The God you DON’T know, is the One you NEED to know
September 11, 2022
Pastor Craig Ledbetter
Bible Baptist Church, Ballincollig, Cork, Ireland
I. Background (Acts 17:15)
A. We are studying through the Book of Acts in the New Testament this year. Acts chapter 17
B. Paul has done a lot of travelling so far
C. His life is dedicated to preaching the Gospel – the news that God had intervened in the affairs of life to save sinners from coming judgment! It has been his message since Acts 9
D. He has just finished preaching in the northern cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and then Berea
E. And is headed towards ATHENS – the very heart and soul of the Greek world
F. Acts 17:15 And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.
G. So, As he enters the busy, spawling city of Athens, 2,000 years ago, he is overwhelmed
1. He realises he needs help preaching to the lost there
2. He cannot fulfil his calling alone.
3. So, he sends for Silas and Timothy back in Berea to join him as fast as they can get there
4. And while he is waiting for them to join him, he discovers a rare opportunity to preach!
A. A Stirred Up Believer! (Acts 17:16-21)
1. Acts 17:16-21 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
2. What Paul Saw (Acts 17:16) – streets lined with dozens and dozens of gods and goddesses
a. Acts 17:16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
b. Super smart, and very wealthy people, yet here was the centre of philosophical and analytical learning in Europe so superstitious!
1) A city full of idols – statues and images and pictures and temples to hundreds and hundreds of gods and goddesses
2) They were addicted to idols – “wholly given to idolatry” constantly adding more and more to their collection – they collected idols and gods and goddesses!
3) Absolutely and completely ignorant of God
3. Some things OUGHT to stir up the Bible believer… motivate us to action…
a. All the False religions and idolatry all around us, still today
b. Ignorance about God and reality
1) Reality no longer is definable – everyone just believes what they want now
2) If you want to be a moose, or a train, you can be – change your gender
3) People believe constantly new conspiracies, no matter what proof you show them
4) Reality is almost gone, folks – welcome to the Metaverse!
c. The lie of education and wealth – more money, more education make us more happy?
d. The coming judgment of God on this lost world – that ought to motivate Christians!
4. Paul engaged the Jews FIRST as always (Acts 17:17)
a. Acts 17:17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
b. so burdened for his own people group! Like you should be
c. Tried to get their eyes opened to what their own Scriptures said. Tried to get them saved.
d. Paul also engaged anyone who was devout – anyone who was moral and would meet with him and talk and discuss spiritual things
5. Then, God opened up a door of opportunity… (Acts 17:18-21)
a. Acts 17:18-21 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
b. In the midst of such intense idolatry and superstitions, PHILOSOPHERS walked around and pondered the meaning of life, and analysed new ideas and religions to death!
c. That is, until they heard a new one!
d. The Epicureans and the Stoicks “encountered Paul”
1) They heard such passion and such newness of doctrine – some things they had never heard - that they HAD to hear more
2) The Bible’s truths are like that – you and I are just used to them
3) So many people have never heard what you hear every time you open your Bible
4) Most of the world is NOT used to these words!
5) So, God used the novelty of the Gospel to get Paul to influence the entire city of Athens
e. What the philosophers and lawyers thought about Paul’s words
Oh they MOCKED him – “What will
this babbler say?”
They made fun of the fact that Paul did not speak with eloquence, or with perfect logic. He seemed to just passionately speak of a Saviour and a Resurrection!
2) They PREJUDGED his goal… just more ‘gods’ – “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.”
3) Just interested in the novelty of what Paul was talking to people about
f. Who were the STOICKS
1) Believed that “this” is all there is – matter – nothing spiritual exists
2) Believed that matter has always existed – it had no Creator, and has no end
3) Believed there was no such thing as sin – only good and bad emotions
4) Believed that all emotions like love and hate should be done away – we should have no emotions or passions – stoic! Be like Spock on Star Trek – only LOGIC
5) And THEN we will have a good society
g. Who were the EPICUREANS?
1) Also believed in only what they see and touch – not in anything spiritual
2) But believed we should have a little emotion, as long as it is always under control
3) Believed they could live in perfect harmony with nature and everyone, as long as we didn’t hurt anyone else
h. These philosophers, with all their education and wisdom… were failures - they never could discover absolute truth, and could not answer the deepest problems of life & death.
1) Romans 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…
2) 2Timothy 3:7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
They, like today, needed to know
there is something more than what we can see!
They had closed their eyes to the spiritual, and were in serious trouble as a society
1) EXAMPLE: It would be like someone driving, and as they drive, they think that they know enough about what is around them, and then decide they don’t need to SEE anymore, and they will be fine
2) Only for a brief time will you be alright – but at some point, a crash was coming!
3) The judgment of God on our arrogance!
j. Thankfully, they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus and allowed him to speak
1) A place where lawyers argued all day the court cases of the day
2) And the constant news and world events was discussed
3) And they considered new ideas and philosophies that came through Athens
4) It was the social media hub of the day – with 100’s of men standing and listening
B. The Unknown God (Acts 17:22-23)
1. “You All Are So Idolatrous” (Acts 17:22)
a. Acts 17:22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
b. He appeals to their intellect
c. Paul exclaims that the Athenians are VERY superstitious – not just “religious”
1) They worried about everything
2) They were never sure whether they knew enough, and so were always superstitious
a) Worried about white cats crossing in front of them as an omen
b) They constantly knocked on wood to get ride of bad spirits and bad luck
c) They feared breaking a mirror – 7 years of bad luck
d) They worried about full moons and eclipses
e) And they tried to make every god they find out about, happy
f) Their city was filled with temples to the gods Zeus, and Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Hades, and Dionysus. Along with hundreds of other lesser deities.
d. So, even highly educated people are superstitious and idolatrous! Terrified of things they can’t see! Just read about the real lives of Hollywood actors, and politicians, how afraid they are of omens and what tarot cards and horoscopes tell them!
2. The God you DON’T know, is the One you NEED to know (Acts 17:23)
a. Acts 17:23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
b. Paul discovered that God had already given him a way to connect with his audience
c. He told them about the one God unlike all other gods – the one they had forgotten – the one they were so ignorant of!
d. He told them about… The Unknown God that they were ignornatly trying to worship
3. The background on the altar dedicated to “The Unknown God”
a. Around 500 years before the birth of Christ, a terrible plague ravaged the population of Athens. Thousands of people had died. The religious leaders prayed, and sacrificed to every known god, and yet the plague continued.
b. Then a man named Nicias called for a man named Epimenides, a Cretan hero, and asked him what they should do.
c. Epimenides came and said there must be a god that they did not know who was behind this judgment, and they needed to humble themselves before him, and offer sheep to die in the place of Athenians.
d. He ordered that a flock of hungry sheep early in the morning be released onto the grassy hillside of a place called Mars Hill, to see which ones chose to NOT eat, but instead to just sit down in the grass. He believed the sheep that lied down were a sign that the God they did not know would accept them when offered in sacrifice
e. Amazingly, several sheep did not eat, but walked along the hillside, and then set down and rested! And the Athenians marked the places where the sheep were resting, and quickly built simple stone altars, and offered those sheep in sacrifice to the God they did not know. And the plague lifted from the city.
4. One of those altars was still there 500 years later when Paul arrived into Athens, and it was rediscovered in 1820, and is in the Palatine Museum in Rome today!
C. What You DON’T Know About God (Acts 17:24-29)
1. As smart and highly educated as you are… you don’t know God!
2. Acts 17:24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
3. Acts 17:25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
4. Acts 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
5. Acts 17:27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
6. Acts 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
7. Acts 17:29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
8. It took Paul just 1 minute to say these 222 words. But he said a lot!
a. God is the ONLY God there is
b. He alone Created everything - He made all the dirt, all the water, all the trees, all the mountains, all the clouds, all the life, all the rocks, all the air, all the stars, the Sun and the moon, and all the laws that govern the universe!
c. He is Separate from His Creation
1) He is not in His Creation
2) His creation, the entire universe is inside HIM!
d. He is Lord Over All He has Created – sovereign, in charge
1) There is no Zeus, or Thor in charge of anything
2) Only God Almighty alone
e. He Does Not Need Anything
1) He does NOT dwell in temples – like all your gods do
2) He does not need feeding, or to be made happy, or encouraged
3) He needs nothing
4) And yet freely gives us LIFE (which is a miracle) and breath and every thing we need
f. He Wants to be Found and Known
1) God made ALL nations from ONE blood – one race – the human race
2) And has confined us to limits and boundaries on purpose
3) Why? To get us to seek HIM and FIND Him – He is not far from anyone
4) If you want to find Him, you can
5) Jeremiah 29:13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
g. There is nothing like God
1) God is nothing like gold or silver, or stone work, engraven by man’s hands
2) We actually, live IN Him, and we move IN Him
3) We are His offspring
4) So Paul says,
a) Don’t worship such things – idolatry is wrong, and a waste of your time heart!
b) Get to know and worship the only God there is – the God you do not know! The God who knows all about you, and yet still wants you!
D. Why Does it Matter? (Acts 17:30,31)
1. So what if we are ignorant of God… so what?
2. Acts 17:30-31 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
3. It is obvious that people are ignorant of these facts
So many people worship gods of
their own making:
money, political power, religious statues, idols, and gods without number!
b. Worship religions imposed upon them from birth
4. But the one and only God has worked throughout history to get our attention
5. He constantly proofs that He is there
a. Paul mentioned this fact often
b. Acts 14:15-17 And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
c. And God often gave His very words to other nations…
1) Jonah preached repentance to the wicked people of Nineveh
2) Balaam preached the word of God to the pagan Moabites
3) The Law of God was given to the Queen of Sheba who lived 3,000 km away
4) Even the Athenians knew that there was a God that they did not know
6. But God NOW commands ALL men, EVERYWHERE to repent (Acts 17:30) And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent
E. What is Repentance?
1. These lawyers and philosophers had seen people stand guilty before judges all the time. They watched as men and women were “so sorry” for the crimes they had done (for being caught), but when given another chance, went out and committed them again and again!
2. But now, THESE MEN were being warned that judgment was coming on THEM, and they needed to repent BEFORE their judgment day!
3. It is an attitude of sorrow – Sorry for sinning against God – no one seems sorry anymore
a. It’s when you have a lot of regret about all the rebellion against God thru all your life
b. Realising just how much trouble you are in with the God of heaven and earth
c. Two kinds of sorrow – one towards God, and the other towards the world
d. 2Corinthians 7:10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
4. A change of mind – the way we see ourselves and our sins – perspective
a. Acceptance of the Judge being right – no more trying to justify why we do things
b. A Complete humiliation of self and your own righteousness
c. Unworthy of any grace or kindness – caught, ruined, defeated!
5. A desire for mercy – for the judge to do something in their favour – because you know it is in His nature to FORGIVE!
6. It is commanded – every person must repent towards God
a. Why? Because THAT is how every man, woman and child has to approach the God of heaven and earth - as a sinner, in trouble with God, and desperately sorry for their sin to receive the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ!
b. There is NO salvation without repentance – just taking the gift of God without accepting the condemnation of God, is a farce! It is thievery!
F. Why Repent?
1. Remember, this arena was full of PROUD lawyers and philosophers, and judges
2. Acts 17:31 …Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
3. Because… There is ONE MAN coming AGAIN, who will rightly judge THE ENTIRE WORLD because of sin by comparing every life to the life of Jesus Christ
4. And that shook them to the core!
5. And the proof that Jesus is the absolute final Judge is in the fact He rose again from the dead – proof that there was life after death. Christ’s resurrection made Him greater than all other ‘gods’ and philosophies and powers that have every existed
a. So, you cannot be saved if you don’t humble yourself and repent
b. And you cannot be saved from coming judgment if you don’t believe Jesus rose again from the dead, after taking your and my place in death!
G. Make Up Your Own Mind (Acts 17:32-34)
1. Acts 17:32-34 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
2. YOU have to look at the evidences for one God, and make up your own mind
a. Don’t leave it to philosophers, or theologians, or Hollywood or Politicians
b. Evidence from design, from morality, from first cause, the universality of faith, so on point to one, perfect, moral Creator
3. Explore the FACT of the Resurrection from the Dead
a. The mentioning of resurrection disturbed some people – thought it was craziness
b. It intrigued some – not ready to believe, but wouldn’t reject out right
c. And it saved some – AMEN! Simply because they accepted the truth of the Gospel!
d. Jesus’ resurrection has all the evidences – if you will search it out
e. Examine the fact of the empty tomb, the 100 clear prophecies pointing to Jesus
4. No one can believe for you – salvation won’t happen TO you unless YOU repent, and unless YOU believe in what Jesus did!
5. Be sceptical, but be determined to know the truth! Then believe it with all your heart. (Romans 10:9,10) That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
A. To Most People, God is a Big Unknown! They need to know about God – the true God!
B. And it took one man, speaking up, and saying just 222 words, to shake Athens to its core!
C. What is it going to take to stir US up? What will it take before you start soul-winning, and preaching, and praying for our nation?
D. What will it take for God to get YOUR attention?
E. Repentance is a good thing
F. You need to make up YOUR Mind, for your eternity’s sake!