Faithlife Sermons

2023-03-12 Getting to Know the Unknown God

The Book of Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:26:07
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GETTING TO KNOW THE UNKNOWN GOD (Acts 17:22-33) Date: ____________________ Read Acts 17:22-33 - Paul's been invited, somewhat mockingly, to meet with Athens Philosophical Society. The message is the same; the approach fits the audience. He notes they are very religious - idols on every corner. But there's one curious idol -- an altar "To the Unknown God." The Athenians intended that to cover their bases. They didn't want to accidentally offend a god. But it's an open door for Paul: "Let me tell you about the unknown God." This altar admitted there might be a god they didn't know! In v. 27, Paul urges, "that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us." "Feel their way" = ψηλαφάω = "grope for". In Homer's Odyssey, the one-eyed giant Cyclops captures Odysseus and his men. They get him drunk and blind him with a sharp stake, after which Cyclops is "groping" to find and kill Odysseus. The Athenians blindness is Satanic: II Cor 4:4: "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers." Satan masterfully prevents people seeing what's right in front of them. But Paul urges, "[Grope] your way toward him and find him. He is actually not far from each one of us." I. God Reveals Himself in Creation First thing about God? He created everything contrary to Greek philosophy. The Stoics were pantheists - all that is, is god. There is no personal, transcendent Being. The Epicureans believed matter is eternal, so no creator. Both missed the true God. They should have known. If God is all, and all is God, as the Stoics said - why worship idols? To the Epicureans, Paul would have said, "Matter is eternal? Really? Show me one piece of anything that is not going to eventually rot, die, degrade or otherwise wear out and vanish." The most brilliant man of our time, Albert Einstein, had the same blind spot. His own equations suggested an expanding universe, which points to a beginning. But he refused to believe it, going so far as to invent a new force - antigravity - as well as a cosmological constant to disprove the idea of a beginning. He later called it the biggest mistake of his life. Today, most admit a Big Bang beginning. But they prefer to believe in multiple universes, not a Creator. But which takes more faith - to believe it all somehow magically came from nothing, or to believe in a personal God who created? They only Being present at creation, God, described it this way: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Elegant simplicity. The Bible insists, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psa 19:1). The creation shouts - Creator! Dr. W. R. Whitney, past pres of the American Chemical Society, once did a simple demonstration. He picked up a small bar magnet, brought it near a steel needle and the needle leapt thru space to the magnet. Why? Dr. Whitney said, "We have worked out elaborate explanations. We speak of lines of force. We draw a diagram of the magnetic field. Yet we know there are no lines there and the field is just a word to cover our ignorance. After all our theories and guesses, we are still backed up against the fact of God at work in what we call science." The same could be said of all manner of natural phenomena - what force holds electrons together, what causes seeds to germinate, where did original matter and energy come from? God's hand is all over creation. Agnostic scientist Robert Jastrow admits: "An explanation may exist for the birth of our Universe, but science cannot find it. The scientist's pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation. This is a strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. Science has had such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time. . . . We would like to pursue that inquiry farther back, but the barrier to further progress seems insurmountable. . . . At this time it seems science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries." What an admission by a non-believer. If only he would take that final step. God created. II. God Reveals Himself in Giving and Sustaining Life The 2nd fact about God. 25b) "he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything." He is the giver and sustainer of life. Our very existence and complexity screams that there must be a Creator bigger than we are. Paul knew. Gen 2:7: "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." The unknown God is the giver and sustainer of life. Paul notes their own poets recognized that. Epimenides wrote, "In him we live and move and have our being." He did not know the true God, but he knew his existence was beyond him. He wasn't the cause. A poet Aratus from Paul's home wrote, "For we are indeed his offspring." Nature reveals God! A baby is born. You slap his bottom; he breathes. Natural? No - miracle. Put those same chemicals in a test tube and give it a whack! Nothing. God gives life. Today we theorize life began when lightning struck a primordial pool of proteins and amino acids, and voila! a living cell (!), that could reproduce itself, combine with others to form an organism, and change over time into other life forms. That version of life's origin might have been feasible until it was discovered that every living cell is comprised of DNA that contains as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Every single one. Sir Francis Crick, a discoverer of DNA, not a believer, says, "The origin of life seems almost to be a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going." Stuart Kauffman of the Santa Fe Institute says, "Anyone who tells you that he or she knows how life started on the earth some 3.45 billion years ago is a fool or a knave. Nobody knows." Those who've removed the blinders know! God created life! III. God Rules the Universe He transcends His own creation! He is self-sufficient, self-existent, all powerful and involved! His name - "I am" underscores that. He didn't just create, set it in motion, then sit back and watch. He doesn't watch; He causes! 26 "And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth." The Jews viewed the world as "us" and "them." The Greeks viewed it as comprised of Greeks and barbarians. Paul says, "No - God made from one man every nationality and ethnic group. No group is inherently superior; no group is inherently inferior. Racial superiority is a myth!" Yet God loves diversity. While all nations come from one source, God has "determined (aorist) allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place." He is sovereign over history. History is "His story." Don't think so? Read Daniel 2 and 7. See how hundreds of years in advance God prophesied the rise of fall of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. It all happened by man's choice yet was sovereignly determined by God before time began to reflect His glory in ways we cannot yet imagine or see. God determines epics and boundaries which gives believers a serenity not possible to anyone else. Elisabeth Elliot tells how she and her husband with 4 other mission families sang one night, "We rest in thee, our Shield and our Defender." The next day, all 5 men were speared to death in the Amazonian rainforest by a remote tribe of Indians they were trying to reach for Christ. Elliot asked, "What does that do to your faith? Demolish it?" She answers: "A faith that disintegrates is a faith that was not resting in God Himself. You've been believing in your own neat little program." She goes on, "God is God and if he is God, he is worthy of my worship and service regardless of circumstances." She quotes Evelyn Underhill: "If God were small enough to be understood, he would not be big enough to be worshiped." That's Paul's unknown God - a God big enough to control the universe - big enough to worship. IV. God Requires Righteousness and Repentance But now the message gets tough. Our Creator expects us to act like Him -- and to repent when that doesn't happen. 31b) "He will judge the world in righteousness." There is a standard; there is accountability. And they know it! Paul later says of them, Rom 2:15-16: 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." They didn't have the written law like the Jews, but - they had the law written in their hearts. The unknown God put it there, so they and we are accountable. He says earlier in Rom 2:1b: "For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things." Our own words judging others condemn us. Paul says, "he commands all people everywhere to repent" because a day of judgment is coming. The unknown God who created and sustains life has the right to make the rules, and the right to require repentance when we fail, does He not? But will He forgive if we repent? Can He forgive? On what basis? What penalties apply? That brings us to the mystery "man whom he has appointed" (31b) to do the judging. V. God Reveals Himself in Christ Paul never names Jesus, but He is the judge. Jn 5:22: "For the Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son." Good to know. That assures us the one doing the judging has lived life as we do. Jesus offers hope to us all who fall short of Him. John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." What light was Jesus giving? Jn 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Jesus is the pinnacle of God's revelation; God's supreme gift who gave Himself in our place to redeem us. Can He forgive? Yes, because Jesus paid the price. Will He forgive? How could He not? He'd be denying Himself if He did not. But Jesus warns Jn 12:48 "The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day." Jesus' words will either be our salvation - or they will be our judge on that day. The proof: "[God] has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead" (31c). That's the nail in the coffin for unbelievers. There is ample physical evidence of this truth in Jesus' life, death and resurrection. To deny that witness without fully investigating is choosing to keep the blinders on. At least 10 men who were in a position to know for sure went to their death in defense of this truth. And no one dies for what they know to be a lie. The unknown God has made Himself known -- compellingly - in Jesus. Prof Thomas Arnold, past chair of modern history at Oxford, says this: I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead. God need not be unknown. The resurrection proves it. VI. God Redeems Believers But when Paul got the resurrection, the wheels came off. This sophisticated crowd had no interest in hearing about a physical impossibility. They were rationalists ahead of their time. But notice it was not they who left; it was Paul. He saw no reason to stay and listen to the gospel be trampled underfoot. He's following Jesus' instruction: Mt 7:6: "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you." You can reject God only so long before God rejects you. Acts 17:33 "So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them." Most mocked; a few believed. But as many as believed - to them [God] gave the power to become sons and daughters of God. These are the ones Jesus died for. These are the ones who were made right with God, not bc of their righteousness, but because the righteousness of Christ is now credited to their account. God promised in Rom 10:9: "Bc if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." God would never fail to deliver on the promise that Jesus died to provide for us. Conc - John Harper was a preacher on the Titanic. As it became clear the ship was going down, he took the life jacket he had and gave it to another man: "You'll need this more than me." Then he began to share the gospel - that Jesus died to pay for his sins. The man asked, "What must I do?" Harper said, Even as they slipped into the icy water, Harper explained: "You do nothing. Jesus did it all. Just receive His gift of eternal life by faith - just like you received this life jacket." Years later at a reunion of Titanic survivors someone recalled hearing that preacher still preaching in the waters. Another got up and said, "Yes, and I am the last convert of John Harper. He gave me his life jacket - and His Jesus gave me eternal life." Has He given you eternal life? You need only bow your heart to Him and ask in faith - like the man in Luke 18: "Lord, me merciful to me, the sinner." Jesus said that man went home justified. So can you. Let's pray. 7
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