Today’s passage marks a real turning point for the ministry of Paul as recorded in the book of Acts, and it’s really important to us today. From this point forward, his sermons and speeches are directed towards pure-D Gentiles. Not the God-fearers who respect the Hebrew Scriptures and who try to worship the God of Abraham. No, he’s really speaking to pagans. The word “pagan” literally means a “country dweller” from the Latin, but the word was used metaphorically as someone who’s “outside.” We’re here in the city, where it’s safe and people are more cultured, and the pagans are “out there.” It’s someone who’s far away from the God of the Bible.
I really can’t wait for us to get to Acts 17, since it’s really pivotal in reaching out to a lost world. But here we see a taste of what’s to come. Please notice that Paul never mentions Moses or Abraham or the prophets. What does he appeal to?
It’s time to remember another theological term I’ve mentioned before: General revelation. If you recall it easily, then I apologize. But for those who need a refresher or who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s pretty important. The best way to understand it is by contrasting it with its opposite, Special revelation. Special revelation is truth which God has granted to us by direct communication, and we'd never have known it any other way. Here are some examples: The nature of God, the story of creation, what’s wrong with humanity, the way of salvation, the afterlife, and a host of others. By direct communication I’ve referring to his spokespeople like the prophets, and of course the record of that revelation which is the Bible.
So now we can grasp what general revelation is. It’s revelation which God has given virtually everyone on earth. There are things we can know about him just be observing the world.
That’s what Paul is talking about when he says that God “has not left himself without testimony.” He goes on to specify exactly what he means: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
The Lord has provided a wonderful and prosperous world for us in which to live, hasn’t he? Yes, even with all its problems (caused by sin entering it) it has a lot of beauty. He didn’t have to do it, you know. He didn’t have to design taste buds which can discern sweet from sour. He didn’t have to plant sensors in our nose which can fill us with ecstasy in a rose garden. He didn’t have to make. . . um. . . marital intimacy so wonderful (this is a kid-friendly blog).
But he did. And that’s supposed to lead us to him. But here in this very passage we see a microcosm of mankind’s response to general revelation. Paul pointed out these things, and it didn’t stop them for a moment from their idolatrous intentions. General revelation isn't enough. Why not?
There are two reasons. First, general revelation is incomplete. We can figure out there’s a Creator out there, but we can’t tell much about him from nature. Do I need to point out how cruel nature can be at times? There’s very little compassion for the “other” in nature. And yes, we get rain but we also get floods and drought. Life is full of pleasures, but for most it’s also full of suffering and pain. We need more.
But that's not the highest hurdle. If someone actually did pursue God, if they really sought him out, wouldn’t he reveal himself? Of course he would. Jesus promised that if we seek we’ll find. That leads us to our second problem. On our own we’ll never seek the true God. We’ll hide from him behind our idols. We’ll try to fill that hole in our hearts with a thousand different things.
But the Good News is that he's seeking us. That’s why we need missionaries. Every missionary is an agent of a Shepherd seeking his lost sheep. And he won’t be satisfied until every single one of them is on his shoulders on the way back home.
Lord Jesus, thank you so much for seeking me out. I ran from you for quite a while, but you didn’t give up. You hunted me down with your unfaltering and unrelenting love.