Many of us will remember the shocking news of August 11, 2014, just 6 months ago, when famed comedian Robin Williams, lead actor in movies such as Patch Adams, The Dead Poet’s Society, and Mrs. Doubtfire, was found dead in his house after committing suicide. Later, news reports showed that Williams had suffered months of intense periods of depression before his fatal tragedy.
We’ve probably all read and heard about similar cases happening all across North America and the rest of the world to famous musicians, athletes, and actors. Although at first glance it is easy to envy the lives of these individuals whose faces are plastered on magazines and who perform in front of screaming audiences every day, very few of these men and women are content with their lives. It doesn’t take long before we realize how mental illness, sex scandals, and drug and alcohol addictions have rocked their world, leaving them broken and confused with a subsequent lack of credibility and respect.
Just like these famous singers and actors, all of us here are searching for something, but we are looking in the wrong places and so we will never be satisfied. Maybe you are searching for security, understanding, comfort, or peace. Everyone searches for these things in different ways. Some people turn to New Age or meditation, some try to prove themselves by getting good grades in school or getting promotions at work, and others may even turn to addictions like drugs, alcohol, or pornography.
Many of these things are not bad in themselves, but they usually don’t provide an answer and if they do, it’s only a temporary “fix” which leaves us wanting more. Most of us aren’t happy with only getting one A in our lives, so we spend our life trying to prove ourselves by getting straight As in every subject all of the time. Others of us aren’t content with only getting one promotion in our life, so we push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion overworking ourselves to show that we are better than everyone else. Sadly, although this type of behaviour can be okay in the short run, when we neglect our family and friends in the process of trying to achieve even more it often ends in hurt feelings, failed marriages, and lost friendships.
You know, the Athenian people were the same way as we are. They were also searching for something. We read in the book of Acts that these men and women were very religious people and they worshipped many gods. Their city was full of idols and altars to every god they had ever heard of. They even had an altar dedicated to “The Unknown God” in case there was one they had forgotten about. They had about 12 main altars around their city, but the four main ones were: the altar of mercy, the altar of shame, the altar of fame, and the altar of desire. Religion was such a big part of their city life that many people often remarked that it was easier to find a god than a man in their city!
Athens was also a big university town, just like Toronto. So picture yourself spending the day at the University of Toronto. No doubt you would come into contact with many people who believe differently on all sorts of topics like politics, religion, and social viewpoints than you do. Athens was much the same way. Since the majority of people who lived in this town were scholars, they enjoyed getting together to debate and exchange any new information. They would talk about the latest news reports, the latest gossip, and the latest developments that were taking place a world over. This was the atmosphere into which the Apostle Paul stepped.
Observing all the altars that were around the city, the Apostle Paul began by telling the people that he could tell they were very religious. He said this was good, but there was another way. A way that was far better and way simpler. This was strange information to the Athenians. They were pretty open-minded about religions for the most part, but they couldn’t understand what Paul was talking about. The fact that Paul was saying something different than what they were used to caused them to want to discuss and debate it with their fellow students.
The Athenians were all pretty used to hearing many different religious interpretations, but they never knew exactly which one to choose. Maybe you’ve heard a saying like “all paths lead to God.” But actually, although all religions may have good points to what they are teaching, in the end of the day, only one path can be the correct one to take.
Christianity is more than just a religion. It’s more than just following rules to be a good person and to live a good life – that’s important, but not the only thing. Christianity is about a relationship between us and God. It is the only religion where God enters into the history of humanity. Where He becomes a man for our sake, dies the most gruesome and painful death on the Cross, and then rises again on the third day conquering death in order to give us a second chance. It’s the only religion where we get into heaven because Christ chose to willingly lay down His perfect life in exchange for our corrupted lifestyle.
Unlike in all other world religions, we don’t get in based on our good works, who we are, or what family we are born into. We don’t get into heaven because God loves us more than He loves anyone else or because we are worthy of His grace. The only thing required of us to get into heaven is to trust God completely and to surrender our lives to Him. You know, without Christ’s death on the Cross, we would still be distant from God, but the amazing thing is that Christ could have chosen not to go through with such a painful death and yet He did because of us. He did it because we are made in His image, He loves us, and He wants to claim us as His children by drawing us closer to Himself. None of us here can ever love someone as much as He loves us!
Maybe you are in one of these camps today. Maybe the Gospel sounds just as strange to you right now as it did to the Athenians. Maybe it sounds too easy – like there should be something more to it than just giving one’s life to Christ. Maybe you worry that you are unworthy of His love and that He could never love you because you have made some pretty bad mistakes in your past. Maybe you are resisting receiving this free gift from God because it just sounds too different from everything else society has ever told you or it seems too scary to place your trust in someone that you can’t see or hear audibly from.
Wherever you are today, I want you to know that you are never too un-loveable, too unworthy, or too messed up to receive God’s grace. God wants us to follow and obey Him in everything regardless of where we are in our life or what has happened in our past. All He wants of us is simply to be His children, to believe on His Name, and to accept with joy everything He would like us to have. God has so much for us – way more than we can ever think of, ask for, or imagine and He’s more than willing to give it to us – in fact, He WANTS to give it to us. It’s just a matter of us saying “yes” to Him.
The day that Paul preached to the Athenians and told them that even in the midst of their many gods there was a better way, the people of Athens were left with a choice. They could choose to sneer in disbelief and continue to live their life with uncertainty and no relief or they could choose to accept (however cautiously and curiously) the love of Christ for them. Today we are able to make that same decision. I want to ask you, which way are you going to choose to respond to the Gospel? Who is your God going to be?
Right now I want to ask everyone to bow their head and close their eyes and to think carefully about what was just said. [Give a few seconds on silence we start the song “Defining Moment”] Ask yourself, “Do I know who my God is?” “Am I content with my life the way it is now?” “Do I think there is something better?”
Now, with your head still bowed and your eyes still closed, I want to ask you to raise your hand if something spoke to you in the message today. I want you to raise your hand if you feel like God is calling you to something more. If you feel like God is calling you to enter into a personal relationship with the One and Only true God there is for the first time in your life.
Okay, thank you for raising your hands. You can put them down now. If you just put your hand up and want to accept Christ as your Saviour, I want you to repeat this prayer after me:
I know I am a sinner.// I know I have chosen many other gods over You and I am sorry.// I ask that You would come into my heart today.// Help me to learn to follow You in everything that I do.// I thank you that I can receive peace and security in Your Name.// I ask You to be in charge of my life from this point forward.// I ask these things in Your Name.// Amen.
If you have just prayed this prayer than congratulations! You have made the most important and exciting decision of your life. While the music is playing in the background, I want you to raise your hand if You have asked Jesus into your heart today so that we can give you a free gift with some information that will hopefully answer some of the questions you may still have about your new relationship with Christ. Thank you.