To An Unknown God - As Seen On Sunday
We have loads of Paul’s writing and in Acts, we get to see him out and about. Literally, the headings that translators put in are “Paul at ____.”
So in Acts 17:15-34, Paul is in Athens. In its high point, Athens was the thought centre of the greek world and since the Romans were obsessed with Greek stuff, Athens endures under Roman rule. BY this time they are no longer the powerhouse they once were but I’m sure they were still grasping at their former glory.
The Bible basically makes it sound like Paul was hitchhiking and his ride took him as far as Athens and he was there waiting for Silas and Timothy to catch up. While he waited he went to the synagogue that was in town and also the marketplace with the intention to dialogue with people. He was in a thinking town, right?
What He begins to say intrigues them enough that they want to hear more. My assumption is that they knew of some Jewish beliefs since there was a synagogue in Athens, but verse 18 says that he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection which caused them to have the reaction that he was talking about strange deities.
So they take Paul to the Areopagus which is a council of sorts and given the opportunity to explain more in depth. The starting point that Paul takes is of the altar “to an unknown god.” Apparently, an altar of this kind could have been left over form a time when there was a plague and none of the existing gods were appeased so an altar to an unknown god was made and the plague ended.
The result is this beautiful and logical laying out of who God is:
- Creator (v24)
- Sufficient (v24-25)
- Life-giving (v25-28)
- Sovereign (v26)
- Not an idol (v29)
- Savior (v30)
- Resurrection (v31)
Most rejected the idea of resurrection because in the Greek mind the material body was not something we would want to be brought back.
I wanted to talk about the unknown god today because I feel as if it represents the sentiment of the people today. The “just in cause ____ exists.” The “well god knows how bad my life is so I must be going to heaven to make up for it because I am a good person.” “Let's make an altar to cover the other gods we don't know so life can be great.”
It doesn't matter WHICH god, just if one exists we deceive ourselves into thinking we must be doing okay in that system.
Just like COEXIST ignores how religions do not fit together, we ignore the fact that we are nothing like the most dedicated in each religion. How are any of us doing okay?
It comes down to the urge to strip ourselves of the authority of God and become gods ourselves is ever present. If we explore theology and philosophy through the ages, humanity always ends up with self as god. Sacrifices were literally just a way to make the gods do what humanity wanted which is in stark contrast with God who often rejected sacrifices when they were done in a similar fashion.
We are very similar in that we hold out with just in case altars and we bargain with God, trying to get Him to do what we want.
So Paul takes this altar as an opportunity to tell them about God and the second thing he says is that God needs nothing from man to show that God is not able to be manipulated by man.
The mindsets are pretty much the same, yet we almost have the opposite problem. There is so much out there said about God that He has become unknown. The problem with the American church is not that Yahweh is completely unknown, but people no longer wish to know God. They’ve heard too much, much of which might not even be true or may be misconstrued.
Rather than being in a place where they wished to hear more about the beliefs of Paul, even it was in order to call him a babbler, we now encounter a world in which it is wrong to share opposing ideas. People are always talking about “safe spaces” but such a place implies a place where people do not have to be challenged rather than a place for free exchange.
This is the root of much of empty church’s pushback from some more traditional-modern church. Knocking on doors is out. “Outreaches” are, for the most part, out. Sunday school and VBS are archaic nomenclatures and the latter relies heavily on the attraction model (having the coolest theme and execution of said theme). By and large, people wanted to be connected to churches that fit their expectations of church connect to those connection points.
When we set out to start empty church much of what we talked about was an openness to talk about tough topics that might invoke opposing viewpoints made possible through friendship.
If we truly believe this is how God is calling us to spread His message then we need to become more intentional with our friends; In making friends and in having conversations with them. If not, then we must not believe it or we must not love our friends.