To An Unknown God: ACTS 17

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The summer between my Junior and Senior year in high school, my best friend and I went abroad as foreign exchange students through Rotary Club. I went to France for a month and she to Spain. Because we were both highly active with the local Rotary Club, the Director of the Rotary Foreign Exchange Program allowed us to look over all the foreign applications and be the first to choose our host family. I chose Valerie. I chose her because she was pretty and her house looked fabulous.  She identified as Catholic so I assumed our values would be similar.  I quickly learned our values were not even close.  As we talked (or tried to…my French was terribly broken, as was her English) she shared that she was really an atheist, and I asked her why she completed her profile as Catholic. Her response, “Oh, I was only born Christian.” I was indignant. Of course no one is born Christian, you can only be born into a Christian household. It’s not like Christianity is a race for heaven’s sake! Pride swelled up inside me as I remained silent, although I was actually no different than she.


Before we look into our passage today, I want to take a minute to look back at an age-old story in Genesis 25-28. This is the story of Jacob and Esau, twin sons born to Isaac, the son of Abraham. It was foretold, while they were still wrestling in the womb, that the older would serve the younger. The younger would become a great nation.  In fact, after Esau was born, Jacob quite literally followed on his heels.

Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. (Gen 25:26 NLT)

To say there was sibling rivalry between these two is an understatement. I envision countless wrestling matches, races, and competitions in an attempt to best each other. It became clear over time that their father favored Esau and their mother favored Jacob. Rebekah and Jacob held fast to the prophecy, looking for opportunities to see it through.

To be fair, Esau was in all likelihood, a carefree spirit. As I researched some Jewish history online, I came across a Jewish commentary on this passage. Esau is described as a man who wasn’t interested in studying the faith of his fathers, but would rather escape into the fields as often as possible. This indifference offended Jacob and his mother. ( Phase I of their plan occurred when Jacob easily convinced Esau to hand over his birthright.  Scripture said Esau had contempt for his birthright.

When it came time for Isaac’s blessing, Phase II was in full swing.  Esau left to hunt wild game for his father and provide a special dinner before his blessing; it was Isaac’s special request.  Rebekah instructed Jacob to enter Isaac’s tent disguised as Esau, presenting the wild game.   Isaac, nearly blind as a bat, was hesitant at first.

 “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The Lord your God put it in my path!” Jacob replied (Gen 27:20 NLT)

Did you notice that? He said, the Lord YOUR God. Why didn’t he say, the Lord MY God? Jacob was born into a God fearing home. He was circumcised on the 8th day, he offered sacrifices, he was taught the things of God. However, the God of Isaac had yet to become Jacob’s.

Deceitfully taking Esau’s blessing was a risky thing to say the least. Fearing for his life, he left town quickly, with plans to only return after many years. On his way to his Uncle Laban’s in Haran, he stopped for a night and slept upon a stone.   That night he had a dream of a stairway to Heaven and God spoke to him very clearly. God reviewed his covenant with Abraham and declares it again for Jacob. When Jacob awakes he’s afraid and amazed all at once.

If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. (Gen 28:20 NLT)

And here it is. Here is where the transition is made. Jacob is in a tight spot. Although he’s just gained a birthright and a blessing, he fears it will be worth nothing if his brother kills him. One day he was sleeping in wealth, the next he’s sleeping on a rock.  In this moment, I believe he thinks he’s lost everything. This just might be the first time he’s truly ready to hear from God. He’s been knocked down, and his pride stripped away. Pride cannot enter the presence of God, because His presence has a way of dropping one to his knees.


I was not unlike Jacob, and really not too far from my friend Valerie either. I was born into a Christian home. Raised with solid teaching, I practiced my faith as I dutifully followed my parents. I loved God. I prayed before my exams, prayed for green lights, prayed for excellent parking spots, and prayed for my future husband. I read my Bible (when I could find the time), talked a lot about this God, and I’m confident I asked him into my heart at the age of five. It was His grace from my young age that got me through my awkward teens and hellish twenties. The same grace that got Jacob through his sin and to that stairway to Heaven. That pride that first appeared in France only grew in my heart each year afterward. This God I claimed most of my life, even while I was rebelling in my heart, was the God of my parents. I had yet to make Him the God of my life.

Until one day I realized I was alone. I was surrounded by people and yet so alone. My pride had gotten out of control.  I was sabotaging relationships with virtually everyone, including my husband. I was miserable and I thought I was doing everything right. God provided a mirror for me one afternoon.  He showed me who I was, and who I was to become. It was just a glimpse that day. Just a few things he asked me to do. If I had seen it all in total, I might have crumbled under the immensity of it all. But with that small glimpse, I obeyed and he became MY God. I’ve been transformed since that day. And I’m telling you, I cannot un-see what God has shown me.


Paul, in Acts 17, tours the city of Athens. He wants to learn something about these people, to search for common ground. While he’s there he becomes terribly impressed and burdened by all the idols and religious shrines in the city. He finds a god with the inscription, “To an Unknown God.” (Acts 17:23) Now this. This is the God for whom they truly searched. For whom we all search. The creator who’s made the world and breathes life into all things.  He does not need us to satisfy him, because he’s God, and yet He satisfies our needs. While he does not need us, he desires us, and draws us to him. Athens needed Him. They needed Him to become their God.

Paul is no novice to this transition. On the road to Damascus, he saw God and could not un-see what God showed him. The God of his forefathers became HIS God on that day. Paul was prepared to make this Unknown god, known to the world. He would explain the path for repentance, and he would reason with the Greeks that knowing Him is eternal life. This Unknown God brings eternal life when He is known.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIV emphasis added)


Ask God to show you what he wants you to see. Obey and make him YOUR God. There is more of Him at every turn. There is more of Him when you lose your job. There is more of Him when you are diagnosed with disease. There is more of Him when a heavy door closes on a tightly held dream. There is more of Him when it seems like difficulty after difficulty is only followed by disaster. He allows these things to forge a path of KNOWING HIM.

And guess what? If John 17:3 says that knowing Him is eternal life, that means, with the Holy Spirit, we can sample some heaven-that-awaits, right now! We can be joyful no matter the circumstance because he has designed that stairway to Heaven. This is truth! Claim it! Do you have an Unknown God lying in the fringes of your “everyday?”  Maybe a God that belongs to your parents or your grandparents, waiting for you?  He’s drawing you close.  He’s prepared the way.  There’s no more freedom than that which comes from surrendering all to Him.

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