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The Vanishing Power Of Death

A Message To This World From Mars

Erwin W. Lutzer | March 7, 2005

Selected highlights from this sermon

The city of Athens was filled with false gods, but Paul went to Mars Hill to preach about the one true God. The apostle explained that God is the Creator, Revealer, Judge, and Redeemer. The response to his message was mixed, but some of the Athenians did believe in the good news about Jesus’ resurrection. 

How will we respond to the resurrection of Christ? Now is the time to believe.

I begin today with two questions for you. The first question is “What is God like?” Art Linkletter said that a little boy was drawing something, and he went to him, and he said, “What are you drawing?” The boy said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” Linkletter said, “Nobody knows what God looks like.” The boy said, “Oh yeah, they will when I’m finished.” [laughter]

So the first question is, “What is God like?” and the second question is “How do we connect with Him? How do we get in touch with Him? How do we find Him?”

In the New Testament, there’s a story of a man by the name of the Apostle Paul who went to Mars Hill in Athens. And you can still go to Mars Hill in Athens. In fact, my wife and I were there last year. It’s close to the Parthenon. Two-thousand years ago to go to Mars Hill was to go to a debating society. It was kind of a think tank where Athenians would gather to discuss something new, and the Bible says in Acts, chapter 17, which is the passage I’m referring to… In Acts 17 it says the city was full of idols, but it says in Acts 17:18, “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with Paul.”

Athens, the great city of philosophy. Socrates and Plato were, of course, dead, but many other philosophers were there. The Epicureans believed only in matter. They did not believe in spirits. They didn’t believe in soul. They didn’t believe the soul would actually survive the body. They also were hedonists, believing since you go around only once in life you have to grab for all the gusto. You have to have all the pleasure you can crammed into your lifespan.

The stoics were more pantheistic. They believed the soul existed, the soul survived the body, but in the end, it would be absorbed into the big one, the big eternal. And they also believed there should be virtue for virtue’s sake. You simply endure pain. That’s why today we even speak of those who take news or take tragedy stoically. It goes back to those times.

Now, Athens had freedom of religion. There were gods all over the place. In fact, it says in Acts 17:16 that “the city was filled with idols.” In fact, in order to cover their bases to make sure they didn’t leave any gods out, and therefore offend some god, they actually put up a statue and they said, “This is to the unknown god.” So if we offended you out there, you deity, take this. This one’s for you. 

They wanted to cover, indeed, all the bases. And today in America we have as many gods as the Athenians. We have impersonal gods. We have tolerant gods. We have also finite gods. You can go to Borders Bookstore. Yesterday I went to Transitions Book Store on North Avenue just to find out the kinds of gods we have today. And I noticed these book titles: 

•    The Demonic Divine (That’s a different kind of god.) 
•    The Hindu Gods (There are thousands of them.)
•    The Wiccan Bible (That’s a different god entirely.)
•    The Lucifer Principle
•    The Taoist Healings (Appealing to a different god.)

We have as many gods as the Athenians, and the Apostle Paul stood on Mars Hill and said two things to the people: “I’m going to proclaim to you the true God and I’m also going to tell you how you can connect with this true God.” And so he begins to give a detailed explanation as to who the true God is. First of all, he presents God as creator. He says, for example, in Acts 17:24, “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.” God the creator, the personal God who creates. God created you, and because He did that He knows you intimately. In fact, He created you for Himself. As Augustine said, “Oh God, Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their all in Thee.”

Some of you listening to this message today have a restless heart because you’ve not found your all in God. That’s why there is such a thing as a purpose-driven life. It’s because God made you. He created you, and He created you for Himself. And He knows everything about you, including your hidden thoughts.

So Paul proclaims to them God as creator. Also, God as revealer. He says in Acts 17:26, “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth having determined the allotted periods, and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘in Him we live and move and have our being,’ even as some of your own poets have said, ‘for we are indeed His offspring.’” (Acts 17:26-28). 

So Paul says God reveals Himself, and He does it through nature, through the beauty of the sky, through the stars. Through all that He gives us we know that there is a God. 

But He also reveals Himself through conscience. There is something within us that seeks for God. Everyone is a God seeker. You today may be a skeptic, but you are a God seeker because God has created that desire within us to find Him and He’s not playing Hide and Seek. He’s not playing hard to find. Paul says even in nature we realize that there is a God and we can seek out Him. We can grope for Him because He reveals Himself in nature and in conscience. But even more specifically He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, as we shall discover in just a moment.

So Paul says, “God is creator, God is revealer, God is judge.” God is judge. “The times of ignorance,” Paul says, “God overlooked, but now He 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, and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” God is judge.

I want you to know today that you will stand before God. Every one of us will stand in God’s presence, and we’ll be judged according to His standards, not our own. It’s God who makes the rules. It is God who is holy. It is God who shall evaluate our lives. It is God before whom we shall stand. This is a compulsory judgment. Nobody skips it. Nobody. This is a judgment that you can’t have an attorney trying to tweak things and make them come out a little better. This is a judgment where there’s nothing but reality, nothing but truth, nothing but who you really, really are. It is individual.

When I attended a Bible school in Canada it was so small that everybody was in the choir. The choir was about 60, and the way you got into the choir is to be accepted into the Bible school. [laughter] So I was in the choir, Jerry. Write that down. [laughter] And I’m not that bad a singer, but I’m not choir material exactly. And most of the songs I was able to sing, and we practiced them so often. God knows we needed to, and we did fairly well. But there were some that were a little bit tricky, so what I did is I just mouthed the words. [laughter] And everybody else carried the day and nobody knew the difference, and everybody thought I was singing just as loudly as anyone else, but I knew when to be very quiet. When we stand before God we’re not going to be in a choir. It’s going to be an individual audition. Just you and God. Nobody else. Nobody to cover for you.

So Paul speaks about God, the judge, and then he goes on to say, “God the redeemer.” In Acts 17:31 he says, “He has appointed a time by which He is going to judge the world by that man whom He appointed, that is Jesus Christ, and as proof He raised Him from the dead.” Earlier in the seventeenth chapter it says Paul proclaimed to them the resurrection of the dead. What Paul was saying is when you believe in Jesus you don’t just believe in your average guru or teacher. When you trust Jesus you are trusting someone who actually was dead.

Today we have many people who speak about near-death experiences. They go into a situation where their body seems to leave the soul and they separate, and then they come together. But it’s only a near-death experience. I don’t trust near-death experiences. The only person I trust is somebody who actually was dead and then rose from the dead. I would think He alone is really qualified to really tell us what lies on the other side.

The other day someone was being interviewed and they were asked, “What would you ask God if you had a chance to ask Him?” and he said, “Well, I would ask Him about the afterlife.” And I want to say, “My goodness, if you read the New Testament you would already know enough about the afterlife to prepare for it.” [applause] That’s true.

So Paul speaks here about the triumph of Jesus and the claims of Jesus, and he preaches to them the resurrection. And what I want you to see in this passage is very interesting. There are three responses to Paul’s message. And I can tell you in advance those three responses are going to be found also today in this congregation and those listening on the Internet or by radio or MP3 or other kinds of gadgets that I do not understand. [laughter]

Three responses. It happens all the time.

First of all, there were mockers. It says, “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead (This is verse 32.) some mocked. Some said, ‘It can’t be.’” It doesn’t fit our view of reality. It doesn’t fit our understanding of the world, and therefore what they wanted to do is to say, “We’re not opposed to God, but we just can’t believe this.” And some of you right now are there, aren’t you? Down deep inside you’re a mocker. It’s not that you dislike God. In fact, you would like some benefits from belonging to God, but you don’t want anything as drastic as believing in a Christ who is Lord God. Not quite that much.

Wilbur Rees wrote this. He says, “I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please; not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man, or pick beets with a migrant worker. No, no, no, I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper bag. I’d like to buy just three dollars’ worth of God, please. In other words, I’m here because I want some benefits that God might give me, but I don’t want the new heart that He wants to give me.”

The mockers. By the way, The Bible says God is not mocked. God is not mocked.

Well, there’s a second category, and that is the procrastinators. It says in Acts 17:32, “We will hear you again about this.” We’re not ready for a decision because we have to do more comparative shopping. We have to see if we can get a better deal somewhere else. Maybe one of these other gods I referred to is more in keeping with our lifestyle, and so what we want to do is to put it off. Yeah, yeah, let’s postpone a decision.” But I want you to know that’s a very bad idea because if you delay today—Listen to me those of you in the balcony and on the lower floor. If you delay today, I can assure you that you’ll delay tomorrow. And the road that is marked tomorrow leads, as someone has said, to the town called “Never.”

The Bible says in the book of Proverbs, “Do not boast about tomorrow because you don’t know what tomorrow may bring forth.” Many people who intended to repent at 12 midnight died at 11 o’clock in the evening.

Next year, God willing, if we are here we will have another service like this, but some of you will not be here with us. Maybe I won’t be here because we don’t know the future, do we? Procrastination. Putting it off. You know what you should do, but you want to do it later.

There is a legend, and it’s only a legend, but Satan called some demons together and said to them, “I want you to all think of the best way to keep people from believing in Jesus.” And one of the demons said, “Well, let’s tell people there is no God.” Well, immediately that was rejected because even Satan knew that’s not possible because the evidence for God is so overwhelming. 

So another demon said, “Tell them there’s no hell.” Satan said “Well, it’s maybe a little better but they know intuitively that judgment is coming, and some of their friends are already in hell. That’s maybe not the best idea.” 

A third demon says, “Tell them there’s no hurry,” and that demon won the prize.

So some of you may be mockers. Some of you may be procrastinators, but there’s another category, and this ought to thrill us. It says, “When they had heard of the resurrection some mocked. Others said, ‘We’ll hear you again.’ Paul went out from their midst. But some people joined him and believed. One was Dionysius (He was in charge of Mars Hill.) and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” Some believed, and I think that’s going to happen this morning.

During one of these services a few years ago I gave an invitation to receive Christ just like I’m going to do today. A woman told me later she was sitting in the balcony, and when that happened she embraced Jesus as her Savior, and she believed. And it turns out that we discovered that others believed as well. Some believed. 

What did they believe? They believed Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, but they also believed because He was Christ God, that His death for sinners was so triumphant that He proved death could not hold Him, and He was raised from the dead, and He ascended into heaven, and that His ascension into heaven is proof positive that the Father accepted the payment Jesus Christ made, and therefore these people repented of their sins, turned from their sins and accepted Christ as their personal sin-bearer. That’s what happened.

To make this as clear as I possibly can, if you believe that when Jesus died on the cross He did all that ever will be necessary for you to stand in God’s presence, and He did pay it all on the cross, and He was raised from the dead, as we celebrate today; if you believe that, you will be saved and you will have the assurance of being saved because your entry into heaven will no longer be based on your own flawed performance but on the wonderful performance of Jesus. Welcomed into heaven as if you were Jesus, saved on the basis of His merit. [applause]

Now, let me tell you this. When you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior this way, you don’t get just three pounds of God. You get the whole Godhead. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comes to live within your life. [applause]

So, what do you have to do? You have to turn from all the things that you were depending upon (Everything.) and look only to Jesus, dead, buried, ascended on your behalf. No longer can you trust your rituals, your baptism, or communion. You must look only to what Jesus did for you on the cross, and personally receive Him by faith.

There is an old story. It’s actually an allegory, but it helps us to understand an important truth. The story goes like this. A man was walking along and suddenly fell down a cliff, but was able to grab the stump of a tree. And there he hung. Hundreds of feet below the vultures were already waiting for him.

Well, the story goes on to say an angel came and stood beside him and said to him, “Do you think I’m able to save you?” And the man saw the strong arms of the angel, and he said, “Yes, I believe that you are able to save me.” The angel said, “Do you believe that I will save you?” The man saw the smile on the angel’s face, and said, “Yes, I believe that you will save me.” And he said, “Well, if you believe that I can save you and that I will save you, then just let go.”

That’s what you do when you come to Christ. You let go of all of your own good righteousness, your own view of how well you have done, and you come to Jesus just as you are, and you receive the forgiveness He died to bring us. And you walk in the light His resurrection gives us. And you now know you serve a risen Savior, and because He lives, you shall live also. [applause]

Take it from Jesus Himself. “But as many as received Him,” the Bible says, “to them He gave the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

Today there’s somebody in the balcony that needs to receive Him. There is somebody on the lower floor that needs to receive Him. Open your life to Him. Believe in Him for your eternity. And if you will, let us pray.

Our Father, we thank you for Jesus. Thank you that amid the welter of all of the gods of contemporary society there is only one who is qualified to save us. We pray for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. As they’ve heard these brief words we pray you will enable them to let go of themselves, their righteousness, and receive the gift of God through Jesus, our Lord.

And now I want you to pray in this moment of silence. You can say, “Jesus, I’m a sinner. I turn from my sins, and I accept what Jesus did for me in the cross and in His glorious resurrection. I receive Him today, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Now folks I want you to know that the Good News is not just that the resurrection of Jesus was an act of power. It was also an act of love. Love Divine, all love excelling. The last stanza says, 
“Finish, then, Thy new creation; 
Pure and spotless let us be; 
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee; 
Change from glory into glory
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.” 


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