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FINDING THE UNKNOWN GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, August 27, 2000

"I found an altar with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you"
(Acts 17:23)

The Apostle Paul had gone to the city of Athens. He was waiting for his companions to join him there. And just as Los Angeles is the media and entertainment and movie center of the world, so Athens was the cultural and intellectual and educational center of the ancient world. It was the city of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and Epicurus. Paul had been very busy. He was tired and needed a rest. But instead he walked through the streets of Athens.

Many times I have walked through the streets of Los Angeles at night. The Bible says that when Paul walked through the streets of Athens, what he saw troubled him. Paul became very upset, and the Greek word translated "stirred" means that he was provoked. He was irritated. He was angry at what he saw. The Apostle Paul saw moral corruption and the hundreds of idols in Athens.

If we look at Los Angeles today, we see the materialism, the obsession with money, the obsession with sex, the obsession with pleasure, entertainment, alcohol and drugs – all the things that we have made "gods" in our generation. This story was in the newspaper a few days ago:

Suburbia shaken by teen deaths

Violence spotlights youth drug culture

     The vicious killings of three teen-agers from the San Fernando Valley area in recent weeks have challenged the belief that good schools, strong family ties and vibrant suburban communities will insulate children from the scourge of drugs.
     Coming from drug deals gone awry rather than overdoses, the murders have stunned police, educators and parents because of the violence of the deaths and what appears to be the widespread availability and abuse of drugs.
     Police and counselors who work with troubled youths say younger kids are now dealing drugs - especially very high-price and potent marijuana - on most high school campuses.
     Some of them are supplied by organized networks of smugglers and cultivators, placing even young teens into contact with a very dangerous world of adult criminals.
      "This is frightening," said Monroe High School’s Assistant Principal Thane Opfell. "It almost sounds like the brutal tactics used in the 1930s in settling debts. It’s particularly tragic that it’s appearing in this age.
     "And it’s not unique to just one neighborhood. The pattern suggests that it could happen anywhere."
     Three weeks ago, Chris McCullouch, 13, of La Canada Flintridge and Blaine Talmo, 14, of Glendale were brutally beaten to death in a Glendale elementary school playground. Last week, the bullet-riddled both of 15-year-old Nicholas "Nick" Markowitz of West Hills was found several days after police say he was kidnapped because of his older brother’s drug debts.
     Those arrested in the cases are little older than the victims, all of them from suburban or affluent communities.
     "They’re getting in over their heads," said Tim Brown, a Simi Valley Police Department school resource officer.
     "If a 14- or 15-year-old owes a drug dealer $100 to $200, it’s the same as a 30-year-old. They’ll go after the kid as strongly as the adults. I don’t think we as adults take it as seriously as it is out there. That culture out there is serious."
     For the friends of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz, the murder has been a rude awakening, and many have drawn a black X on their heads to remind them of what happened.
     Bryan Marks, 16, a good friend of Nick Markowitz, said drugs are quite a problem in affluent areas.
     "I never thought it would get this bad," Marks said.
      (Los Angeles Daily News,
      front page, August 21, 2000).

These young people have been caught up in our false and godless culture - American culture is pagan - our society worships the false "gods" of money, sex, pleasure, and the playboy lifestyle. These teenagers were sacrificed on the altar of America’s false "gods."

And that’s why the Apostle Paul was "stirred" and angered when he saw the false "gods" of Athens. When I read what is happening to our young people in Los Angeles, I become angry too. I see the social problems we have not solved. Right here in Los Angeles, in the civic center where our church is located, the Democrats came and held their convention - with Barbra Streisand, and Hugh Hefner, and Ted Turner and the media, and all the wealth of Hollywood behind them. And just a few blocks away are some of the worst slums in the world. It makes me angry when I see the moral problems facing your generation. You can walk down Hollywood Boulevard and see some of the filthiest pornography in the world. And no nation in history has ever gone in for that kind of immorality and escaped the judgment of God. God is going to judge this city and this country - and you will not escape from His judgment unless you are in Christ and in the local church. That’s why we tell you to leave the world. Drop your lost friends like a hot rock and get into this local church and make new friends here! Get out of the world and into this church!

Now here are several things we learn from this passage.

I. The people of Athens had lost faith in their false gods.

Many of them had lost faith in what they had formerly believed. Americans, too, are losing faith in their false gods. We’ve made a god of science, but it is a false god that hasn’t helped you find peace in the world. We’ve made a false god of sex, but with all our permissiveness it hasn’t brought happiness, peace, or joy to your heart. We have the problem of loneliness. With all our leisure time and our entertainment and our trips and our alcohol it hasn’t cured your loneliness. Young people tell me that Los Angeles is one of the most lonely places on earth. I have come to believe that loneliness is probably the greatest problem facing young people today, and all ages of people are lonely. You go to the dance hall. It’s full of people. It’s what they call a "rave." Everyone is jumping to the music. The lights are flashing on and off. The music is pounding. The room is full of people. But you feel alone. Alone in the crowd. Many lonely people are there searching for a real friend in the midst of this great city. How many of you feel lonely at times?

That’s why you need to come here - to this church - every time the door is open, as Jerry Falwell says. You’ll find Christ here. You’ll find friends here. Come with us and we will do you good! We will be the best friends you’ve ever had - in all your life! We will help you become a real Christian.

II. But secondly, the Apostle Paul found that the intellectuals of the city rejected his preaching.

The Bible says, "When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked" (Acts 17:32). Paul stood on the street corner, at a place called Mars Hill, and he began to preach. He said, "Repent of your sins and turn to Jesus Christ." He spoke about the "unknown God." He told them they could know God in a personal way if they trusted Christ, His Son. He told them that Christ died to pay for their sins and that He rose from the dead, literally and physically. He said, "Christ can forgive your sins. You can be converted. You can be born again. You can be saved."

Some of the intellectuals looked at him with contempt. They sneered and laughed at him. They said, "He’s a fool. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about." They made a joke out of his sermon.

Now some of the people wanted to hear him. They were curious. They wanted to hear what he had to say.

In the audience were some interested people. The Epicureans were there. Epicurus was a philosopher who had lived three hundred years earlier. He taught them permissiveness and sensuality, much like what we have today. He deified passion and lust. The pagan god Bacchus was the deification of appetite and drunkenness. The false gods Venus and Aphrodite were the deification of sex. Mars and Jupiter were the false gods of fighting and anger.

Today people have outgrown Bacchus, but you are still controlled by appetite - by drugs and liquor and wild living. The temple of Venus has been destroyed - but you are still dominated by sex. We no longer believe in Mars, but fighting and jealousy still go on. So the old gods are still here. Mankind is still the same.

You wear different clothing. You speak a different language. You are more sophisticated. But your heart is the same. Down underneath you are the same. You have the same loneliness, the same inner emptiness, and you are still looking for the meaning of life. That’s why the Bible speaks to modern young people more than any book in the world. It was written for people of all races and generations.

The Bible says that you are in rebellion against God. The Bible says that you are alienated, cut off, from God. That’s why God doesn’t seem real to you. The Bible says that you are cut off from God by your sin.

Yes, the Epicureans were there. They said, "Have a good time. Eat, drink and be merry."

The Stoics were there also. Now they were the intellectual leaders of that generation. They were there to listen to that sermon from the Apostle Paul. They wanted to hear him because Paul himself was a great intellectual. In fact, historians agree that Paul was one of the greatest intellectuals of all time. The whole world has been changed by the teaching and writing of the Apostle Paul.

But Paul had been converted by Christ on the road to Damascus. Christ revealed Himself to Paul and Paul, though he was an intellectual giant, became a humble man. He was converted and Christ forgave his sins. Jesus said that you can come to Him and be converted also. But you have to come with faith in Jesus, like Paul did. You may be a college student or a university graduate, but you must come to Christ the same way. You have to be humble. You have to want your sins to be washed away in Jesus’ Blood. You have to be willing to come back to church here every Sunday, where the gospel is clearly preached. You have to repent, change your mind, change the way you live, and be here in church every week, no matter what comes up. No matter what happens.

The Bible also says that many idle people were there to hear Paul’s sermon also. They were the people who talked a lot, but they had little to say of value. And they listened very little. They were too self-assured and too conceited to listen very much. There are many like that today. You are like those people on talk radio - full of your own ideas, but not willing to hear the truth from the Bible and do what God says. You have so many questions that you aren’t willing to listen to the answers. You think you’re too smart to believe the Bible and become a Christian. Nobody’s going to trick you into becoming a Christian! But you’re still lonely. And you’re still afraid. And you’re still not ready to die. And you still don’t know the meaning of life. And you still think about suicide from time to time. But nobody’s going to trick you into becoming a Christian. You think you’re far too smart for that.

I had a friend when I was in high school. His name was Mike. He was a straight A student. But he wasn’t interested in becoming a Christian. He had no time for church. Nobody was going to make a fool out of him!

One day he bought a brand-new rifle. He went up into Griffith Park. He put the barrel of the gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was my friend, but he was a smart guy. Nobody was going to trick him. Nobody was going to convince him to become a Christian. He was far too smart for that. So he died without hope and without God. How about you? He was just a young person like you. It was long ago when I was young. What will you do with Jesus? What will you do when Dr. Chan or Mrs. Cagan or Mrs. Salazar invites you to come back to this church next Sunday?

What will your final answer be?
Where will you spend eternity?

 

III. And then, thirdly, the sermon Paul preached was about the unknown God. Paul said,

"I found an altar with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:23).

Paul said, "God is not far away." You see, some people in Athens thought that God lived far away on the top of Mount Olympus. They called him Zeus. But Paul said, "No, God is here. God is not on the top of that mountain. God is not on another planet. God can come to you right here on earth. You can know Him personally. You can talk to Him and He will hear you. He can forgive your sins. He can give you hope. He can help you with the problems and difficulties of life." Mr. Griffith sang about "The Love of God" a moment ago. You can come and experience the love of God and know God yourself!

 

IV. Fourthly, then Paul came to the main point of his sermon. He told them to repent. To repent means to change your mind and to change the direction of your life.

Turn from selfishness to Christ. Turn from a wild, changeable life, to being in this church every Sunday. That’s what it means to change your mind. It means that you change your way of living and you come to Christ and into the church. You leave sin and come into this church where you heard the truth of the gospel clearly presented from the Bible.

And then Paul said, "If you don’t change the direction of your life, judgment is coming." Judgment is coming. Are you ready? The Bible says, "Prepare to meet thy God."

Christ is not dead on the Cross. God has raised Christ from the dead. He died on the Cross to pay for your sins. But that is not the whole gospel. He also rose from the dead. And because He lives you will live also if you come to Him, if you are converted, if you come all the way into this church. That was what Paul preached that day. Christ is alive. He has risen from the dead.

V. There were three reactions to Paul’s sermon.

"Some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again… Howbeit certain men clave unto him" (Acts 17:32, 34).
"Some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again" (Acts 17:32).
"Howbeit certain men clave unto him" (Acts 17:34).

We will have the same response here this morning.

1. Some of you will mock. You will go back to your family and friends and say bad things about this sermon. And your lost relatives and friends will agree with you. They’ll say, "Don’t go back to that crazy Baptist church again. You’re doing fine without it. Don’t become a fanatic." They may tell you to go to Catholic Mass instead of coming here. Or they may say you don’t need church at all. They will mock what I have said, and some of you will agree and make fun of this sermon as well.
2. Others among you will say, "We will hear again of this matter." And you’ll come back to church for a few Sundays or a few weeks, and then you’ll stop coming.
3. But a few of you will "cleave unto us" and keep coming until you are converted. And then you’ll stay with us in this church.

May God open your eyes so that you will make the third choice, the right choice, the choice to become a real Christian in a real church. God bless you as you do it!

Scripture Read Before Sermon: Acts 17:22-34.
Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "The Love of God"

THE OUTLINE OF

FINDING THE UNKNOWN GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"I found an altar with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:23)

I. The people of Athens had lost faith in their gods, Acts 17:23.

II. The intellectuals rejected Paul's message, Acts 17:32.

III. The sermon Paul preached was on the unknown God, Acts 17:23.

IV. The sermon concluded with their need to repent, Acts 17:30-31.

V. There were three reactions to Paul's sermon, Acts 17:32-34.