AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 17:22-33
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
33 So Paul departed from among them.
One day a father wanted to teach his son the lesson of God’s great goodness. The father took the child to the top of a high hill and pointed northward over Scotland, southward over England, eastward over the ocean, westward over hill and valley, and then sweeping his arm around the whole circling horizon he said, “Johnny, my boy, God’s love is as big as all that.”
The young boy thought for a moment upon what his father had said. He looked northward over Scotland, southward over England, and eastward over the ocean, and westward over hill and valley. “Why father,” he finally spoke, ‘then we must be right in the middle of it.”
Historically, man has always suspected that he was unique to God’s creation. Certain educators and scientists challenge that, and argue for evolution. There are some hearts that dare to make man the captain of his own fate, the master of his own soul but despite all the brave talk, there is still the suspicion that man is not alone. There is a God who is there, somewhere. If only He could be found.
The Bible tells us how God can be found. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
Unfortunately, in the search for God, the heart of man has led him astray. The end result has been a search for God in nature. The sun, the moon, and the stars were first honored, and then exalted. But God is not to be found in nature.
Then, the heart of man led him to worship himself. Mortals were exalted to the place of deities. The Ancient Egyptians became gods when they died. The Roman Emperors deified themselves. Even as late as 1945, one of the conditions of surrender for Japan to end World War II was the provision that the emperor, Hirohito (1901-1989), had to tell his people he was not really a descendant of the Sun God.
There is no spark of divinity in man, despite Hirohito being the 124th Emperor of Japan. Man is not God, for God is transcendent from His creation. Man is the offspring of God, therefore he cannot be God.
Next, the darkened heart of the natural man led him to worship the state. Divine qualities were given to the abstract concept of government. Men and women and children were born, and they lived, and died for the advancement of the state. Whatever the government wanted, in order to advance the good of the government, was right.
Books were written to promote this concept, such as The Prince, by Machiavelli (1532), or The Communist Manifesto (1843). But God is not to be found in the state.
The heart of man took another turn in its quest to find God. Education was exalted. The sciences were recognized with fixed laws. It was a thrilling discovery. The universe was found to be vast and complex, full of great mystery and wonder. Surely the goodness of wisdom was to be honored. But God is not to be found in reason alone. There are miracles. There is divine revelation.
The great tragedy, is that while the heart of man leads him down many avenues in his quest for God, God is not far from any of us. Paul made this very point when he spoke to the Athenians on Mar’s Hill.
Grieved in his spirit when he saw the whole city given to idolatry, Paul decided to declare unto them the gospel of redeeming grace.
If men are to know God, they must have correct information about Him. Such information comes to man through Divine disclosure. There are several facts about God that must be understood.
First, God does not dwell any longer in temples made with hands, for He is the Creator of all the material elements. As a devout Jew, and zealous for the Law and the Temple, Paul had to learn this gospel concept. Once God was pleased to dwell in tabernacles, and temples, but not anymore.
Second, God has established nations, so that through the instrument of the state the Lord might be found. Notice the language of acts 17:26-27.
“[God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation, 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.”
When Rome brought peace to the world, the Christian faith was able to spread rapidly into all nations, the nations to which Jesus commanded His disciples to go. Nationalism is by Divine design. Globalism is not.
Here is the conclusion of the matter. If God is not to be found in nature, in man himself, in unsanctified wisdom, or in the state, where is God to be found, and who is He?
The Bible reveals that God is the supreme Creator of all that is in the universe. He spoke and the sun, moon, and stars sprang into existence. All things were created by Him and without Him nothing has come into existence, (Gen. 1:1)
Because He is the Creator, God transcends His creation. No one can point to a stone, a flower, or an object and say, “There is God.”
What man can do is engage in a rational discussion about God, for God Himself is rational. When this is done it is discovered that God would have souls be saved because He is not far from any of us.
Physically, God is closer than the air we breathe, for our text says, “In Him we live, and move and have our being.”
Emotionally, God is not far from us because His love is manifested in manifold ways. With each new sunrise God is saying, “I love you.” With every expression of joy and beauty God is saying, “I love you.” All that is good and holy comes from the Father above.
Mentally, God is not far from us. It usually takes a crisis situation to realize this. What do people say when there is a sudden tragedy but, “O God, help me!” or “Dear God, not that!” or words to that effect.
Even spiritually God is not far away. There is a beautiful song. I do not know all the words, but the message of the song is that, “He was there all the time.” God was there during the good times and the bad. He was there even when the soul was sinning.
He was there when, as a small child, the sinful will was first exercised in defiance of parental authority, and sin was consciously expressed. He was there when the years of teenage rebellion were embraced, and the teachings of the church and the home, were mocked. He was there when the forbidden relationships were entered and the pleasures of sin were first tasted. He was there when the horrors of sin were also discovered, for Satan always makes his victims pay.
The world, the flesh, and the Devil demand much, for what little they give. A million tears, a thousand regrets are not enough. Sin demands sorrow and shame, broken hearts and cruel words spoken. Sin is an evil task master that mocks when a person is in the gutter of life and says, “More.” Sin can so capture and dominate a soul the only escape seems to be suicide, but even after that act the soul awakes in eternity to find sin still mocking, but this time it is the mad laughter of the damned.
There is still time to escape. The way of escape is marked, “Repentance”. God demands that all men repent. While there is, and should be, a measure of conscious shame mingled with Biblical repentance, the purpose is for a glorious cause.
Would we know God physically? Let us repent. There is a wonderful sense of His presence that will engulf you as you seek Him. Pray, “Lord, speak to me.” God will draw near to those who draw near to Him.
Would we know God emotionally? Let us repent. The broken heart God moves to heal. We must not come to God with our intellect alone. Sin is not in the abstract, for Sin is personal, real, and horrible. Dried eye conversions produce dead spiritual lives. Even Jesus on Calvary’s Cross cried out because of the sins poured out in judgment upon Him. Godly sorrow worketh repentance.
Would we know God mentally? Let us repent. The Bible tells us about those, like Enoch, who walked with God. Men and women and children down through the ages have entered into such close communion with the Creator that they believe God spoke to them, and they to Him.
God still speaks to people today. He speaks by the Words of Holy Scripture. He speaks by the conviction of the conscience. He speaks by the church. Someone says something at just the right time, and it meets the need of the heart. However, to hear the Lord speak, to know Him personally, a person must enter into His kingdom by the way of the Cross.
Finally, would we know God spiritually? Repent. The Bible says that God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. There are external things we do to enhance an atmosphere and attitude of worship. We sing songs, have moments of meditation, pray, preach sermons, and we witness to others. But having done all of that, we have not worshipped God, unless our inner spirit touches His with a longing to adore Him.
It is a great paradox that God can be so near, and yet so far away. We can understand this concept. A man and a woman can be married, and yet live together without any respect, romance, or civil response. They are near, and yet far away.
I have heard of a mischievous boy tying two alley cats together by the tail. The cats had union, but no communion. People can have a superficial union with God through religion, and still not have any communion with God.
Would we know God? Would we have communion with Him? Let us repent. Perhaps there are secret sins that are keeping the heart from enjoying the love of God. The private sins on earth become an open scandal in heaven. Perhaps there are open sins that need to be put away. Let us repent. Turn from them, and find for ourselves that God is not far from any of us.
While studying about the love of God, I have found it interesting that there are very few passages that directly record God saying, “I love you.” His love is referred to mostly in the past tense. There is one exception, and it is found in Revelation 1: 5. The text says that the Revelation is from “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved [lit. loves] us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” The Biblical message comes through loud and clear. God loves us.
P.P. Bliss, the evangelistic singer and composer, said that he wrote the sacred song when he was a young man, “Oh! How I Love Jesus!” Growing older he realized more deeply God’s great love for man. So he sat down and wrote these words.
“I am so glad that our Father in heaven,
Tells of His love in the Book He has given.
Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
This is the dearest, that Jesus loves me.”
Emmanuel, God with us.