Religion Is Not Enough

Background Verses: Acts 17:16-34

 

Paul stood alone.
Deep in the center of the Athenian Agora.

Oblivious, it seemed, to the bustling crowd,

busy commerce,

and boisterous conversations.

Lips formed his words,

yet he uttered no sound.

Stunned by the

sights and sounds

of sinful ignorance.

 

He stretched out his arms.

Slowly turned full circle.

Intelligent eyes taking his surroundings.

Everywhere he looked,

Every direction he faced,

Glistening granite.

Chiseled marble.

Gilded stone.

Testimony to human confusion and idolatry.

 

Idol after idol.

Apollo.

Ares.

Demeter

Dionysus.

Gods of the people who worshipped…

Music and healing.

War and chaos.

Fertility and harvest.

Wine and pleasure.

 

Hera.

Harmonia.

Nemesis.

Zelos.

Gods and goddesses of…

Women and empires.

Harmony and peace.

Revenge and hatred.

Jealousy and rivalry.

 

He threaded his way through the crowd.

Listened to the debates and arguments

of Athens’ fabled philosophers.

Learned men.

Fumbling with matters of man’s

life,

purpose and

existence.

 

For several days

Paul walked the marketplace.

Engaged at times in quiet

and lively debate with

Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.

Paul parried their intellectual thrusts.

Countered with his personal beliefs.

Sought to understand the…

Epicureans.

Their “eat, drink and be merry” constructs

that ignored their personal responsibilities.

 

Sought to know the…

Stoics.

Their deliberate disdain for life and

unending and unjoyful quest for life on a higher plain.

 

Paul’s introduction of a loving God,

a resurrected Lord,

fell upon curious, but deaf ears.

 

Despite their general apathy,

the philosophers lived for and loved a good debate.

Liked nothing more than to spend

time talking and listening to the latest ideas.

Invited Paul to voice his strange philosophy to the Areopagus,

The council of the most learned in Athens.

Tomorrow morning.

On a hill in the shadow of the Acropolis.

 

Paul walked the remainder of the day

considering the challenge before him.

Constantly in prayer for words to share.

How could he convince them of the God he adored?

The God he worshipped?

 

Head bent.

Focused only on his thoughts.

Paul’s elbow caught the edge of another stone monument,

forcing his attention to his right.

As he rubbed his arm to soothe the discomfort,

he stood face to face with

another idol.

Another altar.

 

He looked at the whitewashed image.

Carved from stone.

The half-nude body of a man.

Chest bare.

Poised and powerful.

Cloth draped across its left shoulder,

tied around its waist.

Face framed by a laurel wreath.

Void of expression.

Featureless.

Paul’s eyes drifted down to the inscription.

Chuckled at the irony.

Marveled at God’s inspiration.

Chiseled into the base of the statue…

“TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.”

 

Offering a quiet prayer to Jehovah.

Paul hurried back to his home for the night.

Gathering his thoughts.

 

*

Early the next morning,

Paul sat quietly on the boulder.

Gazing east.

The rising sun casting a reddish glow onto the low clouds.

The philosophers arrived alone and in small groups.

Eager to begin another day

searching for understanding and knowledge.

Their sole reason for breathing.

 

After a time,

One of the men whom Paul debated yesterday,

held out his hands.

Gathering the attention and eyes of every man.

With an air of derision and scorn,

he pointed at Paul.

“This stranger among us comes at my invitation.

His babblings in the Agora amused me.

While I find his philosophy little more than the chirping of a bird, others…”

he paused, glaring intently at a group of

more open-minded men sitting to his left…

“others, found his argument a ‘herald of some  new divination.’

So, my friend,” said the philosopher,

“tell us about this new thought you bring for it is strange to us.”

*

Paul stood slowly.

Walked toward the edge of the mountain

Looked down on the Agora.

The streets below.

Stretched out his arm over the city beneath him.

Stared down at the Altar of Apollo,

clearly visible in the distant marketplace.

 

Voice clear.

Laced with authority.

Paul declared,

“Men of Athens.”

“I see that in every way you are very religious.

For as I walked around.

Looked carefully at your objects of worship.

I saw many altars to many gods.

I even found an altar with this inscription,

‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’”

Paul turned.

Faced the philosophers seated around the Areopagus.

A smile on his face.

A gleam in his eye.

“What you worship as something unknown…

I am going to proclaim to you.”

 

With an eloquence of speech

And the voice emboldened by the Holy Spirit,

Paul proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ

and his resurrection.

 

*

 

Paul preached the

plan and purpose of God

Summarized in seven short verses

in Acts 17:24-31.

 

God created.

God rules.

God gives life.

 

A life of purpose given so…

man could seek him.

Reach out for  him.

Find him.

Not distant on the mythical mountaintop.

Not hidden in the clouds of Olympus.

Not crafted by human hands.

Not an image reflecting our failures and weaknesses.

 

Rather, we find him

in the warmth of personal relationship.

We belong to him.

 

He is unique.

The One.

The Only.

 

He calls us to repentance.

Demands our obedience.

Desires our worship.

 

Paul looked at the world around him

Made a simple observation.

“I see that in every way you are very religious.”

 

If he stood on the hill overlooking

our city…

Our lives…

Our hearts…

How many altars could he count dedicated to the

Gods of our own choosing?

How many gods have I created in my image?

How many things have I placed in priority

over my Lord?

 

Religion…

Goes through the motions.

Plays for appearance.

Creates a false sense of belonging.

 

Faith focuses our lives, not on what is

unknown or unreal,

but on the

One and Only

that is known to us…

 

Creator.

Lord.

Indwelling Spirit.

Comforter.

Redeemer.

Restorer of Life Abundant.

 Source: The Searcher

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