THE PROCLAMATION OF THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD LEAVES NO ROOM FOR TOLERANCE OF WORTHLESS RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY
(no matter how sophisticated or intellectual or culturally accepted)
J I Packer: (Knowing God) What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God What is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me” (Jer. 9:23 f.).
Paul comes to these sophisticated intellectuals in Athens and brings to them the precious knowledge of God. He presents the gospel argument in a way that exposes the inconsistency and foolishness of worshiping their many idols while focusing on the majesty and glory of the One True God.
PROCLAIMING THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD – HE IS UNIQUE – LEAVES NO ROOM FOR TOLERANCE OF WORTHLESS RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY
Like a yearlong seminary course on the Nature and Attributes of God – true Theology …
Looked last week at Paul’s Approach – picking up on their recognition of an altar to the Unknown God – Next week will be part 3 – the Application (the altar call) – Here we have Paul’s Argument — What does Paul proclaim here about Who God is?
SIX DISTINCTIVE TRUTHS ABOUT GOD –
SHOWCASING HIS UNIQUENESS
I. (:24a) GOD IS UNIQUE AS OUR POWERFUL CREATOR
“The God who made the world and all things in it”
Rom. 1:20, 25 – don’t turn around and worship the creation instead of the Creator
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. . . For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
Jer. 10:1-12 “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, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.” You better listen when He speaks!
There is none like the Lord!
Nehemiah 9:6 “Thou alone art the LORD. Thou hast made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. Thou dost give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before Thee.”
Contrast dumb idols made by human hands
Application: we are accountable to the one who created us; no room for compromise here with other theories of origins
We need to be thankful that God has created us as He has … short, tall, athletic, clumsy … Bill Gothard very good on this subject
II. (:24b) GOD IS UNIQUE AS THE LORD (SOVEREIGN) OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
“since He is Lord of heaven and earth”
God did not just create the world and set everything in motion and then walk away; He rules over His creation; He is the King, the ultimate sovereign; every knee must bow in submission to Him
He is running the show; He is calling the shots
Grudem: God’s exercise of power over his creation is also called God’s sovereignty = his exercise of rule as sovereign or king – working out His purposes because He controls all things
Do you realize how arrogant it is to shake our fist at God and rebel against Him?
What are we thinking? How do we think that will turn out?
Illustration: Had someone who reports to me at work basically tell me this week, I don’t like what you are telling me to do; I don’t think it needs to be done; and I’m just not going to do it! How do you think that’s going to turn out?
The angels in heaven obey their sovereign master – those that didn’t are headed for the lake of fire; how much more creatures on earth had better get in line with His program
These philosophers in Athens have been living a life of intellectual arrogance – imagining that they in their natural wisdom can solve the ultimate questions of man’s origins (Where did I come from?) and man’s purpose in life (Why am I here?) and man’s destiny (Where am I going?); but not submitting to the revelation that would bring them the true knowledge of the Lord of heaven and earth
Such knowledge of the Lord’s sovereignty requires spiritual illumination – not brilliant minds – Luke 10:21-24 “At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, ‘I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the son wills to reveal Him.’ Turning to the disciples, He said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings [and philosophers in Athens] wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.’”
Doctrine of Exclusivism – our culture hates this
Application: He should be acknowledged as the Lord of our life
Not willing to share His glory with another
III. (:24c) GOD IS UNIQUE IN HIS TRANSCENDENCE
“does not dwell in temples made with hands”
Without human limitations; He is different than us in some important respects …
Wiersbe: We wonder how the Council members reacted to Paul’s statement about temples, for right there on the Acropolis were several shrines dedicated to Athena.
What is the relationship between God and the material universe which He has created?
He is both greater than His creation and independent from it
(Grudem) 4 False World Systems:
1) That differs from the typical humanistic view that we could call materialism – which denies the existence of God all together and says that the material universe is all that there is – many Christians live their lives as practical materialists – just concerned with laying up riches and enjoying pleasures on earth rather than setting their heart on eternal things
2) Scriptural view of God is also quite different from pantheism which says that the whole universe is God – denying His distinctive existence and majestic transcendence; thus the goal in systems based on this perspective is for the individual to blend in with the universe – losing your distinctiveness. Any philosophy that sees creation as an “emanation” out of God would be related to pantheism – Gnostic errors in the early church
3) Dualism represents an eternal conflict between the forces of good (under God’s direction) and the forces of the evil aspects of material existence; cf. Star Wars movies; Most New Age religion is dualistic
4) Deism – God is viewed as a divine clock maker who wound up the clock of creation at the beginning but then left it to run on its own – so there is no personal relationship with a God who cares about the details of your everyday life
Why should we put a lot of money into ornate cathedrals and fancy stained glass windows? The established church has missed the boat badly here …
We need a sense of the majesty of God … but coming from our internal heart attitude … not emotionally induced by external grandeur; we can get that type of stimulus from the grandeur all around us in nature
Is. 66:1-2 “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things. Thus all these things came into being,’ declares the Lord. ‘But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.’”
Application: Let’s look for him in the right places
John 4 – worship in Spirit and Truth
Mark 14:58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'”
Hebrews 9:11 “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;”
2 Corinthians 5:1 “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Stott: Any attempt to limit or localize the Creator God, to imprison him within the confines of manmade buildings, structures or concepts, is ludicrous.
IV. (:25) GOD IS UNIQUE IN HIS SELF-EXISTENCE / SELF-SUFFICIENCY – SUSTAINER OF ALL
“neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things”
Ritchie: God is a giver, not a taker, Paul tells them. The Athenians had invented a god and then wondered how he should be appeased. But they had missed the whole point. God doesn’t want to be appeased, he wants to give life and breath. How many religions are there around today based on what man can do to please God? Paul’s word to the Athenians cut across all the philosophies and religions of that day, and it still cuts across all the philosophies and religions of our day.
Application: Don’t try to approach God with a works orientation. Recognize by faith our complete dependence upon Him.
This is bad news for those who imagine themselves to be self-sufficient and who think that God needs their contributions. Paul had been a very prominent Pharisee who prided himself on all he brought to the party.
It can be a shattering experience to come face-to-face with the worthlessness of your works of righteousness:
Illustration: like a student studying diligently the professor’s notes for an important final exam and then discovering that the test really covers a book you have not even read
We need to make sure that our approach in bringing the gospel to people is to serve them (just as Christ came to serve and give His life a ransom for many); not to recruit people to fulfill our dreams of growing a larger ministry for God
Ps. 50:9-12 “I shall take no young bull out of your house, Nor male goats out of your folds. 10 “For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. 11 “I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine. 12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”
Boice: God continues to give the universe and world stability. The very fact that we and the world are here, that we are alive, and that we can think about both it and ourselves are all due to the sustaining activity of God.
V. (:26) GOD IS UNIQUE IN HIS PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNANCE —
NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS / HE MAKES ALL THE RULES
“and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation”
Does everything according to His good pleasure
Goes back in time to the creation of Adam; demonstrates that God is working out His plan for every nation on earth – times and seasons for their dominion and limitations to their sphere of control
Application: No room for national pride or self-will; these philosophers in Athens had prestige; they had culture and a rich heritage going for them; they thought they were something special
Pretty significant words for this city of Athens that was probably looking back and feeling sorry for that their glory days were behind them.
You went to Princeton … big deal … you are in the same boat as all other men … you never had 2 nickels to scrape together … don’t worry … you have the same chance to seek God and respond to Him in faith … in fact, more so … because you are not hindered by the type of pride that considers yourself wise in your own eyes
(we fit in both categories …)
Longenecker: Contrary to the Athenians’ boast that they had originated from the soil of their Attic homeland and therefore were not like other men, Paul affirms the oneness of mankind in their creation by the one God and their descent from a common ancestor. And contrary to the “deism” that permeated the philosophies of the day, he proclaimed that this God has determined specific times for men and “the exact places where they should live” so that men would seek him and find him.
Stott: although God cannot be held responsible for the tyranny or aggression of individual nations, yet both the history and the geography of each nation are ultimately under his control.
VI. (:27-28) GOD IS UNIQUE IN HIS IMMANENCE, IN HIS SELF REVELATION AND IN HIS REDEMPTIVE PURPOSES —
GOD DESIRES THE RESTORATION OF OUR FAMILY RELATIONSHIP
A. God can be found – Because He is a Revealing God
“that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him”
Interesting statement of God’s Purpose and Desire as the God of History: that men and nations should seek Him
The groping and reaching out of a blind man
Boice: word that the Greek poet Homer used in the well-known story of the Cyclops. The giant one-eyed Cyclops had captured Odysseus and his men, and Odysseus had gotten him drunk and then blinded him with a sharp stake. The epic’s hero then wanted to sneak out of the cave where he and his men were being held. But it was difficult because the Cyclops was groping around, feeling after Odysseus so that he might find him and kill him. That is the very word Paul uses. So it is as if he is saying: In our sin we are as blind as the blinded Cyclops. Nevertheless, because creation is still there, we have an obligation to feel after God and find him, even though we cannot see him.
Cole: Thus Paul’s meaning in Acts 17:27-28 is not that fallen men of their own natural ability and free will can seek after and find God. He clearly refutes that idea in Romans 3. Rather, he is showing that even though men are in fact dependent on God for everything, and even though God has graciously given men life and breath and allthings, men have ignored God and gone their own way. They should have sought God and groped in the dark for Him, and if they had, God would have graciously let them find Him. Even though God is high and lifted up, He is also near to all who call upon Him.
People waste a lot of energy hunting for God in all the wrong places. They need to respond to the revelation that God has already given … that is why the Word of God is so essential. God is the one who takes the initiative to seek and to save the lost; and we are here as God’s representatives to participate in that mission.
Stedman: to show how God draws men and does not seek to evade them. To the pagans the gods dwelt on Mount Olympus, remote from humanity. Men had to go through perilous and hazardous journeys in order to find and placate their gods, to seek them out and find them, while the gods hid themselves from men. But Paul’s word is that the true God is not doing that
Deffinbaugh: their system of searching for the one true God is defective and futile. The God who was, to them “unknown” is a God who has made Himself known. God is not trying to hide from men; men are hiding from God, and often by means of their religion. The “unknown god,” whom they have acknowledged exists is the God who caused all things to come into existence—the Creator of all things, including men. And His very creation is that which bears testimony of His existence, as well as His attributes (or characteristics). Thus, if God is unknown to these Athenians, it is not because God has not revealed Himself to men, but because men have closed their eyes to His existence and character.
B. God is close at hand – Because He is a Personal/Relational God
“though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist”
C. We have been created in the image of God; Therefore we are His offspring
“as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.”
(Paul quoted from two ancient poets of the region: Epimenides and Aratus)
N. B. Stonehouse: These pagan writers as creatures of God confronted with the divine revelation were capable of responses which were valid so long as and to the extent that they stood in isolation from their pagan systems. Thus, thoughts which in their pagan contexts were quite un-Christian and anti-Christian, could be acknowledged as up to a point involving an actual apprehension of revealed truth.
Dignity of man – man is not worthless and insignificant
Man’s personality, intelligence, creativity, desire for companionship, his desire to relate to God, his zest for life, his dominion over life, all come from God.
(:29) CONCLUSION – FINAL INDICTMENT OF THE INCONSISTENCY AND FOOLISHNESS OF IDOLATRY
“Being then the offspring 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 thought of man.”
Let’s not insult the character of God; let’s turn away decisively from idolatry.
Stedman: He is saying that, if it is true that we are made with a capacity for God, if we know that we are made to contain and reflect God, then it is not only insulting to God to make an idol of him, but it is also degrading to man. It is saying that we can be satisfied with things that are less than ourselves, that we can find satisfaction in trinkets and trifles and baubles, in material values
Wiersbe: God made us in His image, so it is foolish for us to make gods in our own image! Greek religion was nothing but the manufacture and worship of gods who were patterned after men and who acted like men. Paul not only showed the folly of temples and the temple rituals, but also the folly of all idolatry.