Paul before the Areopagus

The definition of the word ‘idol’ is

i.e. something or someone we substitute in place of God.

Imagine a football player is brought off, another sent on in his place…a substitute.

The command to us has been handed down…

Thou shalt love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

An idol is something or someone that takes God’s place in our affections, replaces God, something or someone we love with all our souls and minds and strength.

The Greeks had many idols they called gods, and they were honored by fellowship, singing, dancing, processions, games, and, most commonly, sacrifices.

Here are a few of their gods…

Show grey sugar paper cut outs of gods and pin them up with blu tack. One of them is simply a large red question mark.

Apollo(beauty), Morpheus(dreams), Moirai (fate), Zeus(power, authority), Eros(love), Demeter(agriculture), Ares(war), Aphrodite(love), Hephaestus (workman’s god,Athena(wisdom).

I suppose their modern day equivalents might be these when taken to excess…

We too have our idols today…only we don’t carve them as such into statues, (but we still see people drawn to their influence, in some cases still with fellowship, singing, dancing, processions, games.)

Are we really any different to the Greeks with their love, and their worship of idols?

Where in faith we see people, past and present, drawn to churches, cathedrals, synagogues etc to be lost in worship of God, …

today new centres of worship can so easily become excessive by way of

health farms, the nip and tuck centres,

the gambling casinos and bookmakers shops,

the majestic shopping malls the sleazy shops,

the hypermarkets,

the pubs,

the cabinets of war,

the sports complexes and gyms,

the magnificent football stadiums,

the corridors of learning and even in our own homes.

I carried out a survey last week in the local shopping centre. These were the statements I presented to the people. They were asked to tick just one:-

It was amazing to see that further talk beyond the initial questions, in the majority of cases, was the cut off point.

Three men didn’t have time to talk further, then proceeded into the bookmaker’s shop and stared at the screen in there mesmerized for an hour.

Paul was to reach a cut off point too..

Athens was so unlike any other place Paul had visited. He was there as a tourist, passing through alone, on his way to Macedonia, gazing with horror on all the idols he saw there in the city.

There was a saying in Greece at the time, that it was easier to find a god, than a man!

The place was swamped with gods. There was a veritable forest of them…They say Athena’s spearhead, could be seen forty miles away, five times the distance of our view of the floodlights at St James’ Park football ground from Wallsend!

Paul had entered into discussions with the people there, on matters of belief and eventually was brought before the high council, the Areopagus, which was full of the learned people of the city who loved to debate every day, and Paul was invited to speak.

If we’re to find out who or what God is, we can look no further than Paul’s words of wisdom.

He offers them a curious item, (hold up question mark)

‘Athenians’, he says,

‘I see how religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god’.’

Paul opens his talk by politely congratulating them, but then is straight to the point, and very boldly offers to enlighten them in their ignorance!

This ‘unknown god’ is none other than the one he wants to talk to them about.

And he makes five points to explain who and what this god is…which is the theme of our talk today.

Children to draw picture of God at this point…

Look at pictures afterwards, and conclude that even though the pictures are all superbly drawn, Paul gives us the clearest idea by this illustration…(question mark)

According to Paul, God is . . .

He is Creator of the Universe

The one who made the world and everything in it. One who cannot be confined to one particular place, but who is Over and above all, …(We know that a watch, did not just happen! A watch has a watchmaker, we know because it is so intricate, the machinery so delicate. How could it have just fallen together by accident? And so too our world, how much more complicated?…how much more beautiful?)

He is the Sustainer of life

Each day God continues to sustain the life he has created, the water to drink, the air we breathe, the heat, the cold, the crops and the seasons. We depend on God, he does not depend on us. He is not to be tamed like a household pet, we don’t supply Him with anything, he supplies us.

He is the Ruler of the nations

He determines the times set for us and the exact places where we should live. He knows our beginning and our end, for He is the Beginning and the End. He created us to seek after him and reach out for him. We distance ourselves from God when we sin, but ‘He is not far from us’ says Paul; it would be wrong to see him as alien and cold and uninterested. As the song before says, He cares for us! He is closer than we think.

He is the Father of all;

We should not think that God can be made into gold or silver or stone, or be designed by our skill.

In creation terms, in a sense we are God’s offspring, He has made us we belong to him.

In terms of redemption, having been bought back from the power of sin, by the sacrifice of the blood of Christ, we have become his children by adoption and grace. We, who have gone away from him, have returned to Him.

He will have the world judged…

God commands all people everywhere to repent. A time is coming when the world will be judged, the living and the dead, high and low; no-one will be excluded, and they will judged with justice; the day has been set; and a judge has been appointed… Jesus.

At the end of the speech when Paul mentions Jesus and the Resurrection, the Athenians say they will hear him another time. This is the cut off point.

But not before Paul has made his case for the ‘Unknown God’. He the supreme power of all, yet he is one who comes close.

He is not only loving and caring, he is also jealous, but not in the sense of envying others, but as one who has been thrust out a marriage relationship, whose position has been usurped. Righteous indignation!

He makes God known. How will we do that to a people who have cut themselves off from him, yet say they believe?

The best way we can understand God we are told is through Jesus, who said, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’ ‘I and the Father are one!’

For Christians, the mystery of the UNKNOWN GOD unravels when we look at Jesus. Let’s start with him.