Intro: In 2012, I went to Athens Greece with a group of fellow seminarians. While we were there, we toured the Acropolis hill: the citadel that contains the remains of the Parthenon Temple—dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. Thinking about history and strolling the ancient ruins was fascinating, but what was even more awe-inspiring was standing on Areopagus Hill or Mars Hill. The view of the Acropolis from Mars Hill is absolutely incredible. Originally, Mars Hill was a place for worshiping three female goddesses of vengeance. Then, in around the 7th or 8th century, it became the location of the supreme court for homicide trials—a meeting of aristocrats who served a lifelong tenure debating cases.
In our passage today, the Apostle Paul has reached Athens with his quest to spread the Gospel of Christ. He begins to talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus in the synagogues. He goes to Mars Hill where he is invited to deliver a sermon to this Areopagus council of stoics and philosophers. Paul is confused by the many altars erected to strange gods—idols—surrounding him. Essentially, these gods were not even being obeyed by the council; they just had the altars to ensure they did not make any of them angry. These aristocrats actually worshiped either temporal materialism or pantheism—the idea that the divine is the universe. The Apostle walks by an altar built “to an Unknown God” and he takes off on his message using this specific altar to point to Christ as being that God, but who actually wants to be know.
Even today, people may find it foolish to think it is possible to know a sovereign and supreme God of love and compassion—a God who made everything that exists and yet desires to be known through a personal relationship (John 1:1-3). This God is Jesus who serves as our high priest, sacrificial lamb, and the final altar or cross upon which he offers the sacrifice of himself for our sin, so we may know Father God. Never forget sin blinds us to the truth; so salvation brings revelation and opens our eyes to the things to which we have been ignorant. Never stand in spiritual ignorance, let Jesus open your eyes.
If you have never asked the Lord for salvation, please do so, today. If you do not have Christ as your Savior, you will pay the penalty for your own sin against Creator God because we all sin (Ro 6:23). Simply pray, “Jesus, have mercy on me and save me! Please forgive me for my selfish sin against your holy commands of love. Come and make your home in the core of my being, because I want to know you. Now, I realize I am your offspring and in you I live and move and exist. Fill me with the perfect presence of your Spirit and help me live obedient to your love.”
Acts 17:22-34 NLT 22 So Paul, standing before the council,[Mars Hill] addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man [one blood line] he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.
30 “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” 33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them, 34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Prayer: Lord, as human beings we can be so very full of pride and arrogance. Please forgive us. As believers, we know your holy ways and divine thoughts are so much higher than ours. Thank you for Paul’s message today. The Truth helps us know that as we share the Gospel of Jesus, we can find common ground and then witness to the difference he makes in our lives each day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.