16 Truths about God from Paul’s Speech in Acts 17:24-31

Last night, our Sunday evening message brought Acts 17 to a close, and below is a summary of what we went through as we dissected Paul’s speech.

There are many truths to learn about God from Paul’s speech in Athens.  In Acts 17:24-31, Paul exalts the nature of God that the Athenians have so poorly distorted in their idolatry and pagan philosophies.

1.  God is the maker of all creation (17:24)
2.  God is the ruler of all creation (17:24)
3.  God is self-sufficient (17:25)
4.  God sustains all creation (17:25)
5.  God is purposeful when he creates (17:26)
6.  God is providential in his creation (17:26)
7.  God is God-centered (17:27)
8.  God is omnipresent (17:27)
9.  God is the source of human life (17:28)
10.  God is the father of all people as their creator (17:28)
11.  God cannot be materially represented (17:29)
12.  God is superior to his creation (17:29)
13.  God is patient (17:30)
14.  God is a jealous God (17:30)
15.  God is the judge (17:31)
16.  God is righteous (17:31)

That’s two theological truths from each verse of the speech.  After spending only one sermon on that speech, now I realize there were 16 messages buried there.  What a wonderful series on the doctrine of God that would make…

Seeing/Entering the Kingdom of God Now

In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that only people who are born again will see/enter the kingdom of God (3:3, 5).

The four Gospels (especially John’s), and the New Testament in general, presents the reader with an “already-but-not-yet” tension regarding kingdom realities like new birth, resurrection, eternal life, justification, etc.  These blessings are not relegated to the day of the kingdom’s consummation but are partially realized and experienced with the kingdom’s inauguration in Jesus.

Jesus wasn’t telling Nicodemus that people who are born again will one day enter the kingdom–they will enter the kingdom now with the gift of eternal life, and they will enter the kingdom now with the gift of regeneration.

This means that when people are born again they are citizens of the kingdom of God.  Born again now, people of the kingdom now.

The Distinction Between Acknowledging Facts and Demonstrating Faith

Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).

Now that admission sounds good, since it’s true, but it’s woefully inadequate.  Jesus proceeds to explain to Nicodemus how the latter must experience new birth in order to see the kingdom of God.  This means…Nicodemus knows things that may be true about Jesus (i.e. that Jesus is from God), but such knowledge does not necessarily flow from saving faith.

Christians are after more than just having others comprehend and acknowledge certain facts.  There’s a difference between knowing what is true and loving what is true.  There’s a difference between knowing what is true and joyfully embracing the implications of what is true.

Nicodemus’ admission does not proceed from saving faith.  After all, Moses and Elijah were prophets from God.  Nicodemus is probably not claiming anything more for Jesus than he would claim for Moses or Elijah.

The saddest thing that the reader discovers is that Nicodemus knows about Jesus’ signs while simultaneously failing to see where they are pointing.  He is not yet drawing the right conclusions about the signs.

The end of John’s Gospel records the purpose of the signs that Nicodemus is failing to comprehend: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples…But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

That’s what Nicodemus should do: he should believe in Jesus.  That’s what the signs were telling him.  That’s what the signs are telling you.

An Important Parallelism in John 3

In John 3, there are debated questions about the “new birth.”  For instance, what does it mean to “see” the kingdom of God (3:3)?  And, what does it mean to be “born of water and the Spirit” (3:5)?

We should note an important parallelism between Jesus’ words in 3:3 and 3:5 that seems to shed light on such questions.  Since both verses begin with “I tell you the truth,” I will focus on what comes after those phrases.

We must put v. 3 and v. 5 in a symmetrical arrangement:

V. 3: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

V. 5: “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

I’ve italicized certain above phrases in order to emphasize certain parallels.  Let’s make 2 observations:

First, “see” is parallel with “enter.”  When Jesus speaks of “entering” the kingdom, then, he is explaining what he means by “seeing” it.

Second, being born “again” means to be born “of water and the Spirit.”  This solves what seems to be an enduring interpretive issue.  Some wonder, does Jesus refer to natural birth with the word “water” and then spiritual birth with the word “Spirit”?  The parallelism denies that view.  Instead, the words “of water and the Spirit” all refer to the new birth.

These observations may provoke further questions, and that’s good.  At least by viewing these verses in parallel form, we will be asking the right questions.

…Questions such as:

(1) Does one enter the kingdom now by faith, or at the end when the fullness of God’s kingdom comes?

(2) How does being born again by “water” relate to being born again by “the Spirit”?  Are these two separate acts that bring about the new birth, are they two ways of speaking of the same things, or are the two complementary notions?  Does this “water” reference have anything to do with baptism?  And since the Greek word for “spirit” can refer to the human spirit or the Holy Spirit, how do we know which one Jesus meant?

But those are questions for a later day.

Jesus Takes Persecution Personally

In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus is journeying to Damascus to do what he loves to wake up in the morning for: persecute Christians.  But in a life-changing encounter, the risen and exalted Lord Jesus speaks to him on the Damascus Road:

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he said (Acts 9:5).

Those words were shocking to Saul, for two reasons.  First, he now realized that Jesus was not a dead false Messiah but the risen and exalted Messiah.  Second, he learned that his actions against Christians were ultimately against Jesus himself.

Jesus takes persecution personally.  While Saul was persecuting the church because of his zeal for the name of God, he had actually aligned himself against the purposes of God by persecuting the followers of the Messiah.

When people across the world persecute believers, Saul’s lesson on the Damascus Road needs to be relearned again and again: Jesus takes persecution personally, and aligning yourself against God is no safe place to be.

Heresy, by Alister McGrath

In this book, McGrath converges Christian history and systematic theology in ways that are insightful and instructive.  I loved this book.  It was thought-provoking, and there were many “aha” moments.

Basically, Heresy is about what its title indicates.  McGrath discusses the nature of heresy, the rise of heresy, some classic heresies, the reemergence of heresies in our day, and much, much more.

Some of the more emphasized points in the book include these:

(1) Classic heresies were not advocated by people who thought of themselves as deviating from Christian orthodoxy–in their minds, they were trying to uphold Christianity, not subvert it.

(2) Over time, heresies are recognized to be such because they (if left unconfronted) would pose a corrupting and destructive threat to Christian orthodoxy.

(3) In the first few centuries of the church, it is clear that orthodoxy triumphed over heresy because of the intellectual and theological veracity of the truth, not because of political or social powers who had an agenda.

(4) Heresies do not go away; they simply reemerge in different packaging.

In 10 chapters, McGrath treats the topic of heresy in a way I have not yet encountered before.  His treatment has references from the patristics, all the way to our present day with authors like Dan Brown and Richard Dawkins.

I learned a great deal from this book, and I think every Christian will be immensely helped by chewing through its chapters.  Get and read Heresy.  You will love the truth more as a result!