Message from Mars

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Paul operated with an absolute assurance of his calling, and with an urgency concerning the task before him.

When we study the book of Acts and the life of Paul, we begin to realize that Paul operated with an absolute assurance of his calling, and with an urgency concerning the task before him.

Upon entering a new location, Paul’s first move was to confront the Jews who lived there. If they rejected his message of the gospel of Christ, he would immediately turn to those who were not Jewish.

Chapter 17 of Acts begins with Paul and Silas preaching to the Jews in Thessalonica of Macedonia. Not only did these Jews reject the testimony of Paul; they set out to silence him completely. Those who were believers, however, sent both Paul and Silas about 45 miles west to the city of Berea.

The Jews of Berea were more willing to listen to Paul’s message. However, the Jews from Thessalonica pursued him and stirred up enough trouble and strife in Berea that the brethren sent Paul to the coast, which was about 17 miles away. There, Paul took ship to Athens, apparently accompanied by some of the believers from Berea.

These friends immediately returned to Macedonia, leaving Paul alone in the journey, maybe for the first time in any of his travels. The overall story of Paul’s journeys seem to indicate that he did not travel well alone, possibly because of health issues, and thus he sent message back for Silas and Timothy to join him immediately.

In the meantime, Paul did not let circumstances stand in the way of ministry.

Provoked by the myriad of statues, monuments, altars and idols dedicated to the many gods of the Greeks, including those whose names were unknown, he immediately confronted the Jews of the city of Athens with the gospel message.

He apparently did this in an open forum, because verse 18 of Acts 17 indicates that non-Jewish Greeks overheard Paul’s messages and began to ask questions. They were especially intrigued by Paul’s reference to what appeared to be a strange foreign god named Anastasia.

Actually, Paul never mentioned a god named Anastasia. Being in Athens, Paul addressed his listeners in the universal language of the day, Greek. When he referred to the resurrection, he apparently used the Greek word anastasis.

Non-Jewish Greeks, curious to know more, invited Paul to join them on Mars Hill, an open courtroom – today nothing more than a rocky outcropping northwest of the Acropolis in Athens. Paul accepted their invitation, and, in answer to their questions, immediately began to explain to them about the resurrection.

Paul’s sermon is recorded in verses 22-31 of Acts 17. I encourage you to read the entire chapter to better understand the context of the sermon.

Most likely, what we have here in Acts is an overview of Paul’s sermon. It is unlikely that, given such a golden opportunity, Paul would expend less than 300 words explaining to these unbelievers the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul would eventually speak of the resurrection, as he did in all of his sermons (see v. 3), but he did not begin there.

Instead, he led up to the resurrection through a discussion of the character of the one true God, because it is this doctrine – the doctrine of God – which forms the foundation for all other doctrines.

If we err in the doctrine of God – in our theology – then all of our other doctrines will also contain a degree of error.

As I have stated so often in various forums, if we err in the doctrine of God – in our theology – then all of our other doctrines will also contain a degree of error. True biblical doctrine begins with the knowledge of God and His eternal purpose.

And so Paul began to speak to this congregation of curiosity seekers about the character and the nature of God.

ASEITY

Paul began his sermon with a reference to the creation as the solitary work of Almighty God, and then he launches into an explanation of just who this God is.

Paul says to these Greek scholars (v. 22-23, my paraphrase)…

I see much evidence that you are a very religious people, surrounded as you are by all these idols to your various gods. Yet these idols I have noticed to an unnamed god give evidence that your religiosity is based primarily on fear rather than on trust.

I am here today to tell you that I know this God, and I know Him intimately and personally because He has made himself known.

This God that I preach about created all of the universe and all of mankind, not because He needed anything or was lacking in anything. There is nothing that man can do to supply any need of God or make up any deficiency in Him. He is complete and perfect in every way. He has no needs. In fact, it is He who gives to all of us both life and breath.”

In theology, this idea is called aseity – a word that refers to God’s self-existence and His self-sufficiency.

Self-Existent

God is an uncreated being. He has always existed. There has never been a time when He did not exist.

God has revealed himself to man…

  • As “I AM WHO I AM” ( 3:14) – present tense
  • As the one who “was, and is, and is to come” ( 4:8)
  • He “has life in Himself” (John 5:26)
  • He is “the everlasting King” ( 10:10)
  • Who “alone has immortality, and dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16)

Self-Sufficient

God is El Shaddai – the all-sufficient God – meaning that God lacks nothing.

Before there was ever a creation, God was perfectly complete and satisfied in the Trinity.

Before there was ever a creation, God was perfectly complete and satisfied in the Trinity.

We have nothing to give that will add anything to Him, and there is nothing that we keep to ourselves that will cause Him any deficiency or weakness.

When we say we give God glory, we are not, in fact, giving God anything, but we are expressing our recognition of the glory that is His alone. That is the meaning of worship.

When we give our offering or our tithes, we are not giving to God that which He needs to carry out His eternal purpose. Missions and missionaries need our gifts, but God does not need them.

In fact, as King David reminds us in 1 Chronicles 29:14, when we give, we are only giving back to God that which is already His and which He has entrusted to us as His stewards.

So Paul preaches about the aseity of God in v. 24-25 when he says…

  • God does not need a temple to dwell in
  • He does not need man’s service to meet any of His needs
  • In fact, He does not need anything.

UNIFIED

Acts 17:26 And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth… (ESV)

In the KJV, this verse says, “And He has made from one blood every nation…” However, neither the word blood nor the word man is found in many of the original texts.

Paul intends to make sure that his congregation understands that all men everywhere could trace their heritage to a common ancestor created by Almighty God.

Just as God is unified in His relationship within the Trinity, so is mankind a unified body within the eternal plan of God.

Alfred Barnes: All the families of mankind are descended from one origin or stock…no one nation, and no individual, can claim any pre-eminence over others in virtue of birth or blood…

…or, I might add, baptism.

These Greeks believed that they were above all other men philosophically…

…just as the Jews believed they were above all other men nationally…

…while many Christians feel superior to non-Christians spiritually.

In God’s plan, there is no room for prejudice or for hatred. Christ calls us to love even our worst enemies.

However, in God’s plan, there is no room for prejudice or for hatred. Christ calls us to love even our worst enemies.

Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, thus all are in need of redemption.

As someone else has said, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

DETERMINANT

Acts 17:26 …he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.

That word “determined” means “to set a boundary or limit.” It means “to mark out…determine, appoint.” It is synonymous with the word “foreordain.”

We are so caught up in our own right to self-determination and our own free will that we can hardly come to grips with a God who claims to have determined before the creation the times and boundaries of nations. Yet this truth is taught in other places in the Bible.

Deut. 32:8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.

Whatever else such verses may mean, they certainly mean that history is HIS-STORY.

All that has unfolded over the annals of time including the founding of nations, the rise and fall of empires, of wars and oppression, and times of peace were all included in God’s eternal plan before the foundation of the world.

Not only does God’s determinacy apply to nations, but also to the rulers and leaders of those nations.

At least four times in the book of Daniel, we are told that God is the one who chooses the rulers and the leaders of nations.

At least four times in the book of Daniel, we are told that God is the one who chooses the rulers and the leaders of nations. The Holy Spirit states…

Daniel 4:17 …the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.

Jeremiah 27:5 It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.

This means that neither President Obama nor President Trump held office by luck or happenstance, but by the will of God. There was purpose in their elections, even though I have to admit that it is often very hard for us to comprehend that purpose. The proof may not be revealed for a couple of generations.

This idea of determinacy applies not only to nations and rulers, but to individuals.

Psalm 139:16 All the days ordained for me were written in your (God’s) book before one of them came to be.

Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Though such a doctrine creates a variety of responses, I am perfectly at peace with and thankful for a God who knows me and has known me since before the foundation of the world and holds my life in His hands.

PRESENT

Paul wanted his Greek listerners to know that the God of heaven was not some far off, mythical, and impersonal god who was so transcendent that He never touched His creation.

He made his point by expressing a sentiment that these Greeks were very familiar with from their own poets…

Yet he (God) is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:27b-28, ESV)

You see, these Greeks believed the gods were transcendent beings who had little or nothing to do with lowly man unless there was some personal gain in the transaction.

God is certainly transcendent, existing completely separate and independent from the creation, not bound by space or time or matter.

Yet at the same time, He is immanent, dwelling within the creation. That’s is why Paul said, “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” (v. 28)

God is as close to you right now as the air around you is to your skin, and He has made himself known to man in various ways, including the person of Jesus.

In other words, God is as close to you right now as the air around you is to your skin, and He has made himself known to man in various ways, including the person of Jesus.

PERSONAL

Not only is God always present, but He is also personal.

Acts 17:29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (ESV)

Any being with the ability to create by expressing His thoughts and who is sovereign over all things, and takes pleasure in all that He created cannot be anything but personal.

Any concept of God that comes from your imagination rather than the revelation of God needs to be recognized as idolatry and immediately amended or discarded.

Therefore, all of the idols of metal or stone that were so ubiquitous in Athens, or any concept of God that comes from your imagination rather than the revelation of God needs to be recognized as idolatry and immediately amended or discarded.

PURPOSEFUL

All these things being said about God leads one to ask, “Why did God create man and establish the nations?” Paul answers the question by explaining that there is purpose in everything that God has done in creation and in revelation.

God’s purpose in creating man and His purpose in revealing himself was “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:27, ESV)

Paul continues this though in verse 30…

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed… (Acts 17:30-31a, ESV)

Paul attempts to make clear to these men listening that, not only is God sovereign and in control of all things, but that there is an ultimate purpose in all that He does or has done, including the plan of salvation.

The call to repentance and redemption is not a secondary thought to God.

The call to repentance and redemption is not a secondary thought to God. The plan was conceived and put into motion in eternity past – before God ever spoke the Universe into existence and before sin ever entered into the heart of man.

Luke tells us in Acts that Jesus of Nazareth was delivered up for crucifixion “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God…” (Acts 2:22-23, NKJV)

Peter wrote that our redemption “was foreordained before the foundation of the world…” (1 Peter 1:17-21, NKJV)

Paul wrote to Timothy that we have been saved and called to a holy calling “according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…” (2 Timothy 1:8-10, NKJV)

…and he wrote to Titus of the hope that we have of eternal life that God “promised before time began…” (Titus 1:1-2, NKJV)

PROVEN

Acts 17:31 …he (God) has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (ESV)

After this detailed explanation of who God is, Paul finally reached the point in his sermon where he would directly address the question asked by these men at the beginning of this encounter concerning anastasis, but the answer was not what they expected.

Before Paul had an opportunity to explain that the resurrection was proof of all that he had said about God or to declare to them that the man who died and was resurrected by God and who was appointed to return as the righteous judge was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, many of his listeners walked away, mocking Paul’s words.

Yet all was not lost, for the Bible also tells us that some of those who heard Paul preach the word of God asked for more explanation, and that others joined Paul immediately, believing his testimony, and joining the ranks of the redeemed.

Paul knew and taught that understanding the resurrection was critical in understanding the call of God to salvation.

Paul knew and taught that understanding the resurrection was critical in understanding the call of God to salvation.

Yet Paul also knew that knowledge of the resurrection was useless apart from the context of God’s person and purpose in salvation.

Maybe such knowledge will help us to better understand why the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in his letter to the church at Rome…

Romans 10:9 “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (ESV)

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