Vol. 6, No. 2
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If there is one generalization we can make about the human race, it would have to be that mankind is incurably religious. He will be religiously devoted to something no matter who he is. The name of "man" in Greek, anthropos, is possibly derived from two words that mean to "look upward." Even the atheist is dedicated to promoting the "cause of atheism," whatever that might be! Such is the case with the Athenians in Acts 17:
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry...Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you (Verses 16, 22-23).
There were two prominent groups present at Mars Hill when Paul preached this famous sermon. They were so corrupt that the truth seemed only to be a "babbling" to them (Verse 18).
The first group, the Epicureans founded by Epicurus (341240 B.C.), believed the gods to be unconcerned with humans, and that pleasure should be the chief goal of life (also called Egoistic Hedonism). They believed man existed solely for his own self-gratification.
The second group, the Stoics, was founded by Zeno in 294 B.C. They were fatalists who believed in self-righteousness and self-denial. Both were at opposite extremes, and far from the truth. It is to these extremists that Paul attempts to reveal the "Unknown God" (Verse 23). Let us examine some of what Paul taught on Mars Hill.
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things (Verses 24-25).
Have you ever considered the majesty of God? How lofty, and glorious is the Creator? Psalm 19:1-2 reads, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard." Just in terms of size, the universe is awe-inspiring. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, but it takes over 8 minutes for the sun's light to reach the earth. A car trip to the moon at 60 mph would take almost 2 months with no rest stops along the way, and this is our closest celestial neighbor! Now consider there is one who made all of this, and so much more! King Solomon was humbled by this thought as he completed the temple in 1 Kings 8:27: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" How foolish it was for the Athenians to liken God to images of gold or silver. "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device" (Verse 29).
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation...For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring (Acts 17:26, 28).
Even the Stoic poet Aratus of Cilicia, of whom Paul derives this quote, had this right! We are the offspring, or the creation, of God. We could not even draw a breath, but that God wills it, and yet we presume to know what is best for others and ourselves without divine guidance? Psalm 8:3-4 reads, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" It is humbling to know that we are completely dependent on God for our very existence. We are not doing God any favors by worshipping him. "Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (Verse 25). To put it all into perspective, God tells us through the prophet in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." God is so beyond us, and we are so far beneath him, that we must wonder why he even wants anything to do with us. However, here is where it gets good!
"That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us" (Verse 27). For some inexplicable reason, God loves us and wants us to spend eternity with him. In spite of the fact that we have sinned, God has ordained that man should seek after him and find him. He sent Jesus to make all this possible. Note Romans 5:5-9:
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
We have a picture of the lofty unattainable God, and the lowly fallen creature man. Yet, this majestic God pities man, and offers him reconciliation! Grace is extended! Titus 2:11 reads, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men..." This grace, however, is not unconditional as Paul continues in the next verse, "Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." It is up to man to respond to God's offer of salvation. "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).
The reason that God is "not far from every one of us" is because of his great compassion for us. He is "...not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus reveals the love of God to us. What father among us would be willing to sacrifice his son, yet, this is exactly what the God of heaven has done for us!
Where does your soul stand today? God has ordained that you seek after him and find him. He has made the greatest overture of love and peace by sending his Son to die for you, but claiming ignorance will not help you on the last day! (See again Acts 17:30-31.) Where will you be when the Day of Judgment is past? This same Jesus, who has been provided by the loving God of heaven to be our Savior, will then be our Judge (John 5:22). While you have the opportunity, dear reader, we urge you to be baptized into Christ ("He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved..." Mark 16:16) and live a faithful life ("...be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" Revelation 2:10). Be assured, that God is not far from every one of us!