Share This Episode
Truth for Life Alistair Begg Logo

City of Idols (Part 3 of 3)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
April 19, 2024 4:00 am

City of Idols (Part 3 of 3)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1286 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

April 19, 2024 4:00 am

When Paul was confronted by “a city full of idols,” he was filled with compassion for the people. Find out how he declared the truth of the Gospel with conviction yet without condemning his listeners. Study along with Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


• Click here and look for "FROM THE SERMON" to stream or read the full message.

• This program is part of the series ‘When the Church Was Young’

• Learn more about our current resource, request your copy with a donation of any amount.

• Clickhereto get your free download of the “Name Above All Names” Ebook and Digital Study Guide.

• If you listened to Truth For Life on Google Podcast, you can now listen to the daily program on YouTube Music.

Helpful Resources

- Learn about God's salvation plan

- Read our most recent articles

- Subscribe to our daily devotional

Follow Us

YouTube | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!

Connect with Skip Heitzig
Skip Heitzig
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Love Worth Finding
Adrian Rogers
Truth for Life
Alistair Begg
A New Beginning
Greg Laurie

When the Apostle Paul found himself in a city full of idols, he didn't get angry. He was filled with compassion for the people. Today on Truth for Life we'll see how he declared the truth of the gospel with conviction without condemning his listeners.

Alistair Begg is teaching from the closing verses of Acts chapter 17 beginning with verse 22. Luke is careful to let us see that he starts where they are. In one very realistic way, he allows their circumstances to set his agenda. He is conciliatory in his tone. He uses their open acknowledgment of their unawareness of God as a launching pad to proclaim the living and the true God. It's a masterful piece of work, really. Rhetorically, it's skillful, it's sensitive, it's adept.

It's everything that we would hope to be in seeking to embrace our culture and speak to them. He doesn't begin by saying something silly like, I've never seen such an idolatrous place in all my life, or you people have got to be crazy worshiping all these silly little things. But he actually starts in this wonderful way. And he makes a statement that, again, rhetorically is wonderful and will get everybody's ears pinned back. I found an altar with this inscription to the unknown God. And then here comes his great opening statement. Now, what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

What a start! And, of course, it's one thing to have a wonderful introduction and then for it to disintegrate very quickly. But that doesn't happen here with Paul. And I want just to outline for you what he says in a way that allows us to see the framework of his address. Remember that what we have here is doubtless a summary of what was said on this occasion, and that some of the things that are here in their bare bones, as it were, would have been fleshed out and amplified illustratively and in various expressions of his own insight and understanding. But he begins, first of all, by telling them that this God made the world and can't be contained in a shrine.

That's verse 24. The God who made the world and everything in it, he's actually the Lord of heaven and earth, and he does not live in temples built by hands. In other words, he provides for them a very different perspective on the world, a very different worldview, certainly than the worldview expressed in these two dominant philosophical concepts—the Epicureans, who essentially were living in their minds in a changed universe, and the Stoics, who as fatalists were living with a form of blind determinism. And he says, the God that I want to tell you about is not a God that can be localized or limited, encapsulated and enshrined in some way, because actually he is the God who is the maker of everything in the world.

It is a staggering claim, isn't it? And it is an interesting point of departure, especially when we think about ways in which we seek to speak to people in our day concerning our convictions regarding the good news. He's quite unashamed, quite prepared to begin with the doctrine of creation. Here, he says, is the origin of the universe. It begins with a Creator God, and he is the Lord of heaven and earth. Secondly, in verse 25, he says, And we also need to understand that this God does not depend on us, but we depend on him.

Isn't that what he's saying? He's not served by human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. In other words, not only did God create life, but God is the God who sustains life.

Thirdly, he is in charge of history and geography. That's essentially the emphasis in verse 26, from one man he made every nation of men, and so on. God has acted in this way, he says in verse 27, purposefully, so that human beings who are made in his image would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and actually find him—though, he says, he's not far from each one of us. Now, we're going to have to wait and check with Paul when we see him to find out if he actually cross-referenced himself at this point.

I have a sneaking suspicion he probably did. Perhaps he then said to them what he was prepared to say when he wrote to the Christians in Rome concerning the disobedience of man, and he may have reminded them that since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. So he would have told them, presumably, that we are the ones who are far away from God. God is actually not that far away from us.

And indeed, if it weren't for our sin, which separates us from this God that you do not know, then he would be readily accessible to us. Because after all, he says, verse 28, in him we live and move and have our being. In fact, he says, quoting the poetry of the day, some of your own poets have actually gone so far as to say, We are his offspring. In other words, he makes these declarations which are true whether men and women accept it or not. Fourthly, he is the father of all men. Verse 29, therefore, since we are God's offspring, he is the father of all men and women by creation. That's the significance, again, of quoting the poetry. We are his offspring.

Now, clearly, he's not referring here to the redemptive relationship which men and women enjoy with God by adoption through grace, but he is making reference to the fact that humanity derives its life from God one person at a time. And therefore—and of course it is in the context, remember, of this rampant idolatry—it is therefore ludicrous to think of the Creator in terms of lifeless, created objects. He is addressing the issue, but he's doing it in a wonderfully skillful way. There's no condemnatory tone here in what he's saying.

He has done his homework, he has researched things, he's been in the bookstores, as it were, looking in the flyleaf of some of the books, he's been listening to the poets as they've been quoted, he's been listening to the contemporary songs as they've been playing in the bazaars of Athens as he's had these few days in town, and he's a fast learner, he's a bright fellow. And he says, you know, to think of God as a lifeless object is to think wrongly. John Stott, in his wonderful commentary on this in a purple passage, points out that whenever men and women engage in idolatry, it is an attempt to either—and then he goes on this amazing run.

And when I see this happen, I wish once I could think this way, but I never can, and I'll die before I manage it. But anyway, he says idolatry attempts to either localize God by containing the Creator. We can put God in here. So we attempt to localize him. Or to domesticate him. In other words, to make the sustainer of life somehow dependent upon us.

Or to alienate him by blaming him for his distance and his silence, whereas he actually rules the nations, it isn't far from us. Or to dethrone him by demoting him to some image of our contrivance or our craft, when in point of fact he is the Father from whom we derive all our craftiness, from whom we derive all our imagination, from whom we derive all our creativity. And then we would seek to take our creativity and use it to marginalize and encapsulate the living God. And then he says there is no logic in idolatry.

It's a perverse, topsy-turvy expression of our human rebellion against God. Fifthly, he points out that God is also the judge of the world. God is the judge of the world. In the past, verse 30, God overlooked the ignorance that has produced all of these shrines and idols. Presumably, what he means is that in the past God overlooked men's ignorance in the sense that he did so in view of the perfect revelation that has now been given in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But if the ignorance in the past was culpable, it is far less inexcusable now. And here, for the first time, if you like, he begins to let the hammer drop on the minds of these people. They might have been able to follow along with him, saying, well, it's an interesting concept to create your God. It's an interesting thought that this God sustains the world. It's an interesting idea that he's not localized and that we can't limit him and that we are his offspring. And now he says, and you need to know something else, this God that I'm telling you about is the judge of all the earth. And he has issued a call to all people everywhere to repent of their former ignorance with all the disobedience to God that is involved in that and to submit to a true knowledge of God that is provided in the gospel.

Now, that clearly is not a matter that his listeners or any listeners can casually set aside. The Creator God is the judge of the universe. And the day of judgment, he says in verse 31, the day of judgment will be executed fairly. The day of judgment is a day. It is a datable thing in the economy of God. Therefore, we might say of God's day of judgment, it is fixed.

It is going to be absolutely fair, and it is going to be completely final. The God who made you and sustained your life, those of you who are listening to me today, he says, is the God who has appointed a day when he will judge the world with justice. And then he says, and he has given proof of this, by raising Jesus from the dead. And then Luke tells us that it was at that point that the meeting began to break up. When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them said, Well, I don't know about that. I think that's the silly thing.

You would imagine the Epicureans would be leading this charge, wouldn't you? They had been going around trumpeting the fact that when you're dead, you're dead. There is nothing after death, and the idea of judgment is nothing to be feared, because there is nothing beyond the grave. So they might have been prepared to listen to Paul for a little while. They might even have been prepared to ponder with Paul the idea of the immortality of the soul.

They might have been able to stretch their philosophical thinking to that extent. But as soon as it came to the idea of a literal resurrection of a body and the fact that this Jesus of Nazareth was apparently alive from the dead, then they just started to laugh at that. Then some said, What a bunch of bunk! And some said, Well, maybe we could have another chat about this. And Luke says, And at that Paul left the council.

Well, what else is there to do? This unsettles some people, because there's no appeal here. Some people's theology says, Well, it's clear there was nobody going to believe. How did anybody believe?

He didn't ask them to put up their hands, or he didn't ask them to do something. If he'd really been an evangelist, he would have had some mechanism that could have produced the reaction. Oh, that's easy.

That's easy. But only God can save. Paul knew that. Paul would never have been saved if God hadn't arrested him. Paul would never have been saved if God had not revealed himself to him.

Paul was totally opposed to Jesus and the gospel. So he knew he could safely walk away and leave it to God to bring people to faith. And that's exactly what happened. There's a little P.S., as it were, in verse 34. A few men became followers of Paul. They tagged along with him.

They began to trot along with him. Presumably, they may have been some of the ones who were interested to do the follow-up. And having become followers of Paul, they believed. And Dionysius gets a mention, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman named Damaris, and a number of others. Think of all those folks that, when they got the chance to read Acts, if they were still kicking around, they looked in and say, I wonder if I'm in Acts 17? And they're in under a number of others.

That is the lot for most of us, isn't it? We're going to be in, consistently, under a number of others. Our challenge is to be able to understand the Bible in the historical setting in which we find it so that we're able to make a meaningful application of it in the cultural setting in which we now live. So that first we understand where Paul was, what Paul was doing, what he was saying, and why he was saying it, so that when we make application of it, we don't just launch off into some flight of fancy.

This is arguably one of the best patterns that we have in all of the Acts for engaging the non-Christian in discussion. There's much more to this than we've unpacked for now. That's your homework to go away and think about it.

I wonder if I can just suggest one way of application as illustrative of the kind of thing that we might do with this. Remember, we looked at the sorry circumstances involved in the life of this fellow who killed his grandfather and his grandfather's companion, killed a number of his fellow students in Minnesota, killed a security guard, killed a schoolteacher, and then killed himself. And you may remember the details of his life, living his life in cyberspace, alienated from friendship and from all kinds of things.

Well, let's just try this with him. Hey, Jeff, I'm glad of the opportunity to talk with you. I wanted to tell you—and you may not have thought of this ever—that God created you, Jeff.

I know your mother told you routinely that you're a mistake. I know that you have bought into the idea that you exist as a result of time plus matter plus chance. But if you would allow me, I'd like to show you where it says in the Bible, Jeff, that God created your life. Secondly, Jeff, I want you to know that the God who created your life is the Lord who has sustained you.

Even though your father killed himself in a police shootout, even though you feel yourself for long and pushing a gigantic rock uphill emotionally and in every other way, it is God, Jeff, who has been sustaining your life to today. And Jeff, the sense of futility that you feel in that emptiness is actually not unique to you. I know many of your friends think you're stupid because of the way you dress.

I know that many of them disregard you, and I know they think it would only be a daft person who would ever do what you do. But I can see, Jeff, that you're actually very smart. The sense of your futility and despair is not on account of the fight that you don't understand. It's because you do understand, and presumably, you would have understood just why it was that Einstein, who is the man who said, I've discovered that the men who know the most are the most gloomy, why Einstein wrote in his journal in 1932 in a statement, Credo, our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay without knowing the why or the wherefore. And I think, Jeff, what you're saying, if I understand you correctly in cyberspace, is that you believe that to be the case, that you don't know why you're here. You believe you're here involuntarily, and you're uninvited. But I need to tell you that this Creator God who sustains your life is actually not far from you, Jeff.

The only thing that keeps you away from this loving God is your own rebellion and disobedience and unbelief. There is a way, Jeff, to know God who is the Father of all mankind. He's actually established your DNA.

You're not a collection of molecules held in suspension. But I need you to know this, Jeff, too, because you've got a lot of chaos going on in your life. You've got a lot of anger and animosity in your life. You've got a lot of stuff in your life that you know, if you're prepared to be honest, for a moment is absolutely flat-out wrong by any standards. You need to know that this God who made you, who sustains you, who cannot be contained, this God is the judge of all the earth, and he has appointed a day when he will judge the world.

But here's the amazing news. He sent his Son to die on the cross, to pay the penalty for sin. And the amazing thing, Jeff, is that although you feel disenfranchised because you're not the quarterback in the school football team, although you feel yourself to be marginalized in so many ways, if you would like to meet with me on a routine basis, even just for a few Mondays, I'd love to show you that if you follow the line of Jesus through the Gospels, he apparently was really interested in guys like you.

In fact, it seems that he was focused on the least and the last and the left out. And maybe some Monday I can tell you about the way he dealt with a lady whose life was so messed up, she had a live-in lover, she'd had five husbands, she was sexually out to lunch, and Jesus came and asked her for a drink of water, and her life was never the same again. I could tell you a whole ton of stories. I could tell you about a wee guy who was a dreadful cheat. His life was consumed with all that he could amass for himself, and Jesus called him down out of a tree.

I'd love to tell you about that. I think that would work, don't you? See, our friends and neighbors think of the Gospel as some kind of truncated, systematized, one-two-punch mechanism. And they have a legitimate right for thinking in those terms, because that is so often the way in which it is presented to them. That's easy. It's going to be far harder to start with the doctrine of creation, to continue with the doctrine of providence, to get to grips with the doctrine of man and the nature of alienation, to understand that social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, psychological alienation is merely expressive of the great alienation which men and women know, because they are alienated from this living God, who is the God who pursues them in the Lord Jesus Christ, even to the cross.

Well, we can leave it there, can't we? The challenge is for us to know our Bibles and to know our neighbors and to reach out in love to those who are without God and without hope in the world. You know, if we could actually hear what's coming out of the hearts of our neighbors and our friends, you know, in the way that if we could hear as a result of radio waves—which, mercifully, we can't—but, I mean, if we had something inside of us that could tune into all of that, and you could hear that, if we could hear the cries of our friends and neighbors, we would hear them cry. They're not all defiant. They're not all self-assured. They're not all convinced. Because we know about them what they are not prepared to accept about themselves—namely, that God has set eternity in their hearts. Jesus looked at the crowd, and he was moved with compassion.

Paul looked at the city, and he was greatly distressed. Will we pray together that we might learn to look with eyes of compassion? Will we ask God to create that kind of distress within our lives so that we might go out to give ourselves our time, our talents, our resources to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Jesus Christ? You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life with the conclusion of a message he's titled City of Idols.

Alistair returns shortly. Today's the last day of our series, When the Church Was Young. If you missed any of the messages in this series, or if you'd like to re-listen to the study, you'll find the complete series online at This series has a digital study guide that goes along with it that you can download for free if you'd like to work through the teaching with your study group. There are 10 sessions that correspond with the 10 messages taught by Alistair, and you can listen to the messages online or download the study guide for free.

Go to slash young. Now, if you enjoy studying the Bible with Alistair, you can join him in person on a New England cruise in September. He'll be the guest speaker on a trip hosted by Salem Media Group.

The ship departs from Boston, Massachusetts on September 21st, and will visit beautiful ports in Maine, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec City, just to name a few. You can find out more at Now, here is Alistair with a closing prayer. We might see, as Paul saw, that we might feel, as Paul felt, and in order that we might learn to speak, as Paul spoke. And to this end, we turn our gaze again to the only thing that has the power to save and to redeem and to transform—namely, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hear our prayers and let our cry come unto you for Jesus' sake. Amen.

I'm Bob Lapeen. Thanks for joining us today. If you struggle to understand certain passages of the Bible, you're not alone. How should we approach our study of the Scriptures? Join us Monday as we find out.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-19 05:03:35 / 2024-04-19 05:12:38 / 9

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime