The Maker of Heaven and Earth
Paul in Greece
Now that Paul is in Greece he is traveling from one major people center to the next. He comes to the city of Athens, the leading city of art, religion and debate of thought and philosophies. He sees the city which is full of idols in every space that one can be placed; he sees the stone, wood, silver or gold idol set to be worshipped by those who pass by. Paul is distressed over the idol worship of the people in Athens. His first thought is to go to the synagogue and talk with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks there regarding the faith he is proclaiming. While speaking in the marketplace, Paul was thought to be advocating for two gods, “Iesous and Anastasis,” Jesus and the Resurrection. W.A. Criswell states in his book on Acts, “that the Greek culture was familiar with the idea of gods in pairs, male and female. There was Jove and Juno, Venus and Adonis, Isis and Osiris, Baal and Astarte. ‘Iesous is male, anastasis is female’, so it seemed to them when Paul spoke of Jesus and the Resurrection that he was setting forth strange gods.” So even though Paul was preaching the Gospel the people were thinking of the multiple gods and maybe he was talking of new ones. Because this was a place of ideas and philosophies, the Bible says those Epicureans and Stoics that were listening to Paul decided to take him to the meeting of the Areopagus.
Epicureans and Stoics
Epicureans and the Stoics were men who believed different than Paul. “Epicureans were a sect of philosophers was so named from Epicurus, who lived about 300 years before the Christian era. They denied that the world was created by God, and that the gods exercised any care or providence over human affairs, and also the immortality of the soul.” One of the distinguishing doctrines of Epicurus was that pleasure was the chief good, and that virtue was to be practiced only as it contributed to pleasure. Both in principle and practice, therefore, they devoted themselves to a life of gaiety and sensuality, and sought happiness only in indolence, effeminacy, and voluptuousness. Confident in the belief that the world was not under the administration of a God of justice; they gave themselves up to the indulgence of every passion; the infidels of their time, and the exact example of the gay and fashionable multitudes of all times, that live without God, and that to seek pleasure as their chief good. Stoics on the other hand were a sect of philosophers, so named from the Greek στοα, stoa, porch, or portico, because Zeno, the founder of the sect, held his school and taught in a porch, in the city of Athens. The doctrines of the sect were, that the Universe was created by God; that all things were fixed by fate; that even God was under the dominion of fatal necessity; that the fates were to be submitted to; that the passions and affections were to be suppressed and restrained; that happiness consisted in the insensibility of the soul to pain; and that a man should gain an absolute mastery over all the passions and affections of his nature. They were stern in their views of virtue, and, like the Pharisees prided themselves on their own righteousness. They supposed that matter was eternal, and that God was either the animating principal or soul of the world, or that all things were a part of God. They fluctuated much in their views of a future state; some of them holding that the soul would exist only until the destruction of the universe, and others that it would finally be absorbed into the Divine Essence, and become a part of God.(Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical)
“Areopagus or Mars' hill as it was called. This was the place or court in which the Areopagites, the celebrated supreme judges of Athens, assembled. This court took cognizance of murders, impieties, and immoralities; they punished vices of all kinds, including idleness; they rewarded the virtuous; they were peculiarly attentive to blasphemies against the gods, and to the performance of the sacred mysteries of religion. It was, therefore, with the greatest propriety that Paul was questioned before this tribunal, as being regarded as a setter forth of strange gods, and as being supposed to wish to introduce a new mode of worship.” (See Potter's Antiquities of Greece, b. i. chap. 19; and Travels of Anacharsis, vol. i. pp. 136, 185; ii. pp. 292-295. Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical)
The Areopagus was a hill not far from the Acropolis, where the supreme court of justice was held; one of the most sacred and reputable courts that had ever existed in the Gentile world. When Paul was taken to the sacred meeting place of the Athenians, he preached unto them Jesus. He proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. The mistake which they made, by supposing that Jesus was a foreign divinity, was one which was perfectly natural for minds degraded like theirs by idolatry. They had no idea of a pure God; they knew nothing of the doctrine of the Messiah; and they naturally supposed, therefore, that He of whom Paul spoke so much must be a god of some other nation, of a rank similar to their own divinities. The great apostle addresses his listeners.
Acts 17:22-23 NIV
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
Athens and America
Paul had a way with words. He did not abuse his opportunity to share the faith of His Savior and Lord. He noted that they were very religious. There were idols everywhere you could look, for any god you might want to worship. Paul let them know he was very interested in what they believed. But Paul would never miss an opportunity to share about God and His Son who would save them from their sins. So, he mentions the one idol shrine that was built and had the inscription on it that said, “To An Unknown God.” Paul said to them that he knew who this unknown God was. If the Athenians were really religious and searching for the real God then they had missed Him by name but gave to Him an altar whereby people could worship the One whom they did not know by name but knew there was a God, great and glorious. Some felt that that altar was for those who passed by and didn’t see their god represented in the hall of idols and that they could use that idol to worship their deity. America has become an Athens with all its various idols and places of worship. I am not necessarily talking of those “regular idols of worship” but of those things that have become idols for so many in this land. Paul could really be speaking to America today when he talked of all the “religious” people who worship anything and anyone. Think on it…there are the images of the human spirit, they are just called by different names: They do not say “God”; they say “Nature.” They do not say “Bible”; they say “Science Textbooks.” They do not say “Salvation”; they say “Evolution.” They do not say “Savior”; they say “Culture, Education and Technology.” They do not say “Altar”; they say “Experiment.” They do not say “Heaven”; they say some “Humanist Utopia.” The idol worship is unbelievable in this country. There are gods of all kinds in this nation that was once founded on the Judeo-Christian beliefs. Think of the gods of this world as pleasure, immorality of all kinds, knowledge, power, money, fame, technology, education, politics and success of many who desire more and then many of them end up with drugs and addictions of all kinds and finally some commit suicide. One would think of the scripture Jesus talks about in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” The gains of this world are so empty and unsatisfying to those who search after the gods of this world. They need this “Unknown God” the One of which Paul speaks.
Mark 8:36 NIV
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
Acts 17:24-29 NIV
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.
The Unknown God
This “Unknown God” is the Maker of Heaven and Earth! He is first the Creator! He cannot be contained by earthly temples built by human hands. He is far above what the Athenians ever thought of their gods, whom they have worshipped. The God of Paul is the life giver and sustainer! You and I, Paul says to the Athenians, and I say to you here today, that there is no breath for you or me without this Maker of the human body and soul. Paul even declares to them that God started this world with one man and from that man all are here. God is the One who determines life and destiny for all. We are therefore made by God and we are His offspring and we have His image. Paul says to them "God doesn't need anything from you! God is on the giving end. He gives you life. He gives you your breath. He has given you the sun, the moon, and the stars. He has given you all things." (Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee) Paul presents to these learned men of Athens the truth of who God is and what He has done. Now He directs them to the need of repentance from sin toward this “Unknown God” that he has made known for them.
Acts 17:30-31 NIV
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead."
Paul declares that repentance is needed by all for there is judgment coming because He is a just God and has given to all people everywhere the proof of this privilege to judge because of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. These Athenians would just not listen to the truth of the prophet and apostle Paul. Remember one of the groups who were listening were the Epicureans and they denied that the world was created by God, and that the gods exercised any care or providence over human affairs, and also the immortality of the soul. So when some of them heard what Paul was saying about the resurrection and the judgment they cut him off.
Acts 17:32-34 NIV
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
Lose Your Religion
How many people do you know that have heard the Gospel and the story of who God is and denied that they had a need of Him or wanted to even think He was real? There are people around you who have listened to the lies of the world and Satan that God is nothing and that there is no need for a God. They have been blinded by their own sin and do not believe what they have been taught. Why is that? What can change so much that a person can “lose” their belief system? I don’t know the answer to that but I do believe that we don’t stop praying that our God who loves us and those you love who have chosen not to believe, He will touch their hearts and minds with the desire to know who He really is. Most people believe now they just don’t realize that they do. Much like the people of Athens who thought themselves above others and that they didn’t need a God like Paul’s, those we love feel that they can figure this life out without having to rely on the God of the Bible. Theirs is a denial of who God is and what He has done for them. We might feel that we have failed but God is the One they have denied not you. Pray the prayer of faith, that God will touch their lives with the truth of His love for them. Because they think they know something. The very hardest people in the world to reach with the Word of God and the gospel are church members because they think they don't need it. They think the gospel is for the man on skid row and for some of their friends. Some church members can be mean and sinful and yet not recognize they really need a Savior, not only to save them from sin, but also to make their lives count for God. (Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee) J Vernon McGee said a preacher friend of his said many years ago, "When I came to Christ, I lost my religion." There are a great many folk in our churches today who need to lose their religion so they can find Christ. That is the great problem. Some folk say, "People are too bad to be saved." The real problem is that people are too good to be saved. They think they are religious and worthy and good. We are to take the gospel to all because all men are lost with Christ, which is the reason Paul went to Athens. The Athenians needed to hear the message of the gospel. God did not move against paganism in the time before Jesus but when He sent His only Son who is the Light of the world, God called all men to turn to Him from the darkness to know the Light of salvation. Because the Light shines into all lives He creates responsibility, God now commands all men everywhere to repent and turn from their sin to the God of Light in Jesus who will forgive their sin and give eternal life to all who call upon His name. Paul presented God as the Creator in His past work. He showed God as the Redeemer in His present work. Then he showed God as the Judge in His future work. Did you notice that some of them sneered and mocked Paul and his Gospel? Do you know why? They treated Paul that way because Platonism denied the resurrection of the dead. Paul taught the physical resurrection from the dead. So when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. Wherever the Word of God is preached, there will be those who will not listen and perish but there will be those who do listen and believe. Did you notice that some believed!!!! That was so important that they were named. (Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee) Will you believe the message of Paul today? Have you listened and are you going to turn from the truth or accept it as truth for your life with repentance and faith? Or will you with many of the Athenians turn your back on the truth? For each of us who know the Lord Jesus personally what will you do with the message of Paul? You can keep it quiet and therefore deny the Lord Jesus or you can share His love and forgiveness for those whom you know and meet whereby allowing God to touch and change hearts with His Spirit.