Summary: The up close God wants you to get close to Him if you are willing to be more than religious...

The Up Close God

Text: Acts 17:16-34

Intro: After being chased out of Thessalonica & Berea for preaching the good news about Jesus, the apostle Paul spent a few days in the city of Athens. I’m not sure what Athens is like today, but in that time it was a favorite place for philosophers and debaters to hang out. The city also had lots of temples, altars, & statues where people worshiped whatever god they thought would bring them the most favor or fortune.

-Paul began talking with people in downtown Athens & in the synagogue, telling them the good news about Jesus. They saw that he was a Jew who served the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh. The idolatry in the city really bothered Paul, because that is one of the primary sins that caused Israel to go into captivity. However, Paul began to talk about his life-changing encounter with Jesus. This Jesus had been executed publicly, but then came back to life. Even to the superstitious Athenians, the claim of someone coming back from the dead was difficult to comprehend. Paul attracts enough attention that they finally ask him to come & speak his beliefs to a large group of them.

-I’d like to look at what Paul said on that day and talk about it. One of the most important truths that Paul spoke that day was this: God is close, but wants to be closer. If that’s all you remember from what I say today, that’s a great place to start. God is close to each one of us, but not as close as He wants to be. And this is the main theme today.

Prop: The up close God wants you to get close to Him if you are willing.

Interrogative: How do we know that God wants to be close to us and to all people?

TS: Well, the Bible reveals a personal God who wants nothing more than to be close to those who will reach out to Him. Let’s uncover a few principles that will help draw us closer to the one true God. First, I’d like to read vv.16-22a to set up Paul’s sermon to those in Athens.

Intro & Background (Acts 17:16-21)

16 While Paul was waiting for them [Silas & Timothy] in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 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. 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. 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? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

I. Getting Close to God Requires More than Religion (Acts 17:22-23a)

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.

-A person might be very religious, but never really come close to God. Religion can serve many agendas. Some use religion as therapy to make them feel good about themselves. Some use it to make money so they can worship their real God, Mammon, or wealth. Some use religion for the power or influence they might gain from it. Simon the Sorcerer was guilty of this. He wanted more control over people, so he tried to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. People have murdered others in the name of religion, either thinking they were doing God a favor, or simply eliminating the competition.

-The point is this: Religion alone will not save you. Christianity is not about religion, it is about relationship with God through Jesus. Religion is all about doing whatever makes a person worthy to be accepted by God. All man-made religions fall short on that. Only a right relationship with God through Jesus is what makes us acceptable to God. Religion does not take away sin. Faith in Jesus Christ does!

-If God remains unknown to you, then you are missing what you were created for. We might be religious, but God wants us to know Him and worship Him out of love and gratitude. He loved us first, and His love is what makes us able to love back.

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