Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Altars to Unnamed gods

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.  So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. Acts 17:16-17

Altars to Unnamed gods

Most of the accounts we read about Paul in the Bible contain a lot of drama, and his second missionary journey was no different. Paul, Silas, and Timothy begin in Thessalonica, where some jews, and many Gentiles were persuaded by Paul’s message of the Gospel. Some of the other Jews were jealous, so they formed a mob and stirred up a riot. Paul and his companions had to flee in the dark of night to Berea, and Paul began preaching there. Many believed in Berea as well, but the mob from Thessalonica tracked him down and started stirring up the crowds there as well. Paul had to flee again, this time to Athens, leaving Timothy and Silas behind 

The scripture above says that Paul’s spirit was provoked because of the things that he saw going on in Athens. It was the cultural and intellectual center of the world, with the greatest university known at that time located there. It was a city of philosophers, and idol worshippers, with more idols in the city of Athens than in the rest of Greece combined. 

Have you ever had your spirit “provoked?” Have you ever found yourself in a place or with a person or a group of people that you felt so uncomfortable with because of their ungodly behavior? Paul was alone in this city that was thriving on and in sin. The Holy Spirit inside him could not rest and we observe Paul doing what he had been called to do, and sharing Christ with all who would listen. He found himself in the midst of a city full of idol worshippers. Paul stood up in the middle of them and told them about His true God and a Savior who could give them eternal life. But first, he had to address the idolatry.

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. Acts 17:22-23

Paul observed that in their extravagant worship to idols the Greeks had an altar to and UNKNOWN GOD, who covered any god that may have been neglected, a “catch-all.” This is the greatest example of “God can be anything you want him to be.”  Our society today is not much different than Athens when Paul was there.  The altars to the idols we build in our lives are not ‘unknown.’ We know exactly what they are. We may choose to cover them or hide them, or deny them, but deep down we know them. They may remain unnamed, but God knows what they are. 

Idols lie. The inanimate, lifeless objects speak loudly in our hearts and in our heads, making promises they have no ability to keep. They promise we will be happy if we have just one more _____, or a certain car, or more drugs, alcohol, sex, a bigger house, more clothes, or even more exercise. They promise fulfillment, and happiness, confidence and even love. These manmade relics offer what only the creator of the universe and the creator of man can fulfill. The One who made the one who made them is the only true hope for the longing we expect them to fill. We even realize they fall short and still we try and try again, or try another one, until we come to the end of ourselves, our resources, our people, and lose it all. Then God can work with us. Then we turn to Him and realize that He is the One we were seeking all along. 

God never plays games with us. He is always near and we don’t have to grope around in the dark to find Him. He is calling out and knocking down all of our altars to unnamed gods. When we are His children, if we live and move and exist in Him, there will be no room in our hearts for idolatry. Fill your heart and mind with Him and you will find what you have been looking for. 

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Acts 17:24-29 

Devotional Archive