Each of us filters life through a lens. As we engage in conversation, we interpret according to a lens. As we face trials, we question through a lens. As we struggle with identity, we search according to a lens. Regardless of awareness, our culture, upbringing, education, and the like shape the lens that seeks to make sense of our world.
What’s more interesting is that, for many, the lens is changeable. Depending on someone’s morality and source of purpose, our lens can bend to affirm what we want to hear. When I’ve found myself on the wrong end of an argument, my view on humanity, the nature of relationships, and my definition of love will determine (or prompt) my response.
If someone’s view on humanity comes through one lens while their definition of love from another, there’s no road to a clear “right” response.
As Christians, our lens is static. We belong to our savior, Jesus Christ, who is our King. As the King and our King, there’s a sense in which he governs the world and rules the heart of men1. Everything we do and engage in ought to be filtered through the lens of Christ.
Many onlookers won’t understand, for the truth is not in them2. The nature of sin is rebellion against the ruling and creating God. We can assume that those of the world are still doing their best to try and see as clearly as possible. However, for those of the world, they can only use a worldly lens, for this is what they have. They may want the world to be their lens, or they may long for a better way to see, but apart from being gifted the lens of Christ, their vision is never true.
These ideologies battle in Acts 17. Paul enters a city (Athens) where the worship of man-made gods lace the streets. Luke mentions two popular philosophies that promise answers and direction for life, but in comparison to Paul’s God, fail to deliver.
Paul addresses the competing worldviews by appealing to creation and the personal nature of the one true God. From an interpretive perspective, Paul’s argument grounds itself on an earlier accusation that King Jesus has turned the world upside down3.
The King Rules
One of the two philosophies mentioned in Acts 17 believes a god exists but does not care about its people. The god is distant, impersonal, and indifferent. Their lens of the world was primarily pleasure, found particularly in a peaceful life and freedom from pain.
What did these philosophers do when pain inevitably made its appearance? Belief in a distant god most certainly resulted in taking the feat upon themselves to climb out of the trial. Two possible ways to “climb” are ignoring or numbing the pain. Neither provide any real hope.
In contrast, Paul paints a picture of a God who “made the world and everything in it” and has “determined allotted periods” and “boundaries” that his creation should “seek God4.”
A God who has created all people and all things has authority over that creation and determines its purpose. We know God’s purpose is personal and intentional. God created in such a way that there would be a relationship of seeking, knowing, and worshiping.
Scripture tells us that all things were created by, through, and for Jesus Christ, further deepening our understanding of purpose5. Rather than meandering through life with the expectation and fleeting hope of sustaining one’s happiness, we have a God who has purposed the route for our highest good–himself.
King Jesus is ruling all things everywhere. For those who love him, this is great news. Our path in life, including pain, is divinely written for the glory of the gospel. The good Creator invites us to look upward from the valley, upward from the mountaintop, and trust that all is in his hands and he is with us.
The King Sustains
The idol worship in Athens resembles the audience of Elijah the prophet. In 1 Kings, Elijah tells the people to call out to Baal, calling down fire on their sacrifice. When nothing happens, Elijah mocks them, “either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
Idols are powerless and often portrayed as needing something from man rather than being for man. This system is convenient for sinners who love their sin. Idols allow humanity to live within their own man-made rules, rebelling against the Divine Rule.
Paul is explicit, saying God “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 everything6.” The philosophies of the world look through a lens built on fragile and flawed gods, while Christians look through a lens of assurance. The one true God is the author and sustainer of life. We don’t need to wonder if our God is accomplishing his good plans or sanctifying his people. We have assurance through the cross. With this lens, we can look back and see the finished and completed work of Christ once and for all. This is the assurance that eliminates superstition and hopeless fear.
In direct opposition to the philosophies at the time, our Savior came to serve7, not to be served–and in him is life8, which he has given through salvation. Idols break, fail, and tempt while the King builds, gives, and sustains.
The King Saves
Paul leads his hearers to the logical conclusion–a God that creates, purposes, sustains, knows, and cares for his people deserves worship. Worship is an act of loving obedience but unfortunately, humanity failed to do this well in the garden and consequently still fails.
Paul addresses the crowd who are directly worshiping things other than the one true God and warns them that “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 appointed9.”
The God of the universe determines what’s right and wrong, good and bad, holy and lawless. As a God who loves, his law is good and will ultimately lead to our highest joy. Breaking that law, however, requires judgment. Paul ensures the good news by communicating that God’s judgment will take place by someone specific–Jesus–and the assurance for sinners resides in his resurrection from the dead.
The accusation at the beginning of the chapter was a complement to the gospel–it was working. The good news of King Jesus does turn the world upside down because it changes the hearts of men. Idols will leave men in their sin, determining morality, and governing their existence. Beneath those realities is a lack of hope, peace, purpose, and true life.
In contrast, men and women saved by the grace of Christ will live under the rule of Christ. The gospel becomes the lens through which we interpret and understand the world. Jesus’ kingship is personal, loving, merciful, gracious, powerful, and eternal. The King of Kings promises and always delivers.