So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Understanding And Applying the Text
The sermon Paul gave is an excellent outline for evangelism. First Paul establishes a connection. Second, he said who God is. Third, he outlined man’s responsibility. Fourth, Paul described the relationship between God and man. This relationship ends in judgment. And finally, he tells what God has done through Jesus’ resurrection.
The Athenians were religious. They were not godly. But they were religious. They had gods and goddesses for everything. They raised temples and idols to every god imaginable. Since there were so many gods, there was a high probability they left some out. So to appease that god, they had an altar to this unknown god.
Without a doubt, they dedicated it to a false god. But Paul, led by the Spirit, used it. It gave him a connection to the Athenians.
Because Paul was dealing with pagans he could not sight scripture to prove his case. So Paul started with something they understood, nature. Paul did not need to establish God’s existence. They already believed in a divinity.
Often today we must establish God’s existence. Paul’s starting point is still a good place to start. Paul tells us in Romans that God speaks through nature. (Romans 1:18-32) Often we must establish God’s existence. But the Athenians believed in deities. So Paul could skip that step. The Athenians needed to distinguished the true God from all other false gods.
Paul brought news about this unknown god. And this unknown god was greater than any other god. This God made everything that has been made. This God does not need anything. He did not need their temples. He did not need their altars. He did not need the Athenians. He made them. He could remake them. They could not confine this God to any one place. This God was greater than they could ever imagine.
It is foolish to reduce the creator to a creature. Making images of God reduces Him to less than He is. To represent Him with inert objects is a vain attempt to make Him less than man.
Mankind is by nature superstitious. We torment ourselves with superstitions. We worry about our failings. We fear not being good enough, not doing enough not being religious enough. Because God scares us we work hard at being better. But how good is good enough. We must always be better. We must always work harder. We must curry God’s favor.
Unfortunately, even many who claim Christ hold to this. “If I am good enough, God will get me out of this mess.” “God is punishing me for not doing this or that.” “God is telling me I need to pray more.” “I need to read my bible more.” “If I hadn’t sinned my child would not have gotten sick.” “If I give more God will protect me.” “I need to go to church more.” “If I could be better God will give me peace.” “I will not go to hell I am good.” These are all lies. They are the basis of religious superstition.
I am not saying going to church praying and reading your Bible are wrong. I am not saying we should not strive to be better. We should do those things. But doing them will not make you righteous. Our righteousness comes from Christ. We do those things in response to God’s love. We do not do those things to receive it. (Ephesians 2:10)
Paul told the Athenians God does not need you. You do not serve Him. He does not need anything. By His grace and mercy, He serves us. He gives us everything we have. The very air we breathe is from him.
The Athenians worship services were of no value to God. Ceremonies do not serve God. Paul was very clear “nor is He served by human hands.” (v25). So why do many Christians think they are serving God. We are not called to serve God. God calls us to reflect His glory. (Mark 5:16)
It is our duty to seek God. And God comes forth to meet us. (v27) God has made himself known. Knowledge of the one true God is clear. (Roman1:20) Yet men reject this clear truth. The truth does not meet our desires. We want to be God. (Genesis 3: 5-6) We recoil against any notion of being under authority. We demand autonomy. So we replaced the clear knowledge of God with a lie. (Romans 1:18-19)
God created and sustains us. Our very being is dependent on him. Paul quotes Aratus. “For we are indeed his offspring.” (v28) He does this not to give authority to Aratus but to point out to the Athenians they already know this unknown God. They may deny their knowledge but they know. They are without excuse. (Romans 1: 20) Their own words condemn them.
Paul asks the question since God is so great since we are the offspring of God, how could he be made of gold, silver of a stone? How could human hands form him? That is like saying God is our offspring.
Paul told the Athenians God will no longer dismiss their ignorance. That is, God took into consideration the limitations of their knowledge. Now Paul has revealed the truth about the living God. God demands everyone everywhere to repent. Your religiosity is not germane. It does not count for anything. God demands repentance and obedience. Raising your hands, singing praise songs doesn’t count. God demands repentance and obedience.
Rejection of the man God appointed results in Jesus rejecting them on Judgment Day. God’s call to repentance and faith is not an invitation. It is a command.
God has established a date and time where He will judge the world. But wait! Paul told us in Romans 3. None of us seek after God. None of us does good. Not a single one of us. (Romans 3:9-18)
If that is true there is no hope.
Paul did not leave the Athenians without hope. God raised Christ from the dead. His righteousness is counted to us. As if it were ours. That is our hope. By God’s grace, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. Our sin is imputed to Him. (Romans 4:23-25) We are not good enough. But He is! Praise God!
When Paul mentioned the resurrection of the dead, many mocked. Some said that’s weird. Tell us
Jesus gave us the great commission. Read it with care. It says we are to make disciples. It does not say we are to make converts. Only God can make converts. Men are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) Only God can raise the dead.