While Paul was in Athens waiting for his companions, it gave him a chance to look around the city. What he saw disturbed him! There were shrines to virtually any false god you could think of, complete with images that were supposed to represent them.
A friend recently visited ancient Athens and he said that you can see exactly what Paul was talking about, as the foundations for the shrines were packed tightly together along the side of the ancient street. They weren’t large, but they were everywhere!
Paul began to talk with the people living in Athens about what he had seen, including the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue as well as the philosophers in the marketplace. He was trying to teach them about Jesus and the resurrection, although it seems that the philosophers thought he was referring to two gods: “Jesus” and “Resurrection.” Finally they took Paul to the Areopagus so that he could explain what he was saying, as it seemed strange to them.
Paul began by noticing how “religious” they were – there were shrines to every known god, plus there was even one to “the unknown god” (just in case they had missed one!). It was this God that Paul wanted to tell them about.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone” (Acts 17:24-25 NET).
No wonder they were struggling to understand what Paul had been teaching! They had a plethora of gods who were in charge of various areas of their life (or so they thought) – but these gods required offerings of food and animals from the people to sustain and appease them. The real God was far different. He made everything! He doesn’t reside in buildings people can make. And he doesn’t need anything – in fact, he is the one who gives everything to the people he made!
What a refreshing difference! Last week I was privileged to go through the “Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds” exhibition at the British Museum. As we walked through it, we saw relics from Thonis-Heraleion and Canopus, two Egyptian cities that sank into the Mediterranean Sea around 1,200 years ago. Primarily on display were discoveries they had made in temples, which included both shrines and images.
As we observed and read the information on display we learned about the gods of the Egyptians and how they were adopted and changed by the Greeks and later by the Romans. Each god was detailed and explanations given as to why they were worshiped and what they were supposed to do. Finally my companion turned to me and said, “Isn’t it much easier to believe in the one God?” I had to agree!
This one God not only created us, but he wants a relationship with the people he created. This is where Jesus and the resurrection comes in. Although not mentioned by name while on the Areopagus, Paul said: “Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
What a great God we serve! And what a great privilege we have to obey him so that we can spend eternity with him!
Readings for next week:
26 September – Acts 21
27 September – Acts 22
28 September – Acts 23
29 September – Acts 24
30 September – Acts 25