If you visit Athens today you will be taken up a small rocky hill without buildings, west of the Acropolis, and told that this is the Mars Hill where Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers. In the message he gave them, we have a perfect example of just how the gospel operates to deliver men. It’s a fantastic message and I want you to pay close attention as we look at it more closely. There are three parts to it, beginning with a most captivating introduction:
“So Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you’” —Acts 17:22-23
Ooh, that was savvy . . . A good introduction always begins where people are, and this is what Paul did. He began right where these Athenians were. He didn’t denounce them, he didn’t attack their idolatry; in fact, he paid them a compliment as far as he could. He said to them “Men of Athens, as I’ve been walking about your city, I’ve noticed one thing about you: You are a very religious people.” The word he used was literally, “You are god-fearers.” But the word he chose for “god” was rather unusual. Instead of the common word theos, which means God in his greatness, he chose the word daimon, demon, by which he implied that the gods they worshipped were lesser concepts than the great idea of God. They understood that he meant to compliment them because they had a concept and capacity for “God,” however they saw him. They were very much involved with and interested in God.
Then he said, “As I have been walking around, I found an altar to an unknown god.” There were several of these in Athens. Many centuries before, a plague had been stopped by turning loose a flock of sheep within the city. Wherever the sheep were found they were slain and offered to a god. If they were slain close to the altar of a recognized god they were dedicated to it; but if they were slain apart from any of their known gods, an altar was erected and dedicated to this unknown god! Hey, they were just covering all their bases . . . it’s like the soldier during the Viet Nam War who wore every icon of every imaginable deity—his explanation was, “In my line of work, you can’t afford to piss any of them off . . .”
Well, Paul found one of these, and said, “This is the God I want to talk about. What you worship ignorantly I have come to declare to you.” It was a great introduction. It reveals the emptiness of paganism. If you don’t worship the true God, there is no end to your search; you will keep going forever. There were 30,000 gods in Athens, but they hadn’t had enough yet; they had also erected altars to an unknown god! How clearly this voices the agony of humanity, the cry for a God they know exists, but can’t find.
One preacher told a story about a young man who came up to him at a rally. This young man was extremely upset, his eyes were wild, and rushed up to him, grabbed his shoulders and shook him saying, “Can you tell me where I can find So and So (and he said this Pastor’s name)?” The preacher said he felt almost like denying he knew him, but gulped, and admitted that he was that person. The young man immediately said, “Can you tell me how I can find God?”
Wow! What a testimony. I’ve never had that happen to me, but it certainly demonstrated the hunger of his heart. This is what Paul sensed at Athens, the hunger for the God they can’t find. And as followers of the True God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Wonderful God of Creation, Yehoveh Himself . . . that is our responsibility, as well.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Book of Acts: http://home.comcast.net/~nickolas.hiemstra/acts.pdf