The Unknown God
In our New Testament reading today, from Acts 17, we catch a glimpse of the great Apostle Paul. We find him going throughout the Mediterranean world, proclaiming the gospel or good news to people in frustration, fear, and sin, and the Apostle Paul is preaching Christ to the people, and now he comes to Athens. Athens was the cultural and intellectual centre of the ancient world. It was the city of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. If you take all the universities of Britain & Ireland and roll them into one, you have what Athens was to the intellectual world of that day. As in this day, in the midst of intellectual achievements and scientific advances, there existed both confusion and frustration. Greece at that time was under the iron heel of Rome, and the whole world was longing for freedom. They were searching for an answer, but didn’t seem to know how or where to find it? There were many religious people, aware that there was a God, a power, an Authority even greater than Rome, but they didn’t know him, nor know how to know him. And like them, unless we can turn to God, get to know Him, and have His help, – we are all likewise doomed!
But how can we ask help from one whom we do not know?
While Paul was disturbed by all this, some of the philosophers came and said, “Paul, we’ve been listening to you. We’d like to hear more. How about going up to Mars Hill (an elevated spot above the city) and giving a lecture?” Acts 17:18-19.
And so on their invitation He went up on Mars Hill, and there he preached one of his most famous sermons:
entitled as I have this one …“The Unknown God.”
Every successful work of God must have opposition. If it
doesn’t have opposition, I reckon that there is something wrong with it. Everywhere Paul went he stirred up opposition. Trouble came, and trouble always follows the honest preaching of the Gospel of Christ, because Satan doesn’t like it. The forces of evil do not like the searchlight pointed in their direction, because the Bible says “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” John 3:19.
That day Paul had a great audience out before him in Athens.
The Athenians had hundreds of different gods and religions.
There are thousands of religious people today who have their name on a church roll, yet I do not believe have ever made a true commitment to Jesus Christ. Thousands of people who have been named in the church, who go to church once in a while if it’s not too inconvenient. And they sit for an hour, and they give God one hour. And they say, “O God, how lucky you are to get me for one hour a week.” And the rest of the week they live like the devil and live for themselves, and these claim to be Christians?
I can tell you, that in God’s sight those people are not Christians. A Christian is a person in whom Christ dwells, and a Christian is a person who lives for Christ twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year!
Paul was preaching to a very religious people. Now the Epicureans were there. The Epicureans were a very strange lot of people, and they were not so strange – because there are Epicurean types listening me today? Epicureans are people who believe that happiness is the goal of life. Eat, drink, and be merry, have a good time. Enjoy yourself, be religious, but don’t go too far in religion. Have a good time. There are some very like them around us today. They spend more time in front of their television sets than they do in front of God. They spend more time reading the newspapers than they do reading the Bible. They spent more time in the theatre or cinema than they do in any church.
They may go to a double feature at a cinema and sit for four hours and think it’s too short. They go to church and listen to a twenty-minute sermon and think it’s too long. And to some people, Sunday is no different a day from any other, and as if they could not do all the shopping they need on six days a week, they need Sunday Shopping too! … and like them we’ve lost all concept of God’s day, – of a special day.
The Stoics were also there in Paul’s audience that day. Now the Stoics were proud and self-righteous. They were the intellectual snobs. Like the Pharisees, they didn’t need God. They didn’t need a personal experience with Christ. They were self-righteous. And I tell you that we are in danger of becoming like the Pharisees of old. The most scathing denunciation that Jesus had – was against the Pharisees and their self-righteousness. The sins that God seems to hate the most are the sins of pride and self-righteousness, and the Bible reminds us that we are all sinners, all born in a sinful state. The Bible says that “God resists the proud“, that means that he elbows them out of his way.
Paul stood up to that crowd to preach his sermon. And the first thing that Paul said was this: “There is one God.” He said, “I saw an inscription coming up this hill-side that said, ‘To the unknown God.’ Oh, I perceive that you are religious people. You believe in some sort of God, but you don’t know Him.” Many who know about God, but don’t know him. And there are many today that believe in God, but who really don’t know Him. When we wake up in the morning, His presence doesn’t fill our room. When we go to bed at night, our last thought is not of Him. When we go to pray, we spend so little time, and we get no answers to our prayers. And God means so little to us. We go to the Church because it’s the traditional thing or social thing to do. We don’t go because we really love Jesus?
Paul said, “I want to tell you about this God” verse 23.
And it is my intention to do the same, to tell you about God today. The Bible tells us that God is creator and preserver of this universe – Genesis 1:1. – and the Bible says, “God is a Spirit” John 4:24. The Bible says God is unchanging, that God does not change one iota. God is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Hebrews 13:8.
Some have an idea in this country that God has adapted his thinking to accommodate the British or the Irish view!
Some have an idea that we are God’s chosen people here, that God loves us more than any other people, and that we are God’s blessed, or that this is “Gods own country”! I can assure you that God doesn’t love us any more than He does the Russians. He doesn’t love us any more than He does the Chinese. He doesn’t love us any more than He does the Terrorists that act in the name of Islam? God doesn’t love us any more than any other people, even the most misguided people. There is no changing with God, and there is no partiality with God.
The Bible says God is righteous – Psalm 145:17. And there are a lot of you who can’t understand the Old Testament when you read it, because the Old Testament is teaching one thing: that God is a holy God. And no sin can come into God’s presence because He’s holy -Habakkuk 1:13. God is a holy and righteous God, and the Bible says that God will judge the world.
Many have the idea today that God is like a Santa Claus, sitting on a cloud somewhere with a harp in His hand, forgiving everybody. God is not like that at all! God is a God of judgment. He is the God of righteousness and holiness, and the Bible says here that He will not wink at sin – Acts 17:30. You think that you can get away with your lying; I’ll tell you, you can’t. You think you can get away with your cheating; I tell you, you can’t. You think you can get away with your adultery, your jealousy, your sins, and the lust in your heart, and the evil thoughts that you have, and the evil experiments that you’ve tried. God says we cannot hide from him and that one day
we will all will stand before him in judgement. For the Bible says, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23.
That excludes none. I am a sinner and you are a sinner. Every one of us is a sinner in God’s sight. This does not mean that we need all go to Hell, and be separated from God for eternity. On the contrary, for the Bible also tells us that God is a God of love. ” God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
The Bible tells us God commended His love to us and that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
The Bible tells us that because God is love, He created man. Why did God create us in the first place? He puts us here and He created us because He is love and He wanted to have an object to love; and so He created the human race. We were perfect, and we had fellowship with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. They were friends. God and man were friends. They walked together, they talked together, they planned together. But then one day something happened, because when God created you, He gave you the ability to choose between right
and wrong. He gave you the ability to choose whether you would follow God and serve him, or whether you would live your own life and build your own life apart from God.
When man came to that great decisive moment in his life, he turned away from God and decided that he could build his own life without God. And he broke his covenant with God; he broke his relationship with God; he sinned against God. Genesis 2.3.
And that’s the reason we have war today. That’s the reason we have racial tension today. That’s the reason we have all these problems in the world today. It is because the hearts of men are sinful. We are away from God. And that’s the reason you have the problems in your personal life that you can’t solve. That’s the reason there are things within your heart and home life that you don’t understand and cannot resolve.
God, looking down from heaven one day, saw this earth in its turmoil and strife and sinfulness, saw us in our lost condition, saw us in our sins. And the Bible says that God said, “I love you. I love you…. and I want to save you.”
But how could God? He fills all of space. He is the mighty God of creation that flung those billions of stars out into space. So God did something that astounded the universe. God became a man. That’s who Jesus Christ was. He was God. And when I see Jesus making the blind to see, I see God. When I see Jesus feeding the five thousand, I see God interested in the hunger and the desires of men. When I see Jesus dying on the cross,
I see God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
But Jesus didn’t stay on the cross. They put Him in the tomb, and on the third day He rose again. And so I do not offer you today a dead Christ. I offer you a risen Saviour, a Christ that is at the right hand of God the Father, and who is some day going to come to judge the living and the dead – Acts 10:41. I offer you a triumphant Christ who is going to win. Evil will not succeed, and Good will eventually triumph over all Evil. Praise God!
Now, I see in my Bible that there are three things you have to do to get to know God and have your sins forgiven; If you’re ever going to be in Heaven, you’re going to have to do three things. I’ve studied this Bible for more than fifty years, and I do not believe any man or woman will get to heaven who hasn’t done these three things. I don’t care who you are. You may be a Sunday school teacher, you may be a deacon, an elder, even a Pastor or Priest. I don’t care who you are. If you haven’t done these three things, I don’t believe you can know God and get to heaven.
First, you must repent of your sins.
Paul says in this sermon that, “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” – Acts 17:30. That’s not a command from the Apostle Paul, but from God. I want to ask you have you repented? Has there been a time in your life when you repented? You might have been confirmed, you might have been baptized; and you might be born again in your heart, but you’re not sure of it. You’re not certain of it. If you’re not sure that there has ever been a moment when you really repented of your sins and renounced them. Well, You can do it today. You may ask me:
“What do you mean by repentance?” I mean that you ac-
knowledge to God that you have sinned, and that you are willing to turn from your sins. Notice I said willing. You may not have the strength to turn from your sins, but by faith you are willing to turn, and if so, God will give you the strength. You say, “I know, there are things in my life that are wrong, but I cannot give them up. I’ve tried. I just can’t do it.” If you are willing my dear friend, God will give you the strength to give them up and turn from them – believe me!
Secondly, you must receive Christ by faith;
An act of receiving Christ to die for you, Receiving and acknowledging him as your sin-bearer and saviour. That is a definite act; it must be a conscious act of your will, you must be willing to receive His very life into yours. It may be a quiet moment; it may be a decisive, climactic moment – as it was in the life of Paul. But if you’re not sure by faith you’ve received Christ, then you’d better do it today. I am not speaking of receiving him in any sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Communion is a memorial to his redemptive work and it is important that we “do this in remembrance of me” as Christ himself taught.
There are three little characters who live inside us … our intellect, our emotions, and our will. Intellectually, thousands of you believe in Christ. I doubt if there is anyone listening who doesn’t believe in Christ. You believe in Him with your minds. In fact, the Bible says the devil believes. And the devil does more than you do, because he trembles when he believes – James 2:19. But that’s not enough. You may have some emotion in your religion. You may have had an emotional experience at some time, but you never have really received Christ. You must by faith receive Him, because it is an act of your will. You must say, “I will trust Him, take Him and track Him.”
The third thing you must do is: You must obey Christ.
You must be willing to follow Him and serve Him from this moment on. Tracking Him, means that we follow after Him and serve Him. It means self-denial, it means cross-bearing, it means obedience. It means that you are going to burn all your bridges behind you and follow Christ, no matter what it costs. It means you go back to your business and back to your home and live for Christ. It means you are going to start praying in your home. It means you are going to start living for Jesus, no matter what the costs, from this moment on. That’s what it means. And if you are not willing to do that, don’t come to Jesus Christ. He will not accept you for part of the way. You must be willing to go all the way.
When Paul had finished his sermon he stopped. And when the invitation was given that day, three things took place that are
going to take place now. One, there was derision. Some of them laughed at him and mocked him – Acts 17:32. They didn’t mock him out loud; they quietly said, “Well, that’s not for me.” You may be a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, or Anglican, or Roman Catholic, or Mormon, or a Lutheran, or Jew or wear no such “label” – But if you have never really had a vital encounter with Jesus Christ, you need to make sure today. Religion alone cannot save you!
Secondly, there were some who said, “We will hear you again of this matter” (v 32). They put it off. The Governor, Felix said to Paul, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee” – Acts 24:25. I want to tell you, this is a dangerous action because you may never hear anyone preach or present the Gospel again. Some of those philosophers were never able to climb Mars Hill again.
The Bible says, “He that hardeneth his heart, being often reproved, shall suddenly be cut off and that without remedy” Proverbs 29:1.
We never know when our last moment is coming. Maybe God spoke to you today, and your heart is in danger of being hardened. Some of you are old; while some of you are young people. The Bible says once you hear the Gospel and do nothing about it, you are in danger of being hardened in your heart. The Devils main deception to the seeking soul is to get them to “put it off”. He doesn’t mind your listening to my weekly sermons, as long as you do absolutely nothing about them.
But, last of all, there were some that day that made a decision (Acts 17:34). They received Christ and went their way rejoicing. I am going to ask you to receive Him now. I am not asking you to join some special church. I’m asking you today to give your life to Christ. I’m going to ask you to do a hard thing, because coming to Christ is not easy. So many people have made it too easy. All you need say is : “I need God; I need Christ.
I want to be forgiven of my sins. I want a new life, and I want
to start a new direction today.” As we conclude today,
just say this simple sinners prayer along with me.
The Sinners Prayer – LET US PRAY
Dear Jesus. I believe that you have come in the flesh to be my sin bearer and saviour – and I bow before you now.
Thank you for dying for me, and thank you that you have spoken to my heart today.
I confess that I have done many sinful things that have displeased you, and there is much wrong that I am sorry for.
I ask you to forgive me – clean up, fix and heal my life
I invite you into the driving seat of my life
Fill me with your person, your presence and your power
I receive you now as my Saviour, and Lord.
Help me to validate my faith in thought, word and actions.
For your Glory and my eternal Good, I ask these things in the name of Jesus – Amen.
If you said that prayer say too the words of our closing hymn for you can come to him now
Just as you are ….