“Making God Known – Acts 17:16-34”

(By Thor Knutstad)

I love Acts chapter 17.  This chapter is another detailed account by Luke of one of Paul’s many missionary journeys.  The New Testament church at that time was continuing to explode upon the scene of the known world throughout Asia and and in Europe.  Chapter 17 in Acts, specifically Acts 17:24-28, is a full presentation of God and the Gospel of Christ.  This unique passage of Scripture is filled with God’s heart toward His people (toward all peoples whether Jews or Gentiles) – and His purpose to make Himself known.

While walking through Athens in Greece, Paul sees many idols and altars and inscriptions to false gods.  The Greeks had created false centers of worship.  These gods to them were “unknown” and “not reachable.”  Upon seeing an altar labeled “to an unknown god,” Paul proclaims the God who is knowable, and who demands to be known.  Can you just imagine Paul seeing that “unknown god” altar?  I imagine him thinking and praying, “Okay Lord, here’s that opportunity that I have been waiting for!  Let us preach!”  Then while they disputed Paul’s treatise of the Gospel, he then uses their false logic against them for the sake of truth.  You see, the Greeks, in their logical and quite philosophical worship of logic had probably thought, “Well, if the other gods aren’t really gods then an altar to an unknown god will suffice.”  I wonder if this was more about their seeing those false gods as not reachable or more about their fear of not wanting to get it wrong.  It’s probably both.  But it is still an absurd claim – no matter how logical they claimed to be.

Yet the apostle Paul proclaims the true God who can be known.  In Paul’s dispute of their idols and altars of worship, he makes note of some key points in Acts 17:24-28 (to read the whole account I suggest that you review all of Acts 17:16-34 for the complete context).  Paul’s statement includes the following important points:

  1. He calls them religious and appeals to them on the basis of what they believe and in what he has seen.  His term religious may actually be taken as sarcasm to mean that they were “superstitious” as a sort of jab or seriously.  Biblically, it is hard to tell, but it is an interesting comment.  Being called religious isn’t always a good thing.
  2. God is a personal Creator and gives life to every created thing on earth and is the creator of every nation and every person.
  3. God determines the times, seasons, and exact places where men and women should live. I love this!  Paul is attributing God as being Sovereign and in control and decisive in the existence of everything – including TIME! Wow!
  4. God is near and close to man and wants man’s “reach” for Him.
  5. God is unlike idols and altars of gold, silver, and stone; He is not a manmade image.
  6. God commands repentance to ALL men.
  7. God will judge everyone in the future.
  8. God gives us the Savior, Christ Jesus, who is resurrected proof as Messiah (by the way, the Greeks believed in an immortal soul but not a resurrected body).  This would seem completely foreign and absurd to their logical beliefs.

If you have read the entire passage, then you know that these philosophers disputed with Paul in the early part of the passage and called him a “babbler.”  They accused him of advocating false gods because he was preaching the Good News of Jesus and the resurrection (of Christ and eventually of all men).  They accused him of bringing in some strange new teaching (history records that they thought that they were the custodians of bringing “new enlightenment” and “new truth teachings” to the people).  No wonder they took offense to his Gospel message!  They actually sneered at him and only a few actually became followers of Christ.  This is sad but true.  Even Gospel fluency, loving others well, and living on mission to your neighbors, friends, and community gets rejected because of the message.  Their hearts didn’t receive these great truths.  What a shame!  What fools!  What sadness!  Even when the message is relevant, practical, pure, and true, many will reject and scoff and slander and not receive.  

Yet like Paul, we look for opportunities and well-timed, apt, and fitting replies to others as we live on mission daily in our lives.  Paul’s replies to their disputes of his message are the Gospel.  May our own lives and message be the same – relevant, practical, pure, fitting, well-timed, and full of Truth in Christ as we walk and live unashamed of our risen Savior and blessed resurrected redeemer – King Jesus!  Praise Him. 

Copyright, 2015.  All Rights Reserved.  Thor Knutstad