There are few discourses in the scripture that are as powerful as Paul’s discourse on Mars’ Hill in Acts 17. Contrary to popular belief, Mars’ Hill was not simply a pagan shrine. In reality, it was a kind of court room. It’s very likely that Paul’s discourse was a defense at his trial, which makes what he says all the more impressive.
Paul would not have won many popularity contests, then or now. He starts his discourse by essentially calling the philosophers of his day ignorant, that is they didn’t even really know who they worshipped. And he had a point. The Athenians were so superstitious that they made an inscription to “the unknown god”, just in case they missed any in their religious devotion.
Is there really any doubt that Paul would have called our generation ignorant? When you have people sending out “energy” into “the universe” you have essentially the same thing the Athenians were doing. We don’t want to name our “god” for fearing of offending people or leaving anyone out. It is this exact spirit that Paul was attacking. “That God has a name,” Paul says, “and it’s time you knew what it was.”
He goes on to say that it’s this “unknown God” who created the heavens and the earth, and who gives breath to all who live. It’s also this God who will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he has appointed, and that he has shown this by raising this man from the dead. Paul’s audience responded a lot like my generation would. Most of them sneered and walked away, even mocking Paul for daring to believe in such delusional nonsense.
Sounds familiar right? In this age of technological and scientific advancement it’s becoming less and less popular to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There are even some “Christians” who try to explain it away by saying that it was a “spiritual resurrection.” That is garbage. There was either a bodily resurrection, or none at all. The scriptures give us no other choice.
But I digress. The skeptics of our day would have you believe that it’s foolishness to believe in bodily resurrection. They argue that those are just superstitions passed down by people who were not as “smart” as we are. In reality, most ancient people didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection either. We aren’t smarter than them, because they would have argued the exact same thing we do. Dead bodies don’t just get up and walk away.
However, this is completely missing the point. None of the early Christians believed that dead bodies just get up and walk away. They believed that God intervened in history and raised this one man from the dead, and that event changed EVERYTHING. That’s what Paul was trying to get across to the Athenians that day as he argued with them. The God who created everything that they saw around them raised Jesus from the dead, and if they had let him continue he surely would have said that because Jesus rose, they could too.
That’s what my generation needs to hear. Enough with this nonsense about “energy” being sent out to some faceless and nameless “universe.” There is a real God who really loves you, and he proved it by sending Jesus to this earth in a very real historical way. Jesus died a historical death, and was raised from the dead in accordance with the scriptures and history. And because he rose we can too.
But my generation must also be warned that there is coming a day when every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There is a day of judgment fixed, and the reality is that we don’t know when that will be. Does that sound like a fairytale to you? That’s ok, but I must warn you that that’s exactly what Noah’s generation thought too. And then a flood swept them away.
The sad reality is that there will always be people who mock. It happened two thousand years ago at Mars’ Hill, and it’s still happening today. But that doesn’t change the truth of the matter. My generation must learn that there is a God who loves them, but that God is also a God of righteousness. It’s ok if you don’t believe us, or even if you want to mock us. We’re used to it. But my generation will never be able to say that they weren’t properly warned.