It Is Reasonable to Be Christian

It Is Reasonable to Be Christian

October 15th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 17:16-34

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshiped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 17:16-34

10-15-78   10:50 a.m.


We no less rejoice in the love and attention given to this service by the uncounted thousands who through the years and even today, join in listening and worshipping with us on television and on radio.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled It Is Reasonable—It s Reasonable to Be a Christian.  It is not something far out.  It is not a matter of fanaticism.  It is not a matter of proverbialism.  It is reasonable.  Not only right, it is reasonable.  It is intellectually acceptable to be a Christian. 

The message is based upon the unusually interesting visit of the apostle Paul to the great, ancient university city of Athens.  For centuries on end, Athens was the intellectual academic center of the whole civilized world.  And for us to follow in the second missionary journey, the apostle Paul to that place of all places, has a marvelous interest for us.  So in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, as Paul is speaking with the people in the agora, in the marketplace, why certain philosophers in verse 18 of chapter 17: “. . . certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered him.  And some of them said, “What would this spermologos—this seed-picker—say, if he had anything to say?” [Acts 17:18].  So they took him up to Mars’ Hill—Areopagus means Mars’ Hill.  There sat in session the supreme court of the ancient Athenian government.  And to this day in modern Greece, the supreme court is called the Areopagus.  And they take Paul and he stands in the midst of the supreme court on Mars’ Hill with a great group of others, Athenians and these learned philosophers. 

And Paul begins to speak to them in the twenty-second verse [Acts 17:22].  Now delivering his message of the one true God who made heaven and earth, he finally comes to speak of the revelation of that one true God in Jesus Christ.  And speaks of Him as being the One by whom all of the world will be judged.  And He is designated as such by the fact that He was raised from the dead [Acts 17:23-31].  Now we begin with the thirty-second verse: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked” [Acts 17:32].  It is a very strong word—chleuazō

Do you remember reading in the second chapter of this Book of Acts, when Pentecost brought down from heaven the outpouring of the Spirit of God? [Acts 2:1-4]. They were testifying to the grace of our Lord in all the languages of the people gathered from the ends of the earth there in Jerusalem [Acts 2:5-12].  And those who mocked and scoffed and ridiculed are described by this word—chleuazō  [Acts 2:13].  It is the same strong word that is used here to describe the philosophers, as they listened to the apostle Paul describing the Lord Jesus and speaking of His being raised from among the dead [Acts 17:31].  They ridiculed, they jeered, they mocked, and then some others who were more gracious bowed themselves out, saying, “We will hear thee again.  So Paul departed from among them.  Howbeit, certain men clave unto him, and believed: among him was Dionysius the Areopagite”—a member of the supreme court of the ancient Athenian state—“and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” [Acts 17:32-34]

Now the sermon arises out of those two responses to the message of the apostle Paul: the response of the philosophers, and the response of these who accepted the message of the apostle and became followers of the Lord. 

Now these philosophers were atheists, and two of them are named here: the Epicureans and the Stoics [Acts 17:18].  The Epicureans were named after Epicurus who lived a few years before and a few years after the date of 300 BC.  He was an able and gifted academician, brilliant.  And his philosophy, of course, was turned into far different channels than what he intended.  But any way, they were atheists, and their explanation of the universe was atomic—just as modern, you will find any university professor teaching today.  The Epicureans accepted the atomic theory, which was taught by Democritus, one of their philosophical predecessors.  And Democritus taught that, and the Epicureans believed that, the universe was composed of atomic particles.  The word atom in Greek means “uncut”—the final indivisible part of matter.  And they believed that the coarser atoms made the material world around us, and that the finer atoms made up our spirits, our souls—the daimon in us.  And the whole universe was a fortuitous gathering together and separating of atoms.  Gathered together and here you see, separated, it disintegrates.  There is no God.  There is no purpose.  There is no meaning.  It is altogether purposeless and aimless and certainly no God in it.  Now that was the Epicureans.  They were materialistic atheists.  They were hedonists; just get out of life the best that you can and all that you can because that’s all there is to it.  That’s a very modern philosophy.  There is nothing after; better get everything that you can right now. 

Now the Stoics were atheists of a different order.  The Stoics, they were founded by Zeno, and they were called Stoics because the philosopher Zeno taught in a stoa, in a porch—stoa, the Greek word for “porch.”  So they were called Stoics—the followers of the philosopher Zeno.  Now they were pantheists.  Pan is the Greek word for “everything.”  All—pan; theo—god—pantheist.  God is everything that you see.  They identified God with the material universe.  And there is no person in it.  There is no personality back of it.  It also is a thing that just runs of itself—impersonally.  And where you get the words “Stoics” and “Stoicism is the Stoics taught that in this impersonal ongoing of the universe there wasn’t anything—there was no other choice for us except to bow before it, to yield before it, to be submissive before it.  And that’s where that word “Stoic” came from.  Stoic, a man that accepts whatever providence there is in life and just bows down before its fatalism.  Now they were atheists in the sense that they identified God with everything—pantheists.  Both of them were atheists.  Now  when they listened to Paul as he spoke of the one true God, a person God who was revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and marked out as the Son of God for us—horizō, marked out as the Son of God for us by His resurrection from the dead [Acts 17:23-31].  When they heard that they scoffed— chleuazō, “mocked, ridiculed”—such inanity, such vapidity, such non-intellectualism, such unphilosophical—and bowed out [Acts 17:32].  But some of them believed, such as Dionysius, who evidently was well-known in the Christian community then, and a wonderful, gifted woman named Damaris [Acts 17:34]

Now what brings that with poignancy to me today is that there is no difference now than then.  You have great centers, not just one as in that ancient day as in Athens; but you have them all over the world today.  You have great intellectual centers, great university centers, and you have in those centers as in Athens, you have the same response to the gospel of the Son of God.  You have the materialist, the atheist, the practical atheist; you have the pantheist, you have the philosophers, you have the academicians, you have these men of pseudoscience, and they scoff at the idea of a personal God.  And certainly, they don’t believe in the Deity, the revelation of that God in Jesus Christ.  Then, of course, you have in their communities and in ours—you have those who accept the gospel.  Some of the most learned men, some of the greatest scientists and teachers of all time have been humble and devout Christians.  And you have learned men in this congregation today who are humble disciples of the Lord Jesus.  And you have both of those, and there they are together.  You will find them on every university campus.  And you will find them in every academic community.  Now which is correct?  Well, that’s the sermon today.  And of course, you know what I will be as I speak.  It is reasonable, it is intellectually acceptable, it is not fanatical and far out to be a Christian—like Dionysius here and like Damaris [Acts 17:34]

Now we follow the sermon.  Number one: there is intelligence, which implies, of course, personality—back of this universe, and back of everything that you see.  It is not blind, fortuitous chance and circumstance that brought it into existence.  That to me is the most far-out credulity that mind could imagine.  It takes a thousand times more faith to believe that, than to accept the scriptural revelation of God in Christ Jesus.  Back of this universe, back of everything you see, there is intelligence, personality. 

Now  I want to illustrate it with a little introductory story.  There was a teacher of a junior Sunday school class who took his pocket watch out; not a watch like this, a wrist watch.  He took his pocket watch out, and he laid it on the table there in front of those little junior boys.  And he said, “Now fellows, I have something to show you.” He said, “You see this watch?”  He said, “It just happened.  It made itself.  Nobody made it.  It just happened.”  He said, “There came rolling a watch case, and it plopped down.  And there, rolling along, a whole lot of little wheels and springs, and they jumped in.  And there just came rolling along a face, and it plopped on.  And then a couple of hands, and they jumped on. And then a crystal, and it jumped on.  And then there is that watch.  Nobody made it, it just happened.”  And a little boy looked at him in amazement and said, “Say, mister, ain’t you crazy?” 

Now that is the introduction to what I am going to try to say.  There is an intricacy back of the timing of this universe that is almost incredible, were it not that—we are looking at it—the creative intelligence that lies back of this universe in which we live. 

Now our universe is tucked away in a corner of one of the smaller nebulae—one of the great Milky Ways.  We are stuck away in one side of it.  But you look at just that little piece of it in which we live.  Around the central sun, which is it about eight hundred and forty-six thousand miles in diameter.  Our earth is about seven thousand forty miles in diameter.  Around that central sun there are these planets in their orbits.  The nearest one is called Mercury.  Going around that central sun, it is thirty-six million miles away.  And it takes eighty-eight days for it to make its orbit.  So it swings around that central sun—thirty-six million miles this way, and then it swings around thirty-six million miles this way; and thirty-six million that way; and it swings around that central sun—going around every eighty-eight days.  And then beyond that is the planet Venus.  And it is sixty-seven million miles out in its orbit, and it takes seven months to go around.  It is sixty-seven million miles this way, and then swings around sixty-seven million miles that way, and so around and around in its orbital course. 

And then the next one in orbit is the Earth.  It is ninety-two million miles swinging out.  And it takes a year to go around—three hundred sixty-five days.  And so it swings ninety-two million miles this way, and then swings around ninety-two million miles that way, and so in its orbit.  Now the next one in its orbit is Mars, and it is one hundred forty-one million miles swinging out this way, and then one hundred forty-one million miles swinging out in the other way, and it takes a year and half to make its orbital course around the sun.  Then the next one is Jupiter, the largest of the planets.  And it is out four hundred eighty-three million miles.  And it takes twelve years for it to make its orbit around the sun—four hundred eighty-three million miles this way, and then swinging around four hundred eighty-three million miles that way—and so around and around the sun, taking twelve years to make its orbit.  Then the next one out is Saturn.  And Saturn is eight hundred eighty-six million miles, and it takes thirty years for it to make its orbit around the sun.  Eight hundred and eighty-six [million] miles that way, and swinging around eight hundred and eighty-six million miles that way—and so around the sun every thirty years. 

Then the next one is Uranus.  One billion eight hundred million miles.  And it takes eighty-four years for it to make its orbit around the sun—one billion eight hundred millions this way, and then one billion eight hundred [million] miles this way, and every eighty-four years in its orbit around the sun.  And then the next one is Neptune.  It is two billion eight hundred million miles.  And it takes one hundred sixty-eight years for it to make its orbit around the sun—two billion eight hundred million miles this way, swinging around two billion eight hundred [million] miles that way and so around and around in its orbit.  And finally we come to Pluto, the last one which is three billion six hundred and eighty million miles—three billion six hundred and eighty million miles this way, and three billion six hundred and eighty million miles that way.  And it takes two hundred forty-eight years to make its orbit around the sun. 

Now, in all of the uncounted and endless ages of the ages, those orbital courses have never varied one second.  Elgin Watch Company used to boast, “We set our time by the stars.”  In all of those orbital courses, they have never varied one second in the untold ages.  It is a marvel!  And that is just one, just one, of the infinitude of marvels of the intelligence that lies back of our universe.  If I had the time—and I just love this kind of a thing.  At the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, I saw a tremendous graph of creation, and right in the middle of it is man.  The creation is as small in infinitesimal size below the man as it is large in infinitude above him.  The macrocosm above us is no bigger above us than the microcosm below us.  The atomic world has its systems just as this universe has its systems.  It is a miracle.  It is a marvel.  It staggers the imagination!  And it is intelligence that could create such a thing. 

You know, for a man to believe that all of this, including you, just happened, is the same kind of a thing as to believe that you could take the letters of the alphabet and just throw them up, and throw them up, and throw them up.  And if you threw them up long up and often enough, you would finally find them come down in the form of an Aristotelian treatises on Greek drama.  It would be just as likely.  God did it—intelligence, personality. 

Number two: back of everything I see is teleios, translated in the New Testament “perfection”; but that’s not the actual meaning of the word—“purpose.”  Everything reaching toward purpose, consummation, and I see that everywhere.  And there is nowhere that I do not see it: things struggling, reaching out toward some kind of an end.  Purpose in the universe, I see it everywhere.  I see it in the fin of a fish; purpose.  I see it in the wing of a bird; purpose.  I see it in the hand of a man; purpose.  I see it in the hoof of a horse; purpose.  It is everywhere.  I see it in a seed as it struggles out of the ground in germination, the leaf and the stalk and the fruit; the teleios, the fruition, the consummation, the struggling toward a purpose, an end.  I see it in history.  It takes God Himself to reveal to us what the ages mean.  But they mean something, and God is moving toward some great consummation, and we’re part of it.  And the nations are part of it; purpose in history. 

And especially and particularly do we find it in the Bible, the Word of God.  There is purpose in the Word of God.  Written over a period of a thousand six hundred years, by forty-two different authors, yet it all moves toward one great purposeful end; reaching toward the consummation, the purpose of God.  And we never get to the end of God’s Word.  We never reach a plateau beyond which God does not have something further, and something else; always reaching upward and outward from one height of glory to the other.  That’s God!  That’s the intelligence of God and the omnipotent hand of God in everything that we see. 

Now the apostle Paul, as he delivered this message: first avowing the great God who made us, a personal God who created us; not one out of gold or stone, not some mythological character that lives on Mount Olympus, but the great Lord God who created us [Acts 17:29].  Then after he had avowed the reality and personality and the presence of God, then he preached that God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and that some day we shall all stand before that Lord Christ [Acts 17:30-31].  And God designated Him, pointed Him out, in that He raised Him from the dead [Acts 17:31].  Now that was the conclusion of the message of the apostle Paul on Mars’ Hill, so we are going to look at that. 

The fact of Jesus Christ, the witness of the Scriptures to the Lord Christ, is very definite, and very precise, and very emphatic.  Now you look at this.  In Colossians 1:15, Paul says that “He is the image of the invisible God—the image of the invisible God.  Now turn the page in the second chapter and the sixth verse, in the [ninth] verse he says, “For in Him dwelleth all of the fullness of the Godhead bodily” [Colossians 2:9].  Whatever God is, the fullness of God, the deity of God is found in Jesus Christ.  And then, of course, this marvelous expression in Hebrews 1:3: “Our Lord is the brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His person.”  The exact, whatever God is, the exactness of it is in Christ.  Whatever He is, God is, that’s Christ [Colossians 1:15].  Now the Scriptures avow that.  Now it is a strange thing about so many people who disavow such a faith as that.  They will come along pretty good with you as you talk about the great First Cause or the Prime Mover, or there might be a time when the universe did not exist, and it came into existence by some kind—and then; however, you want to designate it.  They will listen to you, but when it comes to the preaching of the deity of Christ, the Godhood of Christ [Colossians 2:9], they mock, they ridicule, they jeer.  So we are going to look at that—the witness of the Scripture to Christ.  These like Dionysius and Damaris and like us [Acts 17:34]—we believe in it and accept it; but these Stoics and Epicureans and atheists and materialists and secularists, they scoff at the idea that Christ was God Himself, deity revealed in the flesh [Acts 17:32].  Well, we are going to look at it. 

Number one: the greatest fact in human history is the fact of Jesus Christ.  You cannot ignore it—you cannot.  And you are not intellectually responsible if you try to ignore the greatest fact in the universe; namely, the fact of Christ.  The earth is not deep enough to bury Him, and the clouds are not wide enough for His winding sheet, and the stones are not heavy enough to cover His sepulcher.  The world cannot bury Christ.  He is, and He lives.  He ascends into heaven.  But the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him.  He lives in His church unconsumed.  And He lives in our hearts, guiding us in our pilgrim way.  The fact of Christ is the greatest fact in the universe.  Not only that, He is the center of all time and of all history.  He is! 

The days before His birth, we say before Christ—these are the years BC.  The years after His birth, we say these are the years of our Lord, anno Domini, AD.  He is in the center of time.  He is in the center of history—all history.  The ages before looked forward to Him with prophetic vision.  The centuries since look back to Him in historic faith.  He is the center of history.  He is even the center of the created world—the earth on which we live. 

Let me show you an unusual thing.  All of the nations in the West—all of the nations in the West, read from left to right; from here to here; from this side to this side.  All of the nations west of where Jesus lived read from there to where He is.  And all of the nations east of where He lives, all of those in the East, read from right to left; from here to here.  Whether you are there, you read toward Him, and whether you are there, you read toward Him.  Culture, civilization, history—all center in Jesus Christ.  And of course, the avowal of the Holy Scriptures—He is the incarnation of the invisible God [Matthew 1:23].  If you wish to know God, you will find Him in Jesus the Christ.  “He that hath seen Me,” the Lord said, “hath seen the Father” [John 14:9].  What is God like?  That is what He is like.  And how is God toward us?  That is how He is.  And if you would be introduced to God and to know God [Hebrews 1:3]—the great omnipotent infinitude of the universe—open your heart to the Lord Jesus, and you will know Him [John 14:9].  He is the image of the invisible God [Colossians 1:15].  The tears of Jesus is the pity of God.  The gentleness of Jesus is the longsuffering of God.  And the tenderness of Jesus is the love of God. 

Would you like to know God?  Would you like have God in your heart, and in your home, and in your house, and in your business, and in your life?  Would you?  That is why the preaching of the gospel.  You can know God, and have all of God in you, and in your life, through Jesus our Lord.  And He is our way to heaven: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6].  He is the way,”hē hodos; kai hē alētheia, “the truth”; kai hē zoē, “the life.”  Ego, “I” eimi, I am—hē hodos kai hē alētheia kai hē zoē.”  He is not a way; He is not a truth; He is not a life; He “is the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Him” [John 14:6]

If we want to know God, we know Him in Jesus.  To love Jesus is to love God.  To receive Jesus is to receive God.  To follow Jesus is to follow God.  To have Jesus is to have God.

A man may go to heaven without friends and without money and without fame and without fortune and without affluence—without anything.  But he can’t go to heaven without Christ.  He is the way to God, the way to heaven, and He is ours for the asking.  He is our friend, and He is our brother. 

It is almost beyond what mind could think to receive that the great God of the universe is a man—that the great God of the universe loves us [John 3:16], who are worms of the dust and made out of ashes. 

It is fantastic almost beyond credulity to believe that the Mighty One who inhabits the heavens above became a man, bore our sorrows, wept our tears, lived our life, suffered our pain and sorrows [Hebrews 4:14-16], died our death. 

I just can’t realize it.  O Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!  Fill my heart and my soul with the knowledge of Thee, and the love of Thee, and save me, Lord, from the judgment of this world, into the beautiful, and holy, and heavenly, and glorious life that is yet to come. 

That’s what it is to be a Christian.  “Lord, I accept and I receive and I believe, like Dionysius the Areopagite; like Damaris, that Athenian woman [Acts 17:34].  And others might scoff and ridicule and mock [Acts 17:32], but not I.  I bow.  I humbly believe.  I accept.  And what I don’t believe, Lord, and what I stumble at, and what I have trouble with, and what I doubt, dear God, forgive me, and help my unbelief and my doubt, that I might be a man of faith, strong in the Lord.  Give me, Lord, Thy presence and Thy life and Thy heavenly help.”  And that is what it is to be saved and to be a Christian. 

And that is also our invitation to you today.  On this balcony a family, on this lower floor a couple, or whether up there or down here.  One somebody you today, this day, “I give my heart in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ [Romans 10:8-13].  I accept Him for all that He said He was.  And I believe He will perform all that He promised to do and I’m coming.  I want to be a Christian and I’m coming” [Ephesians 2:8].  Or, “I want to be baptized and I’m coming” [Matthew 28:19]

Or having been saved or baptized, “I want to put my life in this dear church.” [Hebrews 10:24-25]  Or maybe, “God has spoken to me, and I want to avow my response to what God has called me to do.” 

As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart; make the decision now.  And when we stand in a moment to sing, you stand up, walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle.  “Pastor, I’ve decided for God [Romans 10:8-13], and here I am.”  May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 17:16-34


I.          Introduction

A.  The story

B.  The audience – pagan philosophers, university men

      1.  Epicureans believed the atomic theory

      2. Stoics were pantheists, believed God in everything you see

C.  The response to the message

      1.  Some scoffed, ridiculed – xleuazo

      2.  Some believed – Dionysius and Damaris

D.  Find both of these responses today – which is correct?

      1.  It is reasonable and intellectually acceptable to be a Christian


II.         Intelligence
in creation

A.  The watch that “just happened”

B.  The timing of the universe – planetary orbits

      1.  Elgin Watch Company

C.  Throwing up the alphabet and getting back Aristotelian treatises

III.        Purpose
in creation

A.  Seen everywhere around us

B.  Seen in history

C.  Seen in the Scriptures

IV.        The fact
of the Lord Jesus Christ

A.  The witness of the Scriptures (Colossians
1:15, 2:9, Hebrews 1:3)

B.  The world cannot bury Him, the heavens cannot contain Him

C.  He is the center of all time and history

D.  He is the incarnation of the invisible God(John 14:9, 2 Corinthians 4:6)

E.  He is our one way to heaven(John