In the first article we considered the importance of recognising the sovereign work of God in creating the heavens and earth, and in ruling over the nations. We examined why the Churchís recognition of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Maker and Sustainer of the universe needs to be more than lip service. However, this message is not just for ourselves. The godlessness of evolution has insulated many from the gospel. Are we wise to shy away from preaching Jesus as Creator, or should we grasp the nettle?
The Jews and history
The first Christians recognised that proclaiming the gospel to those who had been raised in paganism was very different from evangelising the Jews, who had a knowledge of God. Most Jews had some understanding of Old Testament history. This begins with creation and traces The LORDís involvement in human affairs for the next 4000 years. Godís judgement of sin is prominent from the outset - the expulsion from Eden, the Flood and Babel were all expressions of His wrath when men fell short of His commands. The history of Israel concentrates on The LORDís dealings with His chosen people. Through this record run the twin themes of the blessings of obedience and the curses of rebellion, complemented by prophecies of future hope. This perspective of history past, present and future was the backdrop against which first century Jews heard the gospel.
We considered previously how, when mistaken for a pagan deity, Paul pointed his admirers to "the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them" (Acts 14:15). He knew these people lacked a knowledge of true history and that this affected their world view. They believed in gods who were like men and men who were like gods. He sought to bring their foolishness to an end by proclaiming a true picture of the Living God, who created the whole universe and who continued to rule over history and harvest. This was not the only occasion when Paul taught history to a non-Jewish audience. In Athens, being provoked by the excessive paganism, he proclaimed Jesus and the resurrection, but this sounded strange to them (Acts 17:17). Soon he was taken before the biggest and most inquisitive crowd in town. It is worth noting that it was the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who motivated this opportunity, because their materialistic mind-sets were very similar to Western thinking today.
Paulís hearers lacked the background knowledge of his fellow Jews. He knew his gospel would not make sense to these people unless he made clear to them the work and the character of the God whom he was telling them about. He used one of their own superstitions to introduce them to the God whom they didnít know - one who surpassed their imaginations about their pagan deities and contradicted the popular godless philosophies of the day. The God Paul proclaimed, "made the world and everything in it", "does not dwell in temples made with hands." This God did not need anything from them, but instead, "He gives to all life, breath, and all things." It was He who "made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek The LORDÖ" (Acts 17:24-27). This was a history lesson such as they had never had before! The God Paul proclaimed made everything, created the different races from one family, governed where those nations lived and how long they held international influence. This God was totally involved in the world and totally in control of it! This was indeed something new!
The righteous Judge
Paul surprised some of his audience further by telling them that this God, who could not be represented by even the finest artwork, was prepared to overlook their folly. However He did command them to change their attitude now, to turn from foolishness, whether it be idolatry or materialism. Why should they take notice of this decree? Because history not only has a beginning and a middle, but it also has an end! "He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:31) The God who was, the God who is, is also the God who is to come! And when He comes, he will come not as Creator, nor as Sustainer of the universe, but as the Judge of all men, both living and dead. Paul knew that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ not only spoke of life after death, but also of His authority as the righteous Judge of all people everywhere. However, to his audience such a miraculous act was too much for their rational minds and many rejected his message on this point alone.
The history of the world without God
In the Western world today our friends, families and neighbours are as ignorant of the real history of life on earth as was Paulís audience on Mars Hill. Charles Lyell and his fellow evolutionists have not only apparently achieved Lyellís stated aim of "freeing science from Moses", they have also detached the testimony of Genesis from world history! The evolutionary, naturalistic mindset believes that we are here entirely by chance, that we have spent millions of years coming from nowhere and will, if we donít destroy the earth first, spend millions of years going nowhere. It believes in survival of the fittest, denying The LORDís provision in human affairs personal and international. It promotes "Mother Nature" as the reservoir of life and regards the minds of men as the source of all wisdom and knowledge. The people around us are devoid of a knowledge of God and His work throughout the whole span of history. Lyellís principle that "the present is the key to the past" has blinded them to the divine truth that the past is a key to the future!
Past cataclysm wilfully ignored
We live in a society where the majority make light of Christís promise to return. The apostle Peter prophesied this when he wrote, "knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." He then adds, "For this they wilfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water." (2 Pet. 3:3-6). Peter was sure that ignorance of Godís future work would arise out of intentional ignorance of His actions in the past. In this context he specifically cites wilful rejection of the Flood, the forty day cataclysm which destroyed the earth and all the people and air-breathing land animals which had not boarded the ark.
Peter identifies the source of this foolishness as their belief that life has always been as we see it today. Lyell misled geologists into interpreting the rock record as one which had been formed in very stable conditions over millions of years. Thus he offered mankind an excuse to dismiss the Biblical catastrophe which completely reworked the earthís surface and from which the whole planet took hundreds of years to settle down. Today most Christians struggle to appreciate the effect of the awful judgement of God and the miracle of His salvation of Noah and his family. The Hebrew word Ďmabbwulí and the Greek Ďkataklumosí are not adequately translated by the English Ďfloodí. This was a terrifying event, perhaps better appreciated through the Old and New Testament descriptions of its anti-type, the events which will proceed the return of Christ and finally culminate in the destruction of this universe when the new heaven and earth appear (cf. Luke 17:22-27). We read of earthquakes, of stars falling from heaven, of a third of the earth being destroyed! Isaiah prophesies that the time to come will be so terrible that people will "go into the clefts of the rocks, And into the crags of the rugged rocks, From the terror of the LORD And the glory of His majesty, When He arises to shake the earth mightily." (Isa. 2:21)
Prepared for the wrath of God?
Many today are ignorant of the future they face, because they have believed a lie about the past. The physical judgement which will fall upon this creation before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ will be a warning to people around the world. Its purpose will be to call them to stop ignoring their Maker. In Athens Paul preached a message of forgiveness and salvation. The salvation he offered was from the futility of life without the knowledge of God and from the wrath of Godís judgement upon sin. However, without a true understanding of history, his hearers would have been unable to appreciate the reality of their circumstances. If the gospel is to be properly communicated to todayís godless generation, then as Christians we must grasp for ourselves the historical importance of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Having gained a firm appreciation of Godís work past, present and future, we must then proclaim all His works to those who have ears to hear.
The real history of the human race is not the ascent from molecules to masters portrayed by evolution, but of descent and decline from being created in Godís image to people who are continually wicked from deep within our hearts. When a man or woman sees how far they have fallen, then and perhaps only then will they seek The LORD for His salvation with the whole of their heart. It may be that many will not listen until this world begins to fall apart. When they begin to ask "Why?" will Christians be ready, willing and able to point them to the God of history?
This article was first published in Prophecy Today magazine. Subscription information and back copies are available from www.prophecytoday.co.uk
This study is intended as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting The LORD to the writer: Email Randall Hardy
© Randall Hardy, October 2000. This paper may only be copied in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage requires the written permission of the author.