Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious: for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' Therefore since we are the offspring of God we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:22-31)
These words, penned some 1930 years ago in the city of Rome before men who spent their days pondering the issues of life are doubtless some of the most important words which we also should ponder seriously in our day.
It cannot be denied, that in the quiet moments of our life, when the hustle and bustle of everyday things is put behind us, there have been moments when we too, each and everyone of us has pondered the issues of life. Perhaps you have peered into the heavens on a clear night and felt so very small amidst the stars of heaven. It may have been a day at the beach, when there was no one else around and you stared at the surf as it came rolling in, endlessly, wave after wave. You might have looked out and perceived the greatness of the ocean and wondered how all this came to be and where you fit in with all these things that surround you.
First we must understand that everything that exists, did not come by chance. The "ponderers" of our day tell us that we came as a result of a series of chance accidents. But you know and I know that this cannot be true. There is something inside of us that testifies that we are not the children of some primordial slime. Besides, what is "chance?" And what power does "chance" have to do anything? Chance in the last analysis is NO THING. The truth of the matter is that there is a God. And this God is the supreme Ruler and Creator of all things. This is how God introduces Himself to us: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). Notice that He has no need to "prove" His existence. It is assumed by Him that you know that He is, and He is right in this assumption. Let's look at just a few words which some others wrote concerning this:
Now it is also true that whatever God created, He created for a purpose and has predetermined how all things will be. He didn't create the universe to be like a clock that is wound up and then allowed to run on its own. It is by His providence and care that everything, even the smallest particle of the atom, is governed to be in harmony with all creation. Like an artist, He had a master plan of what He wanted to do. And each and every part was created to work in harmony; showing His greatness, wisdom and glory.
God is the One who has made all things and He put His "stamp" on all things; even we bear the mark of His creative hand. For God made man in His own image. We are special creatures; set apart from the rest of His marvelous creation. Unlike all other animals, we are able to think rationally, invent and create things, and so much more. But the most important and unique difference is that we are also moral creatures. This God has made us for a specific purpose, that we might know Him and enjoy Him forever. Now God is perfect in His being and in all that He does. (Deut. 32:4) But looking at the world as it now is you may think, "If God is perfect and everything He made is perfect, including mankind then something is terribly wrong! How could the world be created perfect when all around us there is sickness, poverty, pain. sorrow, crime, injustice and death?" This is how an ancient writer perceived his world:
In the beginning, man was made with true knowledge, wisdom and righteousness. The first man Adam, and his wife Eve had perfect communion with God, themselves and all nature. Everything was in perfect harmony just as The Creator had intended it to be. And to Adam and Eve, God gave all things and gave them authority over all the earth and the responsibility to care for it. They were placed in a beautiful garden with all manner of flowers and trees and even a brook that ran through the midst of it. Of all the fruits of the garden Adam and Eve were given to have as food, with the exception of one tree and its fruit; the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of this one tree they were forbidden to eat of its fruit under penalty of death. Well, putting myself in their "shoes" it would seem rather reasonable, in fact more than generous that the God who made man would give to him everything there was but for just one thing. And add to that a death threat...well, that tree would certainly have no interest in my mind, right?
Well, maybe that's not quite true. For I know that when someone says something can't be done, it usually makes me all the more determined to do it. Tell a child that he is forbidden to have a cookie, and more often than not, at the first opportune moment the child will sneak a cookie. But Adam and Eve, being made upright and full of love for their Creator, didn't have these thoughts. Such thoughts never came into their mind. To obey God was the most desirous thought in their minds. However, there was a creature who didn't think this way. And being a hater of God and of His goodness, he came to Eve one day and tempted her by contradicting what God had said. In fact he in so many words called God a liar for he said:
What this serpent was saying to Eve was this; if God really, truly loved you He would have given you of EVERY tree in the garden to eat from and not forbidden you to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The serpent was suggesting that God wanted to keep Adam and Eve "under His thumb"; He wasn't sincerely concerned about their welfare and happiness, but rather exerting His authority over them. So Eve believed the lie, went to the tree and ate of the forbidden fruit. Then she went and gave some to her husband Adam, and he ate also. This was nothing less than simple disobedience. They rejected that which God had commanded and did that which they thought was best. How foolish they were and how tragic the results. For with the prohibition came also the penalty for disobedience; death! And that's exactly what happened, they both died. . .!
When we consult the Bible, it seems like this couldn't be true, for immediately after our first parents ate of this fruit, it is written that they looked at each other and saw that they were naked and they were ashamed. And then they made coverings for themselves out of leaves and when they heard the sound of God walking in the Garden, they hid themselves (Genesis 3:7-13). How are we to understand all this? How did they die? Did they die? Indeed they did! In fact they died in three ways:
From that point on, everything that Adam and Eve did would not be out of obedience to God nor from a heart of thankfulness and gratitude, but out of self interest. Their love for God, for each other and for all that was around them was gone. Man's future was hopeless and bleak, and there was absolutely nothing that man could do to change his "fallen" condition. In fact, the penalty of "original sin" made it impossible for Adam and Eve to even want to change things back to the way they were originally. The lie of the serpent was a half-truth in a manner of speaking. For they now would see themselves as "gods", deciding for themselves what was good and evil, right and wrong. But, hating what was actually right and good, they would always choose that which was wrong and evil. We can see the tragic results by reading of the immediate family history of this first couple. Their first two sons graphically illustrate the point. For the first-born ended up murdering his brother out of jealously. And the wickedness just grew from there.
Things looked hopeless indeed for mankind and the ancient writer saw in his day what we see in our own day:
At this point it might do well to return to the place where God confronted Adam and Eve concerning their transgression. We should do this for in it we will see that God was not only a just God but also a merciful God. Not only will we read the pronouncement of the condemnation due for their disobedience, but we will also see the pronouncement of a promise of hope. Thus we read:
You can see that I have highlighted the most important part of this passage so you wouldn't miss it. We learn much later, in the New Testament (Galatians 3:16) that this "Seed" is a particular person. Another detail which we should also notice is the wording used here. In the original Hebrew, where the text says, "He shall bruise your head. . ." the word bruise is better translated crush! In other words the seed of the serpent will inflict injury upon the "seed of the woman" although painful and debilitating, the serpent shall receive a fatal blow. What all this means is that at a future time a descendent of Adam and Eve will be born that will decisively defeat the serpent and bring deliverance from the curse under which we, as the descendants of Adam, are under. It is also interesting to notice that there are two distinct groups made mention of here. There is the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. In other words, there will be people who will be followers of God and those who will be followers of the serpent.
First we must consider the problem in which man is found. Because of his disobedience we saw that Adam and all his descendants were under a curse and were spiritually dead. Romans 5:12 gives us a clear description of what happened in the garden and its effects:
From this text we are taught that Adam did not act on his own, but also acted as the representative head of the entire human race. If Adam had obeyed God, then we would have inherited the blessings through him. However, by his disobedience we have inherited the prescribed punishment, death.
But what of this promise of a "Seed" who would deliver Adam and his seed? What type of person would he be? To be one who is qualified to deliver Adam from the curse, he must of course be a man, a human being and thus a true representative. But as Adam's act of disobedience brought a punishment of eternal weight not only upon himself, but all mankind, the representative must be able to offer an atoning sacrifice of eternal proportions. We know that no mere man can possibly qualify for this role, for all men are but finite creatures and even if one could offer himself as a sacrificial offering, it would only suffice for himself. The only solution possible was for the "Seed" to be an "infinite man." The answer therefore rests not in a mere man, but in the One who alone is infinite; that being God Himself. And that is exactly what we are told. That God took it upon Himself to be the representative of fallen mankind by becoming man.
Throughout the Old Testament this "Seed" of the promise was repeatedly mentioned and sought for. All that He would be and do was exemplified in "types" and "shadows" through the ritual sacrifices, religious articles and special men chosen from a chosen people. God had spoken to many prophets throughout those days and revealed many things concerning this "Seed's" identity. Finally, in the New Testament we are told who this person is. Born of a virgin, in the small village of Bethlehem under terrible conditions, a child was born who was the promised "Seed." God Himself spoke of Him and declared what His name should be:
His name was JESUS, which means "Saviour", and His name was also "Immanuel", God with us. Thus we have God the Saviour, who was born as a man.
Jesus, the God-man lived in perfect obedience to every detail of the law of God. There was absolutely nothing which the law demanded that He did not do, and He refrained from doing anything which the law forbid. Not only that, but He did it all out of a love for God. His "active obedience" was what Adam should have done. So, Jesus met the demands of having a perfect righteousness. But that still leaves the aspect of the punishment which Adam received for his disobedience. God being perfectly just cannot dismiss the penalty, for the demands of the law must be met. It would not have been just nor in accord with His ineffable holy nature. So this too must rest upon the God-man, Jesus. As we mentioned before, the deliverer must be of an infinite nature if He were to atone for Adam and his descendants. And this Jesus was qualified, for He was both the infinite God and true man.
And this is exactly what He did. Through the betrayal of a friend, He was falsely accused of violating Jewish custom and law and was sentenced to death. By means of this physical death, God poured out His infinite wrath upon Him and made Him to endure the penalty for the all the transgressions of all of God's people. Thus sin was atoned for, justice was rendered and God was satisfied by His substitutionary sacrifice (passive obedience).
There was yet
one more item to secure, and that was: How would those for whom Jesus
Christ died receive the redemption which He secured for them? Remember
that all men are "dead" spiritually and lack even the
desire to be delivered from their sinful estate. Again and again
we are reminded of this woeful condition:
And the prophet Job exclaimed:
"Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous before God?"
Since it is obvious that whatever a man does will be unrighteous (sin), for all his deeds flow from selfish motives, there is nothing he can do to facilitate his being just before God. But in the Lord Jesus Christ, God is shown to be "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:26) It is by FAITH that all men are reconciled to God and God reconciled to man. On the basis of the life and death of Christ, and the secret work of the Holy Spirit, God imparts to "dead" sinners a new nature; He regenerates (makes alive) the dead soul and implants a heart that once again loves God and yearns for true knowledge, wisdom and holiness. After this, a person is able once again to not only apprehend the greatness of God, but also the greatness of his need of the Lord Christ, God's appointed Saviour. By trusting in His righteousness and His substitutionary death, a person receives the remission of his sins. Jesus Christ's righteousness is imputed (reckoned) to his account and even more, he is adopted into the family of God and made an heir of a New Heaven and New Earth which is to come. We conclude therefore, that "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). It is ALL of God; salvation is of GRACE. The apostle Paul, speaking to those who have received this great salvation summarizes this salvation by grace beautifully:
Jesus Christ, the God-man is therefore the One and only solution to man's wretched and helpless condition. He alone is the "way the truth and the life" (John 14:6). There is no other possibility of being made right with God apart from the work of Christ. But in Jesus Christ, there is a salvation that is full and free to all who will come. Because of the infinite nature of His atoning sacrifice, there is none so sinful that He cannot save. His blood is all sufficient to cover all the sins of the worst sinner. There is none so sinful that He cannot save, and thus He makes this sincere offer to you:
But, you say, I don't feel the burden of my sins; what shall I do? You are to go the One who can show you your sins and your great need of Christ. You are to pray to the LORD and ask of Him who is merciful and full of grace, and the Giver of all that is good to those who sincerely seek Him. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." (Isa 45:22) Furthermore, you CAN do other things as well. Since God has ordained the means by which sinners receive the conviction of sin and faith to believe in Christ, you can physically make yourself available where those means are found. You can begin attending a church that believes in historic Christianity and affirms that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. One that makes the preaching of the Word its central emphasis, rightly administers the two Christ-ordained sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper, and exercises church disciple. For it is through the preaching of the Word that faith comes (Rom 10:9-10). You are also capable of reading the Bible, God's Word on your own. Pray that God by His Holy Spirit will open your mind to comprehend its meaning and apply its truths to your heart. The most important thing to remember is that "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37) The Lord Christ is willing to receive ALL who come to Him in repentance and faith. Even if your cry is "I believe, help my unbelief!"
"Okay!" you reply, "Yes I can do these things, but how do I find such a church? There are so many and they seem to be all so different." This is true, but God can guide you to find such a church if you are willing to look. We, that labor on The Highway can help you also. There are church directories online which have listings of their individual churches throughout the world. If you would like personal assistance in locating a good confessional church, you can join our Discussion Board and simply post your request in our Church Locator Forum and someone will be glad to aid you in your search.
May the God of all grace and mercy make you His own through the blood of the Lamb.
Jeffrey C. Nesbitt (Pilgrim)
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