Challenges to Salvation
We’re continuing our series on that Old Time Religion. The book of Acts tells us about that old-time religion which, I’ll remind you, is to be the new-time religion because it is the all-time religion and ought to be the every-time religion so I want us to learn something that's going to help us to live in this twenty-first century for the Lord Jesus.
In a few moments we're going to begin reading in verse 16 of chapter 17. But, I want to ask a question first. Have you ever been to a big city, a place you've never been before, you were absolutely alone, had no friends in that city, just walking the streets? I have and it's a strange feeling.
That's the situation that the Apostle Paul found himself in. Paul is now in Athens and he's on a missionary journey, but Timothy and Silas have been left behind. Paul is by himself and he's walking the streets of this intellectual capital of the world. It's one of the most beautiful cities ever built.
When Paul walks down the street of that city, he sees things, hears things, and feels things that stir him to the depths. His heart was broken and at the same time there was anger within because he saw people peddling false religion.
Let's read about it. Notice in verse 16, "Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly"—or completely—"given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17:16-18).
When Paul walked down the streets of Athens, he met three challenges. Three challenges that we're going to meet as we walk down the streets of this city or anybody in any city in America and throughout the world will meet.
We're going to find out that this book of Acts is not mere ancient history. It is as up to date as tomorrow's newspaper. The same three things that Paul met we're going to meet; we're going to rub shoulders with.
First of all, Paul met superstitious idolatry. Secondly, he met stubborn bigotry. Thirdly he met sophisticated philosophy.
We're going to look at it because we need to be forewarned and forearmed. We need to understand what we're going to encounter as a soldier of Jesus Christ; we need to learn how Paul met these things so that we can meet them.
First of all, verse 16 tells us that Paul met superstitious idolatry. Look at it, "Now, while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry." Well, you say, "Preacher, we don't worry about idolatry here in our city. Nobody is worshipping idols here." That’s where you are wrong. Our city and sometimes even our churches are filled with idolatry.
Okay, what is an idol? When I give you a definition of an idol, then you are going to understand why I say our cities and our churches are filled with idolatry. An idol is anything you love more than God. An idol is anything you serve more than God. An idol is anything you fear more than God. An idol is anything you trust more than God.
Now, is there anything you love more than God? Then you're an idolater. Is there anything you fear more than God? Then you're an idolater. Is there anything you trust more than God? Then you are an idolater. Is there's anything that you serve more than God, you are an idolater.
For Jesus said, "... seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness..." (Matthew 6:33). Not second, not third, but first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. And, God said through Moses, "I am the Lord thy God... Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2-3).
Let me talk a little bit about these gods that are worshipped by modern Americans right here in our cities. Let me tell you how an idol comes about. First let me say that mankind is incurably religious. It is instinctive in man to worship, because man is made in the image of God. That is, there is in every man's heart a God-shaped vacuum. That's the reason that no matter where you go on the face of this earth, you're going to find people worshipping.
If man does not worship the true God, he will worship a false god, but he will worship. Every man will worship because man is incurably religious.
An idol is a magnified sinner. What happens is this; man takes his own worst desires, thoughts and feelings, and he so magnifies them that he makes a god out of them—his lust, his greed, his fears, his hates, his desires—he somehow just takes those things and magnifies them and then begins to worship them.
Paul said in Romans 1:22: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man."
So an idol is simply man's vices. Even if you look at the Old Testament idols depicted in art; made of wood and stone, their grotesque faces, their distorted bodies, their marvelous physiques, all of these are just the highest ambitions and desires and ideals and lusts of mankind just magnified.
So an idol is really just a magnified sinner. Man idolizes himself and because he does he is really worshipping himself when he is worshipping his idol. And nothing is too good for a man's god. So, if a man makes a god out of money and nothing is too good for his god, he gives himself to that god.
You see, first of all, the man molds the idol and then the idol molds the man. It is evident that we become like what we worship. We worship God, we become like God. We worship Jesus, we behold His face, we're changed to the same image. You worship an idol, you become like what you worship.
The ancients worshipped a god whose name was Mammon, that was the god of wealth, the god of possession. We have people today who worship that god. Oh, they don't call him Mammon, but they are committed to riches, they're committed to wealth, they're committed to success, they're committed to achievement. Now, there’s nothing wrong with riches but if you love riches more than God, then you serve the god Mammon.
The ancients had another god. They named him Bacchus. He was the god of wine, the god of drink. Since they liked to drink, they said, "Well, let's make a god out of him." One can visit the temple of Bacchus in Lebanon, the wonderful ruins, magnificent temple they built to the god of wine. Do we worship that god today? Of course we do.
Billions of dollars are spent paying homage to that god. He has his temples all around our city and people to go in to worship that god through drink. That's the god Bacchus. He's not an old god, He's with us today.
They had another goddess, her name Aphrodite or Venus, she was the sex goddess. She stood for extravagance and lust. They actually had temples where they would go in and commit acts of fornication and adultery in worship to that god. Well, you say, "Do we have that goddess with us today?" Absolutely, people are worshipping the goddess of sex and lust today and brag about it.
They worshipped another idol, her name was Sophia, the name meaning wisdom. They worshipped the god of learning. It's the word we get sophisticated from. You say, "That's a little more honorable god." Listen, anything that takes the place of Jehovah God is dishonorable. I don't care what it is.
We have people today in our great vaunted universities. They bowed down at the shrine of their computers. They are so proud of their learning. Without God it is but splendid nothingness, that's all it is. Their Bible is the science textbook. Their salvation is the inevitable progress of mankind. Their Heaven is the plastic utopia that they hope somehow to create.
We boast of our great wisdom while civilization is tumbling in on our heads. Covid-19, AIDS, cancer and problems that are so far beyond us it's staggering. And, yet we strut around and talk about our wisdom. What has it brought us, as we worship the God of wisdom? Now, we don't call her Sophia today, we just call it intellectualism, anything that a man loves more than God is an idol. Anything that a man serves more than God is an idol. Anything that a man fears more than God is an idol. Anything that a man trusts more than God is an idol. And, our world is full of idols.
They worshipped another god, his name was Mars. The god Mars was the god of war, of revenge, the god of lusts for power and bloodshed. Do we worship that god today? Watch the ordinary television program and see how much violence, and sex, and blood-shed is mixed into that. Look at our government in action today, hate, nastiness, lust for power and on it goes.
Be very careful you don't cut anybody off on the freeway, because they’ll literally shoot you. I've seen it right here in our own cities, I've seen people get so angry that I was quite convinced if it were not against the law, if they could've done it and gotten by with it, they would have killed the person in the other car. I mean, literally, "... feet... make haste to shed blood" (Proverbs 1:16). People worship the god Mars. They don't call him Mars; it doesn't make any difference what they call him.
I'm trying to say that anything you love more, serve more, trust more than God is an idol in your life and it'll bring the judgment of God.
Paul walked down the streets of Athens and he saw all of these gods. In that day they were a little more superstitious, I mean, they made their gods of sticks and stones. Somebody said, "It was easier to meet a god on the streets of Athens than it was to meet a man." They had thirty thousand at least of these idols that they were worshipping. Paul met in that day what I call superstitious idolatry.
Not only did he meet superstitious idolatry, but he met stubborn bigotry. It's a completely different thing, but yet just as hard to deal with. Notice verse 17, "Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews and with the devout persons."
The word "devout" means, "religious," but religious of a different kind. These were not idolaters. As a matter of fact, they were a hundred and eighty degrees from idolaters. They looked down their long noses at the idolaters. It was unspeakable, unthinkable to them that men would glorify their vices and then worship things—beasts, and sticks, and stones—that was unthinkable.
These were people who were monotheists. These were people who believed in the one true God, Jehovah God, and furthermore, they had the Scriptures, they had the Old Testament.
Paul went into that synagogue and he began to preach to them Jesus Christ. Would they hear him? No, because they were so sure they were right and he was wrong. They had a stiff-necked bigotry. Paul ought to have been able to understand that because he'd been just like them at one time.
The hardest person to win to Jesus Christ is the man who doesn't see his need of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many times he has a religious bigotry.
Normally and naturally they should've come to Jesus Christ because the entire Old Testament is about Jesus Christ and it is written to present Jesus Christ so that when Jesus Christ was presented they would come to Him. The Bible says, "... the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ..." (Galatians 3:24). That's all the Old Testament was, just somebody to bring you to Jesus Christ.
But, there was stubbornness, and the Bible says that Paul disputed with them. That is, he would give them the gospel and they'd give him something back. Rather than being open to the gospel, they were hardened and close-minded about the gospel because they thought they were fine just like they were. They were so close, but so far away.
There are so many like that you'll meet today. You'll go to talk to them about knowing Jesus Christ, about a personal relationship with God through Christ and they'll tell you in no uncertain terms, "Look, I'm not a pagan, I have my religion." But most of the people need to turn from religion to Jesus Christ. It was a religious crowd that crucified Jesus and the hardest person to win is that person who doesn't see his need.
There are so many people like this in the world today who have a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof and you'll meet them in the streets of every city in the world. You'll meet them in your city, wherever it is you live, it is sort of a bigotry, saying, "Leave me alone, I like what I've got, don't bother me." They have a sign around their neck. Some of them come to church on Sunday morning, I can read the sign. It says, "Please do not disturb." They are settled in their mind. Paul met that kind of opposition to the gospel.
A third challenge to the gospel that the Apostle Paul met that day. Not only was there what I call this superstitious idolatry, and not only was there this stubborn bigotry, but there was a sophisticated philosophy and perhaps this was the hardest of all to deal with.
Notice verse 18, "Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered him and some said, what will this babbler say?" The word literally means "seed picker," like a bird picking up seeds. "What will this babbler say? To some he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection."
What is philosophy? Remember, the idol Sophia, the goddess Sophia, was the goddess of wisdom or learning. So philo means "a lover of wisdom." Philo and Sophia, put them together, you have philosophy. And, so, a philosopher is a lover of wisdom. He's a person who takes pride in his learning. Somebody said that, "A philosopher is somebody who tells us what we already know in words we can't understand." Doctor Robert G. Lee said, "Philosophy is a chunk of cloudbank that has been buttered with the night wind." Philosophy leaves people so empty without Christ.
Schopenhauer, who was a philosopher, said when he got to the bottom line of his philosophy, "Life is a curse of endless cravings and endless unhappiness."
Huxley, a philosopher, historian, and evolutionist, when he looked at the whole thing said, "It seems that we are a cancer on the globe" talking about us.
The brilliant but ungodly man, Bertrand Russell, said of philosophy at the end of his life at the age of ninety, "Philosophy proved a washout to me."
The love of wisdom without the love of God is idolatry.
Now, there were two kinds of philosophers that Paul encountered. First of all, there was the philosophy of the Epicureans. Epicures lived about three hundred years before Jesus. He was a teacher, brilliant man. He made Athens his adopted home. Plato, Aristotle, Epicures, Xenon—these were the philosophers who taught in Athens. And, Epicureans taught that God doesn't exist or that if he does exist, you can't know Him. There is no personal God and since there is no personal God, then life has no purpose. And, if life has no purpose, then life has no meaning, therefore, if there is no knowable God, and if life has no purpose, and if life has no meaning, what's the wisest thing you can do? Well, just feel as good as you can until you die; Pleasure.
An Epicure is a person who lives for pleasure. And, so he said, "Just make yourself comfortable, be as comfortable as you can, get as much pleasure as you can, live for pleasure."
By the time of Paul, three hundred years later, their motto, in a sentence, was, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die."
You say, "Do we have that philosophy with us today?" Sure. There was a certain beer company that learned a lesson from Epicures "You only go through life one time, grab all the gusto you can."—that's Epicure. That's the Epicureans, that's what they're saying, "Just live it up. I mean, after all, you're gonna rot in the ground and it's all gonna be over. Eat, drink, and be merry." Hey, folks, that's all around us. If it feels good, do it."
There were the others, the Stoics, they were the disciples of Xenon. Xenon taught from a porch and the Greek word for "porch" is stoa, so they called them Stoics. And, the Stoics were those who believed in Pantheism, pan, meaning "everything," and theos meaning "God," so a person who believes in pantheism believes that God is in everything and everything is God. That is, this entire universe is God. Everything is God and God is in everything, therefore, there is no personal, knowable God.
These were materialists, pure, and simple, therefore they felt themselves victims of whatever happens. Who are these people today? They're the humanists. They don't believe that there is a God who is imminent, and working, and knowable in mankind. They just believe that we are the sum total of the body chemistry and the environment.
Therefore the Stoics felt there was nothing really they could do about anything. They're all just sort of victims of fate. Just wait and let it happen. So, therefore they said to themselves, "Look, don't get too elated over joy and don't get disturbed over grief. Just intellectually be above it all." It's just a form of Stoicism, just sort of grin and bear it and live by grim determination.
Are people like that around us today? They're everywhere, getting up in the morning, taking an aspirin, drinking a cup of coffee, running off to work, living to just draw their next breath, drawing their salary, and getting bounced about. There's no meaning to life, no purpose to life, they are just simply trying to get through.
The writer of Ecclesiastes said, "... there is no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The Apostle Paul went to Athens and there in Athens he met superstitious idolatry, he met stubborn bigotry, and sophisticated philosophy.
How did he meet it? Notice in verse 19, "And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus"—That is the speakers' forum—"saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?" (Acts 17:19).
They said, "For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)" (Acts 17:20-21). They wanted something to tickle their intellectual itch, so they said, "Well, let's hear what this babbler will say."
Verse 22, "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:22-23).
In Athens they worshipped thirty thousand gods, but in case they missed one, they had one extra called the unknown god. They just said, "You know, we don't want to offend him if he's out there and we missed him."
They were kind of like the lady who had married four husbands. First of all she married a very wealthy banker, then she married a very famous actor, and then she married a notable preacher. Finally she married an undertaker and somebody asked her, "Why did you marry those husbands?" She said, "Well, one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go." She had it all figured out.
That's the way these people had done, they said, "in case we have offended this god, we will make an altar to him."
Paul used that as a preacher just to get their attention. He said, "I noticed, that you are worshipping a god, the unknown God, and that's the only one that I want to tell you about, the one you don't know. I'm gonna tell you just who this God is."
I want us to see what Paul told them about this God. Because, as we go out tomorrow, this is the God that we're going to declare in this city and in every city I trust.
First of all Paul says, "He's the God who created you." Look if you will in verse 24, "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth dwelleth not in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24).
With this one statement he banished all of their idols. You're not going to corner this God in a temple. You're not gonna be able to make this God out of sticks and stones. He is the great God who created all things; you cannot have a creation without a creator.
Then he goes on to say He's also the God who controls you. Look in verse 26, "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation."
He's saying, "this God who created you, is the God who controls you. He's not some pantheistic god; he's not some distant god, He's a God who is active in the affairs of men. He is the sovereign God who watches over the affairs of this world.
Verse 27, "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him though he be not far from every one of us. For in him we live, and move, and have our being." This God is the God who convicts you. That is—"as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring" (Acts 17:27-28).
That is, we are made in the image of God and therefore there is a longing to know God, to know the one true God. He is the one who convicts us. For Christ is "... the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9).
Paul says, "Listen, this is the God who created you. This is the God who controls you. This is the God who convicts you." And, then he says, "This is the God who commands you." I want you to see it in verse 30. "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).
Paul said, "Listen, there's a judgment coming. There is a God. He's not some stick, he's not some stone, this God became a man, He lived and died on the cross for our sins. He was buried, He's raised again from the dead. Receive Him and you'll know Him and His salvation. Reject Him; you'll stand before Him one day at the judgment. He's a God who commands all men everywhere to repent."
What was the result of all of this? Look in verse 32, "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed" (Acts 17:32-33).
Some mocked, others said, "We’ll hear you at a later time." That's where many folks are gonna die and go to Hell. "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1). "Boast not thyself of tomorrow..." (Proverbs 27:1). But, thank God others believed.
I can't make you believe, but God loves you. He's the God who created you, He's the God who convicts you, he's the God who commands you and calls you and says, "Repent, believe, be redeemed." Will you do it? In Jesus’ Name, Amen!
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