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The Heart of the Sermon

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Acts 17:16-34

The Heart of the Sermon

The Book of Acts recounts the spread of the church after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.   But it isn’t a history of the early church.  It contains 42 ‘testimonies’ to the gospel.  There are 10 sermons (précis’ really) There are 30 preaching summaries.    There are also several descriptions of Christians from its opponents.  Among these groups were the Greek philosophers – mentioned last week – who suggested that the Christians were speaking about foreign gods – Jesus and resurrection

We have come to Athens where as we see, Paul doesn’t even mention the Old Testament in his presentation of the gospel; but rather he begins with creation, and then goes from there.

Last week we looked into the heart of the apostle - We saw that he was stirred (provoked) by the idolatry in that great city; he took the gospel into the marketplace, and he did not withhold from them things they needed to hear, despite the fact that he knew many would not welcome what he had to say.

Today, we’ll concentrate on the heart of the message.  We’ll be concentrating on verses 22-29 today, remembering that this is obviously only a précis of what must have taken a long time – particularly since the Athenians enjoyed discussing the latest ideas.

What did Paul talk about?  Did he talk about ethics? Or Social concerns? Or did he talk about the Christian life?  Did he look for common ground with the Athenians.  Well, no,  he began with… the God who…made the world and everything in it (24)

Ex.  Sermons should be about God and 20 minutes.  As one friend said, if that were done throughout the Church of England, there would be quite an improvement.

But do notice that Paul begins with the God who…I think this is instructive to us Christians.  Paul is God- centered throughout, as were the other apostles.  In speaking about Christian things, they begin with the God who made the world and everything in it. 

Let’s look at the heart of this sermon.

He comments in v 22 that they are very religious, judging by the number of temples dedicated to their pantheon of gods.  The word, religious, could either be a term of commendation or it could imply they were simply superstitious.  They seem to think he’s complementing them; I’m sure he is not – given his reaction to their idolatry.

Yet, despite the fact that they are religious – their religious impulse prevents them from understanding the true nature of God.  Why?  To quote Paul from Romans 1:19-22 (ESV)
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

 

What they know of God through the created order has been suppressed; and rather than worship the true God, the maker of all; they have constructed idols out of their own imaging and have worshiped and served the creation rather than the creator.

One way to look at this sermon is to notice how Paul makes several points by using positive and negatives.

Point One:  God is the creator; he doesn’t live in temples made by man

Who is dependent upon whom?  Looking at these idols, it seems as if they are dependent on the people who made them.  They were designed, built and maintained by the people of Athens.  They reflected the religious beliefs of the people – or at least of some of the people. 

The Parthenon, which still stands, was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of wisdom – a virtue much treasured by the Athenian people.

His answer is positive and negative.

Acts 17:24 (ESV)
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth,

The implication of this is 24b

does not live in temples made by man,

 

It reminds you of Jesus, speaking in John 14:6 (ESV)
6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

Or in John 1:1-6 (ESV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 

John 1:18
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

 

God has made this world for us to live and enjoy.  He doesn’t live in shrines made by hands. 

God has made the world to accommodate human life.  He made the moon and Mars as well; but not for us to live in –

The bigger question is who is dependent upon whom. 

You may know that from the very first part of he Bible, this has been the question.  The temper suggested to Eve that she really didn’t need to depend upon God – after all, she could become like God.  And ever sense, we humans, trying to live independently of God have shown over and over again that we can’t do it.  We were not made that way.

We can’t either cast God away or lock him up in a temple or a box.  He is the creator, and we are dependent upon him.  It is the height of folly and also the tragedy of humanity that so many do not see this. 

We might say that original sin consists in our assertion of independence from the living God who made us – which leads to ultimate judgment because our assertion of independence is actually our rebellion against our maker and creator.

Point Two:  v 25: Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything – (positive) he himself gives to mankind life and breath and everything.

 

Negative:  he is not served by human hands

Positive:  He gives life to all mankind.

This point is closely related to verse 24. 

He made the world for us; not we made a temple for him.  i.e. we depend on him

Here the point is that seems to be that he needs us to keep him going.

If you looked at all the temples, no doubt you would see many people taking care of the buildings they constructed.  They would make offerings to the gods, hoping to gain their favor or placate their anger.

The pagan gods were after all often hungry and frequently misbehaved.  If the Greek gods live on earth, they would be in prison. 

A related verse in Psalms 50:7-12 (ESV)
7 "Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. 8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. 9 I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. 12 "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.

The Jews had corrupted the sacrificial system.  They came to think that if they would just go through the motions, they would remain on favorable terms with God, despite what they did or how they lived.  They just needed to meet external obligations.

This translates into the idea that if we just do our bit, God will do his. 

From verses 25-26, we understand that God stands outside the created order.  Of course, that does not mean he is not involved in sustaining and directing it; but you cannot submerge God into the creation.  Absorbing God into the created order such that there is no distinction between humanity, nature or even God, is what we call Pantheism or panentheism. 

Mikhail Gorbachev
I believe in the cosmos.
All of us are linked to the cosmos. So nature is my god.  To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests
are my cathedral

 

I suppose that is one step beyond atheistic socialism, but is a far cry from Christian theism – a personal and omnipotent God who made the world and us to live in it, who is guides and governs all things; but who is always distinct from it.

Point Three:  God is Sovereign over His Creation v 26

 

Acts 17:26-28 (ESV)
26 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, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 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.'

 

Verse 26 Paul is saying that God rules over all.  He is the creator of all; he rules over all; and he will judge the world.

This verse would have been extremely offensive to the Athenians, in that they considered themselves superior to other races.  But if they spring from the same source, they can’t be superior. 

And notice that Paul quotes two of their own poets in verse 28.

The positive: God is sovereign over all and he has made us to seek him; the negative is in 27b-28:  Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. 

If you watch a program on religions; you will notice it always begins with man’s search for the unknowable god.  Yet, what Paul is saying here that the goal of man’s creation was that we would know this God, our creator. 

He made us in such a way that we should feel him and find him.  But, being fallen people, it is not likely that we will.

He has made us to know him; and we are responsible to know him.  But as Paul has said in Romans, we have suppressed this knowledge and we have turned to idols – man made imaginings projected as god.

Application

Look at verse 29.  Here Paul seems like a teacher lecturing his students.

1.  We ought not to make God in our own image –

2.  We think God is satisfied if we simply give him with what he wants.

3.  We believe religion is to begin with a long, search for God who is beyond us.

Paul’s lesson to the great Athenians.  You ought not to think this way; and further, you are culpable for idolatry, and you will face the judgment with the whole world – a judgment by God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the one he has appointed v 31.

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