Scripture: Job, chapters 13-14; Acts, chapters 17-18
Acts 17:22-31 (MSG) – So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.
The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?
God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better – but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Observations: As I read this passage today, I thought of the comparisons with the world we live in. I read an article the other day about a survey of religious beliefs and activities, and some of the results were surprising. While we might suspect that the percentage of people who are either atheists or agnostics would be high, the fact is that while they have increased, the increase hasn’t been large: for example, atheists went from 3% in the last study to 5% in the current one. The surprising thing to me was the growing percentage of what are called “nones” – people who state that they have no particular religious beliefs or affiliation. (I believe the article said that group is now 21% of the population.) It’s important to remember that just because people don’t have any particular religious beliefs or affiliation, that doesn’t mean that they are not “spiritual.” It simply means that they are worshiping THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS.
That’s why it is so important for those of us who believe in Jesus to understand what we believe, to understand why we believe it, and to be prepared to share our story of faith with others. That is not just a task for people who are called to preach, like Paul; it’s a task for every believer. We all have a story of our relationship with Jesus; we can all talk about the life-transformation that he has worked in us. As we’ve read the book of Acts, we’ve seen that some people came to faith through the preaching of Peter, Paul, and others. But we’ve also seen people who came to faith without hearing any sermon; for instance, the jailer in Philippi heard Paul and Silas singing, experienced the earthquake that broke open the jail, and saw that Paul and Silas were different because they didn’t just run off. They actually cared about the jailer – Paul called out to him to not hurt himself, because they were all there. I believe that the jailer was touched by Paul’s care for him and the fact that Paul and Silas were different; he wanted to know what he needed to do to experience the same kind of life that they had. As we read through Acts, it’s interesting how many times we read about conversions of individuals, or families – the Ethiopian eunuch; Lydia and her family; the jailer and his family; or, in today’s passage, Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris. God may give us the opportunity to share the Gospel with thousands – but every day there are opportunities to share it with someone.
Paul understood his faith and the Scriptures well enough to be able to talk to Jewish people about it, but he also understood them enough to be able to connect his faith and the story of Jesus to the pagan culture that he encountered in Athens. If there was ever a day when we could expect people to understand the whole “Jesus story” when we started to talk to them, that day is long gone. We’re living in Athens; we need to understand what people think, and why, and allow God to help us to share the Good News with them in ways that connect with their hearts – often, one person at a time.
Application: God is reminding me how important it is for us to know what people are thinking, what their priorities are, and to recognize the ways to connect their lives with Jesus. That doesn’t happen by us sitting back, wringing our hands and longing for ‘the good old days’; it happens by engaging people, talking to them, getting to know them, and being willing to dig a little deeper. It happens when we are willing to open up to people and share our stories with them. It happens when we stop thinking and acting like we’re spiritually superior to them, and we remember that we would be in the same place they are if someone hadn’t taken the time to love us, to get to know us, and to share Jesus with us. It happens when we love them the way Jesus loves us.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the gift of forgiveness and life that we have in Jesus. Guard us from the temptation to think that we are better than others because of that life; we haven’t earned it, so there’s nothing about it that we can feel smug or superior about. Help us to see in others the people that you see; help us to share your desire to see them reconciled to you. Help us to take up the “ministry of reconciliation” that you have entrusted to us, so others may find the life and the hope that we have in Jesus. Amen.