Sunday, August 30, 2015

The power of the gospel is the Holy Spirit, Acts 18:18- 19:7

In recent weeks, we have been looking at the power of the gospel.  That the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to save from the penalty of sin, to deliver from the power of sin, is able to deliver from fear and anxiety, is able to overcome the wisdom and philosophies of man, and is able to defeat the schemes of the devil.  And if you were not here for some of those messages, then I would encourage you to go on our website and read them when you get a chance. 

So I will not review all of that today.  However, I believe that our text continues that train of thought by elaborating on the nature of the power of the gospel.  So what I believe this passage is presenting today, is that the power of the gospel is a person, and the person is nothing less than the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. 

Now this text before us today is a very difficult text on several levels.  It is very tempting to use this text as a trampoline to go bouncing off in a dozen different directions. And many preachers have done that to their own ruin.  But for both clarity and the sake of time we are going to try to avoid tangents this morning.  I want to show you from the scripture what I think is the primary message Luke is presenting here.  Luke is not trying to teach the doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit.  He is not trying to teach any number of doctrinal issues that might be touched on here in this passage.  What I believe that the author Luke, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is trying to impress on us, is that the power of the gospel is not some vague purplish blob, like the boy who supposedly went to heaven and wrote a best selling book reported, nor is the power of the Holy Spirit some inanimate force, such as “may the force be with you,” nor can the power of the Holy Spirit be divided up and parceled out.  But what Luke is illustrating here is that  the power of the gospel exists in the third person of the trinity who is the Holy Spirit; through whom we are born again in our spirit, through whom we are given new life, through whom we are led and taught, and through whom we are empowered to live a godly life for the glory of God.

That is the point of this passage, I believe.  It is to remind us of the necessity of the  person of the Holy Spirit, without whom we cannot be saved.  Listen to how emphatically Paul declares that fact in Romans 8:9 “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”  Did you get that?  If you do not have the Spirit of Christ, then you do not belong to Christ.  Jesus said it another way in John 3:5, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” 

So that is the point of this passage, that the power of the gospel is the person of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us, transforms us, indwells us, and empowers us.  Now Luke presents two illustrations to emphasize this practical theology.  The first example is that of Apollos.  First of all, Luke points out that Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, so he was also a Greek citizen.  Now Alexandria had the largest library in the world at that time, about a half a million books.  And perhaps that is pertinent because Apollos is described as a man of great learning, an excellent orator, an eloquent man who also was learned in the scriptures. 

Notice in vs. 25, it says he was instructed in the way of the Lord, he was fervent in scriptures, and he was teaching about Jesus.  Now all that is quite impressive, is it not?  An educated man, well spoken, an orator,  who had studied the scriptures, and who was a teacher of the scriptures.  That sounds like a description of many preachers today, doesn’t it?  Surely then we could assume that this articulate, learned man who was teaching about Jesus was a Christian, couldn’t we?  I would think that most people would just accept that someone with those kind of credentials was a Christian, a man who was truly saved if anyone was.

And yet, I believe Luke presents him here in this fashion because at this point in Apollos’ life, he was not born again.  And the key to that is found in the phrase, he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John.”  Now that is another way of saying he was acquainted only with the gospel of John the Baptist.  At some point, Apollos had been in Israel and heard John the Baptist preaching the gospel of repentance.  To get ready for the coming of the Lord.  And Apollos believed and accepted that gospel. He would have been baptized in repentance.  But then one way or another, he left Israel before Jesus began His ministry, and he found himself back in Europe.  And so as a result, Apollos was still preaching the message of John the Baptist.  He must have known something of Jesus, because vs. 25 says “he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus,” but he knew of Jesus only as far as John had presented Him which is that He was the One to come, the Messiah.  That means he did not know about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Nor had he any knowledge of the coming of the Holy Spirit with power on the day of Pentecost. 

So here is Apollos, probably 15 years or more since Pentecost, in a far away country, still teaching the gospel of John.  That Jesus was the coming Messiah.  But that was all that he knew.  Now he is teaching that at the local synagogue in Ephesus and Priscilla and Aquila happen to be there that day.  And when they heard him speaking, they realized that he did not know the full message of the gospel.  So they took him aside after the service, maybe they took him home to have dinner or something.  But they took him away privately and explained the gospel of Jesus Christ to him more completely.

Now I believe that was when Apollos was actually saved.  Prior to that, he had knowledge, but not complete knowledge.  He had zeal or fervency for the message he was teaching, but it was not the complete truth of the gospel.  And so as a result, it didn’t produce salvation. 

That is why I make such a point every week of quoting the words of Jesus who said, “God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.”  For salvation to be effective, for the gospel to be powerful enough to save your soul for eternity, then it must be the truth.  And a half truth is not the truth.  Jesus said in John 8:31-32 "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 

The other day I hurt my ankle on a rock surfing.  And though it wasn’t a terrible wound, it scraped away a fair amount of skin. Now I knew I should stay out of the water until it healed, but I kept going surfing every morning and getting it wet and so of course it got infected.  So I went to the doctor’s office and they gave me some antibiotics.  Now these antibiotics were like giant horse pills.  I got choked up just looking at them.  So I proceeded to chop them in half and took them that way.  Now just imagine if I had only taken half and threw away the other half.  And suppose I continued doing that until I had finished the medicine.  Do you think that the medicine would have been effective if I had only taken half of it? No, of course not.  It says right there on the label, be sure to finish all medications.  If you want to be made well, you have to take the full prescription. 

Well, that is exactly what the gospel is like.  It is God’s prescription for mankind’s sickness.  And our sickness is deadly.  The consequences of our sin is death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  See, the penalty is death, but the antidote is the gospel of Jesus Christ.   And just like with my antibiotics, half a dose won’t save us. 

And neither did it save Apollos.  Oh, he had some truth.  He had the truth up to John’s baptism.  But he didn’t have the full truth and so therefore he was unsaved.  He had some knowledge.  He had fervency.  He had zeal.  But he was unsaved.  And consequently, he did not have the Spirit of God indwelling him. 

Now I wonder how many people there are like that in the world today.  I wonder how many might even be sitting right here today.  They have some truth.  They hold to a form of religion.  They certainly believe in God.  They even know that Jesus is the Messiah.  But they have come short of the kingdom of God.  They have not truly been set free. They may have a fervency of spirit for religion, but they are still laboring in the flesh to abstain from sin, to be a good person, to go to church on a regular basis.  Some may even be a preacher or a priest, teaching the scriptures in ignorance. And yet they are unsaved. 

See it was possible that Apollos could believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and yet not have saving faith in what Jesus had come to do.  Because the Jews were looking for the Messiah to set up the kingdom of Israel again on the throne of David and kick the Romans out.  So Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and explained all the truth of the gospel.  They explained that Jesus lived a sinless life, so that He could be the spotless Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world by dying on the cross in our place, bearing our sins upon Himself.  And then that those who believe in Him and repent of their sins, will receive the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to them, so that they may become the sons of God,  and then having been made righteous, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us eternal life, who lives in us to guide us and teach us, and empower us so that we might live like sons of God.

Now we know that Luke only gives us a summary here in this passage.  But we can be certain that Apollos received the truth of the gospel gladly, because it says in vs. 27, that when he went to Achaia he greatly helped those who had believed through grace.   See, when Apollos understood the full gospel, then he understood that it was by grace you are saved through faith, it was the gift of God, not of works, and so everything clicked into place for him then.  And as a result, the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus called the Spirit of Truth, He illuminated all those Old Testament scriptures that he knew so well and now he was able to powerfully refute the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.  That Apollos was now saved was evident because his message evidenced the illumination of the Spirit of Truth, who is the Holy Spirit.  That was the evidence of His salvation.  And his salvation was made possible by the Spirit of Truth who manifested the truth to him through the scriptures.  That is one of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit as Jesus Himself said in John 15:26,"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.”  And also in John 16:13  "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”  That is a characteristic of a true believer, he has an appetite for the truth, he understands the truth, and he is obedient to the truth as revealed in Scripture.

Now the other illustration follows immediately after this passage concerning Apollos, and it is directly related to it.  It is unfortunate that some editors separated the chapters at this particular place, because really they should be considered together.  Because what we have here in chapter 19 is a continuation.  Apollos leaves and goes to Achaia, which is Corinth, and Paul now comes to Ephesus. 

And as Paul comes to Ephesus, he meets some disciples.  Now the text doesn’t clarify what exactly is meant by disciples.  I would suggest that they were disciples of John the Baptist, or even disciples of Apollos who had been teaching the gospel of John the Baptist.  Disciple simply means a learner or a student.  And many rabbis were known to have disciples.  So Paul meets these disciples of Apollos, and he is immediately has a question in regards to their salvation. 

So Paul asks them in vs. 2, ““Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 

So here we have a group of about 12 men in Ephesus, and Paul immediately discerns that something is amiss.  So he asks them a strange question; “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”  Now that is a strange question, isn’t it? Notice he doesn’t ask them, “do you believe in God?”  Or, “are you a believer?”  But did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?

And their answer reveals that they did not, but they had stopped at the same place that Apollos had stopped, which makes sense if they were his disciples.  Now in their answer they reveal that they did not even know that the Holy Spirit had been given.  I think the translation there is lacking.  All Jews that were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures, as these men undoubtedly were, knew about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God is mentioned numerous times in the scriptures, starting in Genesis 1 and in the Psalms and Isaiah and so forth.  And John the Baptist taught concerning the Holy Spirit.  So what they were actually saying was “we do not know whether the Holy Spirit has been given.”

So Paul asks, ““Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.”  See, they have the same problem that Apollos had.  They did not understand the truth concerning the gospel.  They had a partial truth which was still just a variation of Judaism.  At the point which Apollos left Israel, he had only understood the baptism of repentance, so they were ignorant of the salvation which is by faith in Christ’s atonement.  So Paul said, John only preached the gospel of repentance, telling people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is Jesus.

Now again, Luke is giving us the summary of what transpired and we have to fill in the blanks.  Paul would have undoubtedly filled these men in on all  that transpired since Jesus began His ministry.  Namely, His atonement for sin by offering Himself as a sacrifice on the cross in their place, His death, burial and resurrection, and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  And just as had happened with Apollos, these men believed, and it says they were baptized once again in the name of Jesus Christ.  They had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance but that baptism did not save them because they did not know and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, but now they were baptized again in the name of Jesus because they trusted in His atonement for the remission of their sins. 

So once again, we see a group of people, who were dedicated to their faith, who had a form of religion, who believed in God and even believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but who were not saved.  They were still believing in an old covenant theology, which was based on keeping the law and offering sacrifices for sin and basically the requirements of Judaism.  They did not know the truth about the gospel of God that states God put the penalty for our sin upon Jesus, and transferred His righteousness to us by the gift of God to those who have faith in Christ for their salvation.

And Paul would have told them that is not the end of salvation.  That is merely the new birth which is brought about through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who then indwells the believer, giving him the power to be transformed, and giving him the power to live the life that the Spirit instructs us to live.  That is why Paul prefaced the conversation by asking, “did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Because new birth is impossible without the agency of the Holy Spirit. Because the power of salvation is through the agency of the Holy Spirit. And the evidence of our new birth is manifested through the Holy Spirit. 

See, the Spirit within the new believer writes the laws of God upon their hearts and minds.  That is what Hebrews 10:15-17 says, “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, ‘THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,’ He then says, ‘AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.’”  So the action of the Holy Spirit upon the believer will be manifested by a new heart, by a new mind, by a desire for the things of God, by a desire to do the will of God.

Listen, I want you to understand this much if you don’t understand anything else today.  I want to suggest that there are a lot of people running around today in the “church” that sort of act like disciples.  They have a knowledge about Jesus but it is an incomplete knowledge of the gospel.  They have a belief in God.  They may be fervent in their faith.  But they do not have the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their life.  They do not have the witness that they have received the Holy Spirit in their life.  And consequently they are not saved.

They do not have the witness of the Holy Spirit because they have no interest in keeping the law of God.  They show no evidence of becoming conformed to the image of Christ.  And very importantly, they do not know the complete truth of the gospel.  I’m afraid that for many people today they have been deceived.  They have a partial gospel, which really is not the gospel at all.  Listen, if the gospel has been watered down or emasculated of it’s full truth, then the sad fact is that it cannot save.  A half truth amounts to  just a whole lie.    And the devil is very talented at presenting a lie as a partial truth. 

There are a whole lot of lies out there today masquerading as the gospel, and much of it is being taught in our mainline churches.  The half truths being taught today may be a little different than these twelve men were guilty of.  But the end result is just as damning.  I think the big lie today  is a complete neglect of the doctrine of repentance and the doctrine of sanctification.  One cannot exist without the other, but in most cases today neither is being taught.  The other false doctrine is just as damning, and that is that all you have to do is believe.  Believe what is up in the air.  It is presented as if it’s a personal choice what you want to believe about God or Christianity.  That you can somehow believe whatever you feel is right, whatever you want to believe, and as long as you’re sincere, God will accept you.  But I am here to tell you today that if you harbor any of those half truths, then you cannot be saved.  The truth will set you free, but a lie that robs the gospel of the truth will  damn you to hell.  And that has always been Satan’s strategy ever since the beginning.  Jesus said in John 8:44, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Well, thankfully the 12 men recognize the truth of the gospel as taught by Paul, they believe it, are baptized in the name of Jesus, and they are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are given public evidence of it.  Vs. 6, “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.”

Now I don’t want to take the time this morning to teach the doctrine of spiritual gifts, of which this text is often used as a jumping off point.  I just want to emphasize a few things that I think are Germaine to the main point here.  First of all, note that the Holy Spirit is given to them immediately upon salvation.  There is not some extended time where they have to seek for the Holy Spirit.  Remember what Jesus said, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he is not of Christ.  So these men are saved by Christ, they are baptized in Christ’s name, and so there is an immediate indwelling of the Holy Spirit who then gives evidence in a public manner of their salvation. Not only as a visible confirmation that they were saved, and that they were now part of the body of Christ, the church.  But the Spirit also gives them gifts so that they might be a witness to the power of the gospel. 

Wasn’t that the promise of Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit which is recorded in Acts 1:8? Jesus said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."  So from the very beginning the power of the Holy Spirit was intended to make us powerful witnesses for the gospel to the whole world. 

Now here is Paul and these 12 men, in the farthest reaches of the world, in Europe, in Ephesus, and the Holy Spirit is going to make them a powerful witness to the gospel.  And so the Holy Spirit does that in two ways.  Two distinct gifts.  They are not the same gifts ladies and gentlemen.  They are two gifts.  The first is that of speaking in tongues.  And for an explanation of that I would just point to 1Cor. 14:21-22 which says, “In the Law it is written, ‘BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.” 

So what is that talking about?  Well it is saying that tongues are not designed to be a secret prayer language to God which no one understands.  But they are designed to be a sign to unbelievers.  And that was what happened at Pentecost, if you will remember.  There were Jews there from every nation in Asia and they all heard the gospel being spoken in their own language.   And by men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers they heard the gospel being taught in their own languages, and yet they would not accept the word of the Lord so that they were saved.  So then the first witness is given to the Jews.  These twelve men are Jews and they are probably in the Jewish synagogue when this happens.  So the Holy Spirit replicates the speaking of tongues or foreign languages that happened at Pentecost to be a sign to  the Jews there of the power of the gospel.

And then the second gift is that of prophesying. Prophesying means to stand before the people and declare the word of the Lord.  It’s not necessarily future telling, it’s forth telling.  It’s speaking the word of the Lord, or explaining the scriptures.  Now we don’t know exactly what these men said, but we do know that Paul said in 1Cor. 14, that tongues were a sign for unbelievers and prophesy was a sign for believers.  So in some way, this prophesying edified the believers in the church by either expounding the scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit, or by revelation of as of yet unwritten truth of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So the point being, that the salvation of these 12 men resulted in an immediate indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that empowered these men to be His witnesses of the gospel to  unbelieving Jews and to edify or build up the believers in the church. That is the evidence of the Holy Spirit that we still have available to us today.  He empowers us to be His witnesses.  He enables us to be able to preach the word.  He gives us understanding of the scriptures as illustrated by not only these men but by Apollos.  Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, our Helper, who empowers us as He  leads us and guides us as we walk by the Spirit of God in this life of faith. 

So in conclusion, I would reiterate the same question to you that Paul asked of the 12.  Have you received the Holy Spirit when you believed?  Is there any evidence in your life that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you?  Have you ever received new life, new desires, a new heart for the things of God?  Have you the evidence of the Holy Spirit within you as you read the word of God?  Does He reveal the truth of God to you through the scriptures?  Or do you find the Bible dull and incomprehensible?

I would suggest that if you find yourself today with a knowledge of God, and a zeal for religion that prompts you to attend church and to try to live godly, but when you honestly consider it, you know that you don’t seem to have the power or even the desire to live the life of godliness, that there is no evidence in your life of the Spirit living in you, and you are not a witness for the gospel, then I would suggest you seriously consider this question.  Have you received the Holy Spirit when you believed?  Because He is the power that works within us, for the Holy Spirit strengthens us with power in the inner man, that we might know the love of Christ, and be filled up to all the fullness of God.  Listen, that same Holy Spirit is available today, for everyone who believes by faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord and repents and turns away from his sin.  He is the power of God unto salvation.  He is the power who works mightily in us.  I would urge you to call on Jesus to forgive your sins and save you and fill you with His Spirit, to change you and make you a child of God, today.  Today the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. Do not quench that calling of God.  Today is the appointed day of salvation.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The power of the gospel over anxiety and depression, Acts 18: 1-18

There comes different seasons in the life of every Christian of which some are harder to bear than others.  And one such season is a time of weariness, of fearfulness, or even depression.  Sometimes they are all of the above.  Most often they come after an extended time of spiritual battle.  Sometimes that may be compounded by physical trials such as sickness, or marital problems, or difficulties with children, or financial problems.  I have known them all at one time or another.  And chances are that if you are willing to admit it, if you are human and not some sort of avatar, then you have been subject to such times in your life as well.

There are a few sanctimonious types out there that will try to lay a guilt trip on those poor souls that are already discouraged, and say that such feelings are sinful.  I do not agree.  I think that they are indicative of our fallen nature.  They are indicative of our human limits, our finite understanding.  But as Paul said in 1Cor. 10:13 there is “No temptation [that] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  In other words, such trials are common to the human condition. 

And Jesus took on human flesh that He might be sympathize with our weaknesses, did He not? He suffered in all points like as we do, yet without sin.  Notice, it says He suffered.  Even for Christ, life was not a constant, cloud 9 experience. 

I must confess I found myself in a sort of depression this last week.  For some reason I started remembering hurtful things from the past, I started comparing myself with other preachers, other pastors, comparing our church with other churches, and horror of horrors, started looking at old facebook pictures of times gone by and people that are no longer with us, and before I knew it I was in a funk. 

So I found today’s message particularly apropos to my own particular situation this week, and I have the sneaking suspicion that not a few of you folks have been dealing with anxiety and depression lately as well.  So I am hopeful that this message will resonate with you, as it did with me, and that you will be encouraged as a result of being here this morning.  

Now as we look at this passage we are going to have to go beyond this particular group of verses if we are really going to understand the context.  What is not readily apparent is that as  Paul finds himself now in Corinth he is suffering from a sense of fear and anxiety and even quite possibly depression.  And that is born out by his letter written to the Corinthians sometime later when he describes this time when he first came to them.  In 1Cor. 2:1-5 Paul writes,  “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” 

So Paul was weak (which usually indicates an infirmity), he was in fear, and in much trembling.  And he had every right to be anxious and fearful and even a bit depressed.  After all, he was once again alone.  He has spent years laboring faithfully for the gospel all over Asia and now into Europe, and yet he found himself  alone in Athens, and now alone again in Corinth.  His message had been rejected out of hand by the Jews time after time, he had been stoned, he had been beaten, he had been locked up and run out of almost every town he had been in.  And now here he is again, starting over again in a strange town, in a foreign culture, probably sick and no one was there to stand with him in this great battle he was waging for the kingdom. Not only that, but he now finds himself having financial needs which are not being met and so he has to go to work as a tent maker in order to support himself and yet is still trying to preach the gospel whenever possible. 

I want you to know that many great preachers and prophets of God have found themselves down in the dumps, dealing with anxiety and depression.  It is a common malady of those who are in a spiritual battle day after day.  Moses was often discouraged in the desert during the 40 years of wandering.  David was often depressed and anxious.  You should read the Psalms of David if you are feeling anxious and depressed and you will find a kindred spirit in David.  Elijah was so fearful at one point that he started running and didn’t stop running until he had gone 100 miles, and then he got depressed and despaired even of his life and asked God to take it from him.  John the Baptist was depressed after spending his life in service to God only to find himself in a prison waiting to have his head cut off.  Martin Luther said, “Because I seem to be always strong and merry, men think that I walk on a bed of roses, but God knows how it is with me.”  John Calvin was so fearful that he did not want to preach but to hide in his studies.  The great Charles Spurgeon was depressed and anxious especially towards the end of his life.  And I could go on and on. 

So I say all that to say to you today that are suffering from anxiety and depression; it is not a sin, what you feel is not a sin.  What you may do as a result of your feelings may or may not be sin, but simply to feel fearful or depressed is not a sin.  It is human to feel.  And chances are the more you are trying to live for the Lord the more such feelings are going to be part of your experience. 

The good news is that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, but will provide a way for you to endure it.  And that is exactly what we see illustrated in this passage in the life of Paul.  God is going to help Paul.  He knows that Paul is His man, His apostle.  And so God gives Paul 5 things to encourage him.  Five things that should also encourage us as we deal with the spiritual battle around us and the resulting anxiety and depression that are often the result of such battles.

First, God sends Paul some companionship.  When you are sick or fearful or anxious or depressed, God provides the fellowship of other believers to be an encouragement to you.  And that is the first thing that we see happen with Paul.  He is in this corrupt, foreign city, where he knows no one, and somehow, God brings these two mature Christians to become his companions and co-laborers.  It’s not clear when or how Aquila and Priscilla are saved, or how they came to meet Paul.  But one thing is clear, they became dear friends of Paul and were a great  encouragement to him at a time when he desperately needed fellowship and help.

My thoughts are that they were already established, mature Christians who had been saved in Rome, and when Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome they ended up in Corinth just in time to meet Paul.  They had a common background as tent makers or leather workers.  The word could be translated either way.  But the point is that they took Paul into their home.  They showed him hospitality.  They shared with him their resources.  They became his family in the Lord in a strange city.

You know I can attest to the value of sweet fellowship of a couple of mature Christians that have come alongside us in our ministry and showed us friendship and hospitality at a time when we most desperately needed it.  Aquila and Priscilla became the pillars of the church there in Corinth, which was a great help and encouragement to Paul.  And I would just point out the obvious, that perhaps that is your calling as well.  To step up in the church and become the pillars, the mature Christian man or woman that is dependable, that is faithful, that stands with the pastor and church as partners in fellowship.  So then for all of us, God has provided encouragement through the companionship that we can find in the fellowship of believers in our local church. 

And then the second way that God brought encouragement to Paul was through the coming of Silas and Timothy.  Now it would have been very encouraging just for Paul to see his two close friends and coworkers again.  But I think there is more to the story than what is presented here.

In 1 Thessalonians 3 we read that Paul said he had sent Timothy from Athens to the church in Thessalonica in order to see how they were doing.  And so now when Timothy comes to Corinth he gives a glowing report about the churches in Thessalonica and how they were growing in the Lord.  So Paul is encouraged by Timothy’s report as he says in 1Thess. 3:6, “therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you an all our affliction and distress."

Silas on the other hand had been in Philippi checking on the churches there.  Paul writing later to the church at Philippi in Philippians chapter 4 says "When I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving but you only."  So they had taken up an offering and sent it to Paul by way of Silas in order to support Paul’s missionary journey.  So Silas came to Corinth with a love offering for Paul, and Timothy came with a good report of the churches.  So obviously  it was a great encouragement to Paul.

Now one very practical reason that Paul was encouraged was because he now had the resources to be able to stop working as a tentmaker and devote himself fully to the Lord’s work.  Vs. 5, “But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word.”  You know, it can be discouraging for a pastor to have to work on the side in order to provide for his needs.  It isn’t that a pastor is above doing manual labor, but the Bible makes it clear that he is to get his living from the church.  Paul wrote later in 1Cor. 9:14 “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”  But when that fails for whatever reason, it is yet another way for the devil to attack God’s servant and make him feel that he isn’t as good a preacher as he should be or some other such thing in order to discourage him.

I can attest to the great encouragement that we have received from people like those Philippians, people that don’t live here, yet from time to time they send an offering to support this ministry.  I can assure you that if that wasn’t the case, then there would have been many a winter that would have done us in.  So God uses the love offering of others as an encouragement to Paul, as well as the testimony of the perseverance of the saints.  As the Apostle John said, in 3John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”  That is a pastor’s great joy to know people he ministered to are still walking with the Lord.  And on the other hand, there is no greater disappointment than to see people who you invested so much in fall away from the faith and make shipwreck of their lives.  So God can use you to be an encouragement to others not only by your giving, but also by your testimony of faithfulness.

Thirdly, God encouraged Paul by giving him some key converts.  When the Jews in the synagogue began to resist the gospel and blaspheme in vs. 6, Paul shook their dust off his cloak and said “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  You know, there are going to be people that reject the gospel.  Far more in fact will reject it than accept it.  And when they do some of them will undoubtedly become the enemies of the gospel.  They may not see themselves that way, but that is exactly what they are.  There are people in this community that are so incensed about what I am preaching that they will go out of their way to call or email or even visit people in this church and try to turn them against us.  There are people that try to replicate what we are doing and hold their own services on the beach as a means to upset us and demoralize us.  Yet I have to remind myself that they did it to Paul as well.  That is part of the spiritual battle we are in.

But Paul says I am done messing with you. From now on I go to the Gentiles.  And so he goes right next door and starts preaching in the house of Titus Justus whose house literally butted right up against the synagogue.  So Paul begins to preach in the house of Justus as the synagogue is going on next door.  And Paul probably was a really loud preacher like I am, and his voice must have been easily heard next door in the synagogue, because it says that the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, becomes saved.  And not only was he saved, but so was his household as well as many others who heard Paul preaching.  I can imagine the whole synagogue standing with their ears against the wall listening to Paul preach to the Gentiles on the other side.  And the amazing result being that the people in the synagogue end up believing and are saved.

I have been told I have a loud voice. I have had a number of people tell me after a service that they were a couple of blocks away and they heard my message as clear as a bell.  I can’t help but wonder how many lives have been impacted with the gospel by someone hearing it without actually sitting down here in front and joining the fellowship. 

But the encouragement that really warmed Paul’s heart was seeing people come to know the Lord.  Whole households came and then followed the Lord in baptism.  To me that means that they were discipled.  They were responsive and obedient to the gospel.  Just a few weeks ago we had 7 people baptized here on the beach.  Three of them were adults from one family.  Two others were a husband and wife.  I am so encouraged when I see families follow the Lord together.  That is the pattern very often intended in scripture.  Some one here today might come to be saved during this service and they might be the catalyst for their whole family coming to know the Lord.  I hope so.

Fourthly, God encouraged Paul with the word of God.  This is one we all can definitely benefit from. Vs. 9 and 10, “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.’”

Now this is so rich I am going to have to break it down into 4 parts.  The first part is this; “do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  Oh folks, if we could just really get the principle into our heads that God is with us then it would remove so much fear and doubt.  Lately I have been using Psalm 23 as a prayer guide.  And when you meditate on the fact that the Lord is your shepherd,  that He is with you and guiding you and protecting you in everything you do, then all sorts of comfort begins to open up to you.

God said Paul you are not alone, I am with you.  And if you are God’s child, then you are never alone either, God is with you.  I am comforted when I think of my kids out in CA, they may be out of my reach, but they are not alone, God is with them.  When you consider that God is with us, no matter where we are, or how difficult the situation, that our powerful God of the Universe is with us, then that is an immense comfort.  I would like to quote part of Psalm 139, which I would encourage you to bookmark in your Bibles to turn to in time of distress and depression.   It says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,’ Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.”  If you are a child of God, then the Lord is with you.  That is your strength and comfort no matter what happens.  Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The second part of the word of the Lord is “don’t be silent, but keep on preaching.” I love that.  Sometimes I hear the devil say in my ear, “you know if you just lightened up a little people might like you more.” “ Try telling a few jokes.  Take some time off.  Stop being so serious. Stop preaching repentance so much.”  But God said, “don’t stop preaching.”  Keep on preaching the gospel until God calls you home. And God will take care of the results.

The third part of the word of the Lord is, “no one can hurt you.”  I like that.  I’m not going to worry about some crazy person cutting short my ministry.  I’m not going to worry about the government shutting us down.  I’m the servant of the Most High God and He will protect me and keep me until He is done with me.  And nothing can hurt you if you are the Lord’s child.  Jesus said in John 10:28 “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

And the fourth part of the word of the Lord is, “I have many people in this city.”  I love that.  I love how that echoes what God told Elijah the mighty prophet of God when he became tired and scared and depressed to the point where he ran 100 miles and then despaired even of life.  He wanted God to take him out.  And God said, I have 5000 men in this place that have not bowed the knee to Baal.  God has people who don’t know yet that they are God’s people.  They don’t know yet that God has laid claim to them, chosen them before the foundation of the world.  God has elected them to salvation and yet they are unaware of it at this point.  But God knows, and He wants Paul to be encouraged because He has a plan to bring them to Christ. 

So that is the encouragement of God through the word. And we have that same resource.  We may not receive visions in the night from God, but we have, as Peter said in 2Pet. 1:19 “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.”  What Peter is referring to as a more sure word than the word of visions, is the written word of God.  It is inspired by God and  sealed by God and refined as pure silver.  And it is written down for us that we might find encouragement and a word from God at any time, day or night.

Finally, the fifth way God brought encouragement to Paul was in defeating his enemies.  You know, you can’t preach the gospel for 9 years in this town without creating some enemies.  The gospel of God is offensive.  And sometimes I have to restrain myself from wrestling against flesh and blood, if you know what I mean.  But it is an encouragement to know that God is fighting for us and God has a way of vanquishing our enemies while we stand by and watch. I have to remind myself to let God fight my battles.  When I do I find we achieve a greater victory I could have ever done if I tried to do it in the flesh. And that is exactly what happens with Paul. 

One day when he is preaching, the Jews come in force and drag him off to the procounsel who was named Gallio.  And they trumped up some charges against Paul saying that he was teaching things contrary to the Law.  But just when Paul is about to open his mouth, God stepped in and intervened.  Gallio basically dismissed the case.  He said he wasn’t interested in judging matters about their religion.  In other words, Gallio just gave Paul the green light to be able to preach the gospel without fear of the Jews taking him to court.  Gallio is saying religion needs to deal with religion, we will not judge that in this court.  And he ordered them out of his courtroom. 

Now that was a great victory in and of itself.  But the really cool part from my perspective is the prosecutor, the head of the synagogue, gets beat up by the rabble from his own group.  They turn on the synagogue official and beat him up right there in the court, and Gallio could care less.  So here is Paul, who is usually the one getting beat up in a courtroom or getting lashes or whatever, standing there watching his opponents not only defeated, but publicly humiliated and beaten for good measure. 

But there is really another side of that story which is even more remarkable.  Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, is publicly beaten, but it only serves to beat some sense into him.  Some how or another, Paul must have reached out to this beat up enemy of his, Sosthenes, and led him to the Lord.  Because listen to what he says when he writes the church at Corinth later on; 1Cor. 1:1 “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth.”  Sosthenes may have been beaten up and kicked out of the synagogue by his own people, but he was saved by the very gospel that Paul was preaching and led to the Lord by the very man that he was persecuting.   What a testimony that is.  And what an encouragement that ought to be to all of us when we are faced with enemies of the gospel.  We do not know the way God will work in the lives with which we are connected with.  But we need to stand fast and wait and see the salvation of the Lord.

So it says in vs. 18 that Paul remained in Corinth many days longer.  His ministry was fruitful.  It wasn’t completed until God said it was completed.  And that is our encouragement.  God has called us to ministry.  Each and every one of us is called to participate in the ministry of the kingdom of God.  And if you haven’t found your place of service in it yet then you need to do so.  You may not be called to leadership.  You may not be called to be an evangelist.  But maybe you have been called to be a Pricilla or Aquila.  Maybe you have been called to be the pillars of your local church, to support your pastor, to use your resources in business or in your home to minister to the needs of the church.   Or maybe you are called to be like the Christians in Philiippi who purposefully supported the work of ministry with their offering even while actively engaged in their church at home.  Or maybe you just need to be encouraged today by a word from the Lord, that He will never leave you nor forsake you. That He is always with you.  That no weapon formed against you will prosper.  That no one can harm you if you are doing the will of God.

Or maybe you are one of those people who don’t know yet that you are the Lord’s.  You haven’t yet made a confession of your faith, haven’t yet publicly committed your life to Christ and followed the Lord in baptism and joined with the  local fellowship of believers. Maybe you have been hanging around the outskirts of the fire, realizing that the gospel is the source of light and life, but as of yet not committing to come in to fellowship with Christ.  I hope that today is the day you surrender to give yourself wholly to Him who is able to save you and make you a part of His body and give you the encouragement of the hope of eternal life. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The power of the gospel over philosophy, Acts 17:16-34

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at the power of the gospel to save, even to the uttermost regions of the world.  We saw in chapter 14 the miraculous power of God to heal the lame man as an illustration of the power of the gospel to give life to that which was not.  And we saw the power of the gospel in chapters 15 and 16 as it confronted demonic possession and  idolatry in pagan societies, resulting in transformed lives and churches being formed in formerly dark cultures. 

Today, we will see the power of the gospel in even advanced civilizations.  In all the world, there was no place more considered the cradle of civilization than was Athens.  It was the birthplace of intellectualism; of education, philosophy and the arts and sciences that was unequaled  in the world.  It was the home of such fabled philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Seneca.  It gave birth to the sciences of medicine and art and literature and reason and architecture that are still studied in arenas of higher learning today.

Now Paul finds himself in Athens at this particular time alone.  He has left Silas and the rest of his entourage in Berea.  In Berea the Jews had stirred up the crowds against Paul and the church there had sent Paul away to Athens because they were afraid for his life.  So as Paul is waiting for them to join him he begins to walk about the city and in so doing he becomes provoked in his spirit by the hopelessness presented by the pagan idolatry of this city.

It was said that the city of Athens was so filled with statues of idols that it was easier to find a god than a man.  One estimate was there were 3000 idol statues or temples that were erected in the city on public property, not including the private buildings which had idols as part of their architecture.  So as Paul walks around the city he is struck with the propensity of false religions that abounded at every turn.  There was an idol of a god of every possible sort, even the foreign gods of other nations were to be found there, as one writer puts it; “their hospitality to strangers extended to the gods too, being very ready to receive any strange objects or forms of worship.”

I think it is possible today to see a parallel in many cities in America to Athens.  New York or Los Angeles for example are centers of fashion, of entertainment, of great architecture, of great institutions of higher learning, of the latest technology and science.  And furthermore, in spite of the moral decline in America, there is still virtually a church on every other street corner in most cities across our country.  Though America was once thought of as a Christian nation, it cannot be said to be anymore.  But as America has become the melting pot of the world, we have assimilated the religions and philosophies of the world, just as the Athenians did, so that you are likely to see every possible religion represented in the average city. 

So I want us to keep that perspective as we study this passage today.  Because the gospel is not just some ancient, out of date, out of touch religion that was only valid many centuries ago.  But I would like to show that as the gospel was powerful to save even amongst the advanced civilization of Athens, it is powerful to save as well today.  As Hebrews 13:8 says, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  It is powerful to save everyone, and it is relevant to every culture, and every civilization.

Now as it says in vs.16, the spirit of Paul was provoked as he observed this city full of idols.  That means he became exasperated as he saw all these idols.  Because Paul knows that they are powerless, that they are false gods that have no power to save, no power to deliver, and he is exasperated at this culture and the hopelessness of their religions.  So he begins to preach the gospel.  That is the answer to the exasperation we may feel about our culture, by the way.  The answer is not politics, it’s not philosophy, it’s not cleaner water or better housing or education.  But the answer to the hopelessness of civilizations, the hopelessness of Chicago, or inner city Baltimore, or the ghettos of New York City, is the message of the gospel.

So true to his custom, Paul begins with the Jews.  He seeks out some God fearing Jews and proselytes who had a synagogue there in Athens.  And he begins to share the truth of the gospel with them. Then he goes into the marketplace and begins to proclaim the gospel with people that he met there.  See, Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, because he knows it is the answer to the problems of the world.  It is the antidote that the world desperately needs.  That is why he would later say in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation, to every one who believes, to the Jews first and also to the Greek.”  Paul was proving that statement right there in the marketplace, in the public arena of Athens, the heart of civilization.

Now as he is preaching the gospel, certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers hear him and converse with him, and they are intrigued by his message.  Some say, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” And others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 

Now I don’t want to bore you with a philosophy lesson so that we might know exactly what Epicurean and Stoic philosophy taught.  I am not  here today to teach philosophy.  I don’t propose to be an expert in philosophy. I propose to know only Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I know Him to the be truth and the life.  I don’t need to study philosophy to be able to debate with philosophers.  I need to study the scriptures, even as the Bereans who it says in vs. 11, who proved their nobility because they eagerly searched the scriptures to see if these things were so, and were convinced because of the authority of scripture. 

It’s like the old adage about counterfeit money.  Experts in detecting counterfeits do not study counterfeit currency. They study authentic currency and become so familiar with it that they can easily spot a fake.  So it is with human philosophy and false religions.  I hardly need to waste my time trying to keep up with it all.  I just need to spend time studying the truth and then I will not be fooled by false religion.

But suffice it to say that Epicureanism and Stoicism are but twists on the same old lies that Satan has been selling since the dawn of creation and is still selling today under different titles.  As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  The devil just keeps repackaging the same old lies for each new generation.  Epicureanism acknowledged existence of a type of god, but they denied that they had any power or control over nature.  They believed that life ended with death, and so their motto was to “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  They loved pleasure and considered happiness the highest goal of man.

Today that view is very much in vogue.  Modern man may tolerate a view of god to some extent, but they don’t see much evidence of him, they don’t believe that he can really affect the events of the world or do anything to help us.  And so the average person on the street is living for today, living for pleasure, living for things that they think will make them happy.  They tolerate religion, but they haven’t got much use for it.

Stoicism believed in a multitude of gods.  It was called pantheism.  That accounted to some degree at least for the thousands of gods displayed in Athens.  And a parallel to Stoicism in our society is the view that all roads must lead to god.  What we call God, someone else calls Allah, another calls Buddha, and so there is not one way to God but many.  All are right, therefore none can be exclusively right. 

Now there were a lot of variations on each philosophy, but both were at odds with the gospel. These philosophies were popular among the intellectual elite, especially among the people of Athens.  And so some proponents of these philosophies ask Paul to come to Areopagus, or what was also called Mars Hill, where there was a council of judgment so to speak, made up of philosophers who judged every new philosophy.  This was the same court that condemned Socrates, and was responsible for his execution five centuries earlier.  By this date their judicial powers had begun to wane, but they still had the authority to debate philosophy and render decisions, and it was to the very spot that Socrates had been summoned that Paul found himself ready to give his defense of the gospel.

But notice how boldly Paul proclaims the truths of the gospel.  He is not speaking here to men who knew the scriptures.  He was speaking to men of science, men of the arts and letters, at the greatest institute of learning  in the world and which is still revered today in educational circles.  And yet he unapologetically preaches the gospel.  Because he knows that philosophy cannot save, science cannot save, the arts cannot save, and false gods cannot save.  There is only one power that can save, and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So that is what he preaches.

Now I would point out that what we have here before us is only a synopsis of  Paul’s message.  I think he would have expanded on many points that we see just briefly touched on.  But Luke gives us an outline of his message, and I would like us to look at it, so that we might know how to present the gospel in a pagan culture, and even in a hostile culture.  Both of which I believe our present culture is fast becoming. 

First of all, note that Paul said in vs. 22, ““Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.”  Notice that Paul is respectful in his opening remarks.  He is trying to win them to the gospel, not to repel them or even condemn them.  I think that is far too often the course of evangelists today who try to interact with the culture.  A couple of weeks ago I was watching online a surf contest in Huntington Beach, CA called the US Open.  And it’s always a huge event, with hundreds of thousands of people and exhibits and so forth. It’s hedonism at it’s worst. And there are always these people there at this event that hold signs and so forth and basically picket the contest, and the signs and the message they present is typically one of condemnation and impending judgment on immorality and so forth. I don’t think that they are serving the cause of the gospel in that way, but only serving to further alienate those they are supposed to be reaching.  Paul will speak of the coming judgment as well.  But he doesn’t open up with it.  He speaks of a commonality that they have between them.  Paul was certainly very religious.  It occupied his every waking moment.  So he builds a bridge to them by acknowledging their obvious zeal for religion as well.

But in the Greek language, Paul uses a word which classifies their religion as having more of a superstitious nature.  And that was evident in the pantheism of Greece.  They did not know for sure what to believe, so they believed everything, and worshipped every so called god. 

Now it is necessary that we come to believe in the existence of God; that God is.  The Athenians had come to believe in a form of god.  To recognize that god is, that he exists.  And that much is true and necessary. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  So it is good and necessary to believe that God exists.  But that alone will not save you. 

Because Jesus added that those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.  So we must not only believe that God is, but who God is, and what God says.  That is what it means to believe in God.  To believe in who God truly is, and what God truly says concerning Himself and our relationship to Him.  If God is real, then He cannot be the object of our interpretation, or of our creation.  We must worship Him in truth, or we do not worship Him at all. 

So Paul says, you know it’s great that you guys are very religious.  It’s evident on every street corner in Athens and in all the temples in this city. But I have to tell you the truth about your religion.  Your belief is based in superstition and ignorance, and I want to explain the truth about God to you.  So  in vs. 23 Paul says "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

And this is a brilliant tactic on the part of Paul.  He takes what they worship, what they agree already exists and is deserving of worship, and says I am going to explain this God to you.

Now there is an interesting side note about this unknown god that should be explained.  And that is that several hundred years before there had been a plague in Athens, and the people of the city believed that the plague must have come upon them because a particular god was angry with them. But they had no idea which god.  They had thousands of gods represented in the city.  So they came up with a plan, which was to drive a flock of sheep into the city and they supposed that the offended god or gods would draw the sheep to them and then they would offer them as a sacrifice to that god.  So as the sheep moved around and settled down in the city, if they laid down near an idol, then they sacrificed those sheep to that idol, believing that the offended god had drawn them to him.  But there were some sheep that laid down in an area that did not have a idol in that spot, and so they built an altar there to the unknown god and sacrificed those sheep to that unknown god.  So that is why there were altars to unknown gods throughout Athens.

So Paul capitalizes on this desire to appease an unknown god, their recognition of a God beyond their pantheon of known gods, and he appeals to that interest.  He says what you have been worshipping in ignorance I will proclaim to you.  He says, I want to introduce the unknown God to you. 

So in vs. 24, Paul says I want to introduce this God to you. I want to explain who God is. Who is He?  Well, first of all, Paul says, He is the Creator.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul didn’t start quoting from Genesis 1:1.  But I don’t know that for sure.  However, we do have the synopsis of what Paul said in vs. 24, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.”

First point then is that God is the Creator of the world and all things in it.  If you have been in our services for the last few weeks, then you know how often I have recounted the power of God as expressed in creation.  God is the creator of the earth and the seas and the heavens and all that is in them.  This is such an amazing statement and it is echoed in the scriptures so many times I cannot possibly recount them all.  That is why the theory of evolution is so damaging folks.  Satan struck a mighty blow to the church in America when he prevailed in the evolution debate and gained the education system of our schools and universities.  I am convinced it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in creation, but the fact remains that our children are indoctrinated in it from the time they are toddlers.  And as such, the gospel has lost one of it’s greatest testimonies as to who God is.  Because according to Romans 1, the creation testifies of the invisible attributes of God.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, the fact that we cannot ascertain the fact that the earth is spinning at 1000 mph, and traveling through it’s orbit at 67000 mph, does not invalidate the facts of science that it is indeed traveling that fast.  But for you sitting here today, it is virtually undetectable and cannot be ascertained by normal means.  And in the same way, the God who made the world and everything in it can not be seen or felt or ascertained through human measurements, but He is and He exists and by His power all things have their life and being, whether or not we can deduct that through human senses or not.  It takes just as much faith to believe science as it does to believe in God.

But that knowledge of God as our Creator is really the foundation of our faith.  When we come to accept Him as our Creator, as the maker of everything, as the originator of everything, then we can come to the point of knowing God and knowing the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.  If we believe in God who holds the earth in space and made the sun and the stars and who made all life, then it is but a small step to believe that He has the power to save and deliver man from sin and death.  So Paul says that the unknown God is the Creator of the world.

And then secondly, Paul says, this unknown God is Lord of heaven and earth and consequently does not dwell in temples made with hands.  I wonder if Paul would have quoted Isaiah 66:1”Thus says the LORD, "Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest?” So God is not only Creator, but Lord of all.  Oh, that is where most people fall away, is it not?  This would have been the point that the Athenian philosophers would have started to squirm.  They were willing to recognize this unknown God, but they would have a hard time confessing Him as Lord of all. That there could be no other god before Him.  Jesus, who was the physical manifestation of God would say in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  Ouch!  Paul’s judgment panel of philosophers probably winced at that one.  He is Lord of all.  One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Confessing God as Creator, but as Lord of all, our Master and the Ultimate Ruler of all is the foundation of our faith.

Thirdly, Paul says not only is He Creator and Lord, He is the Giver of life. Look at vs. 25, “nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.”  What Paul is teaching there is nothing less than the doctrine of the grace of God which is necessary for salvation.  We cannot give God anything.  He needs nothing.  He is all sufficient.  He is all powerful.  He made everything on earth, so He owns everything.  And there is nothing that we can give Him to endear ourselves to Him because He needs nothing.

But rather God is the giver of all life. James 1:17 “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust, so that as the scriptures say, the kindness of God calls them to repentance.

Next point in Paul’s sermon was that this unknown God controls man and his destiny.  Vs. 26, “and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” 

The point being that man is made for God, to know God and to have a relationship with Him.  He made all the nations of the earth from the first man, Adam, with whom that relationship was broken through sin.  But because God gave us the second Adam, even Jesus to be our substitute, we can have that relationship is restored.  Augustine said in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  There is a God sized hole in every heart, which we cannot fill with anything other than Christ.  Nothing else satisfies.  And so God in His providence and grace, so orders the human psyche so that they should seek Him and turn to Him. 

Then the last point describing this unknown God that Paul makes is that God is a revealer.  God reveals Himself to those that seek Him. Jeremiah 29:13says “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  And Jesus said in Matt. 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” 

Paul is making the point that as you see God in Creation and recognize Him, and as you understand that He is Lord of all and bow to Him, and as you realize that He is the source of all life and goodness and so seek Him and come to Him, then He will come to you and reveal Himself to you that you may know Him.  That we might  know Him that is Unknown.  He has announced Himself in creation.  He has manifested Himself in Jesus Christ.  And He has revealed Himself in His Word.  He is the Revealer of Truth as we are obedient to the truth that is revealed thus far. 

That is the progression of the gospel of salvation.  That we recognize the truth up to the point that it has been revealed to us, and then we are obedient to that truth, and then the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us and guide us into all truth. 

And then like all good preachers, Paul quotes from a poem.  For some reason or other, I haven’t advanced in my preaching to that point of habitually quoting poetry.  But Paul quotes from two poets actually, Greek poets, not Christians by any means.  But nevertheless Paul uses them to make a point and drive it home with these intellectualists. Vs. 28, “for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'”  Now that poem was attributing that characteristic to a heathen god, but Paul is using it to say that your own poets have said that we have our being and life from God.  And though you do not know this God, this Creator, this Lord of all, yet He is the source of all life, even eternal life, because He is the eternal God.  And we are made in the image of the eternal God.  In His likeness, in His image, we are made to be like Him, to be in fellowship with Him, and that fellowship is the source of eternal life and eternal joy. 

See how high Paul sets the standard for God?  It is not the purpose of man to live only for  human pleasure, to live and let die, or to stoically endure the ups and downs of life without hope of eternity and without knowing the God who made them for His fellowship.  To live that way is to live in darkness, to be blinded and miss out completely on the purpose of life.

So then Paul wraps up his sermon in one great sweeping closing argument, saying in vs.29 "Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

Paul is contrasting the infinite God who is the Creator, the Lord of all, the Giver of life and the revealer of truth, to their finite dumb gods of stone and wood and metal, the image of God formed by the art and thought of man.  This is the idol of our age; that we form god in our image, according to what we think God is or should be like.  We define Him and box Him in, and minimalize Him with one word descriptions like “love” and say whatever does not fit our description cannot be God.  And so we worship nothing more than an idol of our own design. 

But Paul then inserts the other doctrine of the gospel.  The first doctrine he presented was the doctrine of faith, was it not?  Believing God is, and who God is.  That is faith.  But as I have said over the last couple of weeks, there are two pillars of the gospel.  There are two elements of believing the gospel.  One is faith, but the other is repentance. That is renouncing sin, renouncing idols, turning away from darkness and following God.  That is repentance.  So Paul says in the time past you were ignorant, but now God declares that all men are to repent and be saved. 

This is the other great stumbling block to virtuous, religious and intellectual people.  They  want to philosophize about God and religion, but they do not want to repent of their sins. This is the stumbling block, the offense of Christianity.  When we recognize who God is, and what we are; sinners.  Outside of the fellowship of God.  Unable to ascertain God.  Unable to give God anything with which we may barter for our salvation.  But utterly dependent on His grace to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

And then Paul presents the judgment.  Paul saves judgment for last.  Because the judgment is the last part of the gospel.  It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.  If you reject the free gift of God, if you reject the saving antidote for deadly sin of which we all are guilty, then the judgment will be that we will be forever separated from God who is the source of all life.  And that results in  eternal damnation for those that reject God’s gift.

Paul said that God will judge the world through Jesus Christ, whom He appointed to be our Savior, and furnished proof by His resurrection from the dead.  And when the philosophers in this great university of higher learning heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but some others said we will hear more from you later.  And I think that is very much the case today.  Some hearing this message will sneer and think it foolish.  Others will be convicted or perplexed and say I’ll think about it.  Maybe I’ll decide later.  But chances are they will let the moment of decision pass away. 

But I pray there will be someone here today like the men and women in vs. 34, who believed and followed Paul.  That is what it takes for salvation.  To turn away from false idols, from false relgion, and turn and believe in the true God revealed in His word, and then follow Him as you are taught the truth in His word.  I pray that you will believe in the God of the Bible, accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, and follow Him today.