Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, on 6/27/04
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands" (Acts 17:24, NIV).
Thanks be to God and the generosity of my sister Dr. Mary Blattner, and her husband, Dr. Bob Blattner, Lenny and I enjoyed a wonderful Mediterranean cruise with the Blattner family and about 22 people from Neosho, MO, as well. (Link to Poem and pictures at the end). The ship was the Galaxy, of the Celebrity line, and was itself a floating city, fourteen decks tall. In addition to beautiful staterooms, it had a post office, a medical office, bank, printing facility, gyms for working out, spa facilities to pamper and indulge the body, computer cafes, shops of all kinds, a casino, movie theater, live shows every evening, 2 pools and 3 whirlpools, jogging path, restaurants, bars, formal and informal dining rooms, and live music in many areas. It was luxury of the sort that most of us only read about. Stewards made up our rooms while we were at breakfast, came in at least once during the day to check the room, and in the evening, they turned down the bed, fluffed the pillows, and left a delicious chocolate treat along with a card and the weather forecast for the following day. We were excited to get away from our routine and recharge our batteries, spend time with our family, and see the wonders God has wrought in far away places. All these were so appreciated, but the greatest blessing was, of course, the presence of the Lord and His Spirit as we walked the same places the Apostles walked, and experienced the ancient cities of Rome and Athens, where they ministered.
We were concerned about Lenny's health before we went, and our confession of faith was that God would not give us this most excellent gift without making it possible for Lenny to enjoy it. We both enjoyed the trip a great deal. Lenny had pain, probably made worse by the damp sea air, and still, he thrived and enjoyed his private times with God. He said that God took him ever deeper into experiencing Himself. Like Job, Lenny says he used to hear about God by the hearing of the ears (pastors, preachers, fellow Christians talking ABOUT God), but now, he is experiencing life in the Spirit at a profound level.
As for me, I was deeply moved by being in the same places where the Apostles brought the Good News to the ancient world. I read Acts , chapters13-28, twice, and felt the Spirit impressing me yet again, to notice the difference between RELIGION, works of men, and LIFE in the SPIRIT, which only comes from God. I was struck by the ancient temples everywhere to this god or that goddess. The small Greek island of Mykonos boasts 365 churches, one for each day of the year (There's a picture of one at the end). That's religion, to the power of ten! Where do they get the preachers, one wonders? The location is beautiful, but what about the salary?
The graphic I used is the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, one of the most famous antiquities in the world. Built of white marble, it was intended as a sanctuary for Athena (goddess of war and daughter of Zeus), and a home for her cult image. It dominates the Acropolis (the word means "top of the hill"), and shares the hilltop with the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion. These structures were built in the 5th Century BC, about the time that the Babylonian captives were returning to Jerusalem led by Ezra and Nehemiah. Such ancient ruins reminded me of the folly of worrying about the events of a single day. The fortunes of men and nations ebb and flow, but no matter how awesome an event seems at the time, it will ultimately fade into history and obscurity. Ancient ruins, Ionian and Doric, remind us of values and lessons historic. These reflect the folly of man; before Paul, they never heard God's glorious plan. They depended on logic, their minds, their will; leaving only ruins on top of a hill.
No matter where they may be, joggers jog, artists sketch, and writers write. One of the gals in our group showed me how to use the ship's computers without racking up a charge for on-line minutes ($.75/Minute). It enabled me to write as much as I liked, and pay only if I sent an e-mail. Thus, I was able to indulge my ever present compulsion to clothe my thoughts and feelings in written words.
Since the Parthenon overlooks the Areopagus, I began to think about the Apostle Paul and his encounter with the local philosophers on Mars Hill, recorded in Acts 17. The NIV Study Note gives this insight into the place: "Areopagus means "hill of Ares." Ares was the Greek god of thunder and war (the Roman equivalent was Mars). The areopagus ... had once been the site of the meeting of the Court or Council of the Areopagus... by NT times, the Areopagus retained authority only in the areas of religion and morals...they considered themselves the custodians of teachings that introduced new religions and foreign gods."
I read the account of Paul disputing with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers twice because I was struck by how these ancient ruins of temples dedicated to false gods reflect the folly of man's religion (Acts 17:14-33). In many of these ancient cults, the worship, and I use the term loosely, included having sex with the temple prostitutes. Obviously this kind of ritual would attract sailors visiting the port (then, both Athens and Rome were sea ports, but time and geological changes have caused them to be miles away from the sea shore today). I thought of the fertility cults, the worship of Baal and Asherah, which brought the people of God down into ruin and caused them to be hauled off into captivity. "And they forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves molten images of two calves; and they made an Asherah, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal" (2 Kings 17:16).
Previously, Paul had been in Berea preaching the gospel, when the Jews from Thessolonica came up and crashed the party, intending bodily harm to the Apostle as they often did (Acts 17:13). His brothers in Christ, hustled him out of town and on to Athens. He had been a victim many times of misguided religious zeal, by the Jews, who were determined to stamp out this "Way" that he preached. Silas and Timothy had remained in Berea. While he waited in Athens for them to join him there, ".... he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols" (Vs. 16). I had the same impression. Seeing the ancient temples is like a punch in the stomach. It momentarily takes your breath away to see how far from the living God these people were. Having just finished editing the Old Testament Bible study course for my sister, I was up to my eyeballs in idol worship and its consequences. How ironic that just as the children of Israel were being allowed to return from Babylon, their punishment for idolatry over, the men and women of Greece and Italy were erecting temples and monuments to their false gods, the consequences of which were yet to manifest.
As Paul always did, "he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there" (Vs. 17). Below the Acropolis today, lies the Plaka, which is the oldest and more picturesque part of Athens. It features narrow streets and alleys, neoclassical villas, tavernas and tourist shops. The "tavernas" are not the dimly lit "dens of iniquity" people in the bible belt refer to when they use the word "tavern." These are outdoor cafes, wall to wall tables and chairs, which serve everything from Turkish coffee (or Greek as one man corrected me), wine, ice cream, crepes, pizza like sandwiches, and mainly, they are a pleasant place for people to sit and visit, choosing to sit either in sunshine or in shade. I could imagine Paul walking the narrow streets, looking for someone with a willing heart to listen to the Good News he brought with him.
While he was there, some local philosophers began to dispute with him. Even then, there were liberals (the Epicureans) and conservatives (the Stoics). Because he was preaching about the resurrection of Christ, they believed he was advocating foreign gods (Vs. 18). We often fail to realize that the truth of the resurrection is foreign to most people on the planet even today, and is a concept completely absent from all other religions EXCEPT Christianity. When you see people on TV, screaming, beating themselves with lashes, and howling at the death of a loved one, you can be sure that they have no real hope of ever seeing this person again. To them, death has won and they have lost, forever.
By Paul's time, the Epicureans had evolved into a sort of "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" type philosophy (Isa. 22:13; 1 Cor. 15:32). Likewise, the Stoics, who practiced self denial, had degenerated into a system of self-pride. Perhaps Paul had them in mind, along with the Pharisees, when he wrote, "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings" (Col. 2:20-22). He goes on to say that such restraints look good and sound good because of their harsh treatment of the body, "but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Vs. 23).
He concludes, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" (Col. 3:1-2). Meanwhile, Paul had aroused their curiosity, and these Greek philosophers took him to a meeting of the Areopagus (Mars Hill), which we've already said was a place to discuss religion.
Unlike modern day evangelists, who in a similar situation, would probably condemn them, Paul merely said, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious" (Vs. 22). He did NOT mean that as a compliment of their spirituality! He continued by noting that he had found an altar with this inscription: "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD" (Vs. 23). He began at that point and preached the risen Christ to them, saying God had overlooked their ignorance in the past, but now expects all men to repent (change their minds) about who He really is. The resurrection is proof that the program has changed! (Vs. 30-31).
How strange it must have sounded to them, surrounded as they were by temples and statues, and meeting places devoted to their gods, to hear this Apostle of Grace proclaim that "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands" (Vs. 24). He added, "And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 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 men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by man's design and skill" (Acts 17:25-29). This is plain talk. God is not a man who needs anything from us, but Greek gods were anthropomorphic, created in the likeness of the those who fashioned them. Thus, they were petty, jealous, vengeful, unforgiving, wrathful, and generally not nice at all. If you were having a problem with jealousy, why would you worship a god who was jealous? If you were having a problem with unforgiveness, why go to a goddess who likewise could not forgive? Creating God in the image of man is still a problem for those who do not know Him, including some Christians.
I mean no disrespect to my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, but in all honesty, after spending a half day in the Vatican, observing as many gold statues of saints as we could get in, I told Lenny that I can see not much difference between the Vatican and the Parthenon. Idolatry is idolatry, and I don't know what else to call it when the guide showed us one statue of Saint Peter, whose feet had been kissed by so many millions of the faithful down through the centuries, that his toes were completely worn off! I felt the same way when we were in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, in 2000, where many of the pilgrims kneeled and kissed the slab which they believe held the body of Jesus during His brief stay in the tomb. No one knows for sure where He died and where He was laid, but the faithful make this trek and this gesture of worship as though it were the living Christ they were kissing instead of a slab carved by human hands.
How can this be? I personally think it is due to the fact that religion relies on ritual, tradition, and dogma to manage the flock, rather than the living Spirit of God within. Worshipping a place or a thing is the main basis of the Middle East conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Those hotly disputed West Bank towns were places where Abraham lived and/or worshipped God, and his heirs, legitimate and illegitimate, ALL claim them for their own.
We all have our being in the living God, our Father, not in temples or cathedrals built by men. "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" Paul asked the Corinthian brethren (1 Cor. 3:16). Later, he wrote, "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (2 Cor. 6:16).
Father remind us when we forget, or get temporarily sidetracked by dogma, that You alone inhabit our temple. What a gift, what a blessing, what a marvel is Your Spirit, O Lord, who abides in us and moves through us every second of our lives. Make us instruments of Your peace, Your unconditional love, and Your mercy and grace to all who do not know You, or who merely know ABOUT You, and let us see Your face. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Over Land and Sea," by Jan
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 6/16/04/04
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/19/08.
One of the many churches found on the Greek Isle of Santorini.