“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:”
Here we have a picture of the apostle Paul. He is going throughout the Mediterranean world proclaiming the good news to people in frustration, fear, and sin. And the apostle Paul is preaching Christ to the people, and now he comes to Athens. Athens was the cultural and intellectual center of the ancient world. It was the city of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. If you take all the universities of America and roll them into one, you have what Athens was to the intellectual world of that day. As in this day, in the midst of intellectual achievements and scientific advances, there existed both confusion and frustration. Greece at that time was under the iron heel of Rome, and the whole world was longing for freedom. They were searching for an answer. Paul looked at the confusion of his day in Athens. And the Bible says that Paul was disturbed by what he saw and felt. While Paul was disturbed by all this, some of the philosophers came and said, “Paul, we’ve listened to you talk. We’d like to hear more of it. How about going up to Mars Hill and giving a lecture?” And so Paul did. He went up to Mars Hill, and there he preached his famous sermon on Mars Hill. Some people have said that this sermon was a great failure in Paul’s life. Some people said that Paul, in preaching this sermon, did not get any results, never founded a great church in Athens, and he never had any persecution and never had any opposition in Athens. One of the things that disturbs me here is the devil is too quiet. I hope he’ll get stirred up somewhere. Because when he is quiet I know he is getting ready to kick us from behind somewhere, while we are not looking.
“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, 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, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” Acts 17:16-21 KJV Paul was having to wait, he had some time on his hands. One of the things that distinguishes us one from another is the way we use our spare time. And when he looked he was stirred, he saw idolatry, people worshipping, giving their energies and sometimes even their lives to things that had been created. The Epicureans were “deistic polytheists.” Deists today believe there is a God who created the universe. But they believe after He did so he is no longer involved with its operation. In other words, they deny the idea of miracles, the sovereignty or providence of God, the efficacy of prayer, and even the possibility of having a relationship with God. These ideas lead to a denial of any kind of afterlife. No matter who you are, what you are, what your history or belief set the Resurrection is a central stated fact that you have to be able to explain unless you want to go through life and actually death with a mile-wide hole in your world view.
“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” Acts 17:22-23 KJV The word translated superstitious is actually deisidaimonia it really means god fearing or religious! Here was a religious man telling a group of party goers, practical people and materialists that they were too religious! And you know, I think the same is true of America today. Wherever you go you get religion, you watch a sports program and some sportsman is thanking God for their skill, you go to the supermarket and there is a row of Bibles and a set of get well cards with Bible verses! You go to a hotel and a Bible pops out of your bedside draw. You may know all there is to know about God but do you actually know God himself? You see the challenge of the latter part of 23 is this, it is possible that you are worshipping God already but doing it in ignorance, without knowing the precise nature of the deal, and says Paul, if you are doing that then there are a few other things you need to know, which we are now going to look at.
“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;” Acts 17:24-26 KJV God that made the world and all things therein. Here is the first fact to get our minds around, God made us. He actually made everything but let us focus on this one. He made us and if he made us then he owns us. He has every right to decide our future. Seeing that he is the Lord of heaven and earth. Fact 2, God is still around and he is still in control. Sometimes people acknowledge that God created the world but then they like to think he stepped back and left it to its own devices, not so says Paul. God is still the Lord. Dwelleth not in temples made with hands. It also says, neither is worshipped with mens hand’s. This is the next fallacy that Paul tried to debunk for the Athenians and that I wish to debunk for you this morning. God cannot be worshipped with works. Some of us like to think that by doing good things, or giving away money or by any number of other pious activities that we are doing enough to be in Gods good books. Well says v25, just think how ridiculous that idea is. God is the one that gives us life, every breath you take you take because God allows you to. In V26, here we are getting onto dangerous territory. In America we have a separation of Church and State, an important step for both church and state that England sadly lacks. But look what this verse says, the state may have separated itself from the church but it cannot separate itself from God. It can try, it may even appear to succeed, but the success of any nation or grouping has already been decided, ahead of time by God.
“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 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. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:” Acts 17:27-30 KJV V27 So God made us, gave us breath and appointed for us a place and society for us to live in, but why? That we may seek him and find him. Just take hold of that, our primary mission here on earth is to find God. V28, which raises the question; in what way is he close at hand, how can we know? V28 says because our very existence and being are inextricably woven into God. Do you want proof that God exists? Look in the mirror, examine each fragment of your body, each one a miracle way beyond what any scientist has been able to create or even imagine. V29 Now we get towards the crux, given God made us, given we are in His image, given that our mission here on earth is to find him, we should not be looking for him in the material world. V30 So you say, if everyone does these things and they are all based upon man then they are all probably OK, right? Wrong. Verse 30. God is longsuffering, he gives each one of us time to understand, he gives each one of us time to decide, but the ultimate commandment is firm and non-negotiable now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. Who does this apply to, all men. So what does repent mean, it really means to turn around. We have to accept that we have tried to do things our way, follow our desires and our logic but now we want to turn from all that and we want to follow God.
“Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” Acts 17:31-34 KJV V31 He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained. You are going to be judged. Not by me, not by anyone here but by God. The God that knows everything you have done, everything you would like to have done, every motive and every inclination and he is going to judge you against a standard of absolute perfection. Let us take the second half of the verse, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead. Let me put this to you another way. If you don’t know God personally, if you are not following him fully and completely in your life then the resurrection that everyone is celebrating is not a promise but a threat. God is saying “My Son rose from the dead, you will rise from the dead and there will be judgement”. It actually says in Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. V32-34 I have presented to you this morning a message of much the same form that Paul presented upon Mars Hill. It is really a challenge, a question if you prefer. Do you know God, not about him or of him but do you know him. If you don’t then I have told you the first things you need to know, God created you and is near to you waiting for you to find him, if you choose to find him. To do so you have to obey his command, repent. Paul gave a dose of the truth to some godless philosophers on Mars’ Hill. He declared to those educated Greeks that instead of making more gods they should listen to the one true God. God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and He commands all to believe what He has said and to repent of their sin. We can learn helpful principles from non-Christians and use their beliefs as common ground for sharing the gospel. When Paul stood on Mars Hill addressing some of the leading intellectuals of his day, he did not belittle their beliefs but established common ground with them and then gave the gospel. Let’s look for common ground with our neighbors, so that we may lead them to Christ.
By: Jeff Ellinger