by George Whitten, Editor of Worthy Devotions
Acts 17:22-23 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.
Several hundred years before Jesus was born, a plague broke out in Athens, Greece. In an effort to stop the plague and appease the 'gods', the Athenians sought counsel from a wise man named Epimenides from the island of Crete.
When Epimenides arrived in Athens, he was amazed at the number of statues of gods the Athenians had erected, to which he stated, "Gods must be easier to find here then men!"
The elders of Athens eagerly gathered on Mars Hill the following day to hear the wisdom of Epimendies and his recommendation for dealing with the plague. So the wise man instructed the Athenians to gather at Mars Hill, bringing with them a flock of sheep, a band of stonemasons and a large supply of stones and mortar. He also commanded that the sheep be prevented from grazing the entire night, so that when they arrived the following morning they would be hungry.
The following morning, Epimenides stated, "Learned elders, you have already expended great effort in offering sacrifice to numerous gods, yet all has proved futile. I am now about to sacrifice based upon three assumptions rather different than yours."
"The first assumption is that there is still another god concerned in this matter of the plague—a god whose name is unknown to us, and who is therefore not represented by any idol in your country. Secondly, I am going to assume also that this god is great enough—and good enough—to do something about the plague, if only we invoke his help. Thirdly, that any god great enough and good enough to do something about this plague is probably also great and good enough to smile upon us in our ignorance—if we acknowledge our ignorance and call upon him!"
Next, Epimenides ordered the sheep to be released, and he prayed, "O thou unknown god! Behold the plague afflicting this city! And if indeed you feel compassion to forgive and help us, behold this flock of sheep! Reveal your willingness to respond, I plead, by causing any sheep that pleases you to lie down upon the grass instead of grazing. Choose white if white pleases, black if black delights. And those you choose we sacrifice to you—acknowledging our pitiful ignorance of your name!"
As the sheep were released, the people were shocked when the sheep started lying down instead of grazing! Wherever they lay, an altar was erected and a sacrifice was made to the "unknown god!" The Athenians were freed from their plague, and the legend of their deliverance at the hands of the "unknown god" continued unto the time of Paul when he entered into Athens.
This amazing event became Paul's point of departure for reaching the Athenians with the gospel of Jesus. God had laid an historical foundation to prepare their hearts for seeking and believing in a legendary "unknown god"; a god who had already demonstrated his saving power among them, but one whom the apostle had now come to identify.... and fully reveal to them!
God continues even now, preparing souls in mysterious ways, throughout the world! He is looking for laborers to go into the harvest fields! And no matter where you are, there's a harvest field right outside your door…so go forth! There's so much work to be done!