Don Marsh

The Unknown God

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he 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 they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he 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.’

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. 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.”

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:22-34.

The God who made us, the world, everything in it, and all the stars and planets around it, is the unknown God to those who do not know Him. We who do know Him are the authorities on this subject. The science obsessed person who says that God cannot be proven is merely taking the long way to say they don’t really know.

To say that the God who created the universe is incapable of raising the dead, or that He has no right to judge us, requires only a total ignorance of God. God cannot be measured, weighed, or judged by His creation. But we can limit our own knowledge of Him and the blessings He confers on those who believe. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3).” And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).

Do not be intimidated by those who don’t know God. They’re emptiness is no threat to you. Your fullness will be a blessing to them if you will let it out, and if they will receive it.

Provoked By Idols

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. Acts 17:16-21.

Here in America, we have been quite content to let idols coexist with the church. It’s all part of being part of a pluralistic society, with religious rights for all. But that does not mean we should not oppose them. After all, idols eventually supplant our devotion to God. It has always been that way. When God gave the Israelites the promised land, they were to purge it of all the idols. After that, it was centuries of falling back into idolatry and tearing them down again.

If you don’t think we actually practice idolatry in America, consider what Paul wrote on Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Our devotion to the pursuit of money and the things it can buy is all the evidence we need to make that charge stick. If you are unwilling to make a financial commitment to the work of the ministry, but you ARE willing to make a commitment to monthly payments for consumer goods, you might be an idolater.

An Opportunity to Suffer

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed. Acts 16:25-40.

It is interesting that Paul did not invoke his rights as a Roman citizen until AFTER he was arrested, beaten, and put in chains overnight. It could be that he wanted the opportunity to preach to the inmates at the jail. And he may have gotten to them while he and Silas prayed and sang hymns and gave glory to God. After all, the other inmates did not escape when they had the chance.

Paul was probably also wanting to enhance the reputation of the Gospel. By being willing to suffer for the word of God, Paul takes the moral high ground with the authorities. They owe him an apology, and they owe it to him not to harass him in the future. And, just as the jailer was moved to believe, the city officials may also be open to the Gospel in the future.

Let us also invoke our rights only when it serves to advance the kingdom, and let us suffer when it does the same. May we all be counted worthy to suffer for doing good.

Are They Friendly Spirits?

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:16-24.

In America, occult practices are a pretty innocuous part of the landscape. Most cities have a practicing palm reader or two, and you may have a medium who conducts seances to summon spirits of the dead. And you can probably buy a OUIJA board at Walmart. But summoning other spirits is treason against the Lord. It was one of the very things that was being purged from the promised land of Canaan, when all such practitioners were put to death. There are no neutral spirits in the realm of spiritual warfare.

When this young fortune teller started announcing Paul and promoting him, it probably seemed like a positive thing. But after awhile, Paul realized that this demonic spirit was trying to worm it’s way into his ministry. As a Pharisee, when he was still known as Saul, he would have had this woman dragged before the council to have her tried, convicted, and stoned to death. Instead, he commanded the spirit to leave her, and set her free.

That demon seems to have had friends in high places, as they often do, and this exorcism got Paul and Silas thrown in prison. The powers of darkness don’t have bodies, so they have to borrow them from among us. As sons of Adam, we can legally operate on the earth. Demons cannot, so they have to hitch a ride with someone who thinks they are harmless. As sons of God, cleansed from the sin that put us under a curse, we have authority over the devil. We can cast him out.

Divine Appointments

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. Acts 16:6-15.

Paul was pressing on, wanting to go to Asia to preach the Gospel. But the Holy Spirit stopped him and said, “I’ve got some people I want you to meet.” So it’s off to Macedonia, where Paul will start some new ministry and birth a new church and have adventures.

If you are determined to spread the Gospel, it is more likely that God will speak to you. Even if it’s to say, “No, over here!” Paul was willing to step out to advance the kingdom of God. He was following the general order to make disciples of all nations, and teach them to obey whatever Jesus commanded. And when more specific instructions came, he followed them.

If we will commit ourselves to the general order, God will deploy us to the place we are most needed. It may be in a support capacity, where to contribute time or money. You may provide your home as a meeting place. Or you may be on the front lines, persuading people to believe. Either way, we are called to represent God’s kingdom on the earth.