Do you long for some kind of personal meaning you can’t fully define? If you seek God He will show you the Way.
[Gary Petty] We spend our lives searching for some kind of purpose, desperately trying to answer why there's so much suffering, searching for love, trying to cover up this vague sense of futility and anxiety. Paul gives the answers to the questions that creates such a deep longing in the human spirit.
[Announcer] Join our presenters from the United Church of God as we bring you help for today and hope for tomorrow directly from your Bible here on "Beyond Today.”
[Gary Petty] In the first century, the people of a seemingly new religious movement called The Way spread their message throughout the Roman Empire. The people of The Way claimed to explain the mystery of life and death, revealed a true nature of God and taught a practical way of daily living. They inspired people to embrace a radical lifestyle that opponents said, turned the world upside down. This is a story you haven't heard. Yet it is a story that relates directly to your life.
Today we'll see how The Way reveals the answer to a deep longing all people experience, but one you can't always completely define. A search for some kind of personal meaning and value beyond work, broken relationships and entertainment. And we'll be exploring how the people of The Way proclaimed a message about the unknown God, a message that is important to you as you search for answers that are deep inside you and are a deep longing in your life.
Our story actually begins in ancient Athens, a Greek city. By the time of Jesus, Athens was already an old city. Hundreds of years earlier, the Athenians built amazing architectural structures, developed literature, created fine sculpture, and produced dramatic and comedic place. They also practiced a unique kind of city state government known as democracy. Athens became famous for the development of philosophy, the study of human existence, why things are the way they are in the search for wisdom. The three greatest Athenian philosophers were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. When Paul of Tarsus, one of the earliest leaders of The Way visited Athens, the city was under the heavy sandal of the Roman Empire, but Greek philosophy had a profound effect on the Roman world. Many wealthy, wealthy Roman households had Greek slaves for the purpose of educating their children. A classical Greek education was considered important for achieving a successful life.
Now we pick up the story of the introduction of The Way in Athens in the book of Acts. So the apostle Paul is traveling to Athens. "Now, while Paul waited for them," other Christians, "at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." In the first program in this series, we studied the people of The Way in the city of Ephesus. There they openly proclaimed that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is the only God and spoke out against the idolatry that permeated Roman society. Paul was the leader of The Way, found the religious diversity of Athens to be disturbing. As we go through the lies of the earliest followers of the Christian way, we see that they rejected the idea that all religions are multiple paths to the only true God. They were an exclusive religion based on the teachings of Jesus.
Now here's what Paul did in Athens. "Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the gentile worshipers and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there." Many of the first Christians were Jews just as Jesus was a Jew. The Jewish house of worship was the first place where The Way was taught because they contained the biblical scrolls that formed the basic teachings of The Way. It's what we call today the Old Testament. Now notice that non-Jews had converted to Judaism and worshiped with them in the synagogue. Now, Paul also taught in the marketplace and it was there that he encountered Greek philosophers. "Then certain Epicurean and stoic philosophers encountered him and some said, 'What does this babbler want to say?' Others said, 'He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,' because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection."
The Epicureans and stoics were two famous groups of philosophers. The Epicurean believed that the purpose of life is to seek happiness and they taught their followers to spend their time experimenting with different behaviors and then discussing the actions that produced real happiness. Now the stoics on the other hand, promoted a life filled with self-discipline and emotional control. They weren't a group known for partying. Of course, none of the Athenian philosophers had ever heard of Jesus, the itinerant teacher from Judea who had been killed by the Romans, a man who His followers said had been resurrected from the dead. So here's what happens, "And they took Paul and brought him to the Areopagus saying, 'May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak, for you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore, we want to know what these things mean.' For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing."
Notice that these philosophers from all over the Roman world spent their time and nothing else but to tell or hear something new. You know, the scene sort of sums up the human condition. We spend our lives searching for some kind of purpose, desperately trying to answer why there's so much suffering, searching for love, trying to cover up this vague sense of futility and anxiety.
In the Athenian Areopagus, Paul gives the answers to the questions that create such a deep longing in the human spirit. And now we continue the story. "Then Paul stood up in the midst of the Areopagus and said, 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.'" and they were very religious. "For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown God, therefore the one whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you." You see, many years before Paul spoke in the Areopagus, a terrible plague had ravaged the city. After offering sacrifices to all the known gods and goddesses to stop the plague, people continued to die. In desperation, altars were built to the unknown God, just in case they were missing some deity and this deity was angry with them. Paul declared that he was there to reveal the unknown God to them.
I find it fascinating how Paul uses their superstition to introduce the knowledge of the one true God. And then he tells them why it is not true that all religions lead to the same God. Here's what he said, "God," this unknown God, "He who made the world and everything in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He worshiped with men's hands as though He needs anything. Since He gives life to all and breath and all things." Paul reveals to those who were considered the smartest people in Athens. In fact, they were considered the smartest people in the whole world. He tells them that the God of The Way is the Creator of all things, He gives life to all and He's the very purpose for human experience. Now as if these statements didn't turn their world upside down, Paul then says this. "And He has made," this unknown God, "He has made from one blood every nation of men who dwell on the face of the earth and is determined their pre appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings." All human beings given life by the same Creator are of one blood.
Now you have to understand what this meant in their world. In that Roman world, all peoples Greeks, Romans, well, okay, they might be special, but Ethiopians and Egyptians and Celtic peoples and Arabs and Jews and barbarians were all related in some mysterious way, because they were all created by the same God. But more than that, this unknown God isn't just the Creator, He's the God of history. He is involved in His creation even though He is unknown to most people. And then Paul explains this innate human need to know the unknown God. He had told them that He'd made everyone from one blood. So everyone here is together in this innate inherent need. And he said to them, "So that they, all people, should seek the Lord in the hope that they might grow for Him and find Him. Though He is not far from each of us."
You know this is Paul's message to you. I mean your life might seem far away from ancient Athens, right? But you have the same deep rooted longing for a relationship with the Creator of the universe. God designed you that way. You're designed to have that longing and God desires for you to discover Him and discover your need and respond to Him. In the Greek world the gods lived on Mount Olympus and they acted with us mortals, you know, in their way in their mysterious capricious ways. And sometimes Christians can think of God only as some far off place called heaven, you know, and it is true. He does inhabit a dimension beyond our physical experience, but His spirit also fills His creation.
Ancient Israel's warrior poet, king David understood both the greatness of God and the nearness of God. When he wrote this, 'Where can I go from Your spirit?," talking to God, "Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there. If I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise in the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me." God is not often some far place. He's right here with you waiting for you to respond to Him. This is what Paul was telling the people in Athens. He goes on, "For in Him," this unknown God, "we live and move and have our being. As also some of your own poets have said for we are also His offspring."
Another fascinating teaching tool here by Paul. Even the pagan Greeks believed that somehow they were the children of the gods. Paul turns their upside down world, right side up, by declaring that the one unknown God is the Father of all humanity, the Creator, the Inventor of heaven and earth, the God who created the galaxies, the butterfly, earth's intricate ecosystem, mathematics, physical laws. He also created human beings as His offspring to be His children. "Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. Since we are the offspring of God." And this is a core message, a core message of The Way. It's why we have life and it's what the purpose of our lives are as you, as an individual. When they discovered the God who was the totally unknown to them, who was the Father of all humanity, all other gods became meaningless. I mean, the only conclusion possible is that all other deities, deities with their temples and their statues and religious systems are spiritual counterfeits and must be rejected by those who know the unknown God. Today, the Christian way is being turned into a dead end path by a teaching that accepts all religious beliefs as equal and they're not, having no absolute standards of conduct or teachings, but it does. And defining the love of God is permission to be selfish and accept evil.
What I'm going to say next is going to be offensive to some of you, but it's true. If you study the teachings of Jesus and His followers of The Way beyond just picking a few verses that support your version of a cartoon Jesus and continue to claim that all religions are different paths to the same God, then don't be dishonest by calling yourself a Christian. A Christian is a follower of the authentic teachings of the real Jesus.
Paul then tells the Athenian philosophers this. "Truly these times of ignorance, God overlooked but now commands all men everywhere to repent." The solution isn't to take the easy road and stay in ignorance. Paul says that when God reveals Himself to you, He no longer accepts our ignorance. He calls for all to repent, to change our minds and walk a new path of life. And remember he said, this is for everybody everywhere. Understand today you are hearing the words of life. Paul ends his presentation to the Athenian philosophers with a warning and hope. He said to them, "Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness." This unknown God is going to judge everyone. "By the man," Jesus, because remember he came preaching Jesus, "whom He has ordained, He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked while others said, 'We'll hear you again on this matter.'"
Some of those in the Areopagus were intrigued, others scoffed. But notice the warning and the hope. Paul told them that God had sent Jesus to reveal the unknown God and God will judge all people by their response to Jesus and His teachings. And the proof that this is true is that God resurrected Jesus from the dead. That's the argument. And you know, if Jesus wasn't resurrected from the dead, then the people of The Way are crazy. Whether they believe that then or now, either He was or He wasn't or is some of those philosophers said, "They're just babblers." The basis of The Way is that there is no Christianity without Jesus returning from the dead.
Now in a short talk of Paul to the philosophers, he dismantled your entire worldview that gods didn't reign from Mount Olympus, philosophy didn't fill the inner longing for a connection with their creator and the vaunted Greek wisdom didn't answer the harsh realities of daily life. Almost 2000 years later, understanding The Way of Jesus Christ, lived by His earliest followers, absolutely dismantles the postmodern secularized worldview that many times has passed off as an enlightened Christianity. You see The Way's about the purpose for your life, how to understand and respond to the actual God, how to love your neighbor, how to spend your time, the importance of marriage and family and the absolute definition of what is good and evil.
So what I want to do now is review the points Paul teaches about the unknown God to the Athenian philosophers. So we're going to look at these major points. The first point he gave was is that the unknown God transcends everything they knew about the Creator, okay? Greek and Romans and their religion had different explanations for the physical world. None could explain why. Paul told them that their superstitious worship of the unknown God was rooted in their inherent need to find the Creator, was available to all people everywhere. The why for each human life is that God wants children. That's the why. That's your purpose. And this is the desire God has designed in your heart. It is the reason for getting out of bed in the morning once you learn The Way.
Secondly, the unknown God is the Lord of heaven and earth. God created all things whether in the physical realm we experience with our five senses, or angels who inhabit the unseen spirit realm and as the Lord of heaven and earth, He is worthy of worship and honor. He is the ultimate goodness, the source of wisdom and the only hope of life beyond our short existence.
Number three, Paul taught them that all human beings are of one blood. All human governments, economic systems and religious beliefs divide us. Paul teaches that everyone is one family and coming together as the family of God is the only solution to violence and war and hatred and dealing with all the issues that do separate us. Any human attempt to unite all religions will fail. And a fundamental teaching of The Way is that Jesus is returning to established God's kingdom on earth and unite all humanity in the worship of the unknown God whom He will reveal to all.
The fourth point Paul brought out is that all human beings are searching for the unknown God. And this is the most important point you can take from today's program. You can hide from it, try to cover it with things and money and entertainment and addictions, or try to erase it with friendships and romantic relationships or by becoming a workaholic. But you can't escape the deep emptiness and all human beings, we possess it because we have a need for our Creator. And it is only when you acknowledge the source of that need and cry out to God that you will find He's very near to you. As David wrote so poetically, there is no place that you can hide from Him.
Number five, discovering the unknown God literally makes all other gods and goddesses absolutely meaningless. This is why the belief that all religions sort of follow roads leading to the same God is absolutely false and I know it's hard to believe, but this is being taught in many Christian churches today. It's just remarkable. The simple truth is, is that the God of the Bible is Father of all and Jesus Christ is Lord of all. That's the teaching of The Way.
The unknown God, the sixth point that Paul brought out, sent a representative into the world. Now according to the Gospel of John, and I want you to read this with me because this is from one of Jesus's earliest followers, and he recorded what Jesus said. Jesus said, "I am The Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me." There's really nothing else to say. If you don't believe that statement by Jesus, then you're not a follower of Jesus.
Number seven, God raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus as the Christ and the future resurrection of His followers is central to the teachings of The Way.
And then this last point, all people are the offspring of God. I think this is the one statement made by Paul that would've been the attention getter of the philosophers. He said that all people are the offspring of God. In this statement, he explains the purpose for human life that they could not answer and their world. Pax Romana, Roman peace, was enforced with Roman swords and it was a world filled with inhumane slavery where slaves could be treated with the utmost cruelty. And the idea that every human being had value to God, that cracked the foundation of their very society. Just like when he was at Ephesus, Paul was turning their world upside down.
Now, one of Jesus' earliest followers, John, which we just said recorded that what Jesus said, also wrote something else in a letter that he wrote to the earliest followers of The Way. And I'm going to read what he wrote. He said, "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God. Therefore, the world does not know us because it does not know Him." To walk The Way by The Way means to be out of step with the rest of society. And this includes no matter where you live, every society. Following The Way means your values, your conduct, your standards, what you say, how you treat others, how you obey God, will reflect the person of Jesus Christ.
My grandfather was a floor sander and I remember one time when I was a young boy a few years after he died, walking into a paint store where he used to buy supplies and a man came up to me and said, "Hey, you're a Grover Petty's grandson, aren't you?" It seems my mannerisms, the way I walked in appearance, I resembled my grandfather. That is what it means to walk The Way. When you walk the path, you resemble the father of the family. You become the brother and sister of Jesus Christ. You become a recognized family member.
John continues, "Beloved, now we are the children of God, it's not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." And how does this knowledge, how's it supposed to affect us? John wrote, "And everyone who has this hope in Him," in God, "purifies himself just as He is pure." To become a child of God means to dedicate your life to imitating Jesus as a leader of The Way. Who is God, is the most important question you can ask. His greatness is beyond comprehension. Yet we can know Him. As Paul said, He's not far from each one of us.
To help you in your search for God, we want to give you the free study guide, "Who Is God?" This guide will give you a glimpse into the majestic goodness and power of God and His love for you. You know God's care for you is very personal. You can order your free copy of "Who Is God?" by calling the number on your screen or by going to BeyondToday.tv. On the BeyondToday.tv website, you can download a free copy and find other related material to help you in your search for God. Call the number on your screen or go to BeyondToday.tv. Most importantly, get on your knees and ask God to help you understand who He is. That's the most important thing you can do.
According to the Book of Acts, some people who heard Paul's message to the Athenians believed and they converted to The Way. They found the answer to the deep longing they had for a relationship with their Creator. If you find yourself longing for a meaningful spiritual relationship, if the anxiety, confusion of daily life makes God seem out of reach, if you feel lost and you don't know what to do, remember, God is not unknown. He's not living in some far off place called Heaven. Oh, He's there, but He's also right here with you. He is waiting for you to seek Him. And when you do, He will show you The Way.
[Announcer] Call now to receive the free booklet offered on today's program, "Who Is God?" For thousands of years, people have wondered about God. This free study aid will use your Bible to paint a true portrait of who and what God is. Your Bible reveals the truth. Order now, call 1888-886-8632 or write to the address shown on your screen. You can know who God is and how He will expand His own family by bringing many sons to glory. When you order this free study aid, we'll also send you a complimentary one year subscription to "Beyond Today Magazine." "Beyond Today Magazine" brings you understanding of today's world and hope for the future. Six times a year you'll read about current world events in the light of Bible prophecy. Call today to receive your free booklet, "Who Is God," and your free one year subscription to "Beyond Today Magazine." 1888-886-8632. Or go online to BeyondToday.tv.
[Gary Petty] Hi, I'm Gary Petty, a pastor with the United Church of God. If you are looking for a church that encourages living what the Word of God really teaches you found the right place. We're a community of believers dedicated to seeking the truth and preaching the good news of the coming kingdom of God. We'd like to welcome you to come and join us on this spiritual journey. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. Visit ucg.org to find a church near you. We're looking forward to meeting you soon.