Knowing the unknown God

In the seventeenth chapter of Acts, we are told about a time when the Apostle Paul is experiences a time of waiting. For his safety Paul had to be brought to the city of Athens. He had to wait there for his co-workers, Silas and Timothy, to arrive. Rather than just sit around and chafe during this time of waiting, Paul made the best of the situation.

It started with Paul being provoked. He was provoked by all the idols he found in the city, especially an idol to the unknown God. So he started engaging the people of Athens in a conversation about religion and faith. Eventually he was invited to speak to the leading philosophers of the city in a place called the areopagus.

In he speech to the philosophers at the areopagus Paul noted several things about the idols he saw. The idols told him that:

The people were very religious.

They thought gods could be located in a specific place built by humans.

With their idol to the unknown god they wanted to cover all the bases.

Paul proceeded to share his Christian faith with them. Paul starts by affirming that God is freer than anyone else: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

God does not need anyone to provide him with a place to live. He does not need anyone to provide him with anything. He, in fact, is the source of all people and of all things.

Psalm 50 puts it this way:

“For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” (Psalm 50:10-12)

Idols, on the other hand, are very needy. They need someone to make them. They need someone to take care of them. Since they are not real and have no life in themselves they need basically everything. Without human support all idols would disappear.

The opposite is true of God. If we would all disappear and cease to exist, God would still be there. If this virus does succeed in wiping out all humans God would still be there. He is immune to any of our human weaknesses. He doesn’t need anything from us.

That then raises the question, “What does God want from us?” Paul has the answer for that as well. He wants us to repent. He has commanded all people everywhere to repent.

He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. The only way to be ready for that day when God will judge the world is by repenting.

Paul also explained the reason why God raised Jesus from the dead was because Jesus had died on the cross for the sins of the world. The only way to be ready for the day when Jesus returns to judge the world is to believe that he saved us by dying for us on the cross.

Some of the people of Athens believed what Paul was teaching and some did not.

So that is what Paul did while he was waiting. What are you doing while you are waiting? We are all in a time of waiting now thanks to this pandemic. We are waiting for the quarantine to be lifted so we can all get back to the new normal whatever that is.

What will we do during this time of waiting?

God gives us opportunities to witness for him. Paul did not think of his time of waiting in Athens as wasted time, he made the most of it. How can we do the same?

In I Peter 3:15, Peter urges us, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

I can assure you the opportunities we get to make a defense of the hope that is in us hardly ever come at a convenient time. For me, it’s almost always at an inconvenient time which is why Peter says, “always be prepared.”

We do need training and training is available. At the church I serve we were literally ready to start a new class on being ready to witness the very Sunday that things got shut down due to the pandemic. Hopefully someday soon we will be able to offer the class again.

Training is important but we also need to be observant. Paul started his message by referring to all the idols that he saw. This was very different from what he did elsewhere. Most of the time Paul would start doing his mission work in a city by going to the local Jewish synagogue. He would start his appeal with the Old Testament since that was what everyone was familiar with.

But since the people in the areopagus of Athens had no knowledge of the Old Testament, Paul could not start there. Instead he started with all their idols.

That is the approach we should take. In former days we could assume that people would have some knowledge of Scripture. Sadly, that is not the case anymore. In most cases we will not be able to start witnessing to people by quoting Scripture. People will not have any idea what we are talking about.

Does this mean we should stop learning Scripture? By no means! If we are going to be ready to witness we still need to study and learn Scripture regularly.

But we should also be studying the world around us as Paul did. And during this pandemic we have lots of opportunities to study how the world operates. What are the world’s priorities? How has this pandemic brought out the best in people? How has it brought out the worst in people? Take this time of waiting to look around and observe what you see and then speak in a way that relates to what you see.

We should always be prepared to tell this basic message; God does not need anything from us. He is not dependent on us like idols are. He is the source of all things. What he wants from us is to repent and turn to Christ.

We do not meet God is some idol or temple. We meet God in a person and that person is Jesus Christ. Jesus himself says in John 14: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (v. 6)

And, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.” (v. 8)

And “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (V. 1) The way to God is not in an idol or anything built with humans hands but it is in a person, Jesus Christ.

Someday Jesus will return to judge the world. The only way to be ready for that day is to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus. We believe and trust in Jesus because he gave his life for us on the cross to pay for our sins so that we can stand before him on judgment day.

As I said with Paul some believed some did not. The same is true today. We can be totally prepared for every situation and still not everyone will believe. We have to be ready for that too.

And God does not need anything from us but our neighbors do. We serve them, not because it is a way to earn God’s favor but as a way to thank and serve God.

Waiting is never easy. But even during this time of waiting during the pandemic God will give us opportunities to share our faith. We prepare by continuing to deepen our knowledge of Scripture and also by observing the world around us. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, a real person, not some idol or temple. He is the one who will return someday to judge the world. He is also the one who gave his life for us on the cross to make sure that when judgment day comes we will be ready.

To watch a video of this sermon, click here.

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