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Summary: When preaching about the Unknown God in Athens, Paul made known these four basic truths: The Greatness of God, the Goodness of God, the Government of God, and the Grace of God.

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The Unknown God

by Scott R. Bayles, preacher

Church of Christ

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As Paul approached the great city of Athens, he came not as a sightseer, but as a soul-winner. He arrived with open eyes and a broken heart. Athens was in a period of decline in the early first-century. Though still recognized as a center of culture and education, the glory of its politics and commerce had long since faded. It had a famous university and numerous beautiful buildings, but it was not the influential city it once had been. The city was given over to a "cultured paganism" that was nourished by idolatry, novelty, and philosophy.

The Greek myths spoke of gods and goddesses that, in their own rivalries and ambitions, acted more like humans than gods; and there were plenty of deities to choose from! Someone once said that in Athens it was easier to find a god than a man. Paul saw that the city was "wholly given to idolatry," and it broke his heart. As was his custom, Paul spoke in the synagogue with the Jews, but he also witnessed in the marketplace (agora) to the Greeks. It didn’t take long for the philosophers to hear about this "new thing" Paul was preaching.

The Council of the Areopagus was responsible to watch over both religion and education in the city, so it was natural for them to investigate the "new doctrine" Paul was teaching. They courteously invited Paul to present his teaching at what appears to have been an informal meeting of the council on Mars’ Hill. After all, life in Athens consisted of hearing and telling new things, and Paul had something new! Let’s listen to what he said.

Acts 17:22-34 (NASB-u)

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. [23] For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ’TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. [24] The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; [25] nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; [26] and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, [27] so they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; [28] for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ’For we also are His children.’ [29] Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. [30] Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, [31] because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

[32] Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this."[33] So Paul went out of 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.

Paul’s message is a masterpiece in communication. He started where the people were by referring to their altar dedicated to an unknown god. Having aroused their interest, he then explained who that God is and what He is like. He concluded the message with a personal application that left each council member facing a moral decision. Using this "unknown god" as a jumping point, Paul shared four basic truths about God that we still need to hear today. The first is...

I. THE GREATNESS OF GOD:

Paul declared that this unknown God, "made the world an all things in it" (24). He is the Creator. Every thoughtful person asks, "Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?" Science attempts to answer the first question, and philosophy wrestles with the second; but only the Unknown God has a satisfactory answer to all three.

The Epicureans, who were atheists, said that everything was made of matter and matter always existed. The Stoics said that everything was God, "The Spirit of the Universe," that God did not create anything; He only organized matter and impressed on it some law and order. But Paul boldly affirmed, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth!" God made the world and everything in it, and He is Lord of everything He has made. He is not a distant God, divorced from His creation; nor is He an imprisoned God, locked in creation. He is too great to be housed in man made temples, but He is not too great to be concerned with man’s needs. I wonder how the Council members reacted to Paul’s statement that God "does not dwell in temples made with hands," since right there on the Acropolis were several shrines dedicated to Athena. One thing was for sure, this Unknown God was far greater than the gods of Greek myth.

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