Acts 17:24-28: An old recording.
“24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.”NIV
In our times, where we are used to hearing the clean sounds of digital recordings, it sounds a little strange to hear preachers who were recorded on wax, or reel to reel tape recorders – especially if you still pick up the hiss and crackle. Well, in Acts 17, you have an old, old recording of the apostle Paul. It’s not on tape or vinyl, but we can hear this preacher through a written record, and his words have contemporary relevance.
We have seen that relevant communication involves starting where people are. We still find that principle woven into this opening section of the message, with Paul quoting words that would be familiar to his hearers (28). ‘All truth is God’s truth’, and the apostle is establishing a ‘bridge’ with his listeners. In Boston Spa, we live on one one side of the River Wharfe. In order for vehicles and pedestrians to travel across to the other side of the river to next village of Thorp Arch, a bridge has been built. For public speakers, it’s wise to think in terms of ‘building a bridge’ with your hearers. How are you going to get the content that is in your mind, on your heart, over to the ‘other bank’ where your listeners live. Paul was expert at spanning any gulf, and it is our privilege (and responsibility) to learn from him.
Paul seems to acknowledge that people in Athens were seeking after God (27). After all, God has set the world up in such a way as to facilitate this. Yet he did not fail to rebuke the idolatrous route by which they were travelling (29). Our creature-hood – the fact that we have been created in God’s image – tells us innately (if we will but listen) that we should not worship images. We know enough about God, from the created, order to keep us from idolatry and immorality (Romans 1:18-32). We are without excuse before God. Being relevant isn’t about being trendy and light. It involves finding meaningful ways to express the truths of the gospel – all of them – and to call people to repentance.
By the way, the church still needs to understand that, as helpful as buildings can be, God is not confined to them or limited by them (24). Verse 27b could not be said if God spent all His time in a church building!! He is active in the world. We will find Him still in the ‘market place’. Let’s join Him in His work.
‘Around them stood the most exquisite temples ever reared by human genius, but these were not the home of God. He seeks the lowly and contrite heart, not of the Jew alone, but wherever man is found, and on whatever intellectual plane.’ F.B. Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.495.