Summary: An examination of Paul's sermon on Mars Hill that teaches us 7 important truths about the one, true God.
God Is Closer than You Think
July 9, 2017
TEXT: Please turn in your Bibles to Acts 17 starting at verse 16.
Illus. – Have you ever noticed on a side mirror of your car the little writing on it that says, “Objects may be closer than they appear”? That’s supposed to keep you from having a wreck, right?
Well, the first time I owned a car that had that on the mirror, I had never noticed it until I was driving on the Interstate months after buying it. I looked in the mirror to see if a car was coming so I could change lanes on the Interstate, and it was then that I noticed the writing.
So here I was driving down the Interstate at 70 miles per hour reading the writing on this mirror, and I didn’t notice the car in front of me putting his brake on. Suddenly I saw the red brake lights and just narrowly missed rear-ending him.
Well, the writing on my mirror is SUPPOSED to be a message to me to help me.
Paul had a message for the Athenian intellects who were all wrapped up in empty philosophy. As we’ll see, to these philosophers, God was distant and unknowable and unreachable. But Paul’s message to them was this: No, this God is WAY bigger than anything you ever imagined, and He’s real, and He’s personal—and He’s closer than you think.
Let’s begin at verse 16 – “Now while Paul waited for them [his coworkers] at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.”
Here was a city built on man’s wisdom and totally given to idolatry. When Paul saw it, it STIRRED HIM, and whenever Paul got spiritually stirred about people’s spiritual need, it urged him to share Christ with them.
Which he did in verse 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.”
This led shortly thereafter to a historic meeting between the intellectual litterati of Athens and Paul, the Apostle of Christ. I would like us to notice two things about this fascinating incident in the life of Paul:
I. FIRST, NOTICE WITH ME PAUL’S AUDIENCE – Verses 18-21 – “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, 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. 19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? 20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. 21 (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.)”
Verse 18 tells us there were two main philosophic belief systems in Paul’s audience that day:
1) First were the EPICUREANS whose philosophy was formulated by a man named Epicurus, who lived from 342-270 BC. – Here’s what they believed:
- First, they were evolutionists: They believed the world came into being merely by chance. – So, you see, Darwin didn’t come up with anything new!
- Second, they believed in polytheism—the belief in many gods, illustrated by the multitude of idols scattered throughout Athens.
It was said that you would sooner find an idol than a man in Athens, it was so full of them. But these gods were remote and uninterested in the affairs of humankind. They didn’t care about those who worshiped them. They were selfish and self-centered, just like those who worshiped them.
- Third, they believed there was nothing after death—no heaven, no hell, no future reward or punishment—no justice for life’s wrongs; just death.
- The foundational teaching of Epicurus was that the ultimate purpose in life is to experience pleasure or happiness.
Whatever pleased the Epicureans, they were free to do. So they “did his own thing” so to speak, by indulging themselves. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”—that’s what they believed and lived out.
2) The second main philosophical system represented in Paul’s audience were the STOICS, whose philosophy was articulated by Zeno, who lived from 336-264 BC.
Here’s a summary of their beliefs:
- First, they were pantheists—believing that god (with a little “g,”) is everything and everything is god.
You are god; I am god; this building is god; a tree is god. So “god” is not a personal being, but more like a force, as the Hindus and New Age people believe today.
- They also believed in fatalism—the idea that everything will happen because it is fated to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. – You’re not a free agent; but a puppet living out a script written out for you by fate.