THE MESSAGE IGNORED
ACTS 17:16-21 PRINCETON CHRISTIAN CHURCH 01 AUGUST 2021
The Apostle Paul was waiting in Athens for his friends Silas and Timothy to rejoin him, but his waiting was more energetic than the energy of most who worked. That was because he immediately was inclined to speak to the people there about his God. Paul was in a city – Athens – which was likely the best-known city in the world at that time. And in Athens, there was much interest in, and time spent in the human form, art, architecture, poetry, and wisdom. These had become points of excellence. Athens was a city where a man of Paul’s culture could have spent days looking at the statues and the prominent man-made things which were so much a part of the city.
But, none of these things moved Paul, except in their relation to God. The statues of Jupiter and Mercury, the Acropolis, the Parthenon – all these were nothing in the presence of the idolatry all over. These man-made things clearly showed that the Athenians were without the one true God. And, without God, they were without hope in the world. One thing especially caught the eye of Paul. He saw an altar with the inscription TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. In this, he immediately saw proof of the need for God and the natural man's inability to find Him.
This universal idolatry caused the apostle to speak out, attempting to reason with the Jews and the Gentiles in the synagogues and the marketplace. He was compelled to try to bring the message to the people – that message of the knowledge of the true God.
And in his reasoning with the worldly, well-educated Athenians Paul emphasized four things about God
I, The Forbearance of God
In verse 30 he says: “in the past God over looked such ignorance.”
What was the nature of this ignorance? It was the ignorance of God Himself. It was the pagan worship that confined the concept of god to inside the temple, holding court.
The practice of the Athenians also provided for different gods for different places and consisted of honor paid to statues whose beauty-focused more thought on themselves than on the deity they represented.
There was also the ignorance of man’s relation to God. The pagans thought of God being far away, unconcerned with the world, and having no relationship with it.
He had no real connection with them, so they lived their lives as though he really didn’t exist.
So, let’s look at the cause of such ignorance on the part of these otherwise well-educated, intelligent people.
First, the primary cause of their ignorance is sin. God had made man upright and in full communication with Himself, but sin entered and separated them one from the other. Gradually, the knowledge of God and man’s relationship to Him faded, resulting in pagan worship. Paul spoke of this to the people in Rome as recorded in Romans 1:28 – “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”
The second cause of their ignorance is self-will. Self-will is always included in sin and is the opposite of submission. The result is dense ignorance and blank despair suggested by the inscription on the Athenian altar to an unknown god I mentioned earlier.
We read of God overlooking this time of ignorance (verse 30). How could He, or how did He overlook sin? He did it by not granting any further knowledge of Himself. Over time the darkness grew greater. He didn’t punish the pagan nations – the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Medes, Greece, Rome. All were allowed to continue in their own ways up to this point.
That was how He overlooked their sin. But, why did God overlook their sin? In God’s eyes, sin was surely not disregarded as of no importance. Sin is sin at all times and always has been so with God. And, God would not be God if he was ever indifferent to sin.
God’s ignoring of sin was, of course, temporary to prove the human need of God and man’s inability to find Him. Still, more, because of the Divine plan of salvation to send Someone who could dispel ignorance and banish darkness, as Paul referred to in Galatians 4:4 – “When the fullness of time had fully come, God sent His Son…” The Gospel is the revelation of Christ as the One who can destroy the work of the devil, which is evident in man’s ignorance and sin.
II. the Commandment of God.
Paul’s second emphasis about God to his well-educated, but ignorant listeners in Athens is the Commandment of God.
Again, in verse 30 he speaks of the fact that now God commands all people everywhere (even in Athens) to repent. There was no longer any forbearance on the part of God.
Why was that forbearance now gone? Because the time of testing was over. The altar to the unknown god proved that “the world, through its wisdom did not know Him” (Paul, speaking in 1 Corinthians 1:21).
The work of salvation has been completed – the object of Christ’s coming was three-fold:
To reveal God to man – “That we may know Him that is true.’
To show Man’s relation to God – “We are in Him that is true.”
To deal with sin as the cause of their former ignorance – “keep yourselves away from idols.”
So, if forbearance is now done away with, what takes its place? The answer is Repentance.
Repentance is the crux of Paul’s message to the Athenians. So, what is repentance? It is a new reflection as to the past, and a new resolution for the future. Repentance is a change of mind about God and man’s relation to God. This results in a change of life. It is the beginning of a life lived in the light rather than in the darkness of sin.
What does repentance do? It gives the mind a new perception of sin. It gives the heart new repulsion against sin as guilt before God. It gives the will to make a new choice of God’s truth and holiness.
How must repentance be experienced? It must be done at once. God gave to man for a long time living in his own ways, but now a new day has come. It must be done by all people – no one is exempt because of ignorance of sin, so no one is exempt from the change that repentance will bring. It must be done in all places – everywhere – no place on earth is has been excluded from the message of Jesus Christ. No place on earth cannot be reached and where the light of the Gospel can penetrate the hearts of mankind.
III. The Appointment of God
The third emphasis of Paul is the Appointment of God. Verse 31 says “because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” This judgment is universal – that covers the whole world. No exceptions – great and small. In the great final judgment, all will be there to give account and to receive according to deeds done in the body.
At that final judgment, the full answer will be demanded every disregard of privilege, every abuse of opportunity. All the way back in Genesis 18:25 Abraham speaks these words: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Because, being one with us, He will know our abilities and can have that sympathy that is so necessary to true righteous judgment. Because Man who died is Man who lives and who will judge, we shall be shown to be without excuse in meeting a Judge, Him, who we have either accepted or rejected as Savior. Because God has ordained Him and set His seal upon Him, honoring Him because of His life and work.
IV.The Assurance of God.
The fourth thing Paul emphasizes in Acts 17 is the Assurance of God.
In verse 31 Paul writes: “He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Judgment does not rest simply on words, but also on fact. And, this judgment specifically rests on this fact: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
This assurance is given by God – but why?
The resurrection proves many things. Among them is God’s of Christ and purpose for Christ which included the appointment of Him as Judge of all men.
No fact in history is more certain or more capable of proof that the resurrection of Jesus Christ and carries with it the certainty of judgment.
This assurance is given to all. How is that accomplished? By the fact that the Holy Spirit is now in us – stirring, convicting, converting our hearts and lives. If Christ had not risen and ascended into Heaven the Holy Spirit would not have descended into our lives. The resurrection of Christ brings the hope of resurrection for all. This resurrection includes the resurrection of the dead – of all mankind.
So, what is Paul’s message to the Athenians – and ultimately to all of us here today? The longsuffering of God concerning the past ignorances of mankind. The law of God concerning our present duty. The judgment of God concerning the future life.
What was the result of Paul’s message to the Athenians? Actually, the immediate results could be considered a comparative failure. No church was begun there. Athenians still mocked, procrastinated, and few believed. They considered the resurrection to be absurd. Most didn’t believe and put Paul off by saying they would hear him at another time.
What was the cause of the negative reaction of the Athenians? They would have been willing listeners if the message had tickled their ears, or had been something philosophical with more intellect. But when Paul’s message pricked their conscience and demanded a change of lifestyle and submission to Christ, they turned a deaf ear to Paul’s message.
When Paul made speculations about Christ, they listened. But, when Paul’s message turned to change and acceptance of Christ, there was no more listening.
How is it with us today? We would not mock the truth of God, but might some possibly let the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord slip away, putting off the decision to follow Jesus until another time?
We need to face the truth and yield to God in the conviction of our minds; yield to Him the control of our will; yield to Him the confidence of our heart, and yield to the conversion of our lives.
The message of God comes to everyone. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2