Easter 6 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
May 14, 2023 
Acts 17:16-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21


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Athens was no small city. In the ancient world, it was the center of science, philosophy and art. People would come from all over the known world to see the great city of Athens. The marketplace of ideas was thriving and strong there. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, great Greek philosophers lived in Athens. Nowhere in the ancient world was a more well respected, civilized and depraved city. 

Athens was on the cutting edge. It was the center of culture, literature and philosophy. But it was also full of all sorts of vice and excess. 

In our modern age, we stand in the legacy of athens. Culturally, we are descendants of that great city. Always advancing, always moving forward, always craving and creating something new. You want to find the marketplace of ideas? Just go online! There, you can find the latest and greatest technology and information well beyond anything our ancestors could have dreamed of. All the philosophy of Athens only makes up a tiny portion of what the internet is capable of. 

Yet you will not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than online. The place of all knowledge is also the place of all depravity and vice. All sorts of evil happens on the internet. There, you will find people like the Athenians, only interested in new experiences, even if that experience is full of sin. 

But why does this happen? Why does the greatest human achievement always seem to come with the greatest sin? 

For Athens, the answer lies in their gods. Every false god is invented by man. Every false religion is a lie that someone is telling to others and themselves. The gods of the Athenians were made by human hands. They sculpted their divinities, crafting stone as they crafted stories about them. 

Here’s the thing about making your own gods. You get to make the rules too. After all, these gods are made in your image. So why not allow your favorite sins? Why not allow yourself some freedom? Why not eat, drink and be merry? Let’s make these gods so that you can do whatever you want to do, even if someone else would say it’s evil. 

So it’s a good thing we’ve moved past all that. We live in the modern age. Our culture doesn’t have temples, statues, and civic worship. Here and there you might find some little cult or religion that worships in that old way, but by and large, we have advanced from primitive ways of thinking. 

But the truth is, even in this enlightened age, we have gods. They just go by a different name. We have forged the world around us. We have given it shape with our hands by our buildings, our roads, and our factories. In America, we have forged this nation. We have connected it with the rest of the world by the internet, a technology made by human hands. Technology is one of our gods. It is the way we understand the world. It is a tool to help us in our work and at our play. The world fears, loves and trusts in technology above all things. 

This is clearest when you look at the world of Artificial Intelligence. The hope is that we will be able to create out of our imagination and with our hands a being more intelligent and powerful than we are. To make a god in our own image. Trained on our creativity and logic. Given shape and life by the words we say. When this god of ours is created, we will have oracles who can consult it for advice, look to it for guidance, and let it show us the way to salvation. 

AI is certainly powerful technology. But like any technology, it has limits. It is a tool, not a god. No matter what capabilities AI will give, it will never be our creator. We made it. Not the other way around. Fearing, loving and trusting in technology, even one as powerful as AI, will not save you. 

In many ways, this is the same as Athens. Their stone statues were not gods. Statues did not create man. Man made the statues. But when man began to fear, love and trust in them, cold dead stone became their god. Cold dead stone, no matter how much you sacrifice to it, will not save you. 

The false gods of Athens and the false gods of AI have the same problem. They are creations. They are limited by their creators. They cannot save us. This leads to a lingering question both cultures have to answer. What happens when our gods fail? 

Athens had a very clever solution. A big part of their religion was in keeping their gods happy. But what if they missed one? After all, there’s no way the Athenians could know about every god anyone had ever come up with. So, to cover their bases, they put up an altar and labeled it “To the unknown god.” That way, even if they didn’t know about a god, they could still offer it a sacrifice or two to keep it happy. 

On this front, Athens was way ahead of our modern age. Something deep down told them that their false gods weren’t quite right. They might have missed something. Or maybe their gods wouldn’t come through for them, so maybe this unknown god would. This is a prime example of the natural knowledge of God, the true God. 

Our modern culture has the same sense. The same natural knowledge of God. But the enlightened world ‘knows’ that there’s no such thing. So instead of building an altar to the unknown god, the world just lets Him stay unknown. And deep down, the question gnaws. What happens when our gods fail? 

Paul is in Athens. He has seen their idol worship. He has seen the altar to the unknown god. He sees that they are seeking something more certain than gods made with their own hands. So, Paul begins to preach about the true God. He makes such a stir in the city that the people bring him to the Areopagus, or “Hill of Ares”, the Greek god of war. This was the usual place where the Athenians would debate and discuss new ideas. Paul begins by bringing up that he has seen their altar to the unknown god. 

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, 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 everything. 

Here, Paul says, let me tell you about your unknown god. He is the maker of heaven and earth. He is the only true God. Let me take this unknown god and make Him known to you. He is not like your other gods, made of precious metals and cold, dead stone. 

…we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 

God does not come from the imagination of man. He does not come out of a machine. He is the one who made man. God is the one who set the world into motion. God is the one who created heaven and earth. God is the one who created, so God is the one who can save. What happens when our gods fail? Then we know they are no gods at all. They are but creations of man.

So why would anyone settle for false gods? Because they want to make up their own rules. They like doing whatever they want to do. If God is the one who created us, then we don’t get to make up the rules. God has given us His rules. We don’t get to just decide that good is evil and evil is good because it’s more fun that way. Right and wrong are fixed. 

And so, as Paul says to the Athenians, 

…[God] 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 appointed

Not only does God make the rules, He also enforces them. Judgment is coming for sin. God will not allow evil to continue forever. He will not allow His creation to be ruled by its own gods. The fact is, God will make Himself known, He will judge the world, and He will punish sin. So He calls all people everywhere to repent. To turn from their false gods and live. Jesus is the only way to salvation, and God wants all people to know this. 

But how can we be so sure? We’re not the only religion with a sacred book. Other religions have similar teachings about their gods. What makes us so sure that Jesus is the only way? 

God is not silent. He has given you His word. But that is not all He gives. He gives you a guarantee that His word is true. 

…and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

We know that Jesus is the only way to salvation because Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, Alleluia!) There are many religions. There are many holy books. There are many men throughout history who have been crucified. I would guess at least some of them claimed to be some kind of god. But only one of them rose from the dead. 

Jesus’ resurrection is God’s seal of approval on all the Scriptures. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that He is the Son of God. It proves His testimony is true. Let the gods of the world fail. Let them crumble into dust and ashes. Let them prove what they really are, lies and falsehoods. They are tools, not gods. Our tools may fail. But God does not. God will not fail you. And when someone asks why you believe it, you can tell them: Because Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, Alleluia!)