Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. …[22-28] Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might search for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ … He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17: 16, 22-28, 31)
Everything we have: our joy, peace, and health; every blessing is ours through Christ. Without Him we have nothing. Without Jesus we are the most miserable of men. Paul said, if Christ is not risen from the dead, then where is our joy, where is our future, where is our hope? – But he said, Christ is risen! Hallelujah, Christ IS risen! Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection. Because of this, God has exalted Jesus and given Him a Name which is above every other name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11.)
But yet, tragically, many don’t know Him. To them, He is the unknown God.
The unknown God
Out story begins not in Jerusalem, but in Athens. I have been around the world many times, I couldn’t tell you how many countries I have preached in, but I know I have been to Greece about twenty times. In the English language, the days of the week are derived from names of ancient gods: Wednesday commemorates Woden; Thursday, comes from the god Thor, the god of thunder; and on Sunday, we remember the sun god. But for the Russians, Sunday is resurrection! Even under communism with the official denial of God, just the day of week was a testimony to the resurrection of Jesus!
For the Greeks, worship and commemoration of the gods was complicated. When Paul looked at the situation in Athens, he not only found a city devoted to idolatry, but they were so superstitious about their religion, that they were afraid of offending both known and unknown gods. This is what they did: every god they worshipped had its own shrine and temple. And some of those temples are still standing in Athens today, 2000 years after Paul preached there. But the people were afraid about what would happen if they had forgotten a god, so they did something incredible. They built an additional shrine dedicated to ‘the unknown God’; the god that we don’t know. They built the temple, they made the altar, and they made their sacrifices, to a god they didn’t know. But when Paul stood there, he said, I want to tell you, this god, the unknown god, He is the true God, not your gods of wood and stone, not those idols, the unknown God is the living God. Hallelujah!
It is the same today. There are so many gods, whether made of stone and wood, or material possessions and celebrity. In our society Jesus has become unknown. He has given us the ministry of reconciliation; the Good News of the Kingdom; to share with an unbelieving world. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).
‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’ (James 1:17)
‘Christmas Story’ used by kind permission of www.vinesong.com