Posted by: Brian Musser | July 14, 2016

A God Who Can Be Known

Allow me to open with an untitled poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins written in the 1800’s.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 – 1889
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Christ plays in 10,000 places. I believe this phrasing was chosen to give a couple meanings. First Christ, himself is at play all over the world in some many different places. Secondly, I think there is the meaning of dramas about Christ, “Christ plays,” can be seen throughout the world as well. The story of redemption can be seen throughout creation, throughout the world, throughout history, throughout humanity. Sometimes God’s hand within a redemption story is revealed to the actors as they are going through. The Christ play at that time is explicitly a play where God is named as the protagonist. The deliverance of the Jewish nation from slavery in Egypt is a redemption story that the redeemer told in the first person. At other moments of history, the people being redeemed have chosen to define their experience through the lens of Christ. Historically many African-Americans have chosen to narrate their emancipation from bondage in the context of Christ’s salvation. But then there are stories where God is directing, for God is always the director, plays (dramas) which bring good about on this earth but the characters do not know the name of their director. A fascinating verse hints at this.

Amos 9:7 (HCSB)
Israelites, are you not like the Cushites to Me?
This is the Lord’s declaration.
Didn’t I bring Israel from the land of Egypt,
the Philistines from Caphtor,
and the Arameans from Kir?

Deuteronomy chapter 2 also talks about this idea that God has been and is active in the history of the nations. Christ is at play in the lives of all peoples. It was God who was in charge of the lives of the Cushites. It was God who directed the Philistines. It was God who moved the Arameans. The difference between Isreal and the rest of the world was not if God was at play in their nation. It wasn’t even how God was at play in their nation. The difference was simply if they knew the name of the God at play. This is true on an individual level as well. Every person in this room, right here and right now, God is at work in your life. And every single person not in this room God is at work in their lives.
Before we dive into the main scripture today let’s take a moment to pray.

Acts 17:16-34 (HCSB)
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying to say?” Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.

We see here in Athens that Paul spends some time observing the city before he opens his mouth. The phrase “troubled within him” is a little bit weaker than the Greek. It could be translated he was infuriated at the idolatry he saw. Or we could say he was sick to his stomach because of it. There are certain sins out there in our culture that will quite often get our ire up but is idolatry one of them. Do we get mad when we see folks worshipping America more than God, putting their trust in bank accounts, using education as a faith crutch, seeking their comfort in entertainment or having more hope in themselves than they do in the Almighty? Idolatry is alive and well here and now and usually you and I don’t even bat an eye.

Luke takes the time to mention three groups of people that Paul is sharing with; Jews, Epicureans and Stoics. We will leave Paul’s encounters with the Jews alone for this morning and focus on his ministry to the Greek schools of philosophy, the Epicureans and the Stoics. One important thing to understand is that when we are talking about Christ; when are describing to someone else how Christ is at play in their lives and in the world we are not talking to a blank slate. I don’t share Christ with non-Christians. I share Christ with Muslims and atheists and pagans and Hindus and relativists. The person I am talking to (whoever that is) has a belief system and they are going to be interpreting my words through the lens of what they already believe.

19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

This invitation to speak in front of the Areopagus was motivated by their desire for knowledge. “We want to know…” In Greek philosophy and specifically in Epicurean and Stoic belief knowledge was a good if not the ultimate good. Epicureans believed that a knowledge of the way the world truly was as just a material existence would allow one to live a peaceful, detached, tranquil life. Stoics ultimately saw the “logos” as the cohesive principle that held the world together. Knowledge was the ultimate good. And the common brotherhood of humanity needed to be united in the common possession of the divine “logos.” Since knowledge was their ultimate good, lack of knowledge would be considered evil. Listening to Paul and determining if anything was to be gained from Paul’s babbling or not wasn’t just an intellectual endeavor. Taking Paul’s theories and adding them to the collective knowledge of Athens if worthwhile or eradicating if proven foolish was a holy task. Their legitimate quest for knowledge is exactly where God will choose to meet them.

Your worldview controls what you find as ultimately motivating. Your worldview defines what is important to you. Maybe not the worldview you pretend to have but the one you actually believe. On campus I have always worked under the assumption that every student can immediately name something about themselves that they are actively working on to become better. And I believe that the peace of Jesus Christ is how that task of becoming better is achieved. I also assume that every student can name something about their world that they want to change. I believe that the power of God can help them make that change. There are stories of redemption at work all around us. Christ is at play in 10,000 places. Christ was at play in the life of Paul shaping him for this moment in front of the Areopagus. Christ was at play in the Areopagus molding them to hear the truth. Christ is at play in your life and in mine. Are we paying attention? Christ is at play in the lives of your co-workers and neighbors and family members. Are you the one to show them how God is already at work? Are you the one to introduce them to the God that is right there, the God that can be known?

22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

Paul mentions an idol that he saw as he was paying attention to the culture. He references an idol inscribed to an unknown God. Several of these idols have been found and are mentioned throughout historical documents. The interesting contrast is that they are always plural. They are dedicated to the unknown gods. Whether Paul chose to edit that for license or actually found one idol that was singular we don’t know. But we know that Paul purposefully used something in their culture but not unedited. We can use culture to communicate truth but truth edits the culture. It should not be the other way around.

But then Paul stops building a bridge and calls them to task. He doesn’t judge them according to the Old Testament standards but he judges them in a way that they will feel convicted. He calls them ignorant, unknowing, or uninformed. If knowledge is your ultimate good then worshipping something in ignorance is wrong. I hear the very words of Jesus when speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4 at this moment. John 4:22 (HCSB) You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. Paul boldly proclaims to know the God they are ignorant of to the very people who thought they were the arbiters of knowledge.

What does our culture today hold in high esteem? Is our cultural desire for tolerance something that we can use the Gospel to show people what it looks like to be truly tolerant? The kindness of God leads to repentance. Is our culture’s desire for experiences a way to share the ultimate experience of living in connection with the God we were designed to relate to? There are stories just waiting to happen in the world around us, redemption stories. Stories of the drama of Christ being played out in 10,000 places.

24 The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.

Most Greek philosophers have already come to the conclusion that it was foolish to think that the Gods needed humans to serve them. The Epicureans saw the Gods as distant if they existed at all. The Stoics saw these ideas of cultic religious practices as lacking in knowledge. Paul is using ideas that they would agree with but setting these ideas in a distinctively foreign worldview of monotheism. One creator, one lord, one God to be worshipped by every nation, even the Greeks, even the Athenians. It’s an interesting to note that Luke could be designing Paul’s encounter with the Areopagus to allude to the trial of Socrates. Paul is getting a similar public hearing, proclaiming some of the very ideas that Socrates was tried and executed for centuries earlier. Luke is using a familiar cultural picture to give his audience handles on what is happening. Although not completely formed, Socrates misgivings about Greek mythology and cultic practices are coming to fruition in Paul’s explicit defense of monotheism. Socrates had a part to play in the drama of bringing Christ to the Greeks. God was at work in Athens centuries before and will continue to work millennia later.

27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.

Verse 27 is full of verbs that are in a very unique Greek tense. These verbs are in a tense that connotes doubt as to if the actions will take place. “They might seek” and “perhaps they might reach out” and “find Him” are all questionable. The question is are we going to seek for God. Paul doubts it. In other places in scripture he makes the doubt stronger claiming that no one seeks God. No one searches for God even though God is right there. God is here and this God can be known. Christ plays in 10,000 places. You have seen the redemption story of Christ. God has always been available to you. He is right here waiting for you. Even the ancient Greek pagan poets were able to notice the nearness and connectedness of God and humanity. He is all around us. But we miss Him and get it wrong.

God is here but He is not in these idols. God has made humanity. Humanity does not make God. I have a Vietnamese pastor friend that uses idol worship and ancestral idols common in both Vietnamese Buddhism and Vietnamese Catholicism to share the Gospel. It is an assumed practice in Vietnamese culture that when a parent dies the child erects a shrine to that parent. This shrine will have idols and images symbolizing the deceased parent. It is a way to honor, respect and remember the dead. However; it would be a horrendous insult to erect such a shrine for a living parent. It would be saying that you wished your parent was dead. Taking this cultural practice the pastor asks if they worship a God who is living or a God who is dead. This opens the door for him to talk about the God who died but still lives. But it also causes them to see that using idols to worship a living God is offensive to that living God. He uses his culture to communicate truth.

30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”

Christ plays in 10,000 places. God has lead the Jews out of Egypt, God has delivered African-Americans from slavery. He has brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir. He has caused the Greeks to search after knowledge and their philosophers to question idol worship and their poets to praise the immanence of the divine. These are all introductions, prologues, first acts to the ultimate story. It is no longer acceptable to just concentrate on the prequels God now requires all peoples everywhere to step out of their ignorance, to repent of their foolishness and to worship the Man that was sent, Jesus the Christ who proved his divinity by conquering death through the resurrection. The story once hidden has now been revealed. The mystery obscured is shown. Jesus the Christ is proclaimed. Take Him or leave Him but ignorance is no longer an option.

32 When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him. But others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 Then Paul left their presence. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

As you look at your life, as you look at your story, is Christ at play? What is Christ doing? As you look at those around you, how is God active in their lives? How can you help others to know the name of the one that is directing their life? What is going on in your life? Have there been any significant changes? Is God in those changes? Have any relationships ended or begun through birth, death, breakups, dating, moving, fights, or transitions? What have they communicated to you that they are stressed about? What are their goals? Short term? Long term? Are there areas in your life that you are trying to do something worthwhile? Could God be the one motivating you? Are there areas in their life that they are doing something they know is wrong? Is God convicting them? Is there a specific type of evil that breaks your heart? Do you think it also breaks the heart of God? Have they expressed to you any emotional needs? Have they expressed any doubts about strongly held beliefs? Is God softening them to see Christ at play in the 10,000 place of their lives? Not everyone will seek Him. But if you do, He will be found. He is right here and he can be known.

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  1. […]  Preached at First Baptist Church of North East, MD:  A God Who Can Be Know.  Christ plays in 10,000 places.  God is at work everywhere and in everyone’s life.  Often […]


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