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The Sermon on "The Unknown God"

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice
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September 10, 2020 8:00 am

The Sermon on "The Unknown God"

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice

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September 10, 2020 8:00 am

Athens, the city of the Epicureans: If it feels good, do it. Athens, the city of the Stoics: If it doesnt feel good, grin and bear it. Athens, the city of idols: If it looks good, worship it. And Athens, the city of Pauls most famous sermon, a closely reasoned message about an unknown God who has made himself known in Jesus Christ.

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Athens, the city of the Epicureans to say if it feels good do it.

Athens, the city of the Stoics say if it doesn't feel good grin and bear it. Athens, the city of idols. If it looks good. Worship and Athens, the city of Paul's most famous sermon, a closely reasoned message about an unknown God makes himself known in Jesus Christ. Welcome to the Bible study our radio and Internet program with Dr. James Boyce preparing you to think and act biblically. Who else but Paul could walk into Athens see an altar to an unknown God and make it the occasion for a brilliant sermon about the God who created all things guides human affairs and calls people to himself. Let's listen now to Dr. Boyce seen in our most recent studies that Paul's missionary gurneys missionary efforts have increasingly come to be centered on the great cities of his world the very beginning when he set out with Barnabas on the first missionary journey were told that he visited an island is a whole geographic area Cyprus. He passed through it from one end of the other were told very little about any specific ministry in towns and villages or cities. After that when he moved over to the area that we know is turkey.

We are told of areas of the pass-through of those areas eventually gave way to cities and even the great cities, and when he passed out of Asia into Europe, we began to say that his ministry was focused almost entirely in these great cities of the ancient world. Philippi, Thessalonica, Maria, and now this chapter in Athens which is the greatest city of them all. Or at least it wants great New Zealand Bible teacher and commentator Blake Locke says in his study of acts at this point that Athens and the first Christian century was in the late afternoon of its glory. That is true, of course, Athens is a city that strikes a great note in our minds we know anything of ancient history data glory is golden age you cities, even few nations in the surface of the earth have ever equaled the splendor of Athens in the fifth century BC that. Which perhaps was bought greater than the scope of 50 years it had achieved a great series of military victories and so it's greatness in some respects, was responsible military threat.

Herodotus writes about it in his histories.

The Persians wanted to expand bouts of Asia out of their great empire that stretched all the way from the borders of Europe. The Indus River and they were about to push into your up and did twice and were resisted on both occasions by the Greeks. The great military moments of European history nearly dates are centered in those victories at marathon where a small band of Greeks withstood the fast last varmints of the Persians Persians marched into Greece with an excess of the million man Greeks had the greatest possible muster of all the fighting men of all the Greek cities of the most 100,000 and yet they successfully defeated the Persians at marathon that great land victory and in connection with the same campaign at Salama Square. The Persian fleet was thoroughly rerouted by the Greek ships the years that followed those military victories. Athens roads to pinnacle a great greatness. The Persians said overrun the land they had destroyed the city thoroughly are more than Germans ever destroyed London during World War II. The Greeks rose up with a well rebuild it together with the physical rebuilding which involved not only the constructions of homes with the glorious temples of Greece.

I also rebuilt their entire culture and civilization. They build a democracy. Greece is the first example of all history affects first example of all history of a real democracy city state run by the people elected officials responsible to them was an age of great literature, the great classic plaintiffs were written during that period. Age of philosophy was the age of Socrates and Plato was an angel marks Praxiteles developed the great forms of regard that were imitated in Europe throughout all of the succeeding centuries down to an end including the time of Michelangelo uses exactly the same forms as the old and his rate artistic creations. Yet as I have intimated this great. Greek history is golden age of Athens passed very rapidly away Greeks of Athens got into a disastrous war with Sparta ride on for 27 years. It was the destruction of Greek civilization and power. Athens never again regain the glory, although she became a great intellectual center. Although her reputation as a focus for Greek thought. Intellectual inquiry persisted even the intellectual inquiry took on a lesser note and the great great philosophers of the past were succeeded by those who had less ability and finally only by those who were imitators of the great men who had gone before I was hundreds of years later that the apostle Paul visited the city and preached a sermon that is recorded for us in this chapter you suppose the reactions of Paul Lorenz.

He came back here in the first Christian century on the second missionary journey. Well, for one thing, he was a man who had been trained in one of the great university centers himself the center that was in Asia and Tarsus where he had been born and grew up. It was a privilege citizen, a Roman as well as a Jew by birth and he had received a masterful education indicates it in part in the sermon quoting from two of the Greek poets Radisson clam things when he said we are his offspring at all recognize where that had come from bribes.

Also, even the way gave his address very fact that he seemed so at home in this setting, and spoke in a way which was obviously directed to the philosophers of this great university city shows Leonetti University training as well. He came from a distinguished University was visiting a distinguished University and no doubt Paul had great respect for the city that was so well-known and so illustrious in the intellectual history of his time would be if I may speak as a Harvard man as Yale land visiting Cambridge or as someone from Cambridge England visiting Oxford with great respect or University which is older yet was much the same. We can escape thinking can way that Paul must've been greatly distressed as he entered into dialogue. That's the proper word of course in the setting dialogue with these philosophers that were there dominating the intellectual same tells us about them. He says that whatever Koreans and Stoics may know that the Epicureans were a body of philosophers founded by a man named Epicurus, and that their chief goal in life was to attain the maximum amount of pleasure and the minimum amount of pain we've taken that word and had spoken of Epicureans as mere hedonists, so it wasn't quite true that they were hedonist in our sense hedonists as we use the word of those will abandon themselves to anything. They weren't doing that exactly. They were great materialists. They said this life is all it is the only go around once. Their philosophy was. It feels good do it if it doesn't feel good. Stay away from it. Don't do anything that hard to do everything you can. That helps.

So they tried to set up form of life based upon their materialistic philosophy in which they achieved maximum good you know anybody like that today we live in today dominated by Epicureanism, materialism, pleasure, first do what pleases me avoid paying above all take on responsibility if it means anything difficult just enjoy yourself because his life is all there is to imagine how Paul steeped in the Old Testament with his knowledge of the eternal God must've thought about that philosophy, we read here in the passage that he saw the idols and was bothered by them but he was bothered by that as well hardly bothered by we see it all around us. People live for now you have the faintest idea that there eternal beings. This life is a moment compared to eternity and that you prepare for eternity, not by indulging yourself now that by living for material things by coming to terms with eternal God. Paul must've been bothered by that we should be as well with the Stoics.

We know that where they were a group of philosophers founded by a man named Zeno to Zeno's is when came from Cyprus. They thought that life is filled with good and bad and you can't really avoid the bad. What you have to do is well. I phrase where it would be grin barracks. We have a modern expression of that we have the Pullman picked us many people memorize that during her high school days. I am the captain of my soul. I am the master of my face as Stoicism. That's the philosophy that says well I can't control everything that's out there and things are going to happen to me that I don't like what I want to do is stand tall stick out my chin and take it whatever comes Stoics were not an ignoble group of people. Epictetus was a stoic writer, the Roman, Marcus Aurelius was strengthened stoic philosophy and they were great in their own way.

They were willing to endure hardship. These men actually made a mark as the Epicureans, for the most part did not yet.

It was a rather tragic philosophy. You know anybody like that many Stoics around us. They don't have any sense of the divine guidance in their life. I don't think God is accomplishing something in them guiding their destiny in bringing hard times as well as good for their own good, knowing that all things work together for good to them that love God were called according to his purpose. They just do the best I can do bad things, well, I think, again, have to be strong in endurance and that's all they know when Paul must've been bothered by that as well bothered by the Stoics as well as by the Epicureans tells us is that the thing that bothered him most was the idolatry of the reason is obvious is that the idolatry gives birth. The philosophy is your idea of God deforms how you think you have a high idea of God as you know the true God, and you live a godly, uplifting, helpful, positive philosophy, you don't have the knowledge of the true God.

If instead you have a God who is made merely in the image of man, or as was true in these days as things much less than God ever intended men to be then your idea of man will descend to that level, and your philosophy will become as despairing as the philosophy of the Stoics of the Epicureans.

Paul looked around the city saw the idols the idols were everywhere.

One of the ancient said that in Athens it was easier to find a God than a man meeting that idols were just everywhere you went, and Paul looked at this and he realized that this was what was wrong with the society we have that kind of insight because it is exactly was wrong with our society. Idols false ideas of God.

All we read in the papers of the problems we read about crime read about breakdown and morals. Read about lack of commitment by cheating one form or another of your responsibility. All those things seem so bad we say all things are certainly bad. We realize that the reason for that is at the spiritual level of an idea of God, which is noble and that is willing to do better problems would you do better but use track of God within you lose track of. The only thing that can list civilizational. So what I want to say first of all, is when Paul got to Athens he was with its respect for it, because it was a great intellectual center wasn't overawed quiet.

Rather, he thought. As a Christian in the analyzed it as a Christian and he responded to it as a Christian say that is what we need today need women who respects the achievements of our time. Don't despise what is done in science, other intellectual pursuits, but were not overawed by instead as Christians are able to analyze it, and as Christians criticize its and as Christians respond to it favorably with the answers that are ours through the word of God and of course, is what Paul did great sermon begins in verse 22 stood up at this meeting of the Areopagus, and he began by calling her attention to something that he had observed as he walked around the city. This is an introduction know when you write a sermon you generally have three or four point you try to have an introduction you want a good conclusion is a classic kind of sermon is great introduction also to them. You know I have been walking around or sitting on the newcomer and I have been walking around observing things and as I have been observing things I have noticed these many many statutes to the gods is by the idols.

And I perceive from this, since there are so many of them that you are very religious people as you have a heart for religion yearning after that which is eternal set. I did notice one thing is I moved around the city. I saw an altar which to my mind sums up where you are at in your spiritual or religious quest. Subalterns bore the inscription to the unknown or to an unknown God. Nobody is found that older but there's ample references to similar things and affects a number of the ancients write about this. They saw altars or statues of war inscription like this are similar to its apparently it was an unusual thing. Paul said, you know, I think, as I look at the city that this describes where you are at spiritually you are seeking. Perhaps you are aware that you need a religious dimension in your life of the one you're seeking.

After his unknown and that's what I want to proclaim you, Paul does not say at this point, though. You can tell that he is thinking about from the way the rest of the sermon goes the kind of things that he spells out later so forcefully in Romans one, Romans one is the great chapter on the unknown God, and there he explains why it is as God is unknown. Points out that is not God's will. God has made himself known and is done in a variety of ways. You certainly done it's in creation, which is what Paul is going to talk about here in a moment certainly is not in Scripture.

And above all he's done it in Jesus Christ.

Reason God is unknown. We don't want to know Paul if he were going to expound this point would've spoken out about the willful ignorance of the Athenians doesn't do that. Instead, he says, passing over that point you are ignorant of this, God and the solution is in the Christian proclamation so he said the one that you are ignorant. I now I'm going to proclaim to you. Sometimes people asked me questions about how you deal with people I questions about this map, particularly when they seem so blind Christian truth is always difficult questions for me because I really don't know sometimes you talk with people. Lord gives you an answer seems to speak directly to their hearts. Certainly if they have intellectual problems.

We want to give intellectual answers all set.

On one occasion to be ready always to give an answer to the hope that in you with meekness and fear. We want to be able to do that general I say the problem is not basically in the explanation should give explanations or problems we should answer them. But basically the problem is in this rebellion of the human heart Paul solution and the solution Christian preaching generally in the New Testament and elsewhere is an proclamation it's making God not saying who God is, say, why does that work. Why should we do that people have problems that they find that impossible. Well yes intellectually they may. What happens is that in the proclamation which God has sent us to do. God himself is pleased to work God takes the truth by the power of his Holy Spirit carries at home.

The hearts and that is what Paul was trying to do here. Now if you make outlines of servants.

This is a good sermon to make an outline of there's the introduction about his .1 God is the creator of all things what Paul says in verse 24. The God who made the world and everything in its is the Lord of heaven and earth, and he does not live in temples built by hands.

This is the point we developed so carefully in Romans one as I indicated a moment ago.

God is not left himself without a witness is not all races have the Scriptures of the Old Testament God gave the Scriptures only to the Jews. All races, all people all times and all places have the witness of God in creation witness of God in the heavens and the wonders of the heavens witness of God on earth and the wonders of the earth.

God, he said, is not a God who dwells in temples made with hands above all, he is not a God of idols made by human hands is a God the Creator God heavens and the earth, and secondly, Paul points out, the God is the sustainer of all things is verse 25 he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else was the one who keeps his living is the one who sustains moment by moment the creation that is made is an interesting debate in some spheres of theology as to whether the creation God is made with something that God did once and for all and let it go but sustains it somehow or whether the creation that we see about us is the result of what we might call a moment by moment creating act of God.

God just created and then let it go and guidance or is he constantly creating the sensitive God stop creating it for even a single incident. Everything we know would disappear. I don't know the answer to that. And for that you have to go to the theological textbooks and figure it out if you're able to do know in the first chapter of Colossians Paul refers to the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who holds all things together.

The implication there is that if Lord Jesus Christ by his power was not holding all things together all things would fly apart. Anyway, this is the God. Paul is proclaiming a God not only created all things, but sustains all things. The very fact that we are here in the world is here that we are alive. We can think is the result of the power and sustaining activity of this, God asked God to see these come to proclaim these intellectual quite ignorant Athenians then in the third place he says that God not only sustains the universe, but he also guides the affairs of man. Paul speaks of it here in terms of nations. Verse 26 from one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth, and he determined the time set for them and the exact places where they should live. We would refer to this in theology is the eternal counsels of God, the counsels of God.

We use the word hidden because we mean by that that God is not revealed these things to us in Scripture.

We don't know the future. We don't know what God is determined to do with the nations of the last God has determined to do it. God is active and what God determines comes to pass. All since this is the God with whom you had to deal about a week. God God, that you would treat get them to change his mind was already determined that you Greeks, for example, should be great.

You Athenians should be Athenians new American should be Americans and whatever else it may be, God has determined all these things in advance. Now he says this is his fourth point, it follows from this that if God has revealed himself in creation of God sustains creation including us in our life about us determine the bounds our habitations in our future and our destiny.

It follows from this that we should seek him out and try and find them is the purpose of the general revelation is revealed himself in creation, in order that we might find him, we might seek him out. Paul uses an interesting word here and it is a powerful and very suggestive term is translated perhaps reach out for him and find him. In verse 27 or steal after him as one of the older version says interesting thing about that is that that is the very word is used in Homer for the groping of the Cyclops after he had been blinded by Odessa's essence, blinded, and yet when I know the story you know how we did it, and then Odessa's wanted to sneak out of the cave and were told that the Cyclops was groping around feeling after Odessa study by finding and killing.

That's the word that Paul uses here is as if he saying that in our sin were blind, as blind as the blinded one eyed Cyclops. Nevertheless, you say creation is there, and feel the creation even if we can see the God who made it and that alone is sufficient to impel us to seek God out yet what is the conclusion. The conclusion is we have not done that and sought after true God.

Instead we made idols sweet made things that we can handle things that we can manage things we can see we have sought after the God was created all things and sustains all things and has a destiny for us and all other men and women see with the flow of the sermon along those lines.

Why Paul now calls for repentance hasn't spoken the gross immorality of the Athenian so he certainly could have done that hasn't spoken of the intellectual arrogance of the philosophers, though he could've articulated that as well has spoken in general terms of their failure to seek after the true God, and now he says God calls on all man everywhere to repent so he says it's verse 29 quoting their own politics, so at least this insight. Therefore, since we are God's offspring.

Okay now thesis said that right is to therefore, since we are God's offspring. We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone an image made by man's design and skill the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now, now he commands all people everywhere to repent. So we have that message for our generation and that's the word of God for us. We ourselves not done it Christianity is and begin by saying you're a good fellow, begin by saying everything's going to be nice you just get in touch with God.

Christianity begins by saying you have failed to seek after the true God.

You've gone your own way. You are willfully ignorant of spiritual things and God commands that you repent of that ignorance. Then of course, having repented of it. He holds out the gospel. Speaking of Jesus Christ. For Paul at this point he got to speak of the resurrection they didn't believe in resurrections. That's one point which the Epicureans of the Stoics came together. Greeks thought that there was spirit which was going to matter that was bad and certainly in the life to come. You didn't want matter. Therefore you didn't want to resurrections.

Matter fact could even have a resurrection according to their philosophy, but nevertheless all got in certain inducements to call them to repentance that he was urging upon the look at these verses you see what he saying he saying God first of all is been patient and I should encourage you. I guess if he were preaching that Dawson was a God is not destroyed America yet for all that sin is an patient has destroyed you yet because your Sammy's patient with me has been overlooking your ignorance is been bearing with it at the patient's be inducement to repent. Secondly he says God commands you to repent. There's an inducement. God is the true God is the creator of all things, we guide your destiny tells you to do something, but you probably will better do it.

So that's the second thing and the third thing is that he speaks of the day of judgment, which means that there is going to be a day of reckoning says God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he is appointed and is given proof of this to all men by raising him that is Jesus from the dead.

I don't know whether when Paul finished this address for the Areopagus.

Whether he was disheartened or discouraged or not. Certainly when he had been in the other cities administered for a time when he left he left behind church. Generally when he could he love somebody work within 10 to continue the teaching it God that didn't happen here in Athens.

A number of commentators and felt that the plot wrongly, William Ramsey, whom I mentioned a number of times that he made a mistake here, he began to speak like a philosopher and as a result of that wasn't the results of the hoped-for and he certainly changed his approach later when he got the Corinth there some reason for believing that because just a few verses further on in chapter 18 verse five. In an Almost Uncharacteristic Lucan Way, Luke, the author of the book says.

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia. They found Paul devoting himself exclusively to preaching and maybe that is a way of saying that Paul said this kind of academic address to the philosophers is not the way to go, something to that what he wrote to the Corinthians. Later he did say I determine the money you want to know anything. But Jesus Christ and him crucified and perhaps is also unfair early on were told that the reason to the synagogue with the Jews of the God-fearing Greeks. In other words, he did the same thing they're done in the other cities. Certainly when it says he reason with them means he reason from the Scriptures. He was teaching the Bible adherent was a special situation and he certainly handled it well.

He spoke directly to the needs of the people of terms I could understand what he taught was biblical theology. I say I don't know whether it's proper to criticize the apostle Paul. At that point. Anyway, I think I'm not going to criticize him because, whom I criticize. The apostle Paul.

You say was he discouraged. She may have been may have been. There was this great city great intellectual center and when he had finished he spent some time there when he finished didn't have much to show for you if something did me read the end you man became followers of Paul and believed among them is Dionysius member of the Areopagus, that is one of the leaders of the philosophers there in the ruling court also woman names glamorous and a number of others. I would need at least two so the release for that. Maybe the review board was a church it actually did get established.

Although it doesn't seem to been established. In Paul's day, the last paragraph indicates the reactions of people after the gospel. It says some smeared and some sneer today and says some postponed a decision I said will hear you again on the subject, but it also says that some believed whether Paul was discouraged or not he had a hard task in Athens is very hard to speak to intellectuals very hard to speak to people who are basking in the glory of the former age that's an intellectual glory.

That's a religious glory. My grandfather was a bishop of the church or some such thing. Very hard to do speak to such people is hard for us. Yet Paul did it, where to do it to.

And if I results in a greater than his. We shouldn't be profoundly disheartened by that because we should know God's always allows his word to bear fruit in one form or another.

When we speak to our age, with all its arrogance and pride.

There will be some sneer they do sneer when we witness there will be some who postpone the decision you think they're so close that they would just make a commitment, but they say no, I don't know quite enough.

I want to talk to you about it again in the moment passes by discouraging there also some will believe the lost sheep near the sheep. The Jesus is calling and was pulled, and it is our privilege is under shepherds of the great Shepherd going in his name called to faith in Christ. Grandfather was the study to our hearts. We are not the intellectual giants most of us that Paul was we would have a very hard time speaking in a great intellectual way. The gathering such as this were called to proclaim the truth of your Word and to do with all the listen to do its without regard for the results for the grants we pray, not that we might be successful because we don't even know how to measure that if we do we measure it in the world's way. Grant and set our father that we might be found faithful.

Use the word we pray to bring men and women to Christ. Amen. You are listening to Bible study hour with the Bible teaching of Dr. James Boyce listener supported ministry of the alliance of confessing Evangelicals. The alliance exists to promote a biblical understanding and worldview. Drawing upon the insight and wisdom of reformed theologians from decades and even centuries gone by. We seek to provide Christian teaching that will equip believers to understand and meet the challenges and opportunities of our time and place. Alliance broadcasting includes the Bible study hour with Dr. James Boyce every last word with Bible teacher, Dr. Philip Aiken, God's living word with pastor, the Rev. Richard Phillips and Dr. Barnhouse in the Bible featuring Donald Barnhouse.

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