TEXT – Acts 14:11-17 (NIV Bible):
 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”  Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.  The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.  But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:  “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.  In the past, He let all nations go their own way.  Yet He has not left himself without testimony: 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.”
LIVING IN AN ILLUSION:
There was a movie a few years ago, with the actor/comedian Jim Carey as the lead, The Truman Show. The storyline was about a man named Truman Burbank who was adopted as a newborn by a large Corporation.
The corporation created an entire city on the movie set with 5000 cameras, then placing Truman in the artificial city without Truman knowing it was all a fake.
Of course Truman goes through life in Seahaven (the artificial city), thinking everything and everyone around him are real. Truman was perfectly happy and content for 30 years, with a perfect sky, a computer controlled climate, and a wife and friend who are really actors, and so forth. I think you get the picture. It is the only REALITY Truman knows!
At least until a series of accidents start and Truman’s questioning of this “REALITY”, and he finally begins figuring it out for himself and walks off the set into the REAL WORLD.
“Is belief in God like Truman in The Truman Show?” Some people think so. Critics claim it’s all because… it is the only reality that “religious” people have been presented.
The movie set experience of “organized religion” has meticulously manufactured and manipulated circumstances, causing people to live in the ILLUSION of God.
These same critics point out, there’s no denying that people who say they BELIEVE IN GOD are real, are happy, and content…even as Truman was happy and content in his world.
However, behind the set, there are merely human directors who are pulling the strings, orchestrating all the right circumstances to make BELIEF in God appear real. Whether that’s true or not, I’m only pointing out what some people are saying about Christianity.
True liberation comes as it did for Truman; to turn our back on our make-believe world and venture into the real world…a world without organized religion pulling the strings.
CHURCHES shouldn’t be an ORGANIZATION in the first place. They should be considered an ORGANISM–a living, breathing, GOD creative entity.
The American Population Believes that God Exists!
At least 95% do (Gallup and Lindsay 25). According to George Gallup’s 1999 poll, interest in God and spirituality is on the rise, not declining (10). Yet when we begin to ask what kind of God is that exists, people are less sure.
Some people envisions of God is impersonal, like the FORCE in the movie Star Wars. Or view God as a benevolent Santa Claus, a God that has no higher goal than our happiness and success.
THE STRAIGHT TALK PRESENTED IN THE BIBLE’S TEACHING:
The Bile clearly teaches that knowing God is for real; that He’s NOT our fulfillment as an elaborate scheme orchestrated by people, like myself.
God’s Calling Cards (Acts 14:15-17):
When Paul and his friend Barnabas arrive, God enables Paul through the power of the Holy Spirit, to perform a MIRACLE, where a disabled man was suddenly able to walk. People were so amazed, their superstition takes over and they try to WORSHIP Paul and Barnabas as Greek gods Zeus and Hermes.
Paul and Barnabas are only messengers…ordinary guys bringing the message of the GOOD NEWS (the Gospel) of God.
Now the citizens of Lystra weren’t JEWISH, they didn’t know the Old Testament story of God creating the heavens and earth, of God choosing Abraham in establishing the nation of Israel.
Instead, they were PAGANS…worshipping the traditional Greek and Roman gods.
Paul’s challenge to the populace was to turn from their “worthless” superstitions, to the LIVING GOD. In case you’re wondering, the word “worthless” here means: EMPTY, UNPROFITABLE, VAIN , AIMLESS , HOLLOW- the “absences of purpose or ground or failure to attain any true purpose.[See Footnotes [i]].
Their WORSHIP was empty, hollow, because it was just words– Zeus and Hermes and the other gods didn’t exist in reality. BUT, the LIVING GOD is the God who is SELF-EXISTENT; the God who depends on no one! All because He is the LIVING GOD; He created ALL life, whether it’s life in the air, life on earth, or the life in the sea.
God had been working through the nation of Israel up to this point. He allowed the rest of the nations to go their own way. God was preparing the way of the birth of His Messiah, His Son, to bring God’s blessing to the rest of the nations. But until then, God wasn’t directly reaching out to other nations.
Take Heart…God Hadn’t Abandoned the other Nations!
God left a WITNESS of Himself among ALL PEOPLE everywhere. God had left the nations evidence, “CALLING CARDS” about His existence.
So how can we know GOD is for real? Where is the EVIDENCE?
Because of His “calling cards” He left us to see. God’s fingerprints are all over the world we live in…IF, we take the time to investigate. No one clue is inclusive in itself. It becomes the cumulative effect of these clues that builds a strong case that GOD IS FOR REAL!
If God made the EVIDENCE His existence so conclusive, every rational person had to BELIEVE. But God wants people to BELIEVE in Him freely, out of LOVE, so He leaves enough evidence for the seeker to know He’s there.
The EVIDENCE Can be easily Overlooked…
If you’re not looking, not seeking and you don’t want to see it…the EVIDENCE can be easily overlooked.
“For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain in their inner consciousness, because God [Himself] has shown it to them. For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made–His handiworks. So [men] are without excuse–altogether without any defense or justification” (Romans 1:19-20 AMP).
THE PEOPLE OF ROME:
In many ways the people of Rome were similar to the people of Lystra, except the people of Rome were educated, civilized pagans.
In the context, Paul is describing why God’s wrath against sin was being revealed against ALL PEOPLE everywhere, religious and irreligious alike.
In the verses above, Paul tells us that certain things about God can be known once for all. Even though God’s WHOLENESS might not be known because human minds are limited and confined–a MYSTERY (Romans 16:25-27).
But there are certain things we can know about God; these things include God’s eternal POWER and the invisible characteristics that make God who He is!
God makes these things “PLAIN” TO ALL PEOPLE!
The word “plain” means obvious, evident, clear and well-known. God’s attributes aren’t only for the “spiritually” endowed Christian, but according to Paul, they’re evident to everyone.
God is invisible and unknowable, yet God made Himself both visible and knowable through the created world. [See Footnote [ii]]
Because of this, no one can say, “But I didn’t know.” So this passage of Scripture in Romans 1:19-20, is taking us a step further than the previous verses given in Acts.
Paul’s not just saying the universe contains the EVIDENCE, but we can know God is real because He reveals Himself …THROUGH THE UNIVERSE. In other words, God is actively speaking through His creation, making His invisible attributes visible and clear.
HOW FOCUSING ON THE UNIVERSE REVEALS GOD:
The BEGINNING OF THE UNIVERSE REVEALS GOD’S POWER–
All physicists today believe in the “BIG BANG”–that the universe spontaneously came into being by an enormous explosion. Beyond the “big bang”, physicists are speechless, because that’s delving into an unknown world of MYSTERY. Yet it makes perfect sense the big bang was generated by a God of ETERNAL POWER in the verses of Romans 1.
The COMPLEXITY OF THE UNIVERSE REVEALS GOD’S WISDOM–
The more we learn about the physical world around us, the more complex we realize it is. One strand of DNA contains enough information to fill all the textbooks available. But the COMPLEXITY is so finely tuned…perfectly designed for life to exist.
This REVEALS GOD’S WISDOM designing such a complex world in such a way, enabling LIFE to flourish.
Finally, THE MORAL ORDER OF THE UNIVERSE REVEALS GOD’S JUSTICE–
Our internal sense of right and wrong, that inner moral compass, reveals the fact that we live in a moral universe with the sense of right and wrong. Growing up as a child, my parents would say “just follow your conscience Mel.”
Since some things are MORALLY right and some things are MORALLY wrong, it points to a LAWGIVER, a morally JUST Being who created right and wrong (Genesis 3).
Now the question immediately arose when I was doing my investigation, if God makes Himself clear that He is the Creator of the Universe, why are there atheists and agnostics everywhere I turn these days?
ATHEISM is a form of denial. Just like alcoholics who become more and more blind to their problem the more they drink, we become more and more blind to God’s Light the more we sin against God. Eventually, we reach the point we truly believe God’s not real just like the alcoholic reaches the point he truly believes he doesn’t have a drinking problem.
BEING A SEEKER (Acts 17:26-28):
“From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that man would SEEK Him and perhaps REACH out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”
Paul is saying to the Athenians, we ALL come from a common ancestor.
Now the Athenians were defensive and believed that their race was superior to all others. They didn’t need another god–they already had plenty to bow down to as it was!
But Paul claims we all share an ancestry that God Himself was responsible in arranging the basic circumstances of our lives. God did this so we would SEEK Him.
God’s PURPOSE in placing you and I in this time, and this place, this part of the world we reside, and as you are reading this blog-POST, was for you to SEEK HIM!
God designed us to not only SEEK, but to REACH for Him. The word “REACH” describes the groping and fumbling of a blind person. Left to our own resources, we are not equipped to actually find God. But like blind people, we’re trying to hike an unknown mountain trail without a guide and we’ll get lost along the way. So we if we SEEK without a guide, we are unable to find God.
But the good news is, God is never distant: “We are His offspring.”
WE KNOW GOD IS REAL BECAUSE we were made to SEEK HIM–
There’s a “god-shaped vacuum” in the heart of every person. God designed each and everyone to SEEK HIM.
Doing things your way…
IF GOD IS REAL, then the parallel to The Truman Show is correct, except it’s those who reject God’s existence that are living in a manufactured world.
It is those who are in REBELLION against God, who are avoiding Him because they want to live their lives, using a lyric from an old song…“My way” and where they are hiding in a make-believe world of DENIAL.
The Calling as a Church…?
Our calling isn’t to DEFEND God–He is perfectly able to do that Himself–we are to introduce people to a relationship with JESUS so they, like Truman Burbank, walk off their Seahaven set and venture into the REAL WORLD, the world God created and designed to live in. GOD’S KINGDOM.
[i] Strong’s Concordance #3152
The Truman Show – Wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Truman_Show/
Photo MAPS – Bible History Maps/Lystra-Derbe @ biblehistory.com/Lystra
UNIVERSE – hublesite.org/telescope/