“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (Acts 17:22-34 ESV)
Last week, we looked at how you can be religious and still lost and separated from God. In our focal passage, this week, Paul addresses the members of the Areopagus. In ancient Athens, the Ares Rock or Areopagus (also called Mars Hill) was an outcropping of rock where the citizens of Athens heard cases related to various crimes and even cases related to religious claims. While the authority of convicting a criminal based on the hearing at the Aeropagus had been discontinued during New Testament times, the people still used the location to hear and evaluate those claims. This helps explain why Paul would have gone to this location to engage the crowds regarding the Gospel and the person of Jesus.
There’s an old saying that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” While I’m sure that’s true, I also believe that even those who claim they don’t believe in God, have some belief in God, they just keep it emotionally and psychologically repressed. Perhaps, they can’t deal with the personal and moral ramifications for the existence of God so they try and keep it suppressed. Whatever the reason, I think when it comes down to it, we all have a belief in God no matter how much we try and hide it.
The God of gods:
In today’s passage, Paul notes how the Athenians have tried to cover all of their bases when it comes to belief in God. Not only do they have all of the normal Greek and Roman idols, they have even erected an altar to “the unknown god.” Just in case we missed anyone, here’s an altar to worship that god so we don’t offend him/her. I think, in many ways, that’s precisely what we see happening today. Our culture seems to have the attitude that “we can’t be certain about God, so we will be religiously minded and we will strive to be morally good, just in case.” Paul notes that the Athenians are so “very religious” that they’ve taken these precautions regarding a god they suspect might exist but are unsure.
Paul seizes upon their uncertainty and announces that what they worship out of ignorance, he will declare and reveal to them – the God who made the world and everything in it. Paul starts at the beginning – creation. That’s usually a good place to start. The Athenians have a pantheon of gods, but they don’t know and worship the God who is the creator of man and of all things. Paul uses their religious uncertainty to reveal the fallacy of their worship, the God who made them doesn’t need a meager temple made with human hands. Now, this might seem a bit odd, at first, but when you understand the physical location and position of the Aeropagus then his statement takes on new meaning. The Aeropagus literally sits in the shadow of the Greek Parthenon, the temple to the goddess Athena. So, I think Paul may be gesturing towards the Parthenon as he says…
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
In essence, Paul is saying that if you REALLY want to worship God then don’t mess around with these gods who are represented by silver and gold and need a temple made by hands with men and women trying to serve them. The God you worship out of ignorance is the very God who made you, the universe and everything in it and He doesn’t need your meager attempts at building him a home or offering sacrifices.
Created by Him:
There’s a mistaken notion, today, that science has proven God doesn’t exist and, in fact, that even the idea of God is unnecessary. In reality, science has done nothing like that but has actually revealed just how complex and finely balanced life truly is. In other words, just how “designed” we are by our creator. In his book, the The Blind Watchmaker, noted atheist Richard Dawkins states, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He then goes on to try and prove that our appearance of having been “designed” is just the result of randomness and chance over time. And you thought scientists “observed” and then developed a hypothesis from those observations. Apparently some start with a hypothesis and then discount or reject their observations to support their presuppositions.
When you find an object that appears to be designed, the most likely explanation is that it WAS designed. The more complex that object, then the more likely it is that the object was designed. Let me see if I can illustrate what I mean…
If you were sitting near an Oklahoma river playing in the sand and found a random piece of flint you would assume it had just washed up there, nothing special. However, if you continued to look and found another piece that was shaped like an arrow head then you would likely conclude that someone, likely a Native American, had taken a piece of flint and fashioned an arrow head. If you uncovered several more arrow heads and perhaps a flint blade with a wooden handle, you would be absolutely certain that you had found evidence that someone had been creating tools from the flint in that location. Who? Probably a Native American, but certainly a human.
One piece of flint MIGHT get randomly shaped similar to an arrow head, but several lying together is significant evidence of intelligent creation. Add the knife with the handle into the mix, and it becomes conclusive evidence that someone at some time in the past had made these tools. They had a creator, the design/shape and purpose of a single arrow head strongly suggests it, but the complexity of the knife absolutely declares it.
Created in His Image:
Then Paul then declares something about God and His creation that we so desperately need to hear, today. God made us, but He made us all from one single man. Every nation, every tribe, every color, every ethnicity, we are each His creation and we are one family from Him and one family in Him. When you strip away the polarizing political ideologies, the tribal allegiances, the racial biases, the diverse ethnic cultures and the personal preferences then you discover that we really are all alike. We truly are just brothers and sisters, underneath it all. Creatures created in God’s image. In fact, Paul quotes an unknown Greek poet that declared, “we are his offspring.”
Paul uses that statement as a springboard to declare that what the Greek poets recognize is just common sense; gods of gold, silver or stone do not have living human offspring. Only a living, personal God can give us life and breath and give us the ability to think and reason. In other words, life begets life. You don’t get life from non-life. You don’t get reasoning from non-reasoning. You don’t get logic from illogic or thinking from non-thinking. If God is alive and created us, if He gave us life and the ability to think and reason, then He is personal and knowable. He is not only knowable, He is not far from each of us and He desires to know us on a personal level.
He goes on to say, “In Him, we live and move and have our being.” Who and what we are is wrapped up in who He is and what He is like. We tend to want to mold God and His will to our image and our desires, but we must be molded by Him, by His desires and into His image (see Romans 8). There is a mistaken idea floating around modern Christian circles and is being perpetuated by social media and the Internet, “God loves you just as you are.” Let me state this very clearly, God DOES love you unconditionally but He loves you too much to leave you like you are, dead in your sin. If God loves you just as you are and has no desire to transform or change you, then Jesus didn’t need to die to redeem you from your sin. That brings me to the last item Paul addresses before the Aeropagus… the resurrection and judgment.
Paul tells the Athenians that all of these things are based on the authority of God as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus. Everything I’ve said and everything Paul said to the Athenians hinges on the truth and power of the resurrection. If the resurrection is true, then the authority and power of Jesus are undeniable and you and I ought to fall before Him in subjection and humility. However, if the resurrection is simply a story or a religious myth then everything I’ve said is pointless, can be completely disregarded and, truthfully, is worthy of rejection and disdain. You see, faith in Jesus isn’t something that can be moderately true or partially followed.
Resurrection or Rumor?
So, the ultimate question is whether the resurrection is true or not. Is there sufficient evidence to support the resurrection? I mentioned above that Richard Dawkins has presuppositions regarding the evidence for design. While he admits that life “has the appearance” of design and purpose, his bias won’t let him see this as evidence for God. Are you willing to honestly evaluate the evidence for the resurrection? If so, consider this… most scholars, including those who do NOT believe in the miracle of the resurrection, agree that the basic facts as stated in the Gospel accounts of Jesus death and the days and weeks that follow, with the obvious exception of the actual resurrection miracle itself, are historically accurate.
These scholars, including those who do not believe in the resurrection, generally agree on the following basic facts: 1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion in Jerusalem; 2) He was physically buried, most likely in a private tomb; 3) soon afterwards, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent having lost hope; 4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty soon after his burial; 5) the disciples had experiences they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus; 6) due to these experiences, the disciples were totally transformed and willing to die for their beliefs; 7) the disciples proclaimed the resurrection very early, from the beginning of church history; 8) the disciples proclamation and preaching of the resurrection took place in Jerusalem where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before; 9) the gospel message, as proclaimed by Jesus’ disciples, centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus; 10) Sunday was the primary day for Christian gathering and worship; 11) James, the brother of Jesus and originally a skeptic, was transformed and became a leader of the early church when he believed he had seen the risen Jesus; 12) just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul from our story here) who was also a skeptic, became a believer and influential Christian leader/preacher when he believed he saw the risen Jesus.
So, the question that you must answer is whether these facts support the belief that Jesus was miraculously resurrected or not. Paul even tells us that in addition to the disciples, in addition to Jesus’ brother James, in addition to Saul himself, there were over 500 other witnesses of the resurrection. Consider this: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV)
Why must you answer this question for yourself? As Paul tells the Athenians, God no longer overlooks unbelief due to ignorance. You have now heard the truth regarding Jesus and you will now be held accountable for how you respond. Like the Athenians, you must decide if you will believe or if you will reject the evidence. You may claim that you need more evidence, then go research and read, discover for yourself. But don’t approach the evidence with your mind already made up; be willing to go wherever the evidence leads you. God has made Himself known, and He wants to know you.
I’ll leave you with just one more verse: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV)