“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.” (Acts 17:23 ESV)
The Apostle Paul finds himself alone in Athens, waiting for his missionary team to join with him after swiftly leaving Berea because of the mob of angry Thessalonians.
Athens was one of Greece’s most prominent cities, and it was filled with idols. As Paul walked around and observed all these tributes to false deities, his spirit was stirred and he could not help but preach!
In our studies of Paul’s missionary journeys, we have seen how he proclaimed Christ to the Jews in the synagogue. But in this episode, we’ll also see how he proclaimed Christ to the pagans who lack the scriptural foundation of his previous hearers.
These Athenians did recognize, in harmony with Romans 1, that the created order cannot merely be a product of itself. However, also in harmony with Romans 1, their depraved minds twisted the truth about the Creator. They worshiped many gods. (Some say there were more idols than people in Athens in Paul’s day!)
Paul finds an opportunity to proclaim the true God when he encounters an altar dedicated “to the unknown god.” We learn from this encounter that the truth about God is relevant to everyone. And even though our approach may vary from person to person, culture to culture, the content of the gospel does not change: Jesus is Lord, he died for sinners, and he rose from the grave.
This concept of resurrection from the dead was a sticking point to many of the Greeks. Some believed; some were curious; others mocked. There is nothing new under the sun.
May this passage inspire us to look for ways to present the truth about God to a dark and confused world! When you and I are agitated in our hearts about the idolatry that surrounds us, let us, like Paul, confront those idols with the idol-shattering gospel of Jesus Christ.