1. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. The message from God’s Word this morning comes to us from Acts 17:16-31 and it’s entitled, “The Unknown God,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Scientist Carl Sagan hosted the first TV program dedicated to the great unknowns of space. The show was a hit, viewed by half a billion people. Of the show's success, Sagan remarked: "I was positive from my own experience that an enormous global interest exists in space and in many kindred scientific topics—the origin of life, the Earth, and the Cosmos, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, our connection with the universe." (Footnote 1: Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Ballantine, 1985), pp. xvii.)
3. Sagan names things that are globally sought after. We find throughout each generation this hunger for the unknown. The mysteries of our universe can fascinate us, compel us, and give us hope. But, they can also become a stumbling block on the road to truth. In the mind of a skeptic, no matter how many of his or her questions are answered, the elementary ones still escape them. The great unknown becomes the obsession. The great unknown, no matter how great, can’t fill the holes in our heads and hearts until it’s known.
4. Graduates over the next years, you will feel as if you are facing the great unknown. you will likely do many things: go to school, have fun with friends, start a career, enjoy singleness, date and start a family (etc). It will be tempting to think of these things as your focus, your life and joy. But don't. Because in themselves, they’re not life. Jesus is life (Jn 14:6, Col 3:3). Seeking the Kingdom of God is life (Mt 6:33). A whole life dedicated to God is what God wants from you—in fact, demands from you (Lk 9:23-27). But it is also what he wants FOR you. In all those other areas of your life, even if they basically go "well," you will still face struggles, disappointments, conflicts, betrayals, suffering. But God's love and friendship never fail; he has promised to be with you always and to forgive you every time you repent--even when you find it hard to forgive yourself (Ps 136:1, Mt 28:20; 1 Jn 1:7-8). Moreover, he has also promised to help you find JOY in a life of GOOD works he has already planned specifically for YOU to carry out IN all those other areas of your life. (Eph 2:8-10). Because these things depend only on God and no one else, you can always find joy in them, no matter what else is going on in your life. So if you truly want what is good, stay focused on Christ and living as his disciple. For he is your life, and he will make every other area of your life good in a way that it simply cannot be "on its own."
5. The Apostle Paul spoke to the Athenian thinkers many years ago words quite fitting for present times. As his eyes observed that culture, he saw their fascination with knowing—so strong they even sought to know what was unknown to them, placing a sign over one of their altars for the "Unknown God." And this is what Paul says to them in Acts 17:23: "What you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you as known."
6. The Apostle Paul knew the audience that he was speaking to. There were the Epicureans, who believed that the gods didn't care about them; who believed that right now, right here was all that life has to offer. These people denied God, and dedicated themselves to the task of grabbing all the gusto they could. But, there were also the Stoics who were convinced that the gods resided in everything, and occupied themselves with managing the universe. Although the Stoics also rejected the idea of an afterlife, they thought that since the here and now is all we're going to get, we ought to be totally responsible. Responsible is a good word for the stoics. And the Stoics are still with us today. They are the people who take a stand against cruelty to animals and protecting the environment.
7. Right now there are people who are wondering how a good God could allow such suffering to take place in the town of Joplin, MO. How could an all-powerful God allow something like that to happen? Over 140 people dead and so many people still missing. A great number of people have lost their homes. A God that would allow something like this to happen seems unknowable to me. Rabbi Kushner wrote a book, which you’ve probably heard of, “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People,” well that title is wrong according to the Bible. A better title would be, “Why do Good things Happen to Bad People.” See, according to God’s Word none of us are good. The Bible tells us that, “there is no one is righteous, no one who does good. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” As Christians we can rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that when we suffer we’re reminded of the consequences of our sins and our need for a Savior. We remember that it was our Savior who suffered on our behalf to set us free from sin, death and the power of the devil.
8. The ideas of the Stoics and Epicureans that were in Athens 2000 years ago are still with us today, even when it comes to our understanding of suffering.
11. We blew it.” We don’t know who God is, since we have all these ridiculous idols. Paul is preaching the law here, to convict sinners of their sins, before he reveals to them the answer to their sin, namely, Jesus Christ, their Savior. He goes on to tell them, “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; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
12. Paul’s basic point is this. What you people did by worshiping everything but the one true God–that was ignorance. But now I’m making known to you the God you missed, the one true God of all mankind. He’s calling you to repent, before it’s too late. Judgment Day is coming. You will be judged. Your only hope is in the one I’m about to tell you about. The one who will be your Judge, this one is also your Savior. It’s this man Jesus Christ I’ve been telling you about, the one who rose from the dead.
13. Do you know that Judgment Day is coming? On that day you will stand before your Creator, and you will be judged. How will you fare? I can tell you that if you rely on yourself, it won’t go well. But, if you rely on Jesus as your Savior, you will be saved. This man Jesus, whom God raised from the dead–the reason he died was to save you from your sins, to save you from the judgment and eternal condemnation. That’s why he died, in your place, as the sacrifice for your sins. He did this for all men. Your sins are forgiven, covered, paid for, by the blood of Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. God raised this man Jesus from the dead, on Easter, to show that life is the result of what Christ has done. Baptized and believing in Christ, we share in His mighty victory over death. This is the good news that God has for all people everywhere.
14. It’s true. What we worship in this world as unknown, Christ gives us the chance to know. It is His life, death, and resurrection that proclaims to you that "The God who made the world and everything in it is Lord of heaven and earth…" (Footnote 3: Acts 17:24) He’s worth knowing, and through Jesus we understand everything. That is the answer we desperately need. Amen.