Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the thoughts and words of this reading that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
Common English Bible
16 While Paul waited for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to find that the city was flooded with idols. 17 He began to interact with the Jews and Gentile God-worshippers in the synagogue. He also addressed whoever happened to be in the marketplace each day. 18 Certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers engaged him in discussion too. Some said, “What an amateur! What’s he trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods.” (They said this because he was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 They took him into custody and brought him to the council on Mars Hill. “What is this new teaching? Can we learn what you are talking about? 20 You’ve told us some strange things and we want to know what they mean.” (21 They said this because all Athenians as well as the foreigners who live in Athens used to spend their time doing nothing but talking about or listening to the newest thing.)
22 Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. 23 As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. 25 Nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed something, since he is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. 26 From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. 28 In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore, as God’s offspring, we have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold, silver, or stone image made by human skill and thought. 30 God overlooks ignorance of these things in times past, but now directs everyone everywhere to change their hearts and lives. 31 This is because God has set a day when he intends to judge the world justly by a man he has appointed. God has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to ridicule Paul. However, others said, “We’ll hear from you about this again.” 33 At that, Paul left the council. 34 Some people joined him and came to believe, including Dionysius, a member of the council on Mars Hill, a woman named Damaris, and several others.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Acts 17:16-34 gives us a glimpse of Paul’s ministry of traveling and sharing the Good News of Jesus wherever he went. When Paul’s travel takes him to Athens, he goes to the places where Athenians gathered to debate ideas—the synagogue, the marketplace, and Mars Hill. Paul noticed an altar labeled “to an unknown god” among the many altars and shrines to various gods. I suppose the Athenians were just making sure they covered all the bases. He used that altar as the basis for his proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s speech challenged the Athenians to recognize that the unknown god — the one without an image or a statue — was the One God and that God’s nature was revealed in Jesus. He argued that there is no need “to imagine that the divine being is like a gold, silver, or stone image made by human skill and thought.” Rather, the truth had been with them all along — seen in creation and in the words of the Hebrew scriptures. Not only that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God “became flesh and dwelt among us,” to use the words from John 1.
I wonder if our world has a lot in common with first-century Athens. We are all about image and style but sometimes lacking concern for real substance. We may not have shrines and idols in the same way that Athens did, but idolatry is alive and well today. Theologian Paul Tillich famously defined faith as “the state of being ultimately concerned.” He pointed out that what we are ultimately concerned about is what we have faith in — what we worship. Is it power? Prestige? Image? Money?
The challenge for the Athenians was to hear Paul’s message amid all the noise of competing messages. We have much more noise today, so perhaps we have an even more significant challenge. I invite you to let the story of God coming into the world in the person of Jesus to break through all the noise with clarity: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18)
There is a lot of theology woven into hymns. To enhance today’s reading, I recommend listening to “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”. I hope you will take a few moments to let the words of this message and the emotion that always connects us to music connect with your soul.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all life thou givest—to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but nought changeth thee.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render: O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster