unknown god

To the Unknown God

So if God has given that to us, what are we doing with it?  If you want to know, look at how you’re walking—and I don’t mean with a limp.  Look at how you’re living.  Listen to what you’re saying.  Are you motivated by love for God and love for others?  Are you motivated by a desire for holiness?  Are you motivated by a desire to please God?

We talked about it this morning.  There are some times, in our passion for God and holiness and His Word, that we just need to be quiet.  Right?  Because what we say is probably not going to come out the right way, and it’s probably going to make a mess.  There are other times we need to speak up.  How do you know the difference?  You pray and you listen, and when God prompts, you obey.

I got a kick out of the fact that somebody was talking from Acts 8 on the Ethiopian, and I noticed two things from that this morning that I had not noticed before.  One, a preacher, a missionary that we support, posted this week: “How many of you preachers think that you could run and catch a chariot?”  Not even if my life depended on it.  No, he’s talking about life and ministry in the jungle, and what it takes to carry, and to do, and just go and get sick people and carry them back.  And he was reading that, and he said, “God told Phillip to chase that chariot down and catch it.”  And I tell you, I could not.  I’m not catching the chariot.  I’m not.

The other thing that was significant is when we were teaching Acts in Sunday School, we dwelt a lot on Peter going to Cornelius, and what a breakthrough that was for Peter, to go into the house of a Gentile, where he shouldn’t even have been, and to have dinner with these people, and to preach the gospel, because God says, “There’s not a people on the planet that are unclean.  These people are people who I have called.  Go to them, preach the gospel to them.”

And we preach the shift that happens in the book of Acts.  Do you realize, that’s Acts chapter 10, and Phillip was talking to an Ethiopian from the court of the queen of Ethiopia two chapters before.  God’s always been about going to the people that nobody else wants to go to.  Now I hate to tell you this, but that means we’re the people nobody else wanted to go to.  Here we are.  You know, we think, “Oh, they’re the basket of deplorables.”  Yeah, we’re all in the basket.  And God loved us, and God gave us everything that we needed so that we could come to Him, so we could know Him, so that we could relate to Him, so that we could walk with Him.

I have three examples of how this works out, and I think this will speak to some of the questions we had even this morning.  When God’s Word is strange, when it is peculiar, when it is foreign to people, we need to understand something.  To the lost, the Word of God is strange.  And you see, the indictment of Hosea 8:12 is that this is the people of God, people who had the Word of God.  It should not have been strange to them, but it was.  How much more so is the Word of God strange to the lost?  They don’t understand it.  It is completely foreign to them.  It’s from another world, it’s from a different kingdom.  And we wonder why they react!

When the Word of God tells us what we should do, we as believers embrace it, and we should say, “What an amazing opportunity we have today to crucify ourselves.”  And the rest of the world says, “Die to yourself and not get what you want?  What’s wrong with you?  Get all you can.  Eat, drink, and get marry, ’cause tomorrow you die,” right?

This is how it is in a self-serving world, in a world where it’s all about how I feel.  Have you noticed that?  And that’s the shift that has happened in our society and in our culture.  It is all about how you feel.  And if I make you feel uncomfortable, then woe unto me, that is the worst crime I ever could have committed.

I was shocked—I read online an article this week about somebody complaining about the fact that Christians had taken a stand and had actually read parts of the Word of God, out loud, at a public forum.  There’s actually a trial about this in England, by the way.  Some street preachers were arrested because a riot ensued when they stood up and read the King James Bible out loud in a pubic square.  People started rioting, and throwing things, and knocking stuff over.  So they arrested the preachers.

Well, guess what.  The court said, “Sorry, they were within their rights.  You can read the Word of God out loud if you want to, anywhere in England.  That’s not against the law.  These people shouldn’t have rioted.”  And they said, “I’m free.  Praise God.”  But somebody was looking at what was going on, and they were looking at some of the struggles, and they could not believe that people with these antiquated ideas—it’s foreign to them; it’s strange to them—would come and insist that they be able to proclaim these things in public.

And this just blew my mind:  Some author said that in a generation, in light of Pride Week in New York and everything else going on in our country, we will look back at the struggle for the LGBT-Alphabet soup-Q, whatever’s going on, and that we will liken the Christian Church to Hitler and the Nazi regime.  Now wait a minute.  I’m going to say something you don’t agree with, and you’re going to equate that to putting ten and half million people in concentration camps?  Because you know, it wasn’t just five or six million Jews.  You understand, Hitler also took Christians—and oh, by the way, homosexuals; and oh, by the way, Gypsies and others—and put them in camps and experimented on them and tortured them to death.  Ten and a half million.  So you’re going to tell me that my reading something in public that makes you feel bad about yourself is the equivalent to annihilating ten million people?  What is wrong with our country?  We have lost our mind.  And that’s the truth, because now we are ruled by how I feel.

And let me tell you something—this is the truth of the Scripture—do a search and tell me how many times the Bible tells us how to “feel.”  The one instruction that I know about emotion?  “Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.”  What’s the rest of it?  The rest of it’s bearing the fruit of the Spirit.  And here’s what we have to admit: The fruit of the Spirit is not necessarily tied to how we feel, is it?  Because we could be in the deepest pit of despair and grief, and have joy and peace and longsuffering and goodness and kindness.

You see, God does not tell us, “Feel this way.”  He says, “Think this way, and act this way, and speak this way.”  And here’s what you learn.  When you think and speak and act like the Bible instructs us to, guess what happens?  Most of the time, your emotions will line up with the truth of what you’re talking about and how you’re living and what you’re doing.  Now there are times that that might not be the case.  Charles Spurgeon struggled with depression his whole ministry, his whole life—debilitating depression.  And yet, he was faithful.  He would have men literally, physically, carry him to the pulpit and prop him up so that he could preach the Word of God, because he was not going to allow the way he felt to prevent him from being obedient.  Where have we gone in 150 years?  We’ve gone to “I feel bad, so you need to leave me alone and go away, you hateful person.”

Now we talk about all the people out there who are like that, and we know we would never be like that, right?  We make choices every day based on how it’s going to make us feel—not starting with the Word of God to say, “Is this obedient?”  And if I feel bad about what the Word of God tells me to do, then something needs to be adjusted in the way I feel, not in what I’m doing.  I need to be obedient, and if my flesh does not like being obedient—I know it’s a shocker that our flesh does not like being obedient—that’s the war, isn’t it?  It’s the flesh against the Spirit, and we all the time are prompted to do what we don’t want to do, in obedience.  And we fight it.

Three examples of the strangeness of the Word of God—and if people don’t understand what we’re saying, and if people don’t know, and if people argue, fine.  They’re not going to understand without the help of the Spirit, and we are not the Spirit, so we cannot make them understand.  We sow the seed.

In Acts 17, talking about repentance and resurrection.  You’re familiar with this.  Paul is in Athens, and “16 …his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.’ 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.”  This is the Roman equivalent of Face Book.

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens,’ I’m here to make you feel better about yourselves.  What did Paul preach?  ‘I perceive that in all things you are very religious.’”  Today the word would be “spiritual.”  “I know you’re a spiritual person.”  If somebody ever gives you that retort when you’re sharing your faith with them, when your witnessing to them, when you’re preaching the gospel to them—“Well, I’m a very spiritual person.”  “Yes, we all are, because we are composed of spirit and flesh, and your spirit is going to live—and oh, by the way, your flesh also, somewhere forever.”  It’s not enough to be spiritual.  We were born spiritual.

22 Paul…said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.’” Now what is Paul about to appeal to?  The universal repression of the knowledge of God that we see in Romans chapter 1.  You know there’s a God out there that you’re not worshiping, and you don’t want to offend a god.  So you will put up an inscription to an idol, to the one we don’t know—“We know you’re there; we don’t know you.  But just to cover our bases—to the unknown god.”  Paul says, “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.”

What was the accusation against Israel in Hosea?  “You claim to worship the Lord, but you don’t even know Him.”  Now see, we get down on the philosophers in Athens, because they didn’t know Him and had an unknown god to try to cover their bases.  Israel was doing the same thing in the Old Testament.  They didn’t know Him.  “You don’t know Him,” Paul says, “and so I’m going to tell you about Him.”

24 ‘God, who made the world and everything in it.’”  Immediately they were laughing.  You know they had to be.  24 ‘God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.’”  Do you know where Paul started with the philosophers?  Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He went back to God who is the Creator, and by right of the Creator, then we are accountable to Him because we are His created beings.  “In the beginning God.”  You want to have a discussion with somebody, start there—In the beginning, God.