Summary: Many churches if they were honest would put this plaque on their wall: the Church to an unknown God
12. The Book of Acts
August 09th, 2009
Knowing God: Athens
Religion can make us do some strange things. This is not new. It has been going on for thousands of years.
If you turn to Acts 17:16 we see Paul arriving in Athens. Athens is the intellectual capital of the ancient world. This is the place the greatest thinkers of the ancient world called home. It was an incredible city where the Parthenon one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was built. The ancient Greeks were surprisingly intelligent. They knew the world was round 1000 years before the Europeans realized it. They practiced medicine and there is some evidence they even practiced brain surgery. They built and designed architecture that is still standing today over 2000 years after it was built. They were an incredibly advanced people. Yet for all the understanding of the world they had some strange religious practices.
Ac 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. Ac 17:17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. Ac 17:18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Ac 17:19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? Ac 17:20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” Ac 17:21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) Ac 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. Ac 17:23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. Ac 17:24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. Ac 17:25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. Ac 17:26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. Ac 17:27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. Ac 17:28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Ac 17:29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. Ac 17:30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. Ac 17:31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
Paul arrives in Athens and is very distressed to see all the idols that filled the city. The people there were extremely zealous about their religion which is seen in the sheer volume of idols they erected. There were recorded to be somewhere between 2000 and 3000 notable idols within the city. An ancient writer Petronius joked: “it is easier to find a god in Athens that a man.” All throughout the city of Athens there are statues, altars, and temples to these pagan gods. Now this is interesting. The Greeks prize wisdom and knowledge above all things. They were very advanced as a people but yet they failed to see the irony of their idolatry. They were worshiping gods and statues they built with their own hands. How great could their gods really be if the needed men to build them temples? How is it the Greeks didn’t see the foolishness of their practices? Say your ancient Greek and you believe in all the gods. So one day you take a piece of clay and you mold half of it into a bowl to eat out of and the other half you mold into a statue of a god for your home. How do you know you used the right half? What if you have been worshiping your dinner bowl and eating out of your god? How would you know the difference? You made both of them. These intellectual people failed to realize that their gods didn’t make them they made their gods.