GETTING THE MESSAGE/Creation, redemption and judgment

GETTING THE MESSAGE/Creation, redemption and judgment

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In this passage (Acts 17), Paul is in Athens, Greece, after being driven out of Berea. Athens was the center of intellectual debate and philosophy. As Paul goes through the city, his spirit is provoked by the prevalence of idolatry (verse 16), so he begins to proclaim the gospel in the marketplace daily.

Some of the philosophers decide to take Paul to the Areopagus, a council of academics, to hear Paul explain what he was teaching. Paul’s address to the people assembled there is instructive for us to understand the basics of the Christian faith ourselves and to be able to proclaim it to others. 

Paul speaks of three broad categories: Creation, Redemption, and the Judgment. Paul is speaking to people with little or no background in Scripture, so he begins with the doctrine of creation. He says God is the Creator and Sustainer of the whole world and everything in it (verses 24-25). 

There is no other Creator. God created everything and he did so entirely by himself without being assisted by any creature. Creation is revelation which gives us knowledge of God’s power. God is almighty, and apart from his creative act, there is nothing. It is according to his power that creation and the creatures in it have continued existence. There is no such thing as an independent creature. All things derive their existence from God.

Paul packs a lot of theology in a few sentences. He speaks of God’s transcendence: He “doesn’t live in temples made by man” (verse 24). You cannot contain God. Paul says God “doesn’t need anything,” meaning he is self-existence.  He alone is God, and “He gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (verse 25).

Paul also points to God’s immanence. He is “not far from each one of us” (verse 27). God is everywhere. He is separate and above His creation, yet He is not way out there somewhere – rather, he is near to us. We cannot escape the divine presence.

God’s purpose for men is that they may seek him and know him (verse 27). He created men with freedom to choose and act, but sin has so marred man that he resists God’s will and exchanges the glory of God for idols (verse 29). Idolatry is an attempt to create and rule God according to the sinful imaginations of man.

Paul said God “overlooked such ignorance but now commands men everywhere to repent” (verse 30). Paul doesn’t mean God didn’t judge people in the past for their idolatry; he means God did not bring the world under immediate judgment as he will one day. Repentance is imperative because 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” (verse 31).

When his audience heard Paul speak of the resurrection, some mocked, while others stalled: “We will hear you again about this” (verse 32). In verse 34 we see that some men believed, including a member of the Areopagus whose name was Dionysius.  

 The gospel will create an antithesis among men. Jesus said it is hidden from those who are “wise and understanding” in their own eyes. Paul knew that many would reject the gospel; he proclaimed it anyway. The gospel is the one solution to the problem of sinful man in a fallen world. Paul spoke the truth because he knew the truth would stand the test of time and prevail. 

He also knew the judgment to come was a decree of God that will not be broken. The judgment will be according to righteousness, meaning that sinners will be punished.

When our own conscience censures someone else for their sinful conduct or passes judgment on some evil, we acknowledge there is a standard of judgment; we have a sense of right and wrong. We know that wrong should be punished. Nevertheless, our judgment of others and ourselves is faulty. God’s never is. He knows all, is righteous, and is holy. And he punishes all wrong.

So when you read this, remember this warning from God: “no one will be saved by the works of the law.”  You cannot save yourself. We need a Redeemer. The only thing that commends Christ to sinners is extreme necessity. Those who become convinced of this will find plentiful grace in Jesus.

The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.





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