March 31, 2023


Easter Message ❧ Part 1 of 1

Acts 17:16-34 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney

This morning we join a choir of voices that for two-thousand-years has been celebrating the fact that Christ rose from the dead and is alive today!  This past week I read about a father driving his children to church on Easter Sunday.  He was trying to explain that Easter means we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. From the back seat his three-year-old piped up, “Will He be in church today?”  The Bible tells us Jesus is not only alive, but that He is here (Matt. 28:20). Jesus is alive because He is God incarnate (John 1:1).  Only God could overcome our sin and death. There are some who can’t bring themselves to accept that Jesus is God or that He rose from the dead.  They say Jesus didn’t really die but was revived in the tomb.  This is what is known as the Swoon Theory. Years ago a woman wrote the well-known Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee, “Our preacher said that on Easter Jesus just swooned on the cross, and the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think?”  McGee replied, “Dear Sister, beat your preacher with a leather whip for thirty-nine heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross. Hang him in the sun for six hours. Run a spear through his heart. Embalm him. Put him in an airless tomb for three days. Then see what happens.” 

Why is Jesus’ resurrection so important? The Bible says: If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead(1 Corinthians 15:17-20, NLT).  In a world increasingly filled with fear, hopelessness, and despair we need hope we can count on – hope that is stronger than our fears, stronger than our guilt, stronger than our illness, stronger than our sorrow, stronger than our trials, stronger even than death itself.  Jesus alone, God incarnate, is our secure hope if we trust in Him.  I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die (John 11:25-6).  Jesus makes this promise available to anyone who will believe in Him – eternal life that is untouchable by death.  This morning we celebrate that because Jesus triumphed over sin, death, and the grave, we too rose from the dead and because He lives, we will live as well.  Knowing Him is the answer to life, the antidote to all our fears – even death. Knowing Him is the key to contentment, happiness, and peace.  

This morning I want to talk to you about knowing the God who made you. Turn with me to Acts 17.  Our time is short, so I want to get right to the point.  In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul shares the good news that the one and only true living God is knowable. Read Acts 17:16-34. Paul finds himself in the world-renowned city of Athens while waiting for his friends. This was the famed city where famous philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurius and Zeno, the founder of stoicism came from. Athens was celebrated as the philosophical center of the ancient world.  It was also the religious center of the world where almost every imagined pagan god was worshiped. In fact, it is said Athens had more than three-thousand shrines and altars. One ancient writer, Petronius, said it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man. Like today, there was a great awareness and interest in spiritual things, yet at the same time there was a great deal of confusion.  

Paul’s audience were people from the synagogue or the street market.  But two groups are mentioned, the Epicureans and the Stoics.  They’re not much different from where many are today.  The names are different, but the beliefs are essentially identical.  The Epicureans believed the world came about due to random chance and there is no life after death, no judgement.  Life should be lived for the purpose of pursuing pleasure.  You should separate your life from pain and fear.  The others were the Stoics.  They believed in what we know as pantheism – the world is god.  The Stoics emphasized fatalism – life is a bleak meaningless existence and then you die.  Not much has changed in two-thousand years!  After having a number of discussions with different people, Paul is invited to the Areopagus – a kind of university setting where all the intellectuals met.  What peaks their interest is Paul’s discussion of the resurrection – that there life after death through Jesus (v.18).  Here, he points out their shrine “To An Unknown God” and tells them about the One true God whom they are ignorant of (v.23).  WHO IS GOD? Paul says He is our Creator, our Sustainer, our Savior, and our Judge. 

  1. He is our Creator. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord 

heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24). The Bible says God is both the personal Creator who made all things, and He is the personal Lord of everything. In other words, our world and all that is in it was not created by random chance. The Bible says this knowledge is self-evident to every person who has ever lived.  Paul writes in Romans, 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, so that they are without excuse(Romans 1:19-20, NAS). 

 Like the Epicureans of Paul’s day who said the world came about by chance, there are many today who say we’re just a cosmic accident, a fluke.  The problem with this idea is it is completely contrary to both the evidence around us as well as common sense.  

On more than one occasion I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Vatican’s world-renowned Sistine Chapel in Rome Italy. It was here that the famous sculptor Michelangelo labored for four long years painting fresco scenes from the book of Genesis on a massive ceiling covering more than five-thousand square feet (5,633 to be exact!).  His work was so minute and labor intensive that it eventually caused permanent damage to his sight.  

Now, imagine if you walked into the Sistine chapel following a group of tourists listening to the tour guide explain how this masterpiece came about.  As everyone stares in awe at the ceiling, the tour guide boldly tells them the artwork they are looking at took place through a natural process of countless years of water leaking through the roof and staining the plaster. The people are told what appears to be the intentionally designed work of beauty is amazingly the product of chance!  

This is the same as saying a million monkeys setting at a million typewriters for a million years would eventually type out all of Shakespear’s Hamlet by chance!  Wherever you look in our world you see the evidence of careful intricate design.  Why? Because there is a Designer. Just as watches come about by watch makers, buildings by architects, paintings by artists, so creation by a Creator. Paul says this Creator is the personal God of the Bible. You are not a cosmic accident trapped in an impersonal universe. The Bible says God is the personal Creator and personal Lord who made all things.  

  1. He is our Sustainer.  Nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything,

since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things(Acts 17:25).  God is the One personally gives and sustains life. Three chapters earlier in Acts, Paul says God has not left Himself without a witness that He the God who sustains all creation providing the rains and fruitful seasons to meet our needs and satisfy our hearts (14:17).  God is self-sufficient and needs nothing we can supply. In truth, it He who serves us and it is us who are need of Him!  It is because of His life-sustaining power you are able to take the next breath! (Isa. 42:5). The Athenians believed their gods were on the same level as household pets that are in need of humans for food and shelter.  People have done this for thousands of years.  We try to limit God to our understanding.  If we can make Him less than Who He really is, then we can control Him.  Because God is God, all the temples of the world or even the universe itself cannot contain Him. He is not in need of us.  We are in need of Him!  Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived acknowledged this in his temple dedication: Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! (1 Kings 8:27). Paul’s two statements showed how completely absurd all their shrines to their 3,000 gods were.  The One true God gives and sustains life.  He is not in need of us.  We are in need of Him. 

  1. He is our Savior. He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the

earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist(Acts 17:26-28a).  Paul is saying what science reveals.  All humanity, every race (black, yellow, red, & white) came from one man – Adam.  The scientific project known as the Human Genome Project, a ten-year study released in 2000, mapped the human genome and confirmed there is only one human race (National Human Genome Research Institute). There are different people groups, but only one human race.  We’re all descendants of Adam and therefore sinners (Rom. 5:12) in need of a Savior.  

Paul is saying something very profound here that I don’t want us to miss.  He is saying God planned when and where you would be born and live.  It wasn’t chance.  It was planned.  Why? Paul says so that we would seek God.  In other words, God chose when you would be born and where because He knew that is when you would seek Him the most!  It is not an accident you are here today.  God planned it. I want you to hear the stories of two people of whom this is true. Luke Hewitt’s Testimony.  Becky Latham’s Testimony. 

  1. He is our Judge. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to

men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead”(Acts 17:30-31).  A day is coming in which God will judge the world in righteousness.  In the past, Paul says, God overlooked the times of ignorance – in mercy He held back from pouring out His judgement the world deserved.  But that all changed after He sent His Son to die for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). From the time of Adam and Eve, the beginning of the world (Gen. 3:15), God has been announcing a Savior is coming.

It is not a coincidence that ancient nations had been expecting a Savior who would satisfy God’s judgement of their sin. At a set time of the year the ancient Scandinavians would sacrifice a man on a tree and call him Balder (savior).  The Egyptians looked toward Osiris, one who would die and resurrect from the dead.  The Aztecs longed for Quetzalcoatl, a winged serpent who would die, descend into death, and rise again.  The ancient Chinese longed for Tien, the Son of Heaven (Lawerence, The Secret Message of the Zodiac, p.22).   

None of these saviors were real. But the pointed to the awareness and hope that one day God would send the true Savior.  He did in Jesus Christ, the God-Man who willingly laid His life down for our sins and then rose again from the grave on the third day proving He is who He said His.  And one day, He will judge the world.  Jesus said, For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man (John 5:22-27).  God gave prove Jesus is the Judge by raising Him from the dead.  

What does God want from us? Repent (confess and turn from our sins) and place our trust in His Son Jesus Christ.  Why? There is no other way to find forgiveness of our sins but through Christ.  And there is no other way to know God personally but through His Son. Jesus said in John 14:9 If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.  To know Jesus is to know the Father (John 14:7).  

Paul tells us three things about God’s coming judgement: 1) His judgement will be universal – all people everywhere, the whole world. The living and the dead from the greatest to the least – no one will escape.  2) God’s judgement will be in righteousness.  Every secret, every sin will be judged rightly.  No mistakes.  No miscarriages of justice. No one will be able to say, “That’s not fair!”  3) God’s judgement is certain. God has already fixed a day.  It’s coming.  We don’t know when it coming, but we know that it is coming.  God has appointed a Day and a Judge. 

God has provided a way to escape His judgement – by confessing your sins and trusting His Son Jesus Christ.  He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him(John 3:36). It could be God has been trying to get your attention like He did Becky.  Life isn’t making sense.  Things aren’t going well.  You know you need God.  God is saying to you, “Do I have your attention now?”  Like Luke, you have a God-shaped hole in your life and you’re trying to fill it with everything but God.  You say you believe, but you haven’t really surrendered your life to Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Now is the time to do that.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I believe you are both Lord and Savior – the One who created the world and will judge it in righteousness.  I believe there is forgiveness in You alone. You proved that through Your death and resurrection.  Please forgive me of my sin and fill this empty God-shaped hole in my life with Your presence.  I surrender my life to You as my Savior and Lord.  Thank You Jesus.  In Your Name, Amen. 

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