God Is Great

Acts 17:16-34

“God Is Great”


            Mysteries … everyone joys a good mystery every now and then right?  There is something about a mystery, something about trying to figure out the unknown which draws people in.  How is this story going to end?  How is this movie going to end?  Who did it?  How did they do it?  What really happened?  Or to quote an old time TV show … “who was that masked man?”  I don’t know but as long as there were Scooby snacks at the end, I was good.  But then, but then there are those “unsolved mysteries.” 

            You know, that is one show I never cared too much for and I just heard a week or so ago that there is a newer version is on Netflix and it still has the old creepy theme song.  Of course when I watched it, I was much younger, probably about 8 or 9.  If my memory serves me correctly, I believe it was on on Friday nights.  We would watch that and “America’s Most Wanted.”  “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries” were on back to back.  Once they were over … it was time for bed.  There was no mystery there.  I would be scared out of my mind that some random bad guy was going to come get me and no one would be able to figure it out and my mysterious disappearance would go unsolved.  Then we would have to call in the Scooby-Doo gang for we’ve got a mystery to solve.

            As fun as all these are, minus the whole “Unsolved Mysteries” thing … as much fun as all these are, there was a different type of mystery which we were trying to figure out this past week at our Mystery Island Vacation Bible School.  It’s a mystery which people over the course of time have been trying to figure out and solve.

            This past week, we were encouraging our kids to solve the mystery, to discover the one true God.  But the question is … how do we know that the one true God exists?  That is a question which has surely crossed the mind of believers at some point in time.  I believe in God … but how do I know the God I love is the one true God?

            Now before we answer that question, let’s dig a bit deeper by asking yet another question … how can we know anything?  I mean really?  How do we even know to question God’s existence?

            Well … here’s the answer for you.  Apart from the perfect, the truthful, the unchanging, the eternal God found in the pages of the Bible, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) and from whom come knowledge and understanding (Prov. 9:10) … we cannot by our own reason or strength know anything about him.

            Think about that a moment.

            If, as some people out in the world suggest … there is no god, then there is no ultimate standard of truth and knowledge.  If there is no god, then we are simply the products of random processes operating on chemicals over time.  If that is true … well then the thoughts in our brains, the thoughts I’m sharing with you right now are nothing more than the product of random chemical interactions, which somehow come out making sense, or at least I hope they make some sort of sense cause you know, my mind can be a scary and confusing place at times.  If this is true, minus my mind being a scary and confusing place of course … if all these random chemical interactions are true … how could we really know anything?

            Let’s go one step farther.  If, as other people suggest, our universe is ruled by a god who is not eternal[1], so who doesn’t have a beginning or an end, OR if our universe is ruled by a god who is deceptive[2] …how could we be sure that what we know is true today will still be true tomorrow?

            These questions aren’t anything new.  The apostle Paul in our reading this morning from Acts 17 is facing the same thing.

            Let me set the scene for you again.  Paul is in Greece.  His travels take him to Athens.  While there in Athens, waiting for his compadres to arrive, Paul does what Paul does.  He checks out the city.  He walks around to see where people live, what the shopping looks likes, visits and tries random coffee shops to see which one is the best.  In checking out the city Paul notices something.  Paul notices that the city is full of idols, it’s full of temples, it’s full of altars, and it’s full of places to purchase souvenirs of false gods.  So, Paul does what Paul then usually does.  He goes and starts preaching and reasoning with the Jews in the synagogues and in the marketplace about Jesus and the resurrection.

            Well, this preaching draws attention to himself not only from the Jews but especially from the non-Jews.  Remember, he is Athens.  Athens is the epicenter Greek mythology, the home of Zeus and Apollo and Hermes and Cronos.  So the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, they start to question Paul.  Some say, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others are like, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” (Acts 17:18).  Curious, wanting to know more, wanting to know what it was Paul is talking about, they snatch him up and take him to the Areopagus (Air-op-a-gus), a place where all the smart people, all the educated philosophers meet to discuss things.  They essentially say to Paul, “You are bringing some mysterious, some strange ideas to our ears and we want to know what they mean.” 

            Paul, like most pastors, never passes up an opportunity to talk.  As a guest on these philosopher’s turf, Paul politely and reverently addresses his audience.  “Men of Athens!” Then being one who doesn’t beat around the bush, Paul says, “I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  Now what you worship as something unknown, I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).

             Paul says, “Let me reveal to you the mystery of this unknown God.  You see, this unknown God is the God who created the heavens and the earth.  He doesn’t live in human temples nor is he served by human hands because he doesn’t need anything from us.  However, God created man in his image and from this one man comes all the nations of the earth.  Even as your great poets have said, ‘we are his offspring.’

            Now, since we are all God’s offspring, we shouldn’t think about the divine in the sense of gold or silver or statues of stone made by human hand for he is far higher than this.  God has looked down upon his children when they have tried to design and form something to represent him.  Instead, he commands that all people repent of their sins because he has set a day when he will come and judge the world with justice.  On that day, all will know who he is for all will be raised up from their graves” (Acts 17:24-31).

            Upon hearing this, some of the smarty pants philosophers sneered at him, but others wanted to hear more and so they started to follow him.

            These people who were questioning Paul should have been in our VBS this past week because over this past week we’ve studied, we’ve talked about and revealed the mystery of this great and almighty God who is found in the pages of Scripture. 

            The God of the Bible, he is the one and only, the almighty God.  He is present everywhere, knows everything, and is all powerful.  Unlike earthly and animal kings, God is the Almighty king who reigns over heaven and earth.  He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

            Granted, all this could easily scare a person for we know that we are far from perfect and don’t deserve to be in the presence of such a great and holy God.  But this great and all powerful God has a tender side.  A tender side for his most prized creation, for you and me.  Even though we fail God on a regular basis, more times than we would ever like to admit … God made a promise to never leave us nor forsake us.  He is our Emmanuel, our God with us and he proves that by sending his One and Only Son into our flesh. 

            Through the perfect life, gruesome death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus, a new hope is given.  This new hope is not some sort of mystery we need to try to solve, for within the pages of Scripture we can clearly see that all things are under God’s control and the prize of an eternal life with Him in the new creation to come awaits all who believe in Jesus as their Savior.  This promise … it waits for you.  And so we cry out with the psalmist, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:9).  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in our great and almighty Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

[1] Mormonism, History of the Church, vol. 6, ch. 14, p. 305-6

[2] Islam, Koran 3:54, 8:30