Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Unknown God

A sermon developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett based on Acts 17:16-34.
Verse 16 - While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols.
               Paul had traveled ahead of the rest of his missionary team and was waiting in Athens.
               Athens was considered the center of culture during the New Testament era. Athens was known for its sculptures, literature, oratory skills and pursuit of philosophy. The city had many statues of pagan gods and awe inspiring temples to those gods.
               Paul was troubled when he saw how much energy, effort and money the people of Athens dedicated to false gods.  Many people considered Athens the most religious city in the world at that time. Paul was troubled because all that religion had still not helped people find peace with God.
               Religion is a human attempt to reach up to God through various rituals and activities.
               What we must realize is that God reached down to us and desires a relationship with us. That relationship is deeper and bigger than just religious rituals and activities.
Verse 17 - So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.
               Paul first went to the synagogue and tried to reason with those who already believed in God and were therefore most likely to believe in Jesus.
               We should be talking to religious people about the Bible and what God is doing in our lives. We should help as many people as possible move beyond religion to find real relationship with Jesus.
               Paul also talked to people in the marketplace or anywhere else people would listen. Paul was obviously excited about his faith.
               We must also share our faith with people outside the church as we encounter them in our daily lives. People need to hear about Jesus and it is our job to tell them.

Verse 18 - Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him.
               Paul got into an intense discussion with the Epicureans and Stoics.
               Epicureans believed that pleasure was the main point of life and the best pleasure was to be free from pain and superstitious fears. Theologically they did not deny the existence of God, but felt that if there was a God, He no longer took interest in the lives of mere humans. Epicureans had a lot of fun and were fun to be around but they had no real purpose in life other than pleasure. If they were not constantly finding things to do that brought them pleasure, they became depressed and anxious. They were having fun one day and then depressed the next, what a hard life to live!
               The Stoics believed in living in harmony with nature. They also believed in the ability of people to rationally think through any question or problem and come to the right conclusion. Theologically, Stoics were pantheistic, meaning that they thought God was a world soul that inhabited every creature. The Stoics were expected to be very moral and have a high sense of duty to the world. They were the “perfect” religious people. However, when a person could not figure life out, Stoics recommended suicide as an honorable means of escape. And many of them took that way out!

Modern Day Example of Stoicism:
               Utah is the 2nd most religious state in America. Only Mississippi is more religious than Utah. Utah is filled with deeply religious Mormons. They are clean cut, polite and morally straight. They are the kind of young people you want your teen to hang out with!
               However, Utah's suicide rate has been consistently higher than the national rate for the last decade. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10-24. And that does not even count the number of people in Utah are treated in emergency rooms due to suicide attempts that were not successful. A recent study found that 13 people are medically treated after an unsuccessful suicide attempt EVERY DAY in Utah. This is a clear example of how a religion based on rules and regulations does not make life better. What makes life better is a life built on a relationship with Jesus Christ. That does not mean that rules and religious rituals are not important, it simply means that they are far less important than a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.

Verse 19 - They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, "May we learn about this new teaching you're speaking of?
               The Epicureans and Stoics took him to the Areopagus and asked him to speak to the crowd about matters of faith.
               The Areopagus was just north of the main city.
               People would spend the entire day there just discussing philosophy and ideas.
               It was a way to feel important without actually having to do much. 

Verse 22 - Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.
               Paul stood in the middle of the people and spoke to them.
               He was not hiding inside the church; he took the Gospel outside the church to the people.
               Paul recognized that religion was important to them.
               We need to recognize what is important to people we witness to, even if we disagree with it.

Verse 23 - For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
               The Athenians were so religious that they had built an altar to what they called an “unknown god.”
               Scholars are not in agreement about the exact purpose of this altar.
               But what is clear is that the Athenians realized that even with all their religious rituals and pagan idols, they had still not found what they were looking for.
               They had built an altar to a god they hoped they would one day discover who would be all they were looking for.
               We live in a world full of religion, but empty of hope. We live in a world full of expanding technology, organized sports, endless entertainment, and historic institutions, yet many people still feel empty and purposeless. People are still searching for something.
               Paul recognized this and proceeded to tell them what they were looking for without even realizing it.
               Likewise, we must share our faith with others who want it but do not know it yet.

Verse 24 - The God who made the world and everything in it —He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands.
               What people are searching for, without even knowing it, is a Creator who has a purpose and a plan for our lives and our world.
               The God of the Bible is that Creator, and He does have a purpose and plan, both for the world and for our lives.
               The reason it is so hard for us to find this Creator God is that we like to control things.
               Controlling things makes us feel secure.
               Therefore, we want to make God small enough to control. We want to confine God to a building, or an hour on Sunday, or to a certain aspect of life.
               Paul reminded the Athenians that the Creator God cannot be confined by human limits or intelligence. Such a God is too great to live in a shrine or a temple, no matter how glorious it may be. Such a God will fill the entire universe with His presence and power. And that powerful God became a man that we call Jesus and He desires a personal relationship with us!
Verses 26b-27 -  [God] has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live, so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
               God has determined certain moments in time that are designed specifically to help us see our need for Him. When we have one of those God moments, we have to decide how we will respond.
               Will we be content with just a general knowledge that up there somewhere is someone who cares? Or will we reach out and find real relationship with God through His son Jesus?
               Jesus Christ is not a vague idea or a religious concept. Jesus Christ is not just a billboard or a bumper sticker. Jesus Christ is not a “Republican” cause. Jesus Christ is a real person, a divine person, who wants to have a meaningful friendship with each of us.
               Shall we reach out and discover that friendship or just keep going through the motions?
               Paul asserts that in Christ we live and move and have our very existence.
               Remember what life was like before we found Christ? Did life even seem real?       Remember the joy that flooded our soul the moment we believed? Can we even imagine life without Him now?

Verse 30 - Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent.
               God, who is merciful, has overlooked our sin for a very long time because we were ignorant of how bad our sins were.
               But somewhere along the way, we have enough God moments to realize how messed up life is because of sin. At that point, God calls us to repent.
               Repenting means turning away from our way of living and towards God’s way.   Repenting means a change of heart that works its way to the surface. Repenting means no longer going through the religions motions but having a genuine encounter with the God of the universe.
               Once we begin to feel that call to repent, we must decide if we will heed that calling.
               There are people reading this blog post RIGHT NOW that feel that call to repent.
               We can ignore that call, or we can heed it. The balance of our lives hangs on how we will respond to the call to repent.

Verses 32, 34 - . . . some began to ridicule him. But others said, "We will hear you about this again.” . . . some men joined him and believed . . .
               The Athenians responded to Paul’s message in three different ways.
               Some ridiculed him.
               Some were not yet ready to believe but wanted to hear more.
               Some believed Paul’s message and joined him in relationship with Jesus Christ.
               Those are still the ways that our modern culture responds to the call to repent and believe.
               Some ridicule Christianity, hating every aspect of it. One day they will learn the truth, but it will be too late.
               Some are not yet ready to believe but want to hear more so they can decide later. Pray they do not put it off too long.
               Some believe God’s message and join with Christ to discover purpose, meaning, fulfillment and joy in life.
               How will we respond to God’s calling to repent and believe? 

Prayer to Repent and Believe
               Lord, right now I hear You speaking to my spirit and I want to turn from my sins and my way of living. I want to turn to You and find Your purposes, meaning and plans for my life. Please forgive me of my sins, make me a real Christian and help me to start living for You. Help me find the fulfillment I have always wanted and give me eternal life. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen. 

                        Religious rituals alone are inadequate to meet our deepest needs in life.
                        Only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can give us that peace we are looking for.
                        God gives us God moments where we can find Him if we want to.
We must decide how to respond to God’s invitation to deepen our relationship with Him.

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