PFOA : Acts 17:22-31

"So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being"; as even some of your own poets have said “For we are indeed his offspring. Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31 ESV)

 

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” v.23.

Last December, Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College, one of America’s leading Evangelical institutions donned the hijab, the traditional headdress worn by Muslim women, as an identification of solidarity with them in the wake of the shooting in Los Angeles by a radicalised Islamist. In her explanation, she claimed that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Apart from issues of freedom of expression, and racial and gender discrimination, a theological question is also raised, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”

The professor invoked Pope Francis and famous Yale theologian Miroslav Volf in her explanation that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Surveys conducted in the US showed that Christians are divided over this question. Among evangelicals, about one-third agreed. Academics too were divided. Missionaries working among Muslims and Arabic Christians mostly disagreed, but find such discussion unhelpful.

When you ask the wrong question, it is pretty difficult to get the right answer. I think a more helpful question is “Do Christians and Muslims know the same God?” At Areopagus, Paul was not confrontational. He respected that the Athenians were religious, seeking to know and worship God. The altar “To the unknown god”, begged the question of who god is, and Paul proceeded to explain to the gathering in their context, the one creator God who is spiritual, righteous and will one day judge everyone. He pointed to the one who was put to death by men but vindicated by God through his resurrection. Although he did not actually use the name “Jesus”, which in that context might have immediately caused his audience to “switch off”, he made it quite clear who he was talking about. He was the one promised in Jewish prophecy, who lived and taught in Palestine, whom the Jewish leadership, with the support of the Roman authorities put to death on the cross. The truth claim is that God, the righteous judge will one day judge the world, and his call to people everywhere to repent is validated by the resurrection.

Paul did not shrink back from making the unique and controversial claim – that this righteous man, whom the Jews put to death, was raised from the dead. This is the One by whom everyone will be judged, thus giving assurance to those who believe in Him.

Is this the God the Muslims know? Or the Jews, or the Mormons, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses? These religions all claim to believe in one God, associating Him with God of Abraham, but do not know Him as the Triune God who loves us and in the person of Jesus, the Son, came to lived among us, revealing God to man, dying for their redemption, and was vindicated by being raised from the dead, giving His followers the hope of eternal life. This hope is guaranteed by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of God, in our lives now.

“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim 1:12)


Pray in today’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious and post-modern world, which does not recognise objective truths; values tolerance but is intolerant towards Christians and their truth claims; that the followers of Jesus Christ will not only be gracious and conciliatory in their life and witness, but will stand firm on proclaiming the truth on the Gospel.