We Proclaim Jesus.
GOD BLESS YOU.
Reaching Unbelievers Who Are Without a Biblical Worldview!
By Joseph Ametepe
• The purpose of this article is to help us explore and learn from the early Christians’ faithful life and fruitful presentation of the Gospel. Apostle Paul is one of those early Christians whose exemplary life and effective presentation of the Good News made a great impact in his generation. The greatest testimony about the impact Paul’s presentation of the Gospel made on the people of his generation is captured in these words, “These men who have turned the world upside down have also come here” (Acts 17:6).
• After Paul was dramatically transformed; his passion in life became the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In Acts 9:20, we are told after his radical transformation that,“immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, He is the Son of God.” With this newfound passion and purpose in life, Paul continued to preach and promote the Person of Jesus Christ. Luke tells us in Acts 9:22 that, “Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”
• At Thessalonica, Paul reasoned or dialogued with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks for three Sabbaths, “explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ’” (Acts 17:3).
• Later in life, Paul wrote to the churches at Corinth and Colossae about his passion and purpose in proclaiming, preaching and promoting the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
• To the Corinthians he wrote, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
• To the Colossians he wrote, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom’ so that we may present every man complete in Christ”(Colossians 1:28).
• In his passion to make God and His Good News known to all without compromising his conviction, Paul became all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
• Paul not only had a passion for making Jesus known, but he also felt a great sense of urgency and divine compulsion to preach the Good News wherever God led him. His own testimony about the great sense of urgency and divine compulsion that he felt is captured in these words. “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
• It is from this man’s life that I would like us to learn some biblical principles concerning how to share the Good News to people who have little or no knowledge of God and His Scriptures.
• It is my prayer that God will use this study to draw us closer to Himself and make us more effective in sharing the Gospel in our day.
The Definition of the Gospel
• What then is the Gospel? In its simplest form, the Good News or the Gospel is the saving message of life and redemption in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the glad news which tells about Jesus Christ. It is therefore always centered on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He has done for the salvation of sinners in every nation. The Gospel is the joyous proclamation of God's redemptive activity in Christ Jesus on behalf of sinners enslaved by sin.
• In other words, the Gospel is the presentation of the life of the Person of Jesus to show His saving significance for all people and to call them to faith in Him.
• It is the saving work of God in His Son, Jesus Christ, and a call to faith in Him. Faith is more than intellectual agreement to a theoretical truth. Faith is trust placed in a living person, Jesus Christ.
The Definition of Salvation
• The term salvation is familiar to most of us. Yet its true meaning is not familiar to us. It is therefore necessary to give a clear definition of salvation at this point. In its simplest form, salvation is deliverance from the punishment, penalty, power, pollution and finally from the presence of sin.
• It is an eternal gift bestowed on those who personally place their complete trust in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and in His sacrificial death on the cross for their sins. This wholehearted personal trust results in entering into a saving relationship with God and complete forgiveness of one’s sins against a holy, loving and righteous God who is from everlasting to everlasting.
• To state it in another way, salvation is simply an application of Christ’s victorious work over sin to the life of the individual. It pertains to the most crucial need of the human person – the need to be freed from sin, which separates us from a loving, gracious, holy and just God.
• In the Old Testament, the term “salvation” sometimes refers to deliverance from danger (see Jeremiah 15:20), deliverance of the weak from an oppressor (see Psalm 35:9-10), the healing of sickness (see Isaiah 38:20), and deliverance from blood guiltiness and its consequences (see Psalm 51:14). It may also refer to national deliverance from military threat (see Exodus 13:14) or release from captivity (see Psalm 14:7). But salvation finds its deepest meaning in the spiritual realm of life. It is this deepest meaning of salvation that I have defined above and about which I am concerned in this article. The absolute necessity of salvation, deliverance from the penalty and power of sin is indeed one of the clearest teachings of the Bible. The need for salvation is a universal need. Everyone desperately needs it, but unfortunately, not everyone desires it or seeks it.
Presenting the Gospel to those who know nothing about it
How do you present the Good News to sinners who have never heard of it?
How do you preach the Gospel to people without a biblical worldview?
How do you tell people who have no knowledge of Scripture about God’s desire to make Himself known to them?
How do you as a believer show those who have no knowledge of the true and living God that He is interested in them and wants them to seek after Him in order for them to come into a saving relationship with Him?
What is the best starting point for proclaiming the Gospel to pagans with no knowledge of the Bible?
How do you go about speaking of Christ’s saving message of life and redemption to people who are hearing it for the first time and have no knowledge of what it is all about?
Has God left us with an example of how to bear witness of Him among people who have no knowledge of His Word?
Thanks be to God!
He has left us with a precious example of how to be His witnesses to people who have no idea about what He has written in His Word.
God brought Paul to Athens. There, Paul met people who knew nothing about God’s Word and God’s Work as written in the Scriptures. Moreover, the Athenians knew nothing about the Person of God Himself, His hatred of idols and His call upon them to turn from their worship of idols.
God specifically brought Paul to Athens to bear witness of Him and point these idol worshipers to the glorious Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of sinners.
Rather than beginning his witness with direct quotations or appeals to the Old Testament, that is "revealed theology" as he previously did in his preaching to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, his approach was by way of "natural theology," that is, God’s revelation of Himself in creation.
But please understand that this is not to say that Paul’s message was not Biblical. In fact, Paul’s message was entirely Biblical, though he did not quote directly from the Scriptures. In spite of not directly appealing to the Scriptures, Paul’s proclamation was thoroughly Scriptural. Please keep that in mind.
Paul thought it best at Athens to explain the power and Person behind creation, that is, God Himself. Finally, Paul pointed his hearers to the Person of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners and the Supreme Judge of all.
The Heart of Paul’s Message at Athens
The heart of Paul’s message to the Athenians is simply this: The only true and living God, who is the Creator of everything in the world, is knowable.
In other words, God, revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, is willing to make Himself known to anyone who is seeking and desiring to know Him.
Athens (like Corinth, where Paul went after delivering his message at the Areopagus,) was in the province of Achaia and is the capital of modern Greece. The 2004 Olympic Games will be held in the city of Athens.
Athens was located about two hundred miles south of Berea. Paul had just been recently chased out of Berea (see Acts 17:10-15). Berea itself was just five miles from the Aegean Sea.
Athens, the birthplace of democracy, was a cultural and highly intellectual community. It was the worship center of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Being a religious center, almost every god in existence was worshiped there. Every public building was dedicated to a god, and statutes of gods filled the city. This was the city where Paul visited alone on his second missionary journey.
Athens was also the center of Greek art, architecture, literature, and politics during the golden age of Greek history (the fifth century B.C.).
Actually, the history of Athens goes back before 3000 B.C., when a small village grew up on the slopes of the Acropolis (the great central hill).
In its heyday, several centuries before Christ, it had been the greatest city in the world.
Learning was stimulated and philosophers found Athens a congenial home (with the exception of Socrates, whom the Athenians put to death in 399 B.C.).
Socrates, his brilliant student Plato (who founded his famous school, the Academy, in 388 B.C.), and Plato’s student Aristotle, perhaps the greatest and most influential philosopher of all time, taught there.
So also did Epicurus, founder of Epicureanism, and Zeno, founder of Stoicism.
By Paul’s day, Corinth had replaced Athens as the most important political and commercial center in Greece. Yet Athens had lost none of its cultural significance. It was still the philosophical center of the ancient world, and was the home of the world’s most famous university.
Overview of Article
I would like to give us an overview of how I intend to present this material.
First of all, we will look at Paul’s concern for the lost souls at the great city of Athens (vv. 16-17).
Second, we will look at Paul’s courage in the midst of ridicule (vv. 18-21).
Third, we will focus our attention on Paul’s clear, concise and compelling presentation of the Good News beginning with the reality of God who is the Creator of the universe (vv. 22-29). This is the heart of this article. This is where we would learn valuable principles for presenting the Good news to those who have no Scriptural background.
Fourth, we will look at Paul’s call for repentance (vv. 30-31).
Fifth, and finally, we will take note of the common responses to the Good News (vv. 32-34).
I. His Concern for the lost souls at Athens (vv. 16-17)
The man or woman who God uses to make a difference for the Good News of Jesus Christ has a concern for lost souls. Such a person has a passion for people who are without Christ. Such a person has a love for the lost. Paul was such a person.
To give us a clear picture of Paul’s concern for the lost, I want to ask us two key questions. The first key question is:
What led to Paul’s concern for the lost in Athens?
The Bible tells us in verse 16 that Paul’s "spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols."
As Paul walked the streets of Athens, on every side, in niches and on pedestals, in temples and on street corners, his eyes fell on the works of great artists. But Paul didn’t merely see these works of art as objects of beauty or exquisite works of art.
Rather, he saw them for what they really were, senseless idols, and false and dead gods, in contrast to the true, living and exalted God.
Paul didn’t say, "these are cute works of art. Oh how wonderful they are! How fantastic and fabulous they look! How fancy and fun they are!"
This is how some people (including those of us who call ourselves by the Name) would describe such things today. People see the idols in Japan, India, Nepal, Taiwan, Togo, Benin, etc., and speak of them as beautiful art works to be seen and enjoyed as tourists.
But please listen! Paul did not view the idols from a tourist’s perspective. He viewed them from a totally different perspective. He saw them with God’s eyes. Because he was filled with the Spirit, he saw the idols from God’s point of view.
From God’s perspective, he saw Athens, not just as a city full of idols but as a city full of lost men and women, doomed to Christless eternity should they continue in idolatry.
Please put on your thinking caps and let me ask you this question.
Did the idols place themselves on every street corner?
We all know for a fact that idols are the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak. They have eyes, but they cannot see. They have ears, but they cannot hear. They have noses, but they cannot smell. They have hands, but they cannot feel. They have feet, but they cannot walk (see Psalm 115:4-7). So it is very obvious that the idols did not place themselves all over the city of Athens. Right!
Rather, the Athenians made them and placed them on every street corner.
So Paul’s provocation was therefore not simply against the idols, but against the idolaters or idol worshipers in Athens.
His holy indignation was an expression of his deep concern for the lost souls in Athens, who made such idols and worshiped them.
Paul was deeply concerned for their souls. They were lost. They were deceived. They were in darkness.
They needed to come to the true knowledge of the God who created them for Himself. They needed to come out of the darkness into the marvelous light of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world who enlightens everyone who believes in Him.
Actually, Paul’s calling was "to open the eyes of [both Jews and Gentiles] so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in God" (Acts 26:18).
The word for "provoke" [paroxuno], also means to become angry, infuriated, irritated, aroused or upset at someone or something involving severe emotional concern.
The use this strong verb clearly reveals to us that Paul was expressing holy anger against the sin of idolatry.
Why? Idolatry robs God of His glory.
Paul’s provocation against the sin of idolatry actually reflected God’s own reaction to idolatry. In Isaiah 65:3 God describes Israel as "a people who continually provoke Me to My face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks."
Paul knew that the Athenians, like any other people on the face of the earth, were created in the image of God. They were therefore dishonoring God by doing the exact opposite of what He created them to do, that is, trust in Him, believe on Him, look to Him, worship Him alone.
Paul was infuriated because he knew the Athenians were missing the reason for which they were created. Although he didn’t quote Isaiah 42:8 which says, "I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images or idols," Paul might have been thinking of it.
A desire to point the Athenians to the true God was therefore born in Paul.
When was the last time you were provoked in your spirit because of the evil you see around you?
When the people around us dishonor God by doing the exact opposite of what He created them to do, do you feel holy indignation?
We live in a culture in which evil is called good and good is called evil.
But may I say to us, if we are filled with the Spirit of God and are walking in step with the Spirit, we will also be provoked in our spirits because of the evil that is around us today.
The second key question we need to ask in order to help us get a clear picture of Paul’s concern for the lost is this:
How did Paul express his concern for the lost souls at Athens?
Paul’s concern for the lost was expressed in concrete actions.
In other words, Paul’s provocation moved him to take certain steps.
Paul didn’t sit in his motel room in a recliner and think to himself, "People will come to me. After all, my name has been heard far and near. My fame has spread through all Judea, Cilicia, Lycia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Phrygia, Asia, Mysia, Macedonia, and Galatia."
The Bible clearly states the concrete actions Paul took in expressing his concern for the lost. In verse 17, we read, "So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present."
Now, please watch this carefully! Though Paul was provoked in his spirit, he acted with restraint and respect. He acted rationally. He reasoned in the synagogue as well as in theagora, which was the main public place in the city. Actually, the agora was the economic, political, and cultural heart of the city.
Notice Paul went to where the people were. Paul followed his normal pattern of going first to the synagogue of the Jews (see Acts 17:1-2).
But here at Athens, Paul took a step further beyond the familiar and perhaps the comfortable setting of the synagogue.
He went into the agora or the marketplace. There he reasoned [dialegomai – this is the word from which the English word dialogue is derived], addressed, or dialogued with those who happened to be there. Paul’s "reasoning" most likely involved proclamation but left room for discussions and questions at the end.
Paul’s deep concern was such that he was not content to just reach out to the people in the synagogue but also to those in the marketplace. If you please, Paul went beyond his comfort zone and ventured into the agora with the Good News.
But the question is what about us?
Do we have such love, such deep concern for the lost that we are willing to go beyond our comfortable zones to share the Good News with others where they are?
Or are we going to wait till they come to church before we share the Good News with them?
Please take note of this! Paul didn’t wait for the people to come to church before he shared the Good News with them.
Often times, I hear pastors exhorting their congregations to invite unbelievers to church to hear the Gospel. While that sounds evangelistically good, it is not the pattern we see in the Scriptures.
Please listen! The pattern God has established in His Word is simply this: "Go where the people are and tell them of God’s love and grace for them." It is that simple. But we have made it so complicated.
Bible teacher Howard Hendricks says it poignantly. "I can't find a verse of Scripture that commands a lost person to go to church [but] I know a lot of Scripture that commands believers to go into a lost world."
Paul’s concern for the lost souls at Athens truly revealed his love for them. He wanted them to hear the most important message through which they could experience God’s love and grace. Therefore he went both to the synagogue and the agora. There he shared the Good News.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, do you have a love for the lost?
Do you have a concern for the salvation of those who are without Christ?
If so, what concrete steps are you taking by the leading of the Spirit to show that love and concern for them?
Are you waiting till they come and knock on your door?
For sure, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses will come and knock on your door. But they come to "convert" not because they are craving for the Good News.
Are you waiting till they come to your church or fellowship or Bible Study?
Are you waiting till they draw near to the gates of death before you share Jesus with them?
Please listen! You cannot have a concern for those who are without Christ and simply stay put. If you truly have a love for them God will lead you by His Spirit to go where they are and share with them His message of life and redemption in His Son, Jesus Christ.
God has challenged me personally with the principle of going where the people are to share His Good News. For the last six years, I have been regularly going to a Senior Residence in Boulder on Friday nights to present the Good News. I have also for sometime gone to another Senior Residence in Aurora on Sundays to share the Good News with the residents. By God’s grace, He brought several men and women who did not know Him or believe in Him to Himself. Some have since passed on. They were part of God’s plentiful harvest. I really thank God for leading and sending me there to be a laborer in His harvest.
Having observed Paul’s concern for the lost souls at Athens, let’s now look at his courage in the face of contemptuous persecution.
II. His Courage despite their contempt (vv. 18-21)
Please listen! The believer who God uses to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ demonstrates courage in the face of adversity and ridicule.
Apart from the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, the Bible tells us in verse 18 that Paul also came into contact with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.
Who were the Epicureans?
History tells us that they were Greek philosophers who belonged to a school founded by Epicurus about 306 B.C.
The Epicureans were concerned with practical results of philosophy in everyday life. Their chief aim in life was pleasure.
They believed they could find happiness by seeking that which brought physical and mental pleasure, and by avoiding that which brought pain. Their view of God was that he was uninvolved in the universe and irrelevant. We can therefore simply describe them in this way: chief aim, pleasure but no pain. Their chief belief: God plays no part in the universe.
And who were the Stoics?
They were a Greek school of philosophy that taught that human beings should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to the natural law, calmly accepting all things as the result of divine will.
The Stoics took their name from the Stoa Poikile, the portico or lecture place in Athens where its founder, Zeno, taught.
The Stoics believed that people are part of the universe, which itself is dominated by reason. God is identified with the world-soul and so inhabits everything. Their belief about God was therefore pantheistic.
Therefore, one’s goal is to identify oneself with this universal reason that determines destiny, to find one’s proper place in the natural order of things.
Since people cannot change this grand design, it is best for them to cooperate and to take their part in the world order.
Moreover, they must live above any emotional involvement with life, exemplifying a detached virtue in serving others. Above all, they must be self-sufficient, living life with dignity and pride - Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p.1203.
Now watch this! The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers differed greatly in their chief aims and beliefs. Although these Epicureans and Stoics differed radically in their philosophical beliefs and goals, both of them were united in their contempt for Paul and his teachings. They found a common enemy in Paul and so they joined themselves together in ridiculing him. Indeed, it is true that a common foe makes enemies friends. Remember, Herod and Pilate, though they were enemies with each other, they became friends at the trial of our Lord Jesus (see Luke 23:7-12).
Now, would you please notice how they ridiculed Paul and treated him with contempt! Paul was made fun of. He was despised.
The Bible says, "Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’ – because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection" (v. 18b).
Literally, this verse reads, "And some said, what may this ignorant plagiarist wish to say? And others, 'of foreign demons he seems an announcer to be, because Jesus and the resurrection he preached.'"
Please take note of this! For the early believers, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was an Everyday Message, not simply a once a year Easter Message.
The main ridicule Paul faced among these philosophers was being called "This idle babbler" [ho spermologos].
This expression literally means a "seed picker or an ignorant plagiarist."
The expression evoked images of a bird pecking indiscriminately at seeds in a barnyard. It referred to someone who picked up scraps of ideas here and there and passed them off as profundity with no depth of understanding at all (John B. Polhill, The New American Commentary: Acts).
They were saying of Paul that he was a retailer of secondhand ideas.
To put it in today’s language, "Paul, think for yourself, don’t just pick up ideas from people. Paul you know nothing. You only parrot what others have said without really understanding it. Think for yourself."
I met an elderly man on the plane while flying from Denver to Portland. I normally like to sit by the window just to look at God’s creation from that high and lofty viewpoint. I got my wish. I was assigned to sit by the window. But when I got to the plane, an elderly man was sitting in my place. I paused for a moment and asked God about how to deal with the situation. His response was "just sit by him." So I sat down and began to read my Bible. As I was doing so, the elderly man asked me what I was reading. I told him I was reading the Bible. Then he said to me, "Do you believe in that stuff?" I said, "I do." He was in his early nineties but was mentally sharp and physically strong for his age.
During the course of our conversation, he told me he had studied all religions and came to the conclusion that, "they really don’t help you."
I responded to him by expressing my firm belief in Christ and Christianity. Hearing of my firm commitment to Jesus Christ, he became very emotional. Then he said to me in a strong and steady voice, "Young man, think, think! Use your brain. You are not going anywhere believing that stuff." I was certainly provoked by his hostility and ridicule of me. But through God’s grace, I acted with restraint and respect and did not speak back to him in anger and rage as he did to me. It was a very trying time for me.
Thankfully, the Lord released me from engaging him further until we got to Portland. The elderly man thought I was an idle babbler. His opinion of me was that I was a retailer of secondhand ideas and needed to think for myself.
It always amazes me that what God has revealed in His Word as sure and sound truth is often ridiculed as strange. Paul spoke the Gospel truth, but the proud philosophers called his preaching of Jesus and the resurrection, as "some strange things to our ears" (v. 20).
Although ridiculed, despised and treated contemptuously by the philosophers, Paul demonstrated courage in the Lord.
He didn’t collapse mentally. His emotions didn’t come crashing down.
Rather, confident in the Lord and in His strength Paul went with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers when asked to give an account of the hope within him.
That is what we see in verses 19-21. Instead of complaining about their contemptuous treatment of him, with courage Paul stepped forward to make the most of the opportunity presented him.
Luke gives us an insight about the Athenians and the strangers visiting Athens. He said their habit was spending their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new (v. 21).
They were caught up in talking about and listening to the latest ideas and never coming to grips with what they heard.
What a way to live! They had no genuine interest in the Good News. If there was any interest at all it was probably no more than academic.
Do you want to spend your whole life just talking about and hearing something new, yet never learning?
But this is happening today on the talk shows. People talk about "the new stuff" and hear "the latest ideas." At the end of it all, they just laugh everything off.
May I say to us, the spirit of the Athenians is still with us today.
Paul had been treated with contempt. Yet courage rose in his heart to testify of his Lord and Savior even in the midst of the contemptuous philosophers. In the courage of the Lord, Paul presented a clear, concise and compelling message to people who knew nothing about the Scriptures. Let’s now therefore look at Paul’s clear, concise andcompelling presentation of the Good News to the Athenians.
III. His Clear presentation of the Good News (vv. 22-29)
The person through whom God works to make Himself known to the world knows how it is important to present the Good News with all clarity.
Paul’s message was not only clear, but also concise and compelling.
Standing in the midst of the Areopagus [meaning, hill of the god Ares], which took its name from a little hill in Athens situated between the Acropolis and the Agora - Paul was poised to present a clear, concise and compelling message of the Good News to the Athenians.
But before Paul launched into his message, he made a general remark in verses 22-23a.
After addressing them as "Men of Athens," Paul says, "I observe or behold or see [theoro] that you are very religious in all respects."
The word translated "very religious" is one word in the Greek, having 19 letters (diesidaimonesterous).
This word can have either a good sense or bad. It can either mean that they were more devout than most in the practice of religion or more superstitious.
I’m sure the Athenians took the first meaning, thus patting themselves on the back.
Paul however used it in the second sense to express what he thought of their religion.
But they would learn soon enough what Paul’s opinion about them, really was.
Having told them they were very religious, Paul goes on to relate to them his reason for saying so.
Evidence that they were indeed very religious abounded on every side.
Paul says, "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with the inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’ (v. 23a).
Please note that, Paul was not suggesting for one moment that the Athenians were unconscious worshipers of the true God he was about to proclaim to them. He was not saying, as some have claimed, that God accepted their worship of the anonymous god.
The thinking at the time was that if the gods were not properly worshiped they would strike the city. They were fearful of missing some god in their ignorance of him or her. So to be sure they missed no gods in their worship; the city set up these altars to unknown gods. The Athenians were doing everything possible to avoid invoking the wrath of the god they might have overlooked. They were therefore not devout as they thought. They were rather superstitious and full of fear. So the emphasis here is on their ignorance, not on their worship.
Actually, history tells us that around 600 B.C. a terrible plague hit Athens. It was believed that one of the many gods of Athens had been offended and thus brought the plague. Sacrifices were offered, but the plague continued. Then Epimenides suggested that the Athenians had possibly offended an "unknown" god. It was ordered that a number of sheep be released in Athens, and that wherever they lay down, a sacrifice would be offered. The sheep was sacrificed to the "unknown" god and the plague lifted.
Paul had observed one of the altars of the "unknown god" and therefore seized this opportunity to connect with them and raise one of the most important and basic questions in life. Who is God?
To answer this question Paul states several truths about the one true and living God to these people who knew nothing about God and His Scriptures.
Missionaries tell us that the best place to begin in teaching pagans who are without a biblical worldview, about the true God is the account of creation. This is exactly where Paul began with the Athenians as he stated several universal truths about the reality of God and His work in creation and eventually pointed them to Jesus Christ.
So we ask ourselves, what truths did Paul declare to the Athenians who were without a biblical worldview in his attempt to make the true God known to them?
There are nine of them. These universal truths will help us in sharing the Good News to unbelievers who practically know nothing about the Bible. Please take note of them as I state them in simple terms for us.
First, God is. In other words, God exists. God is real (v. 23b).
Folks, this is what we are to tell people who are without a biblical worldview. We are to declare to them with the conviction of the Spirit that God is real.
Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, He who comes to God must believe that He is."
The Bible does not present us with formal arguments for God’s existence. Paul knew that and so he didn’t waste precious time trying to prove the existence of God to the Athenians. He simply spoke of the reality of the true and living God. In other words, Paul saw how important it was for him to establish the fact of God before sharing the message of God.
Ajith Fernado, National Director of Youth for Christ is Sri Lanka writes, "It is vital to lay the foundation of who God is early in our gospel presentation to those who do not have a biblical worldview. How can people realize the need for a Savior from sin unless they realize the seriousness of sin and its consequences? And how can they realize the seriousness of sin unless they know about the holy God against whom our sin is committed? How can they appreciate what Christ did for them unless they understand God’s horror over sin and the price paid to redeem us? Why should they go through the hassle of changing religions unless they realize that to turn to God is to turn to the supreme Creator and Lord of the universe?"
At Athens Paul established the fact of God by pointing to His reality before calling the Athenians to repentance.
This is what we are also called to do, that is, declaring the reality of the one true God, the supreme Lord of all, who emphatically declared, "Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me" (Isaiah 43:10-11).
No scientific experiment can prove God’s existence.
No mathematical equation can be used to prove the existence of God.
No engineering venture, like going to the moon or mars can prove the existence of God.
God simply wants people to believe that He indeed exists.
The Bible says in Romans 1:19 that, "that which is known about God is evident within [people]; for God made it evident to them."
The Bible also says in Psalm 14:1, "The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’"
Paul didn’t quote these Scriptures [Romans was not written yet]. He simply stated that God exists. He is real. He can be known. Period.
The Athenians were living in confusion caused by conflicting philosophies and idolatry. The Spirit gave Paul discernment about this confusion. Not only that, He enabled Paul to forcefully speak the truth that the one true God not only exists but can also be known. And so he declared, "What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."
By this statement, Paul is making it clear to the Athenians that God exists and can be known. In other words, in contrast to all the false gods the Athenians were worshiping, Paul declared to them in the Spirit that the true God exists. He is living. He is real. He is knowable.
The clear teaching of Scripture is that the one true and living God can be known.
Deuteronomy 4:35 says, "To you [referring to the sons of Israel who were about to enter the Promised Land] it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him."
King’s David last prayer for his son Solomon was to know God. "As for you, my son Solomon know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind…" (1 Chronicles 28:9).
Solomon himself later prayed at the dedication of the temple that all peoples of the earth may know God’s name, that is, His person, power, presence in their lives. "Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name" (1 Kings 8:41-43).
Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God made it clear that our boasting in life should not be of our wisdom, our might, and our riches but of understanding and knowing Him. "Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
The Lord Jesus Himself spoke of knowing the only true God. In His priestly prayer in the Upper Room, He said, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
This God who can be known is the believer’s message to the lost world, even those without a biblical worldview.
Second, God is the Creator of the universe (v. 24a).
In other words, God is the Maker of all things, things in the heavens and things on the earth. God is the Creator of everything in the world.
"The God who made the world and all things in it" (v. 24a).
Paul presented God exalted as Creator.
Please note that this is not the first time Paul spoke of God as the Creator to sinners without a biblical worldview. After being used to heal a man who was lame from his mother’s womb, the people of Lystra said the gods had become like men and came down to us. They called Barnabas Zeus (Latin: Jupiter – the chief pagan god). Paul, they called Hermes (Latin: Mercury – considered the messenger or spokesman for the pagan gods of Greece and Rome; (see Acts 14:11-12)).
Being pagans who knew nothing of the Scriptures, Paul preached the Good News to them by first introducing them to God as the Creator. "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them" (Acts 14:15).
This should become our standard procedure when we preach the Gospel to the lost who are without a biblical worldview. That is, speak of God as real and living, and as One who created the universe.
It is an established fact; the world was not a thing of chance, but the creation of the Creator.
What Paul said here comes straight from the first sentence of the first book of the Bible.
The Bible opens up with the simple declaration "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
What Paul said here in the Spirit, must have startled and shocked the Epicureans and the Stoic philosophers.
This is because the Epicureans believed that matter [that is, what a thing is made of] was eternal and therefore had no creator.
The Stoics on the other hand believed that everything was part of God – who certainly couldn’t have created Himself.
Creation by a God was therefore an unpopular view among the Greeks.
But do you know that the truth that God is the Creator of the universe and all it contains is just as unpopular in our day?
Creation by God is not kosher these days. But the chaos theory of evolution is what is being taught today in schools, colleges and universities as the truth about how this world and life began.
The rest of Scripture clearly shows us that the world did not come about bychance. It was created in wisdom by a wise, intelligent and all-knowing God (see Proverbs 3:19-20; Psalm 104:24; 136:5-6; 146:6; Isaiah 40:28; Jeremiah 10:12; 32:17; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Revelations 4:11; 10:6).
It is an established fact that a plan requires a planner. A program requires a programmer. And a designer requires a designer. No one denies the fact that the world so clearly exhibits evidence of design. Year after year, tourists travel from country to country to behold the beauty of creation. Although they may not all acknowledge it, the fact remains, the world in which we live has a Designer. The only true God revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus is that Designer. He is the Creator "who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens" (Jeremiah 10:12).
Do you know why people are rejecting God as the Creator today?
They are uncomfortable with the thought that if there is a Creator then they are accountable to Him. Why? They would have to face the fact that He created them and therefore owns them.
People don’t want to be held accountable to a Creator. "Let’s push aside the idea of a Creator. Then we shall be free from being held accountable to Him and live life as we please."
But we must not let this prevent us from telling people without a biblical worldview that the world in which they live and are familiar with is created by the only true God. We must also tell them that the only true God is revealed only in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Third, God is the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of all things (v. 24b).
To state it in another way, God is the supreme Lord of the universe.
Paul says in the second part of verse 24, "Since He is Lord of heaven and earth." Literally this reads "This one being Lord of heaven and earth." The emphasis here is clearly on His supreme Lordship over all things in the universe.
At this point of his message, Paul was led to exalt God as the supreme Lord of the universe. In other words, the God who created heaven and earth is also Lord of heaven and earth. He is the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of all things.
Because God created all things, He is their rightful Ruler.
Everything in heaven and on earth is under the rule, authority, and sovereignty of God.
Paul’s statements about God are calculated to not only show the futility of idolatry, but also to demonstrate that God is the supreme Lord of creation and therefore worthy of our allegiance.
What Paul said in verse 24 has Scriptural backing but he didn’t quote Scripture. He simply stated the fact as he knew it in his own heart.
Genesis 14:19 says, "God is the possessor of heaven and earth."
Psalm 24:1 says, "The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it."
Also 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Psalm 103:19 and Daniel 4:34-35 all affirm that God is the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of all things.
Sinners without biblical worldview need to be told that God is the Lord and Ruler of heaven and earth. They need to hear that God is the supreme Lord of all creation. They may not like it. They may even vigorously and vehemently dispute it. But that can never change this universal truth. They will be held accountable to the supreme Lord of all creation.
Fourth, God alone is Self-Sufficient (vv. 24c-25a).
Perhaps this is one of the most powerful truths that must sound forth from believers in this self-sufficient age of ours.
What Paul said here was a dagger to the hearts of the Stoic philosophers.
They taught above all else that people should be self-sufficient.
But here comes Paul declaring in the power of the Holy Spirit that the One who alone is Self-Sufficient is God, the Creator of heaven and earth and the Lord of heaven and earth.
Hearts were pierced. Consciences were pricked.
But the pride of man prevented many Stoics from repenting that day. As a result, they did not receive the blessing of God.
Do you know that many people live a self-sufficient lifestyle today?They are sufficient in themselves. They are able to get along in life without God’s help. Therefore they don’t need Jesus. Jesus is only a crutch for the weak and wimpy. He is a crutch for those who are not strong and self-sufficient.
But I tell you friends! One day the bottom will fall out for them.
Then they will learn that God alone is indeed self-sufficient.
God does not need anything that we can supply.
The verb "needed," literally, "having need" [prosdeomenos] means "to need in addition," as though necessary to make God complete.
Notice what Paul says in verses 24c-25a. "[He] does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything."
In the power of the Spirit, Paul presented God as exalted in sufficiency. No service at all is needed by Him. In other words, God is the Only One in all the universe who has it all together.
The city of Athens was full of temples and shrines built by human hands.
They thought they were rendering service to God.
They thought they were helping God with a place to lay His head here on earth.
But their thinking was totally wrong.
Even Solomon who built one of the most magnificent temples of all times, confessed in his prayer at the dedication of the temple that God did not need a temple.
"But will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27; cf. 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18).
To get the wrong thinking out of their minds, Paul tells them God is self-sufficient. He is able to get along fine without help from anyone. He and He alone has it all together.
He does not need anything from human beings to make Him complete. He doesn’t need their little shrines. He is too big for their shrines. He is so matchless in majesty and so glorious in Person and so cannot be squeezed into their handiwork. He does not dwell in temples made with hands, no matter how beautiful they look.
God is so self-sufficient that even our sins against Him do not take away anything from His righteousness. Neither does our righteous acts add to His to make Him complete (see Job 35:6-7).
We have a God who is self-sufficient. He is exalted in sufficiency. He has it all together. He does not need anything from puny little man to make Him full, whole or complete.
This is a powerful truth God has given us to tell to those who know nothing about His Word. It is a universal truth that is intended to humble the haughtiness of man and eventually point him to his need of an all knowing, all powerful and all sufficient God, who is fully revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Fifth, God is a Generous Giver (v. 25b).
In other words, God Himself is the provider of everything. He is the Giver of life and breath and everything.
This is a powerful truth God has preserved in His Word for us to use in testifying of His Person.
Because God is self-sufficient, He loves to give and give and give to the people He created. We should all say Amen to that!
Paul said in the Holy Spirit, "He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things" (v. 25b).
Literally, this verse reads, "having need of anything He [keeps] giving to all life and breath and all things."
Notice what God gives. He gives life [zoen] in the physical sense. He gives breath [pnoen]. He also gives all things [ta panta]. God is the source of our lives. He is the source of everything we have.
If you should go through your house and list the things you have, would you say with an attitude of gratitude that God has given them to you?
God gives life, breath, and all things, that includes your home(s), your children, your family, your church, your friends, your food, your job, your cars, your vacation home, your yatchs. Absolutely everything that you have is from God.
Paul didn't list the "all things" God gives us. He could have done so from Scriptures such as Psalm 104:10-17, 27-28; 145:15-16; 146:7; 147:8-9, 14, 16-18; Ecclesiastes 5:15, 19; 6:2; 8:15; 9:9; Matthew 5:45 and Acts 14:17.
Please take time to read and ponder these verses. You will be amazed at how much God gives us apart from life and breath. The all things include causing the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man's heart glad. The springs that flow between the mountains, the snow we all enjoy so much, the sun we love to bask ourselves in, the rain, the fruitful seasons, all are given by God. He gives us so much but we give Him less and less gratitude. As technology takes man to unparalleled heights, we give more and more credit to ourselves and less and less thanks to God.
But the fact remains, God is a Giver who keeps giving life and breath to all and everything else we need to live.
May I say to us, all of us owe our lives to God the Giver of life!
We are not alive today because of taking our medication.
Try giving medication to a dead body in which there is no life!
We are not here today because of eating and enjoying our three square meals of health foods. Try giving food to a dead body! We cannot revive a dead body by giving him or her the most delicious and expensive food there is in the world.
We are not alive today primarily because of faithfully following our exercise programs. Try putting a dead body on the treadmill. I tell you, he will not be able to hold the handle of the treadmill, let alone stand. A great disaster would occur at the treadmill.
What’s the point of all this?
The life we have is given to us by God.
The breath, all other living things and we have, is from the living God.
This ought to make us not only humble but also grateful.
As Paul’s eyes gazed on his hearers, he stated to them in a compelling manner that the life they had was from the one true and living God. In other words, they were a living proof of the existence of the true and living God. His breath was in them. His life was in them. All they had was from Him. And all we have is from God. His life is in us. His breath is in us.
The Athenians were to know that they were all alive because the living God, the only true God, the Creator of the universe, the Lord of heaven and earth, chose to give them all His life and breath. But that was not all. They were to know that in addition to life and breath, God their Creator had also given them all things – all things they needed for this life and also for the one soon to come.
What a powerful testimony this was then and is today of the true and living God! He is the Giver of life and everything. He is the source of all we have. This is a compelling message God has given us to tell all people, even to those who have no knowledge of the Bible. Their life and breath and all they have are from the only true God.
In Job 12:9-10 the question is asked, "Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of everything and the breath of all mankind?" It is crystal clear from these verses that the life of every living thing and the breath of all people of all cultures is in the hand of the living God.
Elihu [the young man who spoke to Job after his three friends ceased answering Job] testified in the Spirit, saying, "The Spirit of God has made me. The breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:4).
Later in Job 34:14-15, Elihu made a solemn confession of what would happen if God were to take His life from people. "If He [referring to God the Almighty] should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust."
Paul did not appeal to these references. He simply stated the universal truth that God is the Giver of life and everything.
If there was any man who understood this revelation of God, and was truly humbled by it and grateful for it, it was David, the man after God’s own heart.
Having blessed and exalted God in the opening part of his last recorded prayer and declaring that everything that is in the heavens and the earth are His, David thanked God, emphasizing that all things come from Him. "Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You… O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours" (1 Chronicles 29:13-16).
Also Asaph, in Psalm 50:9-12 spoke in the Spirit, to affirm that God is the Owner of all things in the world.
Later, writing to the church at Corinth, Paul asked in the Spirit, "And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it" (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Also Paul wrote to the Romans declaring in the Holy Spirit, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).
To Timothy he commanded, "to instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17).
Indeed, God is the Giver of life and everything, and His desire is to give us good things.
The Psalmist says, "No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11).
In James 1:17, we read, "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow."
Truly our God alone is Self-Sufficient and He gives generously.
Far from needing anything from men, God keeps giving to them from His bounty. God is Himself the source of the human life.
What then can we give to God to make Him complete?
Absolutely nothing! How absurd then it is to imagine that the Creator of the universe, the Ruler of the universe who is fully sufficient should need anything from us in order to make Him complete!
Job understood that all he had was from God and that God also had the right to take everything away from him. He said, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).
In Job 41:11, God Himself thundered, asking this question, "Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine."
We are to declare without fear that God is the Giver of life and breath and all things.
Now, what if unbelievers tell us they themselves work hard for everything they own. What are we to tell them?
Well, our response is simple. We are to ask them where they get the strength to work hard. Who gave them life and breath in order to labor for the things they claim are their own?
Actually, knowing the pride of man, God anticipated such rotten attitude in man and spoke clearly and emphatically about it. Speaking to the sons of Israel just before they crossed the Jordan to posses the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, God warned them through His servant Moses. He knew that when they had eaten and were satisfied, their heart would become proud. They would then begin to say in pride, "My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17).
God would not tolerate such stinking pride. Therefore He declared to them,"But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (Deuteronomy 8:18).
What God said here is true of all the people He created. He gives them the power to make wealth. This then is our faithful answer to the prideful claim that "I work hard myself for everything I own." There is no room before God for the "I deserve it attitude."
Sixth, God is the Controller of the destiny of the nations (v. 26).
In other words, God is the Lord of History. He has sovereign control over all the nations. God’s sovereignty over the affairs of the human race is the focus of verse 26. "And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation."
Paul is saying, God is not only the Sovereign Ruler, the Self-Sufficient One, the Generous Giver, and Creator of the universe, but also the Controller of the affairs and destinies of men and nations.
Even though the nations may not acknowledge this truth in praise and honor of God, the fact remains, God Almighty is the Controller of the destiny of the nations.
As great as Caesar was, he was not the controller of the destiny of the nations. The destiny of the nations conquered by the powerful Roman Empire was not in the hands of the Caesars. The affairs of the nations was not left in the hands of the Pharaohs, nor in the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, the Czars and other great leaders of the past. The destiny, the future, the fate of the nations has been and is still in the hands of the Lord of History, the supreme Lord of the universe. So Paul exalted God here as the supreme Lord of the universe who is always and fully in charge of the affairs of the nations He brought forth.
Paul made it clear to the philosophers of Athens that all nations come from one common ancestor. According to Paul, the origin of the human race is not an issue to be negotiated or disputed. The origin of the human race was tied to God. He planned it. He purposed it. And He brought it about without the help of anyone. Paul emphasized this in his message, literally saying, "He made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth."
The Greeks were so proud of their nationality. They scornfully referred to non-Greeks as "barbarians" (see Romans 1:14).
But Paul says in the Spirit, as far as God is concerned, all men are equal, because He created all. He made of one every nation of men to live on the whole earth.
Paul also confidently declared to his hearers that the one and only true God determined the appointed times for the nations and the exact places where they should live.
In other words, the rise and fall of the nations is in His hands. Truly, our God is the Lord of History. He is the Controller of the destiny of the nations. He is in charge of the affairs of every nation. Every nation is under God’s rule and control whether they accept it or not.
That God is the Controller of the destiny of the nations on earth is clearly seen in Daniel 2:36-43. Interpreting the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Daniel was given insight into four kingdoms that were to rule on earth exactly as God had determined it in His eternal counsel. The kingdoms were, first, the Babylonian kingdom; second, the Medo-Persian kingdom; third, the kingdom of Greece; fourth, the kingdom of Rome. These kingdoms followed each other successively with such amazing accuracy as to silence critics of the Bible. Through the fulfillment of the prophetic prediction of the times and habitation of these kingdoms, God was making it clear to all that He alone holds the future of the nations on the face of the earth in His hands. He is fully in charge of the destiny of the nations.
As the One who is fully in charge of the destiny of the nations, God also set or fixed the boundaries of the nations, placing them in certain geographical locations. In other words, not only did God bring the nations forth, but He also arranged the years and determined the countries in which the various people would dwell.
This is clearly set forth in Deuteronomy 32:8. "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He sets boundaries of the peoples." He also "removes the boundaries of the peoples"(see Isaiah 10:13).
Please listen! The United States of America is where it is now in human history because the Lord of History had planned it. Its destiny is ultimately in the hands of God, not in the hands of its military prowess as the world's only superpower.
God is in control of the nations. He is the Lord of History. Every nation presently on the face of the whole earth is accountable to God as to how they respond to the Light He has given them. Similarly, nations that dwelt on the face of the earth in times past would be held accountable to the One who fixed their appointed times and the exact places they inhabited.
Since God directs the destiny of every nation, people in every nation can be told of this, even those who have no biblical worldview. This is, therefore, a wonderful truth to use to point to the one true God.
Seventh, God is the Source and Goal of human aspirations (v. 27).
God has created, in human beings, an innate thirst to find Him. Because it is in finding Him that we are truly fulfilled in life. Fulfillment outside of the Person of God is not only false but also futile. It is bound to lead to failure upon failure.
What does God want to be our greatest aspiration in life? What is to be our highest goal in life?
Is it pleasure? Is it avoiding pain? [Remember, pleasure and avoidance of pain were the chief aim of the Epicureans.]
Is it prosperity? Is it prestige? Is it a position of influence? Is it power to exercise over others? Is it popularity among one’s peers? Is it a professional accomplishment? Is it prominence? Is it finding one’s proper place in the natural order of things? [Remember, this was the goal of the Stoics as it is the goal of many in the New Age Movement today.]
These are not to be our greatest aspirations in life. These are not to be our aims in life.
Rather, personal seeking after the one and only true God is to be our greatest aspiration in life. This is to be our highest aim in life.
God made human beings that they might seek Him and perhaps … find Him. God wants our goal in life to be a relationship with Him.
And so, in the Holy Spirit, Paul says, "that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (v.27).
Literally, this verse reads, "to seek God, if perchance they might feel after Him and might find, though being not far from each one of us."
What is the Spirit saying here through Paul? Is He implying as some have claimed that through this feeling after God people could find Him and be saved apart from the Good News?
That is not what is being implied in this verse. God is not saying sinners can find Him solely by following their feelings. They need the Good News, which alone clearly presents who He is and what He has done through His Son Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners in every nation.
God’s desire is that the people He created should seek after Him. This is an established fact in Scripture. In Psalm 14:2 we read, "The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God." What God saw from His throne in heaven testifies not only to the wickedness and wretchedness of man, but also to the waywardness of man. "They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:3; cf. Psalm 53:2-3; Romans 3:11).
Please listen, God’s purpose for the people He created is that they should seek Him. What God desires are a people seeking after Him, a people panting for Him, a people whose souls are thirsting for Him. But unfortunately few people search for God Himself. Man works hard at seeking pleasure, prosperity and prestige, but not the Person of God.
It is very obvious that God’s intention has not been realized in peoples’ lives. This is clearly evident in the usage of the verbs "they might grope"[pselapheseian from pselaphao] and "might find" [euroien from eurisko]. These verbs are expressed in the optative mood, which Greek Grammarians call the mood of possibility. It expresses an action that is subjectively possible. It is the mood that is farthest removed from reality. Expressing a verb in this mood therefore reduces the action to the level of a wish.
There are many in times past who did not seek God and reach out for Him in order to find Him.
And there are many today, who are not seeking God, and reaching out for Him, and desiring after Him, that they might find Him.
Now, why is it that God’s purpose for the people He created is not being realized?
Is it because God has failed to deliver on His promise?
God has not failed to deliver on the promise He has made.
It is people who have failed. God’s purpose has not been realized because of the problem of sin. That is why Paul would soon call the Athenians to turn to the true and living God, revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s focus at this point of his message was on the possibility of knowing God.
And so, he boldly declares to his hearers "God is not far from each one of us."
Paul says, "the living, personal God, who is everywhere, is not far from each one of you hearing this message. You can know Him as I know Him. You can relate to Him as I am relating to Him. Let seeking God Almighty, the one true God be your goal in life."
Paul wanted each and every one in his audience to know that God seeks to reveal Himself to and establish a personal relationship with every one of them.
God wants our goal in life to be seeking Him and Him alone. This is the message He has given us to declare to all people including those who know nothing of His Scriptures.
The God who has created an innate thirst in us to seek and find Him, is Himself also seeking us! In other words, God has not entirely left the task of seeking Him to us. He Himself is also pursuing us. In fact, His diligent seeking of us is the basis for our seeking of Him. The mission of our Lord Jesus is summed up in this phrase, "seeking and saving the lost." "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). We are to seek God but He is also seeking us.
Wade LeBlanc, Sr. wrote, "In the Woodlawn Cemetery in Westbrook, Maine, there is a headstone that reads: 'Ann Otis-age 27. Ever seeking what she never found.' It would appear from this sad epitaph that this woman was not seeking the Savior who was seeking for her- "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). No one who has sought Him with their whole heart was ever disappointed. You will not be either, for He has promised to save all those who call on Him."
Eighth, God is the Sustainer of creation on whom everyone’s life depends (v. 28).
Everyone’s life depends on the living and true God who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
God is not only the Giver of life and breath and everything but He is also our Sustainer. He gives life. He sustains life. How wonderful!
Having given all people His life and breath, God goes a step further in sustaining, maintaining and keeping us in existence.
Would you please notice how Paul declared this truth in a compelling and convincing manner! He said, "For in Him we live and move and exist (lit. are), as even some of your own poets have said, ‘for we are also His children or offspring’" (v. 28).
The fact that we live and move and have our being in God makes it all the more important for Him to be the source and goal of our aspiration in life.
It was the Cretan poet Epimenides who wrote, "In Him we live and move and exist."
While Aratus from the region of Cilicia, added, "For we are His offspring."
These two quotes speak of the universal revelation of God as Creator, Ruler and Sustainer.
Paul could have easily appealed to the Written Word of God to state these truths, but instead, he chose illustrations familiar to his pagan audience, who were not familiar with Scripture. By using the writings of their own poets, Paul was basically saying, ‘the Greeks certainly could not plead ignorance.’
Please take note of the quote, "we are also His children or offspring [genos]." We are not to interpret this as teaching the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. That is not what this quote is teaching. We are the offspring of God in the sense that He created us. In the Spirit, Paul made that clear earlier in his message. He declared convincingly that God made from one man every nation of mankind (v. 26a). But we only become sons of God through faith in the Lord Jesus. Therefore Paul would soon speak of a turning to the God who not only sustains but also saves.
Ninth, God’s nature cannot be represented by an image made by man’s design and skill. (v. 29).
Paul concludes the main part of his message by saying, "being then the children 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" (v. 29).
Notice Paul includes himself in the prohibition, "we ought not to think."
Because man is created in God’s image and is related to God in that sense, we should not think He is like gold or silver or stone. The image of God is seen in human beings.
Paul says in effect, "Men of Athens, think about this. If God created man, as even your own poets declared, then God must be more than a mere man-made idol. God created man in His image. That is, human beings are like God. And because human beings are both like God and dependent on God, it is foolish and absurd to think that the Divine Being can be portrayed by human art, no matter how beautiful, skillful and colorful that human art is".
At Mount Sinai, God specifically prohibited the sons of Israel from making other gods besides Him. "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth… You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourself" (Exodus 20:3-4, 23).
Just before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, God reminded them again of his earlier prohibition this time giving them a reason why they were not to do so. "So watch yourself carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is below the earth" (Deuteronomy 4:15-18).
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Christ, God questioned the sons of Israel. "To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith fashions chains of silver. He who is too impoverished for such an offering selects a tree that does not rot; he seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter" (Isaiah 40:18-20).
I believe these Scriptures were behind Paul’s declaration, but he didn’t quote them to the Athenian pagans who knew nothing about them. Paul simply applied the principle from these Scriptures to point to the Athenians that God’s nature, or God’s being, or God’s likeness cannot be represented by an image made by man’s design and skill.
One writer says, "The work of art is dependent on the artist’s imagination; it is also inanimate. On both counts it is inferior to the person who made it. How much more, then, to the God who made human beings. Paul’s thought is best expressed by the phrase "God is Spirit" (John 4:24), for what is spiritual cannot be represented by an image of gold or silver or stone (cf. Psalm 115:4ff.; Isaiah 37:19; 40:19; 46:7ff.) – David Williams, New International Biblical Commentary; Acts, p. 308.
The holy and true nature of God cannot be represented by an image made by man’s design and skill. The exact representation of God’s nature is none other than the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why Paul would soon point his hearers to Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 1:3 says, "And He [speaking of the Person of the Lord Jesus] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature."
It is in Jesus alone that we find the full reflection and representation of the true and living God.
Paul had labored hard in the Spirit to show his hearers that the true and living God cared for them and desired them to seek after Him. Using God’s revelation of Himself in nature, Paul told them that the one true God is existing. He is real. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of the nations. He is Self-Sufficient. He is a Generous Giver. He is the Controller of the destiny of the nations. He alone should be the source and goal of human aspirations. He is the Sustainer of creation on whom everyone’s life depends. His divine nature, Paul declared in the Spirit, cannot be represented by an image made by man’s design and skill. As wonderful as these truths are about God, they are not enough to lead people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This points to the need for Paul’s call for repentance, a turning from sin to the Savior Jesus Christ.
IV. His Call for repentance (vv. 30-31)
Knowing that God’s general revelation of Himself in nature is not sufficient to lead people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, Paul now concludes his message by presenting to his hearers God’s special revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Through Jesus Christ, God had dealt definitively with the problem of sin.
The coming of Jesus Christ brought about a change in God’s dealing with humanity. In the past, God overlooked the times of ignorance, that is, He didn’t always intervene with special judgment (though sin always caused consequences) against the nations who did not know Him.
The times of ignorance were over. In other words, things would not be the same as they were before.
Because things have changed God is calling people to repentance.
An effective witness of Jesus Christ calls sinners to repentance. Please take note of that. We cannot convict sinners of their sins. We cannot convert unbelievers. Neither can we change them. The Spirit does these things. But working with the Holy Spirit, we, the true witnesses of Jesus Christ, are to call sinners to repentance.
The call to repentance characterized the ministry of our Lord Jesus Himself. He faithfully called sinners to turn from their sins without fear or favor. In fact, the Gospels made it clear to us that He began His ministry by preaching repentance. "From that time Jesus began to preach and say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'"(Matthew 4:17).
Mark writes, "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'" ( Mark 1:14-15).
Later when some reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices, our Lord's response was a call for repentance. "Jesus said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish'"(Luke 13:1-3; cf. 13:4-5).
The prophets, from Moses to John the Baptist, called people to repentance (Matthew 3:2).
Peter and the rest of the apostles called sinners to turn from their sins (see Acts 2:38; 3:19).
At Lystra, on his first missionary journey, Paul called the pagan Gentiles to turn from their idols to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them (see Acts 14:15).
And here in Athens, on his second missionary journey, Paul once again made it clear to the Athenians that the one true God is the supreme Lord of creation. If this God is indeed the supreme Lord of creation, then, the wisest thing for them and for all sinners to do is turn to Him.
Repentance is simply a one hundred and eighty-degree turn from one’s sins and sinful ways to the Savior of the world, who is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is a gift of turning bestowed by God Himself on sinners who are convicted of their sins by the Holy Spirit and see their desperate need for a Savior.
Please remember that Paul himself, with God’s help, did the one hundred and eighty-degree turn. He was running in the wrong direction in life like many are doing today.
He pursued Judaism, not Jesus, with all his passion thinking that he was going in the right direction in life.
But thanks be to God, Paul saw his foolishness and waywardness! The Holy Spirit convicted Paul of his sins. He clearly saw his need for a Savior from his life of sin.
Through God’s help, Paul made the one hundred and eighty-degree turn from his sins and sinful ways to his Savior, Jesus Christ.
He therefore knew very well that the people of Athens need to turn from worshiping false gods in order to serve the true and living God revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Therefore he said to them with all boldness in the Spirit, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent" (v. 30).
In effect, Paul says to the Athenians, "every one of you should turn from your evil ways, that is, from your idolatry. Why? God has now laid humanity under a new accountability. Ignorance was no longer excusable."
This was a clear call for repentance.
Folks, if we want God to use us to make a difference for the Good News of Jesus Christ, we must, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, call people to repentance.
Now would you please notice that this call for repentance involves all people in all places!
Literally, Paul’s call for repentance reads, "So then, God having overlooked the times of ignorance, now declares to all men everywhere to repent" (v. 31).
The call to turn to God is not an optional extra that merely adds a new dimension to one’s life. It is a command that goes out to all people everywhere. So we must make this call to all people in all places.
Why? Because God created all people.
Why? Because God gives life to all people and all the things they need.
Why? Because God made from one man (Adam) every nation of mankind to live on allthe face of the earth.
Why? Because God desires that all would seek Him.
Why? Because everyone’s life depends on Him.
Why? Because God has given proof to all men of Jesus’ resurrection, who paid the full price of all our sin debt, and who took the punishment and penalty for our sins upon Himself.
Now would you please notice the convincing reason Paul gave to the Athenians in support of his call for repentance!
His convincing reason is stated in verse 31.
"Because He, [that is, God the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of the nations, the Creator of the universe] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
It is as if Paul was saying to the Athenians, ‘The wisdom of my call for repentance is all the more evident in this fact. That is, this God whom I have proclaimed to you is someday going to the judge the world. His Day of Judgment is coming. You are each going to face Him and give an account to Him for the Light He has given you. Let me make it clear to you, this God will not tolerate sin forever, for He is indeed just and righteous. Those of you who wickedly and openly continue to defy and dishonor Him in your worship of idols may prosper for a time, but make no mistake, one day you will have to pay for your sin if you do not repent.’
The offer of salvation in Jesus Christ carries with it the threat of judgment if that offer is refused or rejected.
Judgment and salvation go hand in hand. Both are vested in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both give expression to the righteousness of God.
Now would you please notice what the Bible says in verse 31a about the certainty of God’s coming judgment. It says, "God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness."
Please take note of this! The Scripture does not say, "He may judge." Rather, it says,"He will judge." Literally, this reads, "He is about to judge" [mellei krinein].
In other words, God’s righteous judgment is sure to happen. It is certain. Paul is speaking here about what God has purposed to do. God’s judgment is not a joking matter. It is a serious matter, because it is bound to happen.
Who is going to be the Judge on the Great Day of God’s Judgment? What is the identity of the Judge appointed to judge all people in righteousness? Paul says, the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, He is the One God has appointed to judge the world in righteousness.
Perhaps the Athenians were asking in their hearts, "Paul, how do you know that these things are true? What proofs do you have of the claims you are making to us with great confidence?"
Paul answers that this supreme God has "furnished proof or given proof or offered a guarantee or pledge to all men by raising Him [Jesus] from the dead" (v. 31b).
What is being said here is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ showed not only God’s total acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins as perfect and pleasing to God, but also showed His full approval of Jesus, and qualified Him as the Supreme Judge. The wrath of God against our sins was satisfied with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. God’s curse against our sins was fully absorbed by Jesus Christ. The price of forgiveness was fully paid. The righteousness of God was completely vindicated. All that was left to accomplish was the public declaration of God’s endorsement. This He gave to all men by raising Jesus from the dead.
Therefore, there are no excuses. The proof of the Word of the Lord is all in.
By raising Jesus from the dead God had given the world all they need to know to repent and believe in Him
It is as simple as that. God is not going to give any other proof to you if you don’t want to believe this one, which is the best of all.
What Paul is saying here, that is, God has appointed Jesus as the Judge who will judge the world in righteousness, agrees with the rest of Scripture.
Our Lord Himself said, "The Father judges no one, but He has given all judgment to the Son" (see John 5:22-27).
Also, in the house of Cornelius, Peter declared Jesus as the Judge of the living and the dead (see Acts 10:42).
Other Scriptures which speak of Jesus as the Judge are 2 Timothy 4:1 and 1 Peter 4:5.
Because judgment is certain, and Jesus will indeed judge, the call to repent is all the more urgent. It must be sounded forth by the true witnesses of Jesus Christ. Those who need to hear and respond to it must not brush it aside. They must bow to this call so as to enter into new life in Jesus Christ.
Paul had expressed his concern for the lost souls at Athens. He had demonstrated courage in standing for the truth of God, though he was ridiculed. In his courage, he gave a clear, concise and compelling presentation of the Good News, pointing the Athenians to the true and living God revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. After this, Paul called on the people to repent. In other words, Paul brought the people to a point of decision. But the question is how would they response to the message preached to them? The answer to this question has to do with the common responses to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
V. The Common Responses to the Good News (vv. 32-34)
Those who heard the Good News from Paul at the Areopagus demonstrated three responses. One or more or all of these responses can be expected whenever and wherever the Good News is faithfully proclaimed.
The first common response is derision.
The Bible says, "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer" (v. 32a).
The Greek word translated "sneer" [chleuazo] also, means mock, scoff.
Some began to scoff at Paul’s message, simply because there was no place in Greek thought for bodily resurrection. They had their best laugh of mockery that day.
These men derided Paul to let him know that his message was foolishness to them, that his message was senseless, ridiculous and completely out of touch with reality.
"Mr. Idle Babbler, Mr. Proclaimer of strange deities, who brought strange things to our ears, you are out of your mind. You are not in touch with reality," they joked.
The second common response is deferment.
Notice the Bible says, "But others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this" (v. 32b).
These others did not mock Paul but they also didn’t make a commitment to embrace the life changing truths of the Good News.
These people represent all those who hear the clear presentation of the Good News but simply push its implications out of their minds.
They are perfectly content to put the Gospel truths on the back burner. In other words, they procrastinate and don’t want anything to do with the Good News now. They couldn’t say ‘Never’ but ‘Not Now.’
They delayed taking any action by saying that which soothed their conscience, "we shall hear you again concerning this." They were dragging their feet.
They had other things more important to do now. They would like to spend some more time in hearing and telling something new.
Why take the time now to ponder the truths presented in the Good News?
Now here is something I want you to watch.
They said to Paul, "We shall hear you again concerning this" (v. 32a).
But what does verse 33 tell us?
The Bible says, "So Paul went out of their midst." And do you know that Paul soon left Athens, never to return? (see Acts 18:1).
On April 14, 2004 while helping a believing brother remodel his home, I experienced this response of deferment. My believing brother and friend has a younger brother who is very helpful but not yet a believer. The two of us were working on sealing the new tiles he had placed in the floor and walls of a shower. Whilst diligently working we also talked. At some point in our conversation, he made the comment that he is good. I quickly took advantage of that comment and said to him, "what you really need is to take Jesus seriously."
This guy knows the Gospel message. Even though he said he is good he knows he is a sinner. I didn’t need to repeat the things he already knows about the Gospel and even tells others who don’t know Jesus. His family has been praying for him to take that step toward Jesus and receive Him as his personal Savior.
Well, to cut the long story short, his response to me was "Someday I will take Jesus seriously. Maybe one day I will do that if it is God’s will." I said to him, "It is certainly God’s will for you now. Today is what God’s has given you. We do not know what tomorrow will bring for us." He said to me in reply, "I haven’t heard God’s voice yet." This made me laugh. But I solemnly told him, "you have just heard His voice through me." Then there was silence. A long pause. After which we both turned our attention to the task at hand. He didn’t mock but he also didn’t make a commitment to turn to Jesus.
The Bible says, "Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me" (Hebrews 3:7-9; cf. Psalm 95:7-11).
The Bible also says, "Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The third common response is devotion to Jesus Christ by believing in Him.
Only a handful of people made such a positive response to the Good News preached by Paul on Mars Hill. His preaching, after all, was not in vain.
God’s word went out from the mouth of His servant and did not return to Him empty or void. It accomplished the purpose for which God had sent it.
Some believed in his message and came into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is clearly shown in these words, "But some men joined him and believed" (v. 34a). These words are precious indeed, for they speak of the transforming power of God's Word and of God's Spirit. God's Word, spoken in God's Spirit, by God's servant, brought an eternal change in the lives of some people at Athens.
Please notice the separation that occurred at Athens. Those who believed in the message delivered in the Spirit by Paul joined Paul who himself was a believer in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Devotion to Jesus Christ that characterized Paul's life would also become a mark in the lives of those who believed in the Good News preached on Mars Hill.
Among those who believed was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus (v. 34b). Tradition has it that he became the first bishop of Athens. Another believer was a woman named Damaris (v. 34b).
Besides the two who are named, Luke tells us there were "others with them." (v. 34c).
But the impression given here is that there were not many who believed, and no mention is made in the New Testament of any church in the city of Athens.
Now the question is what did these few in Athens believe?
They believed there is God, a Supreme Being. He is real. He is true. They believed that this Supreme God is the Creator of heaven and earth. They also believed He is the Lord of heaven and earth. And that He is Self-sufficient. That He is the Giver of life and breath and everything. They believed that He is the Controller of the destiny of the nations. And that He is the source and goal of human aspirations. Not only that, they believed in Him as the Sustainer of all who made them in His image. They believed and now understood that God's nature cannot be represented by man’s design and skill. But above all, they believed that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for their sins and that He was raised again from the dead to give them and all who believe in Him eternal life. They also believed Jesus is the Judge God has appointed to judge the world in righteousness.
The main lesson Paul learned from his experience at Athens was that "the world through its wisdom could not know God" (1 Corinthians 1:21).
But thanks be to God for Dionysius, Damaris and the others at Athens who set aside the wisdom of this world and embraced the foolishness of the cross of Jesus Christ!
Because of that, they alone came to personally know the "unknown God."
These responses, derision, deferment, devotion to Jesus by believing in Him are still the common responses to the Good News whenever and wherever it is preached.
There is a God who is both the Creator of the universe and its sovereign ruler. He is real. Therefore Paul spoke of the reality of God and futility of idolatry.
Not only does God exist, but also, He is knowable and has revealed Himself to man, generally in creation and specifically in Christ.
God created men to seek Him. He created an innate thirst in human beings to find Him.
He created men to know Him as the Only True and Living God (John 17:3).
Are you seeking Him?
Do you know Him as your personal God? Are you in a relationship with Him?
And if you know Him and are personally related to Him, are you making Him known to others?
Are you committed to the Great Commission?
Do you know that without Jesus Christ unbelievers are missing the purpose of life?
Do you love them enough to point them to Jesus and tell them He alone can and will satisfy the unfulfillment in their lives?
Remember, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, you are His witness.
Do you have a concern for the lost?
Do you have a love for those who are without Christ?
And are you willing to go where they are in order share the love of God with them?
Thanks be to God! In His Word, He has preserved for us a precious example of how to be His witnesses to the lost who are without a biblical worldview. This example is full of rich principles. It is for us to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to impress them upon our hearts. Also, it is for us to avail ourselves to Him to use us in these troubling and uncertain times, in which the Gospel, is needed more than ever before.
C.E. Luther wrote, "O ye saints, arouse, be earnest; Up and work while ‘tis day, Ere the night of death o’ertake you, Strive for souls while still you may."