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THE UNKNOWN GOD
(A SERMON GIVEN AT THE CHINESE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL)
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Let us stand together. Now tonight I want you to turn to the 17th chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning with verse twenty-two. It’s on page 1173 of the Scofield Study Bible.
“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:22-34).
You may be seated.
The Apostle Paul had gone to Athens in Greece. Athens was the intellectual center of the ancient world. It was the city of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. Paul took a walk through Athens. He came to Mars Hill. My wife and our boys were there two years ago, on a side trip from Israel. Mars Hill was filled with hundreds of idols. The philosophers of that day gathered there. In the midst of all those idols, Paul found one altar with an inscription on it that read, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” They had many idols and many gods, but somehow they knew in their hearts that there was a God they didn’t know. A crowd had gathered and Paul began to preach. He said, “I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD...him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23).
We are here tonight for a banquet celebrating the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Some Americans call it the Moon Cake Festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival is an important holiday on the Chinese calendar. It is a holiday that has been practiced to some extent throughout the Asian world – in Korea, in Japan (until their calendar was changed in 1883), in Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Taiwan, Singapore, and many other parts of Asia. It takes place at the time of the autumn equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and roundest.
Dr. James Legge (1815-1897) was a professor of Chinese language and literature at Oxford University. According to Dr. Legge, the ancient Chinese did not worship the Moon. He said that originally the Chinese worshipped one God, whom they called Shang Ti (King of Heaven). Dr. Legge quoted from the “Canon” of the Emperor Shun, whose reign ended in 2207 BC. The “Canon of Shun” said, “‘He sacrificed specially, but with the ordinary forms, to Shang Ti,’ that is...to God” (James Legge, Ph.D., The Religions of China, Hodder and Stoughton, 1880, pp. 24-25). In ancient times the Chinese and other Asian people only worshipped one God, Shang Ti, the King of Heaven. That was more than 1,500 years before Confucius (551-479 BC) and Buddha (563-483 BC) were born. Centuries before Buddhism came to China, the people were monotheists. They believed in only one God. Over the centuries additional spirits were added and worshipped. But even then Shang Ti remained the supreme God of the ancient Chinese culture. But gradually the Asian people forgot about Shang Ti, the King of Heaven. They began to worship other gods, and even the spirits of their own ancestors. They turned to Buddhism and other religions.
The United States is going through a similar turning from God today. In his inauguration speech, President Obama said, “America is not a Christian nation.” It once was, but Mr. Obama said that is no longer true. And this year Mr. Obama did away with the National Day of Prayer, that America observed for decades. Many Americans no longer believe in the God of our forefathers. The ancient Chinese people went through a similar process. Like many modern Americans, they gradually turned away from Shang Ti, the King of Heaven. Today many Americans, as well as Asians, do not know God.
That’s the way it was in Athens as well. They had turned away from the living God. The Scripture says,
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).
They no longer knew the God they originally worshipped. And Paul said to them, “I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD...him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23). They had hundreds of idols and false gods. But they did not know the true God. He had become “THE UNKNOWN GOD” to them.
Then Paul told them that the unknown God made the world, and everything in it. He said that the God they did not know is the “Lord of heaven and earth” and does not live in temples made with human hands. He told them the unknown God was Shang Ti, the King of Heaven, “Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24).
We are not telling you to believe a new religion. There is nothing new in Christianity. It is the oldest religion in the world. Christianity goes back to the very beginning of time, to the Garden of Eden. It was here for many centuries before Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, or any other religion. Christ came to restore us to God the Heavenly Father, Shang Ti, the King of Heaven. The Apostle Paul said,
“Ye were...strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13).
Christ came to restore us to the God of our ancient forefathers. Christ came to shatter our superstitions, and do away with our idols. Christ came to make known to us “THE UNKNOWN GOD”!
And then the Apostle Paul told them that God “made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). There are racial tensions, and racial wars, going on throughout the world tonight. There are tensions between China and Japan. There are racial tensions between the Iranians and the Jews in Israel. The problem is not really racial, however. The problem is spiritual. Racial prejudice is the result of sin.
Paul said that God made all nations of “one blood.” How did he know that? He knew it by God’s revelation in the Bible! Not until modern times did men know what God revealed to Paul two thousand years ago! You can take blood from an African and give it to a white man by transfusion. You can take the blood of a Chinese and give it to an Australian Aborigine. Why is that possible? Because God has “made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). That must have astonished the men of Athens, who heard Paul speak that day. Because of sin, they were racists. They thought they were better than others. But they were wrong. The unknown God had created the entire human race from one man and one woman. Recent DNA research indicates that the whole human race descended from one woman in the Middle East. Time Magazine had a cover story on that a few years ago. No matter what race you come from, we are all related. We are all blood-brothers and sisters! And Christ brings us all back together in one family, in the church. And I want to say to our young people tonight – do not let racial prejudice keep you from having fellowship with someone from another culture. Fight against racial prejudice in our church! It is carnal and sinful to be afraid to have a friend of another race! The other night my son said it was “a miracle” that my wife and I get along so well after 30 years of marriage because she is Hispanic and I am white. We celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary last Thursday. I suppose, in a sense, my son is right. It may seem like a miracle, but it seems like the most natural thing in the world to me! I can’t imagine life without her! She is God’s great gift to me, and I thank Him for her every day!
And that’s the way it should be in our church, because God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). It seems like the most natural thing in the world that I was baptized in a Chinese church, that my pastor, for over two decades, was a Chinese scholar. That may seem strange to the lost world. They are constantly fighting with each other, one race against the other. But the Lord Jesus Christ came, not only to restore us to God, but also to bring us together, all races, in one body, in the church! A church like ours, with many different ethnic groups, ought to be the most natural thing on earth, because God brings us together! Sin separates us. But God brings us together. In a way, it does take a miracle for that to happen – the miracle of the new birth! If we are truly born again, it can happen! When Dr. John R. Rice’s youngest daughter was here a few weeks ago, she and my wife counted 20 cultures and ethnic groups in our church. She said it was wonderful. Work to keep it that way! Let the world see that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ! Let this church be a testimony of harmony and love in a divided world! "Help Somebody Today." Sing it!
Help somebody today, Somebody along life's way,
With friendship extended, All loneliness ended,
Oh, help somebody today!
("Help Somebody Today" by Carrie E. Breck, 1855-1934; altered by the Pastor).
And the Apostle Paul told those men of Athens,
“...the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).
God overlooked their ignorance and superstition in the past. But now He has commanded all of us, whatever our race or background, to repent. Now He “commandeth all men every where to repent.” That is not a suggestion or a piece of advice. God commands us all to repent! That is the Word of God! God says, “I command you to repent.” It means to change your mind about sin. It means to turn away from sin and turn to Christ. It means to stop trusting yourself, and trust Christ. When you truly repent, you are born again by the power of God.
Christ came into this world to save us from sin, and death, and Hell. He came, on purpose, to die on the Cross, to pay the penalty for our sin. He came to shed His precious Blood on the Cross so our sins could be washed clean in the sight of God. And Christ rose physically, flesh and bone, from the dead. He is alive now, up in Heaven, in another dimension, praying for us. When you come to Christ by faith you are instantly born again. You enter a new life with Christ. The Bible says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
One of our girls, a white girl, has been helping a young Chinese girl who is new in our church. This young white girl gave me a prayer request card. What she said on that card wasn’t very grammatical, but it was a very lovely prayer request. She asked me to pray for the Chinese girl, “That she would feel the love of the alive Jesus, not just ‘church’.” Yes! Amen! We are praying for you to look beyond the people in our church. We want you to feel and know the love of the living Christ! We want you to be saved, to be born again, to pass from death to life everlasting by faith in the living Christ!
Paul told those men of Athens that God had raised Christ from the dead. He told them that they must trust Christ or He would judge them at the Last Judgment. Christ is alive. He is coming back to judge the world. Are you ready? Have your sins been washed clean by the Blood of Christ?
What was the result of Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill? There were three reactions to his sermon,
“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:32-34).
Some of them laughed and mocked. Some of them said, “We will hear thee again of this matter.” We need to hear more about it, and think it over. But some of them believed in Christ right then, and were saved. We pray that some of you here tonight will turn away from a sinful life-style, and trust Jesus Christ, and be saved by Him, washed clean from your sin by His precious Blood. Then you will be restored to God. Then you will know for yourself the true God of ancient China, Shang Ti – the King of Heaven! We encourage you to trust Christ. He can give you peace and joy and hope that you have never known before. And we encourage you to come back here to church tomorrow. We will have another banquet tomorrow morning at 10:30 - and a third banquet tomorrow night at 6:30. Come back and be with us for the fun and fellowship!
I am available to speak with any of you tonight who want to trust Jesus and be saved. May God help you to do so! Amen.
CLICK HERE TO READ “MOON CAKES –
AND THE GOD WHO MADE THE MOON!”
CLICK HERE TO READ “WHY GOD IS BLESSING CHINA –
BUT JUDGING AMERICA!”
CLICK HERE TO READ “THE SECRET OF SUCCESS IN CHINA.”
CLICK HERE TO READ “CHINA – THE DOOR IS OPEN!”
CLICK HERE TO READ “CHINA – SEALED BY GOD’S SPIRIT!”
CLICK HERE TO READ “CHINA – THEY SHALL COME FROM THE EAST!”
CLICK HERE TO READ “THANKSGIVING IN CHINA.”
(END OF SERMON)
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Prayer Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” (by Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847).