Acts 17:16-34 – God Made a Bridge
Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 17:16-34
The title is drawn from an examination of the “unknown god” altar and Greek philosopher quotes that Paul used as an inroads to his Epicurean and Stoic audience.
1) GOD PROVIDED A BRIDGE
Verse 23 – speaks of an altar to an unknown God.
Providentially, this was a bridge, or inroads, God provided ahead of time so that Paul could make a connection with them.
What was this altar to an unknown god? Actually, there were many of these in Athens. Six hundred years before Paul’s time, Athens had been stricken with a terrible plague. Hundreds were ill and dying, and the city grew desperate. A famous poet from Crete named Epimenides devised a plan to pacify whatever gods were causing the plague. He went to the Areopagus and turned loose a flock of sheep. The plan was to let the sheep roam the city freely. When the sheep lay down, they were to be sacrificed to the god of the nearest temple. The assumption was that the angry gods would draw the sheep to themselves. When the sheep were turned loose, however, many of them lay down in places with no temples nearby. Epimenides decided to sacrifice the sheep anyway and erect altars wherever they lay down, just to make sure no unfamiliar deities were overlooked. Since these were nameless gods, the people simply erected altars and shrines “to an unknown god.” It was undoubtedly one of these altars Paul spotted – John MacArthur.
No doubt, God may have used these altars for other things throughout those 600 years.
Clearly, however, to provide a way for Paul to bridge from the altars to the living Jesus Christ was primary.
ETERNITY IN THEIR HEARTS EXAMPLES:
Don Richardson’s account of the New Guinea tribal concept of a Peace Child.
A tribes scape-goat concept of sin-bearing.
A tribes new birth rituals.
So we too must look for the bridges that God provides.
God knows where we are and the type of person with whom we are to speak the Gospel.
2) HOW PAUL CROSSED THE BRIDGE
Paul demonstrates how important it is to know your audience.
He uses the obvious – idols and altars – and even busts out some indigenous quotes.
Verse 22 – He perceived they were religious.
Verse 23 – Observed objects of worship.
Verse 23 – He saw and used the inscription found on the altars – “to the unknown god”.
Verse 28 – He quoted Epimenides who 600 years earlier was referring to Zeus.
His point was that through history, a creator is evident.
And even Epimenides understood that.
“That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.”
This verse is also a relevant in our discussion of the Times of Ignorance from verse 30.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
The rational mind demands an eternal cause for the effect of creation. – John MacArthur
Verse 28-29 – He quotes the Greek Poet Aratus.
His point was that if Aratus knew we were God’s offspring – His creation – then God cannot be a man made idol or art – God is a living God.
Paul was telling them that a man made object is not God, but a misguided counterfeit.
Epimenides and Aratus were on the right track so you guys surely can recognize this also.
So Paul crossed the bridge via his familiarity with Greek culture and via God’s sovereign planning.
POI – We get even further insight into Paul’s familiarity with Greek culture in Titus.
One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
Paul was giving reason for the necessity of rebuking the Cretans so they can be sound in faith.
3) WHAT PAUL SAID ONCE HE CROSSED THE BRIDGE
Verse 23 – proclaim to you who this God is – General Revelation to the Special Revelation of Jesus Christ.
From our discussion on the times of ignorance in Verse 30, Pauls was making clear to them that what Epimenides and Aratus understood from God’s general revelation is now being made known to them as Jesus Christ.
Verse 24 – creator of the world and everything in it – CREATOR
Verse 24 – Lord of heaven and earth
Verse 24 – Does not live in man made temples
Verse 25 – Needs nothing from man – OUTSIDE OF MAN
Verse 25 – Gives life and breath and everything to mankind – ALL POWERFUL PROVIDER
Verse 26 – Made from Adam every nation and set their boundaries – SOVEREIGN RULER
Verse 27 – Man is made to seek God – GRACE
Verse 29 – So if His offspring then God is no idol – GOD IS LIVING.
Verse 30 – It is time to repent
Verse 31 – The judgment is coming by Jesus who was raised from dead.
The concept of a bodily resurrection was somewhat vile to the Greek philosophers.
They saw the body as a prison – and many even saw suicide as virtuous.
How does this Gospel message the same and differ from Paul’s Chapter 13 Gospel message?
In both he deals with God as creator, Jesus as raised from the dead and in Jesus is the forgiveness of sins.
In both there was no use of I’s and Me’s.
Who spoke the Gospel with I’s and Me’s?
Obvious differences are that to the Jews, Paul referenced Abraham, Moses, David, the law and prophets and how all of these pointed to Christ.
With the Athenians, Paul referenced the general revelation that there own teachers spoke of and how it all pointed to Christ.
Why was Paul’s differing approach with the Athenians not a watered down sell out?
So Paul unashamedly steered the message to God as creator and to Jesus as the risen Savior.
He made clear that repentance was necessary because judgment was at hand because Christ has risen.
POI – After Paul, in verse 31, declared that Jesus was raised from the dead there were 3 responses.
Some sneered – This is a rejection.
Some wanted more discussion – This is a love of argument and ultimately most likely a rejection.
Some believed – This is God opening hearts and ears!
This is an amazing thing that Greek Epicurean and Stoic philosopher judges believed on the Lord Jesus!
When we share the Gospel, we should expect nothing different.
What bridges has God given you in speaking the Gospel to your friends or coworkers?
When shopping, you are asked if you would like the stores credit card – you can then say, “No thanks, I don’t like debt, but speaking of debt…”
God may desire that your unique experience in life be the bridge you use to speak the Gospel to those around you.
Please be aware, however, that because God opens the hearts and ears, a bridge is not necessary.
A bridge is not the Gospel – the Gospel must still be spoken.
The Gospel message straight up is more than enough.