Perhaps the hardest thing my wife Sandy found when she married me were family get togethers. Sandy comes from a family where conflict was kept underground. Her family talked low and they ate slow with their mouths closed and their elbows off the table. I’m Maltese we talk loud, eat fast with mouth open and hands and arms all over the table.
Sandy would get headaches in anticipation of a family get together. She once said, “Are your parents divorcing?” I said “What are you talking about?” Sandy said, “Your parents fight all the time.” I said “They’re not fighting, they are talking!”
Harmless differences between culture. Often the differences get misunderstood, but lodged within every culture are attitudes and beliefs which are fundamentally anti-Christ. Not the least is the tendency of every culture to view itself as right. It's the blind spot of every culture and every person. Culture as with families are about loyalty. You are either for us or against us. You only have to see the reaction of a culture and family when someone becomes a Christian, there is so much opposition.
The apostle Paul, now at the end on his 2nd missionary trip, finds himself in Athens, this is not a Contiki tour of the Greek Islands. He is waiting for his co-workers to join him. As he walked around the city with a great history and proud culture. He is not just curious he is deeply upset because Athens was a forest of idols. Why was Paul so distressed? Nothing is more blasphemous than to turn the living and speaking God of the universe to a lifeless image who needs to be carried. Paul is jealous for God`s glory, who will not share His glory with another.
We have 23-24 million Australians who live without giving thanks to God.
So Paul starts the conversation and before long he is invited to speak at Areopagus, Mars Hill, this is infotainment at its worst. These epicureans and stoics don’t love truth but love new ideas. At one level Paul is a Jew talking to men of other cultures who worship other gods. He is in our world, a multicultural, multi-faith world. His God is clearly different from theirs. Paul begins where they are, they are an extremely religious people, but ultimately, they worship what they do not know.
1. He starts where they are at.
Paul notices an altar marked ‘to an unknown God’. They were having an each-way bet.
2. He finds points of agreement to show that Jesus is Lord over every culture.
We need to hear it for one reason, because we are told that we don't have a right to share the good news of Jesus with other people. So what do all humans have in common?
One Creator - Acts 17:24-25
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (NIV)
Paul begins by placing all humans and all culture under the one God who created the heavens and the earth. This was the opposite to the hopeless world of the Epicureans and Stoics who believed that everything is a fluke. Like modern Australia. A personal God stands as creator of every culture and every person. Every race of people have one thing in common, they have all been created by God. We don't create space for God, he creates space for us here on earth. We don’t make him in our image, He made us in his image. Every race, tribe and clan has one thing in common. We are all equally dependent on Him, he is not dependent on us.
Paul quotes their own poets in a hymn, Zeus. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’. He is trying to show how the greek gods were spiritually bankrupt. These gods need us to serve them and to show idolatry always and it places God at the mercy of humans and not humans at the mercy of God. We don't carry him, he carries us.
One God created us all and we came from the one man, see Acts 17:26
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth (NIV)
Paul believes in a historic Adam. Go back far enough and we are all related. We are cousins by blood, we are brothers and sister by the blood of Jesus. Adam is a much the granddaddy of the Aborigine as he is the granddaddy of the Turk. A proud Assyrian from MBM who will remain nameless did a DNA test and what he was shocked to find he was only 35% Middle Eastern. Whatever difference separates humans, we share more in common than different. By the way, this is what makes racism both wrong and stupid. We need to grasp that racism lurks in every heart, it’s not just a white man's problem. One guy at church who is Vietnamese told me of his cousin's anger at Pauline Hanson for being racist, anti-Asian, and in the same breath his cousin was upset at their niece for going out with a Cambodian. The issue with racism is, how will I treat the person in front of me and will I think the best or the worst?
One experience of Providence
God is in charge of the rise, spread and fall of every people, look at Acts 17:26
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (NIV)
It was God who determined when the Athenian culture would flourish. It was God who decided when the Russian Revolution would begin and when the Soviet Union would be dismantled. God is the reason why a quarter of babies born are Chinese. It was God who decided who and how many migrants would come to this land. Think God thoughts about human migration, God was behind you or your father or grandfather or great great, great, great grandfather coming to his country. Whether it was 40,000 years ago or you’re fresh off the boat.
One Reason: To reach out for him - Acts 17:27
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (NIV)
Gods hand is found in every event of a cultures life with one reason and one purpose, so that people can seek him, find him and be saved. All history is salvation history. Gods hand is found in every step of a nations life so that they would be saved. I don't know how this works out in every detail, but I know it’s when God humbles nations and dislocates nations that people cry out to God.
Let me remind you of the history of migration in Australia:
First the original Custodians, the Aborigines 40-50,000 years ago.
18-19th century saw large scale British Migration.
1851 saw the discovery of gold which brought Europeans, North Americans and Chinese.
1940-60 3 million people migrated from Europe, including my Mum and Dad.
White Australia Policy was removed in 1972.
1970-80s -120,000 Asian refugees migrated.
The story of Australia migration is closely linked to world events.
God has brought the world to us so that they may reach out for him. MBM’s extended Vision and mission statement makes this clear.
God, in His sovereign control of history, has brought the nations into our backyard. We refuse to let this wonderful opportunity slip through our hands. God desires all people to be saved and so do we.
The icing on the cake is that half of our MBM missionaries are returning to the country of origin to preach the gospel. Why do you think you are living in Australia? It’s not just for a better life it’s for eternal life. And yes, we have a right to speak to every culture because we all share a common judge.
ONE Judge - Act 17:31
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (NIV)
God has appointed one man to be judge over all nations. There are no cultural favorites. Everybody will have to give an account before this judge, Lord Jesus. No one gets in because they think to themselves: I’m British Anglican or Italian Catholic or Greek Orthodox or a Palestinian Muslim or a Chinese Buddhist or an African animist or an Indian Hindu. Every human on this earth will stand before one Judge and his name Jesus Christ king of kings. That we have not already been judged is Gods mercy. He has overlooked your rebellion so far, lets look at Acts 17:30
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (NIV)
ONE COMMAND, TO REPENT
There is one command for all people everywhere, turn from idols and trust in Lord Jesus. Repentance is not just REMORSE, we have all felt sorry for sins we never stopped. Repentance is not just REFORM, lots of alcoholics have said no to the bottle and no to Jesus. Repentance is about turning from my sin to Jesus, from a life run by me to a life run by Jesus. Repentance is about making Jesus the main character of your life. The plea... ‘but I was brought up this way’ will not stand on the day of judgment, do not fall into the trap of thinking that you are victim of your culture or family or anyone else. God commands all people everywhere to repent, God commands all people, all nations, all ages, all classes, all styles, all personalities, all sexual orientations, all religions, all generations to repent. You are not at the mercy of your upbringing. Culture must surrender to Jesus.
ONE Proof for all people
There is no excuse now. Verse 31 tells us that evidence has been given
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (NIV)
As far as God is concerned, the resurrection of Jesus is enough proof for everybody to become a Christian. Bertrand Russell a famous British atheist philosopher was asked “Bertrand what would you say to God on judgment day if Christianity proved to be true?” He said, “You didn’t give me enough evidence” But as far as God is concerned, the resurrection of Jesus is enough proof for all people to repent. For every Australian in every state or territory, regardless of who they are or where they come from, a Kenyan grandmother or a leftwing lentil eating, LSD taking one-legged Buddhist transgender prostitute. God commands all people everywhere to repent, no one is born a Christian, God has no grandchild, our kids need to repent for themselves. The result of Paul's talk: some became disciples while others laughed.
Which is it to be for you? Will you be a follower of Christ or will you laugh in the face of this evidence? The tendency today is to focus on the cultural difference but God tells us. The one God made all of us from one man and we will stand before one judge who was raised from death. That is why when God speaks to Athenians 2000 years ago he speaks as much to you and me.
We will all stand before the one judge and the evidence for the resurrection is sufficient proof. And today God commands you to repent and he commands your loved ones to repent.