The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost July 27, 2014
12, 284, 398, 508
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
When we travel through the cities of our nation, especially here in the South, we see church buildings everywhere. Paul saw something else in Athens, Greece. Everywhere he looked there was a different altar to a different god! The Athenians were practicing what we call “open idolatry.” Paul’s spirit was provoked, or irritated, at the sight.
But the Athenians also practiced a secret idolatry. The last verse of our text says that “all the Athenians and the foreigners…spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” [v.21] How they deceived themselves in their constant devotion to whatever seemed “new” to them! Novelty had become the secret god of the Athenians, and yet, one thousand years before, wise King Solomon had concluded that their devotion to novelty was the greatest of vanities. He wrote: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, et. al.)
Of course, King Solomon never saw cars, computers, cell phones, or airplanes. But Solomon’s wisdom lies on a deeper plane. All the physical laws of the universe, its elements, and even man himself are as old as creation.
With all the natural religions and philosophies man has invented to renew and improve himself, he remains as corrupt as Adam after the fall into sin. Man’s desires and complaints are still the same. After 6,000 years of world history, kingdoms, nations, and people still follow the same pattern of existence: birth, growth, and prosperity followed by decline, death, and decay!
The theory of Evolution is nothing new. Long before the hairy arm of evolution grabbed modern civilization, Greek philosophers believed that the universe was not created by God, but resulted from an “accidental dance of the molecules.”
What about the materialistic self-seeking of our nation’s people. Is this new? Long before Christ Epicurus and his followers spread the notion that since no man is governed by a Creator God, and since man does not exist after death, his highest aim in this life should be to seek pleasure while he can!
Still other Americans exalt the powers of the human mind and the ability to distinguish between good and evil. Some even use the Bible to deny as much physical pleasure as possible. They think that their salvation is to be found in their own will-power and well-thought-out morality. But this is nothing new. The Stoic philosophers of Paul’s day believed the same thing!
No, there’s nothing really new under the sun. Yet, people continue to worship the secret idol, Novelty. Since the arrival of the New Age Movement with its goal of abolishing God as a personal being and judge of mankind, we have seen an increased desire to experience whatever is new and promises instant gratification to a person’s desires. However, what is being peddled as new is really as old as Satan’s proposals in the Garden!
The Devil knows how the word “new” appeals to those who worship Novelty. Novelty worshipers must have the latest fashion in dress, experience the newest game or gadget everyone is talking about, and worship where the newest and most exciting new church programs and performances are held! Novelty worshipers want a new spouse, not the old spouse! Tired of the daily grind, many seek a new and wide-open life-style without roots or responsibility!
An article in Time magazine (April 2014) changed the words of God, “Let there be light!” to “Let there be night!” The article features a popular female preacher who advocates a new approach to finding God: not on the light of His Word, but “in the darkness.” She admits to having given up on teaching the meaning of biblical words like, repentance, grace, and justification. Rather, she prefers to look for God speaking to her spirit in the darkness. She writes that “most emerging Christians will say that the faith they inherited from their fathers is all worn out” (Time, April 28, 2014, p. 41).
Darkness is not anything new under the sun—whether physical or spiritual! Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ for He alone has provided the solution to the fear and the monotony which moves mankind to search for something “new.” Our Lord writes in Revelation 21 to His believing people of all times: “Behold, I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5).
That the LORD God of Heaven makes all things new is set forth in the Bible and in human history.
Man spoiled Paradise. He might have eaten of the tree of life and made us all live on earth forever with our terrible sorrows and afflictions. But God drove him out of the Garden so that he would have to make a new start—seeking life eternal in the promised Seed of the woman.
When man again ought to have been utterly destroyed for his wickedness, God determined through Noah to make a new beginning for the human race so that some might still be saved!
At the Tower of Babel man was again threatening to erase himself entirely from the memory of God. But God broke up their “huddle,” befuddling the signals of their tongues and sending people in all directions away from one another!
The creation of different languages was one of the most revolutionary developments in the history of the world! And from this event, God chose for Himself a new people—the nation of Abraham to be the bearers of the promised Savior!
When the nation of Israel continued to reject the promises of God, the Lord made a new beginning: He called the Gentile nations to faith! “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
In today’s Scripture reading from Revelation, you heard of the vision John received of the “new heaven” and the “new earth,” and the “new Jerusalem,” which God has prepared through Jesus Christ for His believing people. It is the crucified and risen Savior who says to John, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
But the possession of this new and heavenly existence seems so far off at times. As we wait, we who believe may also be tempted to bow to the idol, Novelty. The Lord, the Great Renewer, has come to our aid here too! For He does not only promise to give us a new life and a new home in eternity. We who believe in Jesus are already experiencing the power of our God to make all things new.
Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). What does this mean to you who believe in Jesus? Once we stood naked and filthy before the holy God because of sin. Now we are washed and clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ! “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Once we were dead in our sins, now we are alive through Christ! The members of our bodies were slaves of sin, but now they are made the instruments of righteousness! (cf. Romans 6:1-18).
Once enemies of God, now we have become His beloved children—the brothers and sisters of Jesus! (cf. Romans 5:1 ff.).
Once without God and without hope in this world like countless others, now God Himself has become our portion, our eternal inheritance and there is no end to our hope! (cf. Ephesians 2:12, Psalm16:5, 73:26).
Now, if our God and risen Savior makes all things new in heaven and earth and makes us new too, then He has also made new the way our hearts and eyes view everything in this life. Whether it is God’s will that we abound in wealth or suffer need, are raised to honor or humiliated before men, we can and do suffer “all things through Christ who strengthens us,” (Philippians 4:13) as Paul writes.
We may purchase new clothes, new games and pleasures, a new house or car, but none of these things is new for long. On the other hand, not from the darkness, but from the light of God’s revealed Word we are told: “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Dear friends in Christ, there is nothing monotonous or dreary in our lives if only we may see that God’s mercy is made new to us each day in countless ways!
Away then with the idol, “Novelty!” We say “No!” to her seductive ways. Ours is no strange or secretive God to be added to the vain idols of the world. He is the One who has died in Christ for us, but now is risen from the dead to make all things new both now and forever! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.