A Message From Mars
A message from Mars? Two thousand years ago Paul gave a message about God from Mars’ Hill in Athens. This weeks’ article continues to examine the message about the nature of the Unknown God.
God the Great Giver
God who “gives to all life, breath, and all things.” is the giver, and does not have any needs Himself. God needs nothing from man. Man needs everything from God. God is willing to give to man all he needs to be sustained. This is true physically and spiritually. James wrote, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
God the Ruler of Race & Nation
God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (17:26). There is and has always been just one species of man: homo sapiens. We all come from one set of original parents. “Eve was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). Whether “red, brown, yellow, black and white”, God is our creator and the giver of life.
God has guided the history of man through His Divine Providence. The vary boundaries of the nations and the duration of their existence is determined by God. He has created every nation and determined their rise and fall (Dan 2:20-21; 4:17). This shows God is not aloof from His creation. God is here and God is nearby. God is and has always been involved in the life of all men on earth. He is God of all men.
God is Knowable
God is so involved with mankind “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (17:27). God wants us to get to know Him. The Greek gods were unknowable and unapproachable. “Thus says the Lord: … when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:l0a). If God is not known, it is man’s fault not God’s. God urges men to get to know Him.
God the Father
Paul supports his next point by quoting from two of their Greek poets. “For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” (17:28). Aratus’ line in Mino’s address to his father Zeus is first quoted by Paul. “Thou art risen and alive for ever, for in thee we live and move and have out being.” Next, Paul quotes from another Stoic philosopher, Epimenides. Why? Paul became a Greek to win the Greeks. Quoting from an uninspired pagan philosopher is not wrong. Truth is truth whether an atheist says it or an apostle. The Greeks believed the truth of these two stoics, and it is in harmony with the Truth of God’s Word. He could have quoted the Psalmist but wisely chose to quote the truth they had already accepted. This was a subtle and logical move. They would not likely deny their own beliefs. Paul would build on these truths.
God is Spirit
Paul moves on to the next logical conclusion about God. “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (17:29). A denial of the Father is a form of self-denial. If He did not exist, we could not exist.
God does exist. But not in the form of a stone carved or metal molded into a likeness. A man-made object cannot adequately represent or picture the Godhead. The term “Godhead” means the divine nature, the essence of God.
God the Merciful
The next point of Paul’s sermon is that God is a merciful God. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (17:30). This does not mean that people were not guilty, but only that God held back divine wrath. Paul does not mean that he had excused it; for this would be inconsistent with his call of repentance. God has not judged the wickedness of idol worshipers, instead He shows mercy in longsuffering wanting all to have an opportunity to repent. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God the Judge
Paul now introduces Jesus. Not as a loving Savior, but as a universal judge. “He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (17:31). He warns of a coming judgment. Only God knows of the appointed hour of this event. God will judge the world with a standard of righteousness. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12) or “every idle word” (Mt. 12:36).
God will judge the world through Jesus Christ. Jesus was not just God, but came to earth as a man. He is not just any man but the Man. The Son of Man who was totally human and yet the Son of God. He is the perfect one to judge. What proof does Paul offer? The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is all the proof needed. God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the ultimate proof of God’s existence, Jesus being the Son of God, the veracity of the Bible as God’s Word, and the certainty of a judgment day.
Aftereffect of the Sermon
As in most cases Paul’s sermon was received with some mixed reviews. “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked”. Mocking is a form of ridicule often used to attack when one has no logical defense to offer. To the Greek the idea of a resurrection was insane. Who wants to come back to life in this world? But instead of listening and asking questions, they would rather mock what they do not understand.
“Others said, we will hear you again on this matter.” This shows a more cordial acceptance. However, it could represent an apathetic and polite rejection. Did they listen later, or did they just dodge the issue? They were reluctant to accept and also reluctant to seize future opportunities to investigate these claims.
However, a few were receptive of the message of hope. “Some men joined him and believed.”The term “believed” is a form of speech called a synecdoche. This is where believe is used to include all things required by a sinner to obey the Gospel such as, faith, repentance, confession, and baptism.
Specifically mentioned among the believers is Dionysius who was an Areopagite. He was one of thirty city officials who served the municipal court which met on the Areopagus. Also, there were a few notable women like Damaris. De Welt reminded us that “History says that the church in Athens was one of the strongest congregations in the empire in the second and third centuries.”
Application for Soul-winners
Much can be gleaned from Paul’s sermon for soul-winners. Notice how Paul found some common ground with his audience. He found truths they agreed upon quoting their pagan poets. He also noted their mutual devotion to religion. He used some tact. He did not disparage their gods directly at the same time alluded to several major differences as well as their ignorance. He was not shy about point out differences. He was prepared for mixed responses knowing God gave the increase. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that Paul knew how to begin at the audiences’ level of knowledge. Like Philip with the Ethiopian, Paul began to teach where they were at. Even though this lesson was for pagan’s who did not know God. There are some great lessons for those who are saints.
– Daniel R. Vess