“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, …
“… as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” (Act 17:24-28)
Paul is standing in the midst of pagan-idolatry. But you don’t hear him lambasting. He speaks with grace and with wisdom. You can even feel love of God in His words. Paul knows that the one thing that lost men need to hear in the gospel message is that God loves them.
Ever notice that in gospels that the only people Jesus ever upbraided were those with a religious mind-set? With sinners in general He was kind and merciful. Perhaps we could learn a great lesson here.
What is the lesson? We must learn to see the whole of humanity the way God sees the whole of humanity.
Let’s begin with…
The Appointments of God
God does all things by appointment. Whether His appointment is for a nation or for an individual, each has its appointed time.
Listen again to Paul:
“…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” (Act 17:26)
Did you catch it? Every nation on earth is appointed by God and has an appointment with God. Do we understand this? Not really. This is where we need to trust in God’s providence.
The term ‘divine providence’ literally speaks of the guardianship by God. It addresses God’s a manifested foresight and care for his creatures.
Some have the idea that the Lord God was only concerned with Israel, and that He was only present in Israel. While the Bible does tell the story of redemption, it also allows us to see God’s concern for all the inhabitants of the earth.
Providence allows us to see how God is the God of history; that He has always been present among nations.
Consider these references:
“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 8:19-21)
“He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD.” (Psa 33:5)
“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.” (Psa 36:7)
“[To Abraham] In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Gen 22:18)
“I am the LORD [God the Father], I have called You [the Son, Jesus] in righteousness, I will also hold You [Jesus] by the hand and watch over You [Jesus], and I will appoint You [Jesus] as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.” (Isa 42:6-7)
Israel’s role was to be a priestly nation to declare the lovingkindness of God to all men. Israel generally lost sight of her calling. Yet in God’s providence Israel’s calling would be fulfilled by God’s new covenant Christian people.
Where Religion Was Dismantled
It is important to understand that God is not some sort of Jewish tribal God. Neither is Jesus a Catholic Jesus, a Pentecostal Jesus, a Baptist Jesus, a Mormon Jesus, a Charismatic Jesus, or a religious Jesus of any sort. The Father did not send His Son to create a new religion. God sent His Son to bring the world into a saving relationship with Him.
Until we understand the final purpose of salvation, it is easy to fall into the same Pharisaic mindset that many of the Jewish people had fallen into. We so easy name Jesus with a denomination, with a movement, with a certain church, or with myriads of other religious things. We tend to create a Jesus in our own image.
If the truth be known, religion was dismantled at the cross. Jesus spoke to this in His dialog with the woman at the well. See what you can discover in this scene –
“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. [by the promised line of Abraham]’
“’But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.’
“’God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’
“The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’” (Joh 4:19-26)
This lady expressed her wish for the coming Messiah. And this brings us to…
The Shadow Across the Nations
The term ‘shadow across the nations’ is a reference to a promise made to Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden. The promise was for all of humanity. It concerned the coming Son, the Messiah. All the nations of the world have this promise encoded in their DNA.
When Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms, he spoke by the spirit of prophecy and said,
“For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles [nations], and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luk 2:30-32)
To appreciate how this promise has worked through time, I strongly urge every believer to get the book, ‘Eternity in Their Hearts’, by Don Richardson.
Listen again to what Paul had to say when he stood before the philosophers and varied religious leaders at the Areopagus:
“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”
What God said in the garden of Eden, has carried on in the hearts and minds of humans through the ages. This is why there is a Messiah consciousness in every cultural group. It is this Messiah consciousness that often gives birth to various religions.
Consider this statement that Plato contributed to the philosopher Socrates [469 BC - 399 BC]:
“We must of necessity wait, till someone from Him who cares for us, shall come and instruct us how we ought to behave toward the gods and man.” Again: “This law-giver must be more than man, that he may teach us the things man cannot know by his own nature” (see J. W. Monser, An Encyclopedia on the Evidences, p. 528).
This longing in humanity for God’s Messiah is also called…
The Desire of the Everlasting Hills
The statement, ‘Desire of the everlasting hills’, comes from Jacob, as he prophesied over his sons. This is where we hear some mysterious statements made to Joseph. These statements are sometimes seen as cryptic references to Christ Jesus and the new covenant people of the cross.
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot at him and harassed him; but his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile,
“From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
“The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.” (Gen 49:22-26)
This prophecy is Messianic. It has to be seen through the lens of the Holy Spirit. The statement, ‘the blessings of the everlasting hills’, could well show in Paul’s words to the Ephesian believers -
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Eph 1:3-4)
And this brings us back to …
God’s Compassions and Mercy
Notice again how Paul addresses the religious gathering at the Areopagus, by calling attention to the ancient philosophers, and to their own poets. Many of the philosophers actually believed there could only be one true God. The apostle speaks to this:
“ … for in Him [God] we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Act 17:28-31)
What was the result in all this? Some of the people sneered. Some said we want to hear from you again about this. But there were a number who believed in the gospel message and they joined themselves to the apostle.
And all this fits into the eyes of providence.
What say ye? Do you believe that God is arranging the nations for the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Listen to Jesus:
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mat 24:13-14)
“Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.’” (Rev 11:15)
So, what do you believe? Let’s hear from our Nigerian brothers and sisters:
In Christ always,