Creator and Creature (partial audio)(Acts 17:22-34)
Passage: Acts 17:22–17:34
*Audio included is only partial recording. Please see transcript below for complete message.
Meet Your Maker
Did you know that surveys conducted over the past three to five years seem to indicate that over 80% of Americans believe that God, in one way or another, created the universe?
And more importantly, that number also includes the more specific question about the origins of the human race. Eighty percent.
That’s 8 out of 10 houses on your street. That’s 8 out of 10 people in the checkout line. That’s 8 out of every 10 cars that passes you on the freeway going 90 MPH.
Over 80% of Americans believe that God, again, in some way, shape, or form, they believe that God is their Creator.
So what difference does that make? Are those 8 out of 10 people distinctly different because of that belief? Can you just tell if someone believes God is the Creator? What about you? I suspect most of us believe that God is the Creator of all things. If so, what difference does that belief make?
Sometimes, this idea becomes something we just take for granted. “Oh yeah, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’. Sure I believe that. So?”
This morning I’d like to begin a new three-part series called “Meet Your Maker”. The whole point of this series is to understand the importance of this fact that we find repeated time and time again all over Scripture: God created all things.
This morning we are going to begin in Acts 17:22-34.
II. The Passage: "The God Who Made…Everything” (17:22-34)
Now before we jump into this passage, which as we’ll see, contains a message given by the Apostle Paul, I think it would be good to go back to verse 16 and find out what led up to Paul’s proclamation in verses 22-34.
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 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. 18 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. 19 And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
So Luke really sets up the scene for us here. Paul is wandering the marketplace in Athens and engaging in conversations with some of the Greek philosophers about the Good News of Jesus.
As Luke tells us in verse 21, Athens was a city that loved to hear about “new” things, so no doubt, there were always plenty of lively discussions and debates going on. We read hear that Paul is brought to the Areopagus, which was like a town council. The name Areopagus means “Hill of Ares” or to the Romans, “Mars Hill”. It was an outcropping of rocks northwest of the Acropolis, and the location of where this town council used to meet to hold murder trials.
By Paul’s time, the Areopagus was meeting in a part of the Agora, the marketplace. This council was very interested in what kinds of things were being taught in the streets. Paul’s appearance before this council does not seem to be an official hearing of any sort, but they did have the ability to censor his message in Athens.
So listen to how Paul, a Jew, a former Pharisee, explains his message about Jesus and the resurrection (v. 18) to a group of Greek leaders and philosophers. Starting with verses 22 and 23:
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 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."
Look at how Paul begins his message here. He immediately attemps to build a bridge between himself and his audience. He first uses the subject of religion as bridge. While Paul’s religion and their religions were very different, they at least had the basic themes of religion in common.
Second, Paul uses a specific altar to connect with his readers, an altar that was dedicated to an “unknown god”. One ancient writer recorded how the Athenians, six hundred years before Paul’s time, had built altars to unknown gods in order to stop a plague that was wiping out the city. None of the sacrifices to the known gods had worked.
So Paul uses this altar as a starting point to talk about the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus Christ, the true God.
I think many people today worship at the altar of “the unknown god”, maybe a majority of that 80% who believe that God created the universe and mankind. They might believe in this God, but if asked to describe him or it, I think they would struggle, or claim that we really can’t know too much about God.
But look at where Paul begins in order to make known this “unknown God”.
III. Paul’s Correctives about the Creator
What we’re going to see in the next six verses is how Paul reaches out to his hearers using the concept of God as Creator. Paul wants them to meet their Maker. But I want you to see the correctives that he provides for his listeners, correctives they needed to hear as those who lived and worshipped in [v. 16] “a city full of idols”. I think these are correctives we need to hear today as well.
A. The Creator is Not Dependent on the Creature; But Instead… (17:24, 25)
Look with me at verses 24 and 25:
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
The first thing Paul made known about this unknown God is that He created everything, and thus, because He created everything, He is the Lord of heaven and earth.
Many of Paul’s listeners believed that there was a supreme being, but also believed another being actually created the material world. Others believed the universe had always existed, that it was eternal. Paul challenges that idea here.
Notice as well the implication Paul draws out of the fact that God is the creator of everything. If he created everything than, #1, He doesn’t live in temples that human being construct. He is both before such things and bigger than such things. And if true, then of course, as we see in verse 25, God does not need us to take care of Him.
Having been in India several times, I’ve seen many Hindu shrines where the main idol has been bathed and dressed and fed as a part of the regular worship. While I’m sure a Hindu would describe this as simply symbolic, the symbolism seems to point to a deity that “is served by human hands, as though he needed [some]thing. The Greek form of temple worship was similar.
But Paul tell the Areopagus, the Creator is not dependent on the creature. Instead, verse 25, the true God “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything”.
Everything single thing we have is from God. He not only fashioned us, he also gave us the breath of life. He not only breathed life into us, he also provides us with everything we need to live that life.
I think we also struggle with this idea that God somehow needs us. I think many Christians believe that Jesus’ number motivation for rescuing us was because he just couldn’t spend eternity without us. Or some might believe that God simply exists to serve their agenda, their dreams and goals; that he would be bored if we didn’t have a life plan for him to bless. Or maybe we believe that God needs our worship, or prayers, or money. He does, in fact, call us to give over those things, but not because he needs them.
The early 18th century writer Matthew Henry said this about the God Paul declared:
"He that made all, and maintains all, cannot be benefited by any of our services, nor needs them. If we receive and derive all from him, he is all-sufficient, and therefore cannot but be self-sufficient, and independent. What need can God have of our services, or what benefit can he have by them, when he has all perfection in himself, and we have nothing that is good but what we have from him?" (Matthew Henry)
B. The Creator is Not Disinterested in the Creature; Instead… (17:26-28)
Look at how Paul continues to make known the Creator. Look at verses 26-28:
26 "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, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 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.’"
Paul is doing some interesting things here. He is challenging his listeners’ beliefs in a number of ways. One example is that the Athenians, who had no tradition of their ancestors coming into Greece, believed that they came up right out of the Athenian soil. They believed they were a unique people.
But Paul tells them that the Creator God made all men from just one man, and that this God also determined where every tribe and people and nation should live, and the periods of their histories. All of it! And why did God do all this?
Verse 27: The Creator created us, and created the world, and created our boundaries, and created our seasons, and created the ebb and flow of our history all in order that human beings might seek Him! Paul even quotes some of their own poets in verse 28 in order to show them that his ideas are not that far removed from the seeds of truth that they already know.
But this idea would have been foreign to the Epicureans mentioned in verse 18. They believed that a Divine Being created the world, but was not interested in the affairs of mankind.
A 2005 survey conducted by Baylor University found that of the 94% of respondents who believed in God, 25% believed in a distant and disinterested God.
But Paul tells us here, the Creator is not disinterested in the creature. He didn’t simply make us so he could ignore us. He made us so that we might feel our way toward him and find him.
Sometimes were guilty of this kind of thinking. Sometimes we think that while God is interested in what I’m doing on Sunday morning, He has better things to do than be interested in all the mundane pieces of my everyday life. Or maybe it just feels like God is distant and disinterested. But God is near, every day. And he wants us, in every part of our life, in every part of our day, in every part of thinking and longing, he wants us to reach out and find Him!
Some of us probably are happy with a disinterested God because it gives us an excuse for bring disinterested in Him. It allows to leave the way we please. If God doesn’t care what I’m doing, then who cares what I do.
But He created us, and gives us “life and breath and everything”. Of course he is not far. Of course he is interested in every part of your life. He has appointed our days and dwelling places in such a way that we would reach out a find Him.
C. The Creator is Not Designed by the Creature; Instead… (17:29)
But look at how Paul wraps up this discussion about the Creator of heaven and earth. Vs. 29:
29 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.
Even though the city was full of idols made of stone, even though local temples like the Parthenon contained statues decked out in gold and silver, Paul reminds them that God is not like any of these.
Now many of Paul’s more philosophically-minded listeners may have agreed with this rejection of idols as primitive. But Paul is doing more than just rejecting the statues. He is rejecting the concept of a God formed by the art and imagination of man.
He tells them in clear terms, the Creator is not only not dependent on the creature, or disinterested in the creature, but the Creator is also not designed by the creature. God is not defined by our categories. God is not bound by our desires or opinions. He is not shaped by our needs.
Like these Athenians, all of us are tempted to form God according to our own ideas about the world. We make him overly stern or lovey-dovey. We imagine him to be always disappointed with us, or always affirming whatever we do. We subtly define what He can or cannot do in my life. We put Him in our box.
The French pastor and theologian John Calvin wrote: This is the first entrance into the true knowledge of God, if we go without ourselves and do not measure him by the capacity of our own mind; yea, if we imagine nothing of him according to the understanding of our flesh, but place him above the world, and distinguish him from creatures.
The correctives that Paul has given his listeners here are all moving the focus away from the place of the creatures and back to the importance of the Creator. In our sin, most of us have not simply jettisoned the idea of God as the Creator. Like most of Paul’s listeners, we have simply elevated the importance of the creatures. We have tied ourselves as creatures to God’s role as Creator in such a way that we have domesticated his incredible power and authority and intentions. Somehow, we have made it all about us.
As Paul expressed it Romans 1: 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…[they] worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:21, 25)
But no matter how much a potter loves his pots, they are still the work of his hands. They do not define the potter. He is much, much bigger than that.
IV. Made by Him and for Him
How important is our belief in God as Creator? It is critical. This is why Paul not only describes the God who made the world and everything in it, but also corrects our false understandings about the implications of that incredible reality.
If we do not rightly understand God’s role as Creator, we will not understand our purpose as creatures. And what is our purpose as creatures? What do all of us creatures need to know to do what were created to do? Just look at back at Paul’s correctives.
First, a creature lives in humble dependence on God, knowing that everything he or she has has come and will come from the hand of God. Second, a creature recognizes that God has ordered his or her life in such a way that, in all things, they might reach out and find God. All things ultimately exist for Him, not us. Third, a creature knows that God is not defined by human thoughts and desires, but humbly seeks to know what God has revealed about Himself through the word.
A creature should stand in awe of the Creator’s greatness. We should be driven to cry out of the twenty-four elders in Revelation chapter 4:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
V. The Man the Creator Appointed
But as you can see, Paul’s message did not end in verse 29. Look at how Paul’s time before the Areopagus concludes:
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 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.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Brothers and sisters, friends, like Paul’s listeners, all of us are guilty of “ignorance”. We are guilty of distorting the truth about our Creator by elevating ourselves as creatures. And like Paul’s listeners, all of us have only one hope before our Maker.
Verse 32 might indicate that Paul’s message got cut short by the mocking shouts of some who were present. It’s not clear. Maybe this is as far as Paul wanted to go this time. What we do know is that at least one member of the Areopagus believed Paul’s message: a man named Dionysius. We’re also told others believed, including a woman named Damaris.
What we can be sure of is that Paul talked further with these people after his address before the council; that he told them that this man appointed to judge the world in righteousness is also the man who makes new life possible through his death and resurrection.
Why was Paul preaching Jesus and the resurrection in the marketplace of Athens? Because Paul knew that Jesus and the resurrection are the only hope we have if we are to live for the Creator as creatures; to live according to the purpose for which we were created.
Has Jesus reconciled you to the one who made you? Has He freed you from the lie that you are the master of your own destiny, that you are the Lord of your own life? Has he freed you to serve God in the freedom and humility of being a creature? Through Jesus, are you going each day to meet your Maker, to stand in awe of Him who made all things?
As we go into our world, we need to be convinced that Paul was not simply giving an interesting Greek-flavored lecture about creation in Acts 17. We need to be convinced that Paul was preaching the gospel. 80% of the people we see and meet each day believe that, in some way, God is the Creator. And yet most of them remain in ignorance of what that really means.
May God make us faithful to do what Paul did. As we live in the fullness of our creatureliness, may God use us to help others see that we were not only made by Him, we were also made for Him. And only Jesus can restore what was lost.