The Altar of an Unknown God

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Acts 17:18-23

“…I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.”

altar of the unknown God

In this setting the Apostle Paul has fled from Thessalonica as devout Jews began to stir up strife regarding Paul’s message that Jesus was the Christ. In the haste to evacuate, Paul and Silas are separated as Paul heads into Athens to escape the persecution. While in Athens Paul becomes stirred by the amount of idolatry in this city. He began to dispute with the Jews in Athens on this matter and he caught the ear of some people there. The Bible says there were two sects of people who were hanging around the synagogues, the Epicureans and the Stoics.

History tells us that the Epicurean philosophers generally believed that God existed, however they believed that He was not interested or involved with humanity. Because of this stance they adopted a mentality that believed pleasure was the main purpose of life. In simple terminology these Epicureans basically worshiped themselves. This ideology is still alive and well today!

ON the other side you had the Stoic philosophers, these men held to the perspective that “God was the world’s soul” and that the goal of life was to “rise above all things”. Because of their belief system Stoics showed no emotional response to either pain or pleasure. These 2 groups along with other small groups loved to get their differing worldviews together to discuss and debate philosophy and religion. And upon hearing what they called Paul’s “babbling” they invited Paul to Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill.

Mars’ Hill is the Roman name for a hill in Athens, Greece called the Hill of Ares, or the Areopagus. Ares was the Greek god of war and according to Greek Mythology this hill was the place where Ares stood trial before the other gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. Mars’ Hill served as the meeting place for the Areopagus court, the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal and religious matters. And scripture tells us that it was here where the philosophers of Greece gathered to hear this “new doctrine” of Paul.

As Paul surveyed this region, he discovered a horrifying reality. Although these men were quite intelligent, and although they were among some of the most devout people he had ever met; their world was explained with one inscription. As Paul beheld the the altar of their worship, the inscription simply read “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. And Paul said it is this God whom ye ignorantly worship! The word ignorant doesn’t mean stupid as one might think, rather it speaks of the lack of understanding or knowledge. What Pal was saying to these men that day is this, “you worship a God you do not know”!

What I found fascinating is the word used in this text for unknown is the Greek word agnostos, meaning unknown or forgotten. It is where we get our word agnostic from. Many people in our world misunderstand the word agnostic, they unfortunately assume that atheism and agnosticism are one and the same. That is not true. Atheists deny the existence of deity. Agnostics believe that nothing can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; these people neither claim faith nor disbelief in God. In other words, God is unknown because God is unknowable.

I fear there are too many Christians worshiping at the altar of an unknown God…

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well “true worshipers; worship the Father in spirit and in truth”! God is not interested in people who will only worship Him because of what they feel! God is looking for a people who will worship Him because they know Him! As Jesus prayed to the Father not long before the crucifixion he prayed, The prophet Hosea, prophesying to the post-Calvary era, exclaimed in Hosea 4:16, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”

 It was when I read Hosea’s prophecy that I entered an unusual paradox. I began to wonder, “if it was a tree of knowledge that man was forbidden to touch, how then could man be destroyed for something they never should’ve had?”

The word knowledge in Hebrew means to perceive or to discern. It refers to the opening of the mind and spirit to understand the things around you. The reason Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat that fruit was because knowledge would open the door to sin. Before they ate that fruit they had neither perception or discernment regarding the spiritual forces of Hell, because in the garden discernment wasn’t needed. However when man fell, his eyes were opened and they knew not just the good, they knew evil as well.

So when Hosea looked through the lens of prophecy and began prophesying to our generation, he said “My people will be destroyed for the lack of spiritual discernment.” Hosea was prophesying of a time when God’s people would no longer be able to recognize the difference between what is of God and what is of Hell.

Hosea spoke of a generation who would no longer take a stand against anything, but would rather seek to understand it.

And so like Adam and Eve far too many “Christians” stand around forbidden fruit, asking questions like “what’s wrong with this?” Whats wrong with going there?” Where in the Bible does it say that is a sin?” And we have unknowingly opened the door for the influences of Hell to walk right into our lives and to begin to entice us! All the while we ignorantly and arrogantly worship at the altar of an unknown God.

The reason Paul was so adamant about this is because of what preceded Acts 17. In Acts 16 a devil began following Paul around proclaiming to the world, “these men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.” This girl was saying the right things, but she operated from the wrong spirit! And Paul turned and rebuked that devil out of her. 

You might be wondering, “what’s so wrong with what she did?” On the surface it appears that she was just telling the truth, but Paul discerned the intent of the devil! This devil wasn’t interested in propagating their mission or their message! He was trying to get access to it! He knew if he could ever appear connected to them, then his influence over their followers would increase!

There is a spirit loose in our world that is seeking to connect itself to our movement through flattery and compliments. And our ignorant and arrogant ways have given the devil access and influence over our people!

In today’s world everybody is Pentecostal. And the Oneness Apostolic movement has begun to buy into the hypocrisy! And I refuse to sit back and watch my peers continue to worship at the altar of an unknown God! The united Pentecostal movement is not an exclusive movement. We are not a strict social club with regulated rules and guidelines. We want everybody to experience Pentecost! However, there is still only one way through the door! And unless a man is born again of the water and of the spirit he cannot enter nor see the kingdom of heaven!

If we don’t learn who we are and what we believe, we are in danger of becoming just another denomination of the world! It is not our worship that makes us different, it is not our preaching that makes us different; it is our doctrine that makes us different! And I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation!

Wake up Apostolics! Hear the voice of God ringing this night, “my people are being destroyed for a lack of spiritual discernment!”

Will we continue to haphazardly worship at this altar of an unknown God? Or will something inside of our hearts be drawn to a relationship with Jesus like never before?

“The people that do KNOW their God, shall be strong and do exploits!”

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