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Jul 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 3, 2016 – Acts 17:16-34

Making Gods In Our Own Image

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. Acts 17:16-17

Intro: I think these introductory verses are a beautiful piece of narrative

Beginning with the setting — the intellectual center of the western world
– we follow the apostle as he explores streets of Athens,
• a city glutted with idols and shrines of Greek and Roman gods
• he is up to his neck in Athenian culture
– we’re told how all of this affected Paul
• his spirit, that deepest part of his inner life, was distressed
◦ his agitation was growing, like a fire burning within him
◦ until finally he could not hold back
• on Sabbaths in the synagogue he argued his case with Jews
◦ every other day he was in the market place, talking to anyone who would listen

This is Luke’s introduction to a historic moment
– when the message of Jesus was carried into home of philosophers
• it was never recorded in Roman history, but it is significant for us
• our faith proclaimed in the city where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle taught
– how did Paul respond to this opportunity?

18-21, Paul got a once-in-a-lifetime invitation

Epicurean and Stoic philosophies had been around for about 300 years
– my guess is that they held a special appeal for the pragmatic Romans
• Paul’s public debates came to their attention
• they began to speculate regarding his philosophy
babbler – someone who plagiarized scraps of other teachers’ ideas
strange deities – that is, odd and foreign gods
– they decided they had to hear him for themselves

They brought Paul to the famous Areopagus and let him give his spiel
– v. 21 is an important footnote

Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing some new thing.

• this gives us insight into a particular form of idolatry
• these addicts of the avant-garde were not real philosophers
◦ their devotion was not a lifetime of philosophical discipline
◦ rather, it was living up to an image
– it may be our culture’s most common form of idolatry
• the idolatry of our public image and mistaking it for reality

22-28, Paul’s Message: The quest for the Creator God

Paul’s opening statements are brilliant (vv. 22-23)
– first, he began where they were–i.e., their frame of reference
• what their city said about them
– secondly, he found a common ground
• in fact, he continued to do this (e.g., v. 28)
• in pointing out the altar to the unknown god, he made an important point
◦ the God he represented was not “strange,” odd or alien, but simply unknown to them
◦ Athen’s admission of ignorance was the door that opened to the gospel

The unknown God is the Creator of the universe (vv. 24-25)
– so we can’t think he actually takes up residence in buildings we construct
• or that he needs us to make statues of him or to feed him
• far from needing anything, he gives to all life and breath and all things
◦ consider how close this statement brings the Creator to each person there
– Paul turned the whole idea of religion around
• God does not need us to give him life in our world
◦ he gives us life and breath in his world
◦ The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains (Ps. 24:1)
• what we thought was our quest for God,
◦ has actually been God’s quest to win us to himself

Next, Paul moves from the universal to personal (vv. 26-28)
– beginning with one person, God made all the nations
• the Hebrew word adam is both the name of the first human and humankind
◦ all people are related by one this person
• we are differentiated by boundaries
◦ such as: culture, time (epochs), and geography
– God has a purpose in exercising control over this
• it is to get people looking for him
◦ to grope as if fumbling around in the dark
◦ symbolic of this groping was the altar dedicated to the unknown God
• in the end, God’s desire is that everyone would find Him
◦ and it’s not impossible, because he is not far away

for in Him we live and move and exist
Paul exercised a much wider acceptance of different cultures and their beliefs than most evangelists or (self-appointed) apologists do today

29-31, Paul’s Message: The end of the quest

The picture of God that Paul painted yields a specific theologial view
– God is unlike gold or silver or stone that are part of his creation

an image formed by the art and thought of man

• Paul returns to their admission of ignorance (cf. 23, 30)
◦ God overlooked these times —  chronos: the flow of time
◦ that has “now” (at present) been interrupted
• time has come to its climax
– it is now time for everyone to accept the truth of God
• for this purpose, God has appointed a man to represent him
• the proof of his appointment is that God raised him from the dead

32-34, It is obvious that Paul did not deliver his whole message

He never reached the point where he named Jesus as God’s Agent
– the meeting broke up before Paul could finish
• and it was over his mentioning the resurrection of the dead
– I don’t think we’re supposed to form a judgment regarding the outcome
• some people think that Paul made a mistake trying to reason with philosophers
◦ that Paul abandoned this approach and from then on stressed only Jesus
◦ but that is a conjecture based on unrelated statements in 1 Corinthians
• Luke does not give us any hint that Paul had bumbled this opportunity
◦ instead, he gives us another sample of Paul’s flexibility in different cultures
◦ it’s likely that we’re meant to understand that we can use the same tools

Conc: Lately I’ve had a concern about prayer — by own, but yours too

The enormity of the universe has affected our views of God
– the relative scale of the universe reduces us to nothingness
• trying to describe the Creator of it goes off charts
◦ infinite, eternal, transcending all human knowledge
• our minds automatically shrink him (anthropomorphize)
◦ we make a small god who can fit inside our head
◦ but he is contradicted by the universe–the two do not fit together
– an idol is a “construct” – something humans conceptualize and make
• the source of this construct is the art and thought of man
◦ it comes from human imagination and human hands (cf. Ps. 115:5-8)
◦ these are the small deities that Paschal referred to as “God of the philosophers”

He has rejected your calf, O Samaria, saying,
“My anger burns against them!”
How long will they be incapable of innocence?
From Israel is even this!
A craftsman made it, so it is not God;
Surely the calf of Samaria will be broken to pieces.
 (Hosea 8:5-6)

• we can have ideas about God, but God not an idea
◦ those who give up hope in God, are merely giving up hope in their concept of God
(the little god they made in their own image who did not do what they assumed he was supposed to do)
◦ theological constructs are smaller versions of God — replicas, knock-offs

I think we sometimes pray to our idea of God rather than to God himself
– can we open our heart, mind and prayer to the Infinite? the Eternal?
• these words stretch beyond ideas, concepts and constructs
◦ and we might think that they create an impassable distance between us and God
◦ but they do just the opposite
◦ it is Gods infinite (everywhere) and eternal (all the time) nature that brings him close

Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD,
“And not a God far off?
Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the LORD.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.
 (Jer. 23:23-24)

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