May 29, 2011: Do You Know Who I Am?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we live in a world in which people constantly scoff at Your reality, mock Your goodness, and trade in Your grace for fake self-congratulations over supposed human goodness. Because of this we’re weary in trying to break through this façade of human idolatry. Today re-energize us to continue in our battle to convey Your goodness and grace to others—first by breaking down their objections and second by letting the Spirit do His job via the truth of the Gospel. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ONLY SOURCE OF ETERNAL LIFE!

TEXT: Acts 17: 22-31

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

If it hasn’t happened to you, it will. Maybe it was a ticket line at a Sox game, or perhaps the cattle line at the airport. In any case, it usually happens when a whole bunch of people are massed together waiting to be served one by one. Everyone is tired, tense, and just wants to wait their turn to be free of it all. Suddenly, someone budges in line, or they raise their voice and demand immediate attention by saying: “Do you know who I am?”

In our pseudo-celebrity culture, displays of such an attitude are on the rise. “I’m important. I’m special. I deserve more attention than anyone else. I make a lot of money. I went to this or that school. I won a championship and got on the television.” Yah, right. And I won the spelling bee in 6th grade…..

It’s humorous and sad at the same time, isn’t it? So many people think they have life all figured out. They think they are smarter, wiser, and are leaps and bounds above the masses. Unfortunately, too many of them think they are smarter than “god” too. They think they have that “god stuff” all figured out. This attitude is much more far-reaching than most imagine. It literally extends to everyone who calls themselves “spiritual” but agrees with the agnostic viewpoint that it’s impossible to really know who or what god really is. Yet, because they’ve convinced themselves that “god” must be just like they are, they blissfully wander through life worshipping a facsimile of themselves. And if you challenge them on this, their reply can be boiled down to this:

DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?

I

The people of Athens at St. Paul’s time personified this exact attitude. After all, they were the descendents of Aristotle, Plato, and a host of other well-known thinkers. They thought they had life all figured out. And up on the fairy-tale like setting of the Areopagus in Athens they spun fairy-tales about both life and their views on god—patting themselves on their backs throughout the process.

Some read this text and say: “What was St. Paul doing trying to preach to people like this? Talk about a non-receptive crowd?” Others read Paul’s opening words and conclude: “Well, at least he knows how to butter-up this audience by means of those opening words: “I see that in every way you are very religious.” Both readings miss the point.

The Areopagus was a meeting place in Athens for debate and public discourse to occur. Paul walks all around that hilltop and observes statutes to literally every single “god” known to men at that time. He even sees an altar to “The unknown god” just in case they’ve missed any. The average observer would conclude that such a people are very religious or spiritual, as they say today. But Paul isn’t an average observer. He’s an apostle directly called by Christ, the only Son of the only God that exists. I delved into the original Greek meaning of that word that is translated: “very religious.” One of its old meanings says something a bit less neutral. That meaning is: demon-fearing. So, listen anew to how Paul hits these Athenians where their pride doesn’t protect them: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very demon-fearing. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To An Unknown God. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

The common denominator that nails every human is fear—fear of death, fear of evil, fear over the sources of evil. Evil is inescapable. Evil cannot be defeated forever by man. Evil is to be avoided at all costs. And yet, for the non-Christian, the evilness of death stalks its prey and none can escape. So, all these amazing looking statutes and false altars are simply a puny attempt to placate evil and the demons that bring it into human lives. For all their arrogance, these prideful men are reduced to scared little boys. So it is with those who write God out of the equation of their lives today. Whenever people boast: “Do you know who I am?” I think to myself, “Yes, I do know. You’re scared to death and that’s why you cling to your self-boasting. It’s all you have.”

II

If you’re going to reach a lost soul and save it, you first need to break human pride. It’s called: preaching the Law. That’s what Paul does. Next, you need to make your case for the Triune God in terms the hearers can relate to. So, Paul continues on in that vein. He begins with the obvious, natural law. Truths God has written into everyone’s conscience. He speaks of God being the builder of heaven and the maker of earth. And yet, “He does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” (Unlike what you’re doing here on Mars Hill! So folks, you’re barking up the wrong tree!) Then Paul goes back to Adam, the foundational human being made by God. From Adam came all nations. God set limits and determined these nations’ pathways. And eventually God led humans to seek more information about Him and to know Him better. And lest anyone think that this Almighty God is not personal and doesn’t directly care about every facet of each individual’s life, he even quotes one of the famous Greek poets: “We are his offspring.” (Think here of the Lord’s Prayer, and how Our Father protects, provides, and preserves each of His children.)

Now comes the really important stuff. How can anyone escape being ruled by fear? How can anyone live with peace, contentment and quietness in their heart—not fearing punishment for their sins, not fearing death, not fearing demons? This is Paul’s reply: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

God is a living Being. Idols, whether physical images or mental images, are damnable. They subtract from and belittle His glory. And God will judge such arrogance correctly and justly punish it according to His perfect will. The only way out is to repent. It is to change your ways. It is to embrace Christ, His Son, who died on the cross to pay for our evil attitudes and misguided notions of what true holiness is, and Who was raised from the grave, our graves, to show all that Jesus is: “the way, the truth, and the life.” Faith in Jesus saves. Faith in Jesus changes the heart. Faith never struts out: “Do you know who I am?” Because faith knows: I’m nothing before God. Faith mimics the response of the humbled repentant tax-collector who prayed: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And ultimately, faith also knows the answer, the only correct answer when it comes to the only One Who has earned the right to exclaim: DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?! That answer being: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” Or, as St. Peter says today: “He’s the reason for the hope that you have.” Yes, Christianity is not about us making peace with God out of fear, but Him making peace with us out of love. Amen