Second Reformed Church

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Repent" Sermon: Acts:17:22-31


[Acts 17:22-31]

May 25, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Do you like to learn new things?

            Do you like to be in the know?  Do you like to know what people are doing and what’s going on?

            Do you like to read or listen to some sort of news?

            If so, you may be an ancient Greek.

            Paul explains, in the context of why some people don’t receive the evidence of the Gospel, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,” (1 Corinthians 1:22, ESV).

            What we see in this morning’s text is Paul entering into a discussion with the Greeks in the Areopagus.  The Areopagus literally means “Ares’ big rock.”  And it is a big rock topping a mountain that overlooks Athens.  When the Romans conquered Greece, they called this area, “Mars’ Hill.”

            The Greeks used this area for their court of appeals – the elders would gather and hear cases and rule on them – it was, in mythology, the place where the gods passed judgment on the murderer of Poseidon’s son.  It was also just generally a place where people would gather to discuss the latest ideas of the day – to debate different theories and philosophies and religions and rule on their wisdom – their reasonableness.

            Paul went there one day to talk to these men of wisdom and justice, and that is the record we are considering this morning, and we see:

            First, all humans worship something.

            Second, the One True God is self-existent and self-sufficient.

            Third, all humans were created in the Image of God.

            And fourth, all humans are command to repent and believe in the Savior God sent.

            “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.”’”

            First, all humans worship something.

            Paul begins by looking around the area – which was littered with statues of gods and goddesses.  The Greeks were a people and a society of worshippers – as are all humans.  They made statues of their gods and set up altars to their gods and they participated in worship because they believed that their gods affected and participated in shaping the future of humanity and the world.  They believed that offending a god could bring them great disaster, so they sought to appease the gods through worship.  Different gods would be favorites of different people and different professions, but all the gods were to be worshipped to keep them at peace with humanity.  And, as Paul noted, just in case they missed a god – just in case they had forgotten to assign some realm of life to a god – they had an altar which was dedicated to “the unknown god” – they didn’t want to take a chance on offending any god, so they set up this altar to “the unkown god” to cover all their bases.

            Humans naturally worship something, even if we say we don’t – even if we think we don’t.  John Calvin wrote, “Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.”

            Do you talk about “luck” or “chance” “causing” something? Do you read your horoscope?  Do you pray to saints?  Do you think you can offer God something that will make Him owe you?  These are all aspect of idolatry – of false worship – but they are worship.  We all – all humans – worship.

            Putting it very basically, what is the most important, most worthwhile, most necessary person or thing that you hold in highest regard in your life?  Whatever that is – that is your god!  (Did any of you say to yourself, “me”?  Then you worship yourself.)

            So, Paul starts on a level playing field – “We all worship.  I worship.  You worship.  I see the statues of your gods and the altars to your gods all around.  I even saw one to ‘the unknown god.’”

            Can you picture the crowd listening?  “Yes, we all worship one god or another.  Yes, we don’t want to offend anyone.  Where’s he going with this?”

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Second, the One True God is self-existent and self-sufficient.

Paul tells them, “And I know who the unknown God is.”

Deafening silence – “I know who the unknown God is, and I’m going to tell you Who He is” – and what Paul doesn’t say out-right is, “The unknown God as you have called Him is the only God there is – all of these other gods that you have invented are idols – they are false gods.”

As John recorded, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22, ESV).

This God is the God Who made everything that exists.  This is the God Who existed before the material Creation existed – He is self-existent – He has always been – and He is the One Who brought all things into existence.

This God is the God Who is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  He is Sovereign over every molecule of His Creation.  Everything is His and He rules Sovereignly over everything and everyone He has created.

As the Creator of all things and as the Sovereign Lord over all things, this God does not live in temples made by human hands – even among the Jews – the Temple did not “contain” God – nor did the Ark of the Covenant – which had the Ten Commandments in it – contain God or His Power.  Certainly Israel made that mistake of thinking that God was bound to the box or to the Temple – the rushed out into battle, thinking that they couldn’t be hurt if they had the Ark with them.  They mourned the destruction of the Temple as though God could not be with them without the Temple and its rites.

No, this is the God of Heaven – the Creator and Lord over all of His Creation.  God does not need a home – everywhere and everything is His and He is too great to be contained by any human structure.

With that being understood, we see that this God is the God Who needs nothing from us – God does not need sacrifices of bread and wine and oil and animals.  Those were symbols for our sake – God is not hungry or needed.  God does not need us at all.  God created us and saves those He saves because it pleases Him to do so but God does not need us or anything from us, because everything forever and ever is His.

As Moses wrote, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14, ESV).

And God said, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50:10-12, ESV).

Paul wrote, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17, ESV).

And James explained, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

God is not any less God if He is not worshiped by us, and God has never and will never had any need, because everything is His.  God has been and will always be in perfect love, harmony, and union with Himself – Three Persons in One God.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 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, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”

Third, all humans were created in the Image of God.

This God created all humans.  God created the first man and women, Adam and Eve, and every human being who has ever lived is a direct descendant of them.  And when God created humans, God created them in His Image.

As Moses records, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV).

“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” (Genesis 2:7, ESV).

 So, all human beings were created by God in God’s Image.

And God did not leave human beings alone, but God is intimately involved with us and our history and all of our doings.  God has set out – predestined – everything that is to be – including our life and death and everything that comes in-between.

As Moses records, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” (Deuteronomy 32:8, ESV).

This God is not far away, but is here and He calls all human beings to come after Him and seek Him out.  And this would have been nothing unusual to the Greeks, for, as Paul explains, their own poets teach that this is true:

“for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”

And we might wonder why Paul quoted their poets to prove his point, instead of quoting the Scripture.  And the answer is that they would not have believed the Scripture.  The Word of God was nothing to them but another book of wisdom.  It had no authority over them to hear it and confess that it was true as the Word of God.  They did not yet know this God – the One True God – so they would have just considered it one more piece of wisdom literature.  So, Paul quoted their own poets – their own wisdom literature – the literature that they held in esteem – to them to prove that they already knew and believed that God is the Creator and Sustainer of human life, and He is among us, even now.

Now, they would have not understood exactly what Paul meant as He used those words – because they divided the work of the gods among many gods and saw them as superhuman, not as a Sovereign, Divine Being, Who is the God that Paul was bringing to them.

And that is something we ought to keep in mind as we evangelize –as we witness – as we proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – to our friends, and family, and neighbors, and strangers, and enemies – we need to meet them where they are.  We need to find an “in.”  We need to begin with something they understand and move from there to explain the Gospel.

That is why the worship service is not primarily an evangelistic time – the time we gather for worship is a time to instruct and edify and correct Christians, primarily – it is not the time, generally speaking, to seek to give the Gospel to non-Christians, because they will not understand it.  And this is one reason why the “seeker sensitive movement” has failed – because the message is always aimed at conversion – the message must always be “milk,” as the author of Hebrews would say – there is no growth, no “meat.”  So, believers eventually leave to find another place to grow.

So, Paul points them to their own respected writers:  they say the same thing – God gifts humans with life and being and with all that we do.  And God is not unreachable, but He is here all calls all humans to Him, and, if they are able to seek Him, they will find Him.

Yet, we must understand that the God Who is being sought – “the unknown God” – the One True God – is not a god that is made by human hands.  God is not made out of stone or gold or silver, not is God a piece of artwork or a creation of our imagination.

Paul explains that it is ignorance of the One True God – “the unknown God” – that causes people to create gods of stone and gold and silver and art and as our imaginations lead us:      “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23, ESV).

Since their poets agree that God is the God Who created humans – in His Image, as Paul tells them – and this God is the Sovereign God over all, Who is not a creation of human hands, but the self-existent and self-sufficient God, we understand that God must be a being – in a similar way that humans are beings.

If God were made of rock or silver or gold or artistic work or an imagination we had, then, if we were created in His Image, it would be to say that humans are also made out of rocks or gold or silver or an artistic creation or just in someone’s imagination.  And there are people we say have “rocks in their heads,” but that does not mean that they are made of stone.  And there are people who believe that they are the only existent creature, but we can ignore them, because they don’t believe we exist.

For example, Samuel was created in the image of Rebekah and Joshua.  Now, Rebekah and Joshua are humans.  Therefore, Samuel is a human.  Samuel is not the same as Rebekah and Joshua, but he was created in their image.  Similarly, all humans are created in the Image of God, so, while God is not a human, we can understand that God must be a being, like we are human beings.  To be created in the image of something means that there are similarities – there is a likeness.

Those who followed Paul that far – that all humans worship something, that the One True God is self-existent and self-sufficient, and that humans were created in the Image of God, so God is a being – were now ready to hear about this God and what He requires of humans.  So Paul said,

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

As Paul wrote, “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:4-6, ESV).

            Prior to God coming to earth in the flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ to be the Savior of all those who will believe, God overlooked – in some sense – the ignorance of people of the details of Who the Savior must be – (yet they had to believe in the Savior Who was coming).

            Now, Paul argues, in the early mid-first century A. D., God has come in the flesh, God has lived a perfect life under His Own Law as a human being, God has suffered the Wrath of God against all those who will ever believe in His human flesh, and God has raised Jesus physically from the dead and He has ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father – the days of ignorance are over.  The Savior is known historically and in detail, so we can believe in Him for salvation.  If we do not see Him and believe in Him when the Gospel is presented to us, it is because we have hardened our hearts against the One True God and His Savior:

            As Paul wrote, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18, ESV).

            Upon hearing what Paul explained, the hearts of some of those listening were turning – as we read later in this chapter – as Paul told them that all people everywhere are commanded by this God to repent.  All humans are commanded by God to repent of their sins – to turn away from them – from all idolatry and disbelief – and to turn around, instead, and believe in the One True God and in the Savior He has sent – the Only Way of Salvation for all those who will ever believe.

            As Paul explains, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26, ESV).

            All must repent, because a time of judgment is coming.  God will judge the world against His standard of holiness and righteousness – and only those who are holy and righteous will be permitted into the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of Everlasting Glory.  Those who refuse, who choose to take on the Wrath of God themselves, will be shut out to suffer eternal Hell.  Those are the only two possibilities.

            Because all humans have sinned against God, and God promised to save His people, God has sent His Son, in the Person of Jesus, to be the Savior of all those who will believe.  So that on the day of Judgment, God will judge the world righteously – condemning all those who are not righteous – who are not holy – who are not sinless, but receiving all those who believe in His Righteous Son, Who paid the debt for all those who believe and credits them with His Righteousness that they may live for God and enter into the Kingdom.

            When the people in the Areopagus heard Paul explain that their only hope was through a Man Who had physically raised from the dead, some of them laughed it off and went away – “crazy Jewish fairy-tales.”  But some believed.

            Paul spoke to them, beginning at a place that they could understand, filling in the blanks, and then stressing the urgency of the Truth of the Gospel as the Only Way to Salvation.
            As Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, ESV).
            Paul told them – the time of ignorance is over – all people must repent and believe if they are to be saved, because God is coming to judge the world – the living and the dead – you and me – and only those who believe in God the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Gospel – which are the historical facts that we have said and remember every week – only those will be saved from the Wrath of God and received into the Kingdom. 

Our assurance of this is true is that Jesus physically rose from the dead.  Since Jesus endured the Wrath of God on the cross, died, and physically survived – it is proof that what He said and did are true and the Only Way of Salvation.

Some of those listening to Paul asked him to come back later and they would talk about it another time.

If there is anyone here who has not believed – who is thinking you can believe another time – consider that you may not have another moment after I finish speaking.  This could be the moment that the Sovereign Lord and God of All has chosen to end your time on earth.

Repent.  Believe the Gospel.  Don’t wait.  You may not have the time.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You that You have made Yourself the known God to us.  We thank You for revealing Yourself and for providing salvation through the Promised Savior.  We ask that anyone here who does not believe would be struck by the Truth of Your Word, as we have examined how Paul approached the Greeks, and we ask that all would repent and believe and not put it off until another day, but know that this may be the end – there may not be another time.  Lord, gather Your sons and daughters into Your Kingdom, for it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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