All-age address given (with visual aids) on 9 May 1999 at Bolton St James, Bradford.
All right. I’m going to begin this morning by placing an object on this table. Some of you will know what it is and some of you won’t. If you do know, don’t tell anyone. OK … here it is. Now hands up if you don’t know what it is. OK, so it’s an UNKNOWN OBJECT [put label in front] for all you people. Now hands up if you do know what it is … Right, you know what it is, do you? OK … come out here and tell everyone [a clicking pendulum that indicates the exact tempo of a piece of music]… Not UNKNOWN OBJECT any more… METRONOME.
Now what about these. Hands up if you don’t know what these are? Like little oranges but not oranges. OK, so its an UNKNOWN FRUIT [put label in front] for all you people. Now hands up if you do know what it is? OK, now keep your hand up if you know where it comes from originally. Right, you come and tell us. [from China. Kum Quat is cantonese for golden orange] … Not UNKNOWN FRUIT anymore … KUMQUAT. Who wants one?
Now I need a young lady to help me with the next one. You? Now, hands up everyone who doesn’t know who this young lady is? OK, so she’s an UNKNOWN PERSON to all of you [put label round neck]. Now hands up if you do know who she is? How about you? Do you know her quite well. Then come out here. What’s her name? Which school does she go to? Does she have any brothers or sisters? Do she have a pet? What’s her favourite band. … Not UNKNOWN PERSON anymore … JENNIFER.
What’s this all about. You’ll find out very soon.
[Reading from Acts 17.16-34]
An UNKNOWN GOD. We had an UNKNOWN OBJECT and it turned out to be a metronome. We had an UNKNOWN FRUIT and it turned out to be a Kumquat. We had an UNKNOWN PERSON and she turned out to be Jennifer. And now we’ve just heard about an UNKNOWN GOD. Well we’ll come back to it in a minute, but first let’s try and understand the story.
It began with Paul standing in a place called the Areopagus in Athens. First, who’s Paul. St Paul … one of first Christian missionaries. What’s a Christian missionary? Someone who goes to a foreign country to spread the good news about Jesus. So St Paul has gone to Athens. Where is Athens? Greece. And he is in the Areopagus. This was where the City Council met to hear things debated and to try people who were accused of doing wrong. The Supreme Court of Greece is still called the Areopagus.
Paul had been taken there to explain more fully what it was he was trying to teach the people of Athens. And Paul began by saying that as he was brought to the Areopagus he had realised that the people of Athens were very religious. Why? Because there were altars at every street corner. What’s an altar? Something like the table back there — though it can be any shape or size — where sacrifices and offerings can be made or incense burned. And in Athens there were hundreds of altars. Why? Because they had hundreds of so-called gods.
Can you guess which gods Paul would have seen altars to? Who was the king of all the Greek gods? Zeus (Roman’s called him Jupiter). Who was his wife? Hera (Roman: Juno). Who was god of the Ocean? Poseidon (Roman: Neptune). Who was god of War? Ares. Who was god of underworld? Pluto? Goddess of Wisdom? Athene (Roman: Minerva) — invented flute [Helen!] and was keen on crafts, weaving [Jen!] and gave Greeks olive tree. Who was the Sun god? Apollo — also bass guitarist (played lyre). Goddess of moon? Artemis Roman: Diana) also of hunting. Others … Hermes (Mercury), Dionysius (Bacchus), Harmonia — goddess of tact and diplomacy. Asclepius — medicine. Where did all gods live? Mount Olympus.
But there was a problem with having so many gods. You had to make sure you made a sacrifice to the right ones. Going on a journey across the sea? Then you needed to sacrifice to Zeus (the boss), Poseidon (ocean etc), Aeolos (winds) and Eurus (east wind in particular) … and Zephyr (west wind), Pan (nature), Athene for wisdom. Aphrodite to keep wife loving you. And then you just hoped you hadn’t made any other god jealous.
So … I’ve seen all your altars to all your gods, says Paul. But then I saw this one … TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. And this is the most important altar I’ve seen because this UNKNOWN GOD is the very god I’m trying to tell everyone about. You see, I know him. He’s not unknown to me. I know him.
I bet that made everyone sit up. “Then who is he … or she?’ someone asked.
So Paul began to explain. [Remove sheet] “The God that you don’t know but I do,” he said, “is the God who made the world and everything in it … the Lord of heaven and earth … who gives to all people life and breath and everything.” In other words he is the one real and true God among all your hundreds of false gods. There is no Zeus … no Apollo … no Poseidon … no Athene … there is just … God … God with a capital G … the God you don’t know.
“So how come you know him,” someone called out.
“Because,” said Paul. “He has shown himself to us in a person [Remove sheet]. The UNKNOWN GOD has revealed himself in the person of JESUS CHRIST. When you look at Jesus, you are seeing what God is like. And then he went on to tell the men of Athens about Jesus. How he lived and what he taught. How he healed the sick and had compassion on the lost and the hurt and the lonely. How he was wrongly tried and sentenced to death and crucified. But how on the third day he rose again from the dead and was seen by hundreds of people. How he is alive still … invisible but real … and ready to come into the hearts and lives of any who will turn to him and receive him. And not only to come into their hearts but to make them children of the one true God.
Well, it says that some of those people in Athens mocked, but some believed and became true Christians. And you know nothing much has changed today. I’m standing here telling you about Jesus … not nearly as well as Paul, I know, but the best I know how. I’m saying to you that if you don’t know God, you can know him this morning. By asking Jesus to be your saviour and your friend and your king, and asking him to come and live in your heart. And now, just as then, there will be some of you who, on the inside, are mocking — thinking its all stupid, all a lot of rubbish. But there will be others who want to believe. If that’s you, say this little prayer with me now in your heart.
“Lord Jesus. I want to know you. I want you to be my Saviour and Friend. Please come into my life now. Make me clean and new. And give me your love and power so that I can live for you every day. Amen.