January 14th, 2007
Most people believe in either one of two competing explanations about why things came to be the way they are. One explanation is that the universe started one day as a result of an unexplainable event, and things have just evolved by chance until they got to where we are now. The other explanation is that there is a God who created the universe. According to Paul, God has created a craving in every person’s heart to seek and get to know God, and in today’s reading Paul explained it by reference to an altar dedicated to an unknown God. People had been wanting to worship him, and now Paul could tell them who he was. That offer is still open to people today.
The Acts of the Apostles — Chapter 17
17:1 After travelling through Amphipolis and Apollonia they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 17:2 As usual Paul went in to them and lectured to them from the Scriptures for three Sabbath days, 17:3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “Jesus, whom I announce to you, is the Christ.”
17:4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas: a large number of devout Greeks and quite a few of the prominent women. 17:5 But the Jews became jealous and recruited some wicked men from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot in the city. They raided Jason’s house, hoping to bring Paul and Silas out to the mob. 17:6 Not finding them, they dragged Jason and some brothers before the city officials, complaining, “These people who have turned the world upside down have now come here, 17:7 and Jason has welcomed them. They all contravene Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, Jesus!” 17:8 The crowd and the city officials were upset when they heard these things. 17:9 They required Jason and the others to post bail, then they let them go.
17:10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. 17:11 These people were more noble than the ones in Thessalonica. They eagerly received the message, and examined the Scriptures each day to see whether the things they were hearing were true. 17:12 Many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women and quite a few men. 17:13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that Paul was also preaching the message of God in Berea, they came there to stir up the crowds. 17:14 Straight away the brothers sent Paul away to the coast, leaving behind Silas and Timothy. 17:15 The people escorting Paul brought him as far as Athens, then they left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was stirred within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17:17 So he spoke in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 17:18 Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers spoke with him. Some said, “What is this amateur philosopher trying to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign gods,” because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.
17:19 They took him to the Areopagus, saying, “What is this new philosophy that you’re talking about? 17:20 What you are saying sounds surprising to us. We want to know what these things mean.” 17:21 All the Athenians and foreigners who lived there had no time for anything except telling or hearing something new.
17:22 Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, “People of Athens, I can see that you are very religious in many ways. 17:23 As I was walking around I looked at your objects of worship, and I found an altar with this inscription: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ The god you worship as unknown is the God I proclaim to you. 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made by humans. 17:25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, seeing that he himself gives life and breath to everyone and everything. 17:26 From one he made every nation of people to live throughout the earth. He determined the times and the limits of their lives, 17:27 so that they would seek God, and perhaps they might cast about for him and find him, although he is not far from any of us. 17:28 ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We too are his descendants.’ 17:29 So as the descendants of God, we should not think that deity is like gold or silver or stone, a sculpture created through the skill and ideas of humans. 17:30 God has overlooked people’s past ignorance, but he now commands that all people everywhere should repent, 17:31 because he has fixed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has made this clear to everybody, because he has raised that man from the dead.”
17:32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, but others said, “We want to hear you talk about this again.” 17:33 So Paul left them. 17:34 But some men joined up with him and believed. They included Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Entry Filed under: Searching