelmed by the architecture, nor was he consumed with the rhetoric of the town. What is recorded by Luke by inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that Paul “was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Paul’s spirit is provoked within him. His heart is broken over these people. They were given over to idolatry or maybe, we can say more literally, they were smothered with idols, swamped by them. The Athenians, despite all their earthly glory, were idol worshipers. Many of the supreme minds of the world bowed their knees to metals and stones, things crafted by the hands of men.
It is for this reason that the Apostle went to work instead of spending his time site-seeing. He went to the synagogue first (to the Jew first and also for the Greeks) and then he went to the marketplace. It was in the marketplace that Paul sparked curiosity and even confusion. The people said, “What is this babbler trying to say?” A “babbler” was someone who poked around the marketplace quite often and picked up bits and pieces of philosophy and then tried to articulate it. The “professionals” (like the Epicureans and Stoics) resented these people and coldly called them babblers. Other people said, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods” which could actually be a fatal offense in the city. It appears that the people in the marketplace thought that Paul was teaching of two new gods a male one “Jesus” and a female one “resurrection.”
So they took Paul to the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, and asked for him to explain himself. Luke notes in v21: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” This is where we read our text for today’s Scripture. vv22-31 give us a summary of the content of Paul’s message to the Athenians.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Athens and America, a Similarity?
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.”
This is what we have become in America, simply religious. We have idols all around us, we are literally swamped with them, and we are constantly waiting for the next new thought. One things after another steals away our attention and threatens to trap us. Our homes are situated around our televisions, not our Bibles; the culmination of our weekly activities is sport and not worship; and we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our reputations, not our God. It is a condemning statement veiled in familiar terms, “People of America! We are in every way very religious!”
To an Unknown God
Paul found a launching point with a particular altar that he saw. This altar had an inscription on it that said: “To an Unknown God.” The people were so “religious” that they did not want, by some chance, to leave a god out of their worship. So, they built an altar to an unknown god to cover all their bases.
This is how Paul could connect with them. He started his evangelistic message, not by using unfamiliar ideas, pictures, or language, but using things that were recognizable to them. In the midst of a crooked and perverse people who worshiped as many gods as they could conceive and create, Paul was going to proclaim to them the One, true God of the world.
The God Who Made the World
Luke records many items of interest that Paul said to the people of Athens and I would like to focus on three of them for just a few short minutes. These are relevant for us today and I would like for you to think of them in the coming week as you pray for the revival next weekend.
1) v25 “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
This is the message that the people of the world do not like to hear. We must overcome this idea that God needs us or something from us. “God is self-sufficient, so self-sufficient that we can’t make any contributions to Him. We can’t improve upon Him.”
The Apostle, alluding to some OT Scriptures, in Rom 11 says, “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” Here is the Gospel that we need to cling to and promote in this community: God is the Giver. We are told to do simple things like believe and receive.
I can provide you with a couple of verses that make this point most clear:
Matthew 20:28 “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Luke 22:27 “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”
God gives life to all and wills to give life more abundantly to those who believe in Christ.
2) v31 That last sentence leads me to my next point. God has given us proof of these things.
“He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
In John 10:18 Jesus said, “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”
And Luke states in Acts 1:3 “[Jesus] also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs…”
There is no reference made to the cross in this message – only resurrection. He starts with the resurrection of Jesus (the Man He has appointed) and calls it proof of the things that he proclaims. For Paul, the resurrection was just as valid as the cross. The empty tomb was just as valuable as cross of Calvary. In 1 Cor 15:14 Paul says, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”
3) v27 “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.”
This is a statement about the reason for being. Why are we here? To seek and find Him.
Oh that the people of Henry County could hear this sentence. We are here to have abundant life, satisfaction and joy in Christ Jesus. A revival can be a means to that end. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The Scripture also says, “And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” People are blinded by sin and trapped in darkness without Christ.
They need to hear that He is not far from any one of us…
Conclusion: Let me return to that first point: v25 “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
If God does not need us to serve Him, why do we serve Him? If He does not need our obedience, why obey? Because when God serves us, we in turn find joy in doing His will. And when we find the ultimate satisfaction of joy in Him, He is most glorified. And that is why we’re here.
We need to return once again to the Biblical picture of the transcendent God. People need to hear that God is sovereign and supreme over all things.
He made the world and everything in it.
He is the Lord of heaven and earth.
He does NOT live in temples built by human hands.
He is NOT served by human hands as if he needed ANYTHING.
In Him we live and move and have our being.
He commands all people everywhere to repent.
He has set a day when He will judge the world.
He has given proof of this to everyone by raising the One Man, Jesus, from the dead.
AND He is not far from any one of us.
This is the Gospel…This is our God…This is what I that pray you, me, and so many others will hear next weekend as we are reminded of salvation that is offered by grace through Jesus Christ.