Acts 17:26 “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”
Paul begins his sermon to these learned, pagan Europeans in Greece by telling them about God their Creator. The one true and living God doesn’t need ornate temples because he doesn’t live in temples made by our hands. We don’t make God happy by building with our hands a residence for him to live in so that God approves “Very nice.” We don’t organize religious festivities for him so that God thinks, “Very sweet of you.” In the gospel Jesus tells us that he didn’t come to be served by us. He came to serve us. His hands were crucified for us; his uplifted hands on the hill of ascension were commanding God’s blessing to come down up on his people. Each day we cry to the Lord Jesus, “In your grace please serve me today, at home and in my work, with my family and with my colleagues. I am asking you to make me someone who will love my neighbours as myself. Serve me that way, and Lord supply all my needs, and Lord, make all grace abound.” That was the first thing Paul told them about God the Servant King.
Then Paul moved on from preaching to them about God to explaining to them about themselves. Who are we? What is a man? The men at the Council of the Areopagus had no idea. So Paul explained to them that man is a creature uniquely made by God – bearing the image and likeness of God. Adam was a real man, and let me begin in this way.
1. WHY IT MATTERS THAT ADAM WAS A REAL MAN.
i] It makes sense of the world. Paul at the Areopagus had a better grasp of who he was, and who these philosophers were, and why the people of Athens behaved as they did than all those philosophers knew of themselves – these followers of Socrates and Plato and the Stoics and Epicureans. Paul was able to tell them where they all came from, who was their first ancestor, and why people behave as they do. The Christian knows from Scripture about such things as these, that there was a good beginning marred by the fall; redemption as the intrusion of the grace of God through Jesus Christ in the gospel message that affects all in the creation who hear it, so that those joined to our Lord in faith become salt and light in the world preventing it turning into a colony of hell. As men like Paul preach the gospel then the world hears of Jesus Christ the last Adam, the hope of the world, and the light of the world. And this prevents an accelerated decay and putrefaction of the human race. In fact we actually know what the future holds without having to pay futurologists, or reading horoscopes or going to creepy fortune tellers and mediums. We know that the world is facing a glorious consummation, the great day of the Lord, the regeneration of the universe, the new heavens and the new earth, the great separation with the old serpent being cast into the lake of fire to trouble this groaning world no more. That’s what lies ahead. That is my future and the future of the universe and its purpose and plan. By Adam sin came into the world, not by God. By God grace comes into the world by Christ. So the creation of the first man makes sense of the world.
ii] It makes sense of the message of the gospel. Adam and sin are conjoined like Siamese twins. If you deny Adam then you deny sin, and that is why you never hear the word today. ‘Sin’ is an alien and unwanted word in politics and in education and in the National Health Service. Adam was in fact the door by which sin entered the world. Atonement by Christ the last Adam is the door of deliverance from sin and guilt and condemnation. Much of the dilemma the United Kingdom is in today is inexplicable without the explanation of how and why sin entered the world. In Genesis 3 we see Adam listening in as God speaks to the serpent and tells him of the coming birth of the Seed of the woman who will crush his head. The serpent is not getting away with tempting Adam and Eve. The Serpent has signed his own death warrant when he lied to our first parents about not dying. God says, “Listen in Adam! Listen in Eve. I will destroy this enemy that trapped and killed you. Now you are naked and ashamed, but in pity I will clothe you in skins. Now you are dying people, though your bodies continue to live, your lungs are still taking in air, your hearts are beating and your limbs are moving, but your spiritual life, the life that matters the most, has been extinguished, fellowship with God is broken, your hearts look to me like a dried prune, your eyes are blind to God’s glory, your souls are a mini-Sahara utterly devoid of that life with me we once enjoyed. Your only hope is in my Son, the Seed of the women coming to destroy the power of sin in creation by his redemption, and his propitiation, and his cleansing, and his justification. The creation and fall of man makes sense of the need for the coming of Christ in the gospel.
iii] Adam being a real man makes sense of the authority and truth of the Bible. Sooner or later, when you tell people you believe the Bible then they’re going to say to you, “You don’t mean that you believe in Adam. Do you?” And you’ll say to them, “You mean to say that you don’t?” In other words you will take the initiative, and the time will come when if they say they believe in the Lord Jesus that you’ll point out that the Son of God, the infallible Jesus Christ once said that in the beginning God created our first parents, male and female. Our Lord, the one we serve, who can say nothing wrong, is the truth. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am not so vain as to think I know more than Jesus, or that he might be mistaken about anything. I am content to believe what he believes, and to behave as he behaves, and to love the things he loves, and to hate the things that he hates. I am a disciple and follower of Christ. He has authorized messengers, like Moses, and David, and Isaiah and the prophets. Then also Paul and Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I accept their teaching and I worship Christ with them.
I have such a little grasp of Christianity that I have no right to do what an old king once did. He cut out parts of the Bible he didn’t like and threw them into the fire. I certainly may not do that to something that Christ believed was foundational. I would destroy the Christian faith if I did that. And it seems to me that Adam and Eve being the headwaters of the human family, and their fall into sin and death are not only what the Lord Christ believed, but that this is an irremovable part of Christianity. Form your own religion if you deny the faith that once was delivered to the saints, but don’t call it Christianity, because one essential element to the faith once given to the saints is that Adam was a real human being, the federal head of the human race, created sinless by God and placed under probation which resulted in his defiance of God’s commandment.
iv] It makes sense of the various races of the world. The Greeks thought of themselves as the greatest nation in the world. They scorned their slaves who came from inferior nations. They prized their horses higher than them. Servants were inferior men and women with no rights. I presume Paul had picked that up from his weeks looking around Athens. So Paul faced these aristocrats and with enormous heaven-given courage told them that all people are equally descended from one man, “your slaves and yourselves,” and soon he goes on to tell them that they all needed to be saved, “your slaves and yourselves also,” by trusting in the life and death and resurrection of one magnificent man” – and that man was not a Greek! So Paul was humbling them by the gospel. He was telling the Greeks that they did not belong to some imaginary ‘pure blood-line.’ He was affirming, “There is no master race.” In fact you cannot understand who you are and what it is to be a certain individual unless you know the living God. You cannot understand your role in life or in your future unless you know the man Christ Jesus, the Son of God.
The blood of Jesus is the only way that we sinners can come to God our Creator – however rich and favoured and beautiful and intelligent and gifted we may be. The blood of Jesus is the way that God has designed for people from all ethnic groups to come to each other in peace – namely, in coming together to God in Christ. The blood of Jesus — shed for the forgiveness of our sins — is the only way any person from any nation can be reconciled to God. The blood of Jesus is the way God has designed for every ethnic group to be reconciled to other ethnic groups — that is, by people being individually reconciled to God in Christ. There is no pure and no outstanding bloodline in the world today. There is only the cleansing blood of the Lamb of God that deals with man’s guilt and reconciles a holy God.
It is by Christ that the hostility between men is removed, because by him the hostility between God and men has been appeased. We are constrained to for give because of the mighty forgiveness we have received from God. There is now a reconciling gospel offering peace with God through Christ. God’s wrath has been propitiated because our just punishment has been once and for all removed by the Christ who bore our condemnation on the cross. Now God is the Father of all who have received Christ, and his family today consists of people from every ethnic group who have come by personal trust to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. I am urging you not to allow one atom of pride of race to remain in your heart! It is a stench in the nostrils of God. The Lord is calling all people to move from the divisive bloodlines of race and ethnicity into the one bloodline of Jesus Christ. There is therefore now no Jew and no Greek, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. Then let us come to one obvious consequence of this . . .
2. INTER-RACIAL MARRIAGE IS PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE.
Now let me make it very plain that no grounds exist for opposing inter-racial marriage. Have you heard the main arguments opposing inter-racial marriages?
A) Races are God’s will and therefore amalgamating them is against his will. Wrong! When God separated the peoples at the Tower of Babel it was by language, not race. Racial distinctions came later. That passage does not teach that people cannot learn each other’s languages and marry each other. Rather, the lesson to be learned is that no group of people should conspire against God. God’s judgments (like the curse at the tower of Babel) give us no right to pick up the sword and judge people. For example, God cursed creation at the fall, but this does not mean that we shouldn’t use crop sprays, or antibiotics or aspirins. So God’s separating peoples does not mean there should never be any coming together of people, including coming together in marriage. Then there is another argument against inter-racial marriage:
B) God forbade the Jews from marrying other races. Right but wrong! The reasons for this prohibition were religious and moral, not racial. The only marriage constraints put on a believer are (1) that they marry someone of the opposite sex, and (2) that they marry a believer (1 Corinthians 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14). There are approved inter-ethnic marriages in the Bible; we see it in the book of Ruth. Another false argument:
C) There was a curse on Ham, the son of Noah, from whom the black race came. Wrong! The curse was on Canaan, Ham’s son, not on Ham (Genesis 9:18-27). Canaan was not the father of the black race. Even if a particular tribe or city or nation had been cursed in the Old Testament dispensation, the curses of God Almighty are not mandates for our behaviour. God’s curses are not commands to us to treat any cursed people badly – and who would they be today. Do they exist today? We are to love our enemies and overcome their evil with our good. Again . . .
D) Interracial marriage tends toward the lessening of the diversity that God intends.
Wrong! This would carry weight, perhaps, if there were a real possibility that interracial marriage resulted in diminished diversity. But in fact it actually increases the beautiful diversity. A Korean and a European getting married are saying, “We are united about the big things in life! We have united convictions and desires and values. We agree about raising our children and how to spend our time and money and about speaking two languages. Any biological differences we may have are trivial.” And that is completely true. If you oppose interracial marriage then you are saying that races are not relationally or socially equal. You are saying that one race is inferior to another and you cannot find that anywhere except in racial prejudice. Nations and raes are simply different. Again the final argument is this, that . . .
E) Cultural differences make interracial marriage wrong because the couple will be incompatible. Wrong! We should base our ideas of compatibility on the facts of a situation, not on the colour of the people. There are same-race couples that are less compatible than inter-racial couples, because the issue is not race but sufficient spiritual union, common conviction, moral and ethical harmony and those sorts of expectations that make any marriage workable.
3. GOD DEALS WITH NATIONS AS NATIONS STILL.
Just as God also deals today with individuals, and with families, and with congregations so he still deals with nations. Jesus often spoke about nations: Matthew 24 and verse 9, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” There are in some countries a national, official, political contempt of the followers of Christ. Matthew 24 and verse14 “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew 25and verse 32, “And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” Matthew 28 and verse 19, “Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” And Mark 11 and verse 17, “And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? But you have made it a den of thieves.” You can read in the New Testament of divine judgments that are made of various nations. The Cretans, for example. were a nation of notorious deceit and falsehood. “All Cretans are liars,” the apostle said.
We are under obligation to respect men and women from every nation. Don’t we hate and despise racism? In other words to think that one race or tribe or nation is superior to others, and that some are terribly inferior? Think of what this foul heresy did when it gripped Germany and they thought they could load Jewish men and women and children, all made in the image of God, onto cattle trucks and take them off to gas and incinerate them in their millions. Think of the anti-Jewish hatred amongst some of the Arab nations today, that they applaud the holocaust and they would launch another one if they could. Think of the racism of Boko Haram and their hostility to girls being educated by what they dub as ‘western education.’ Think of racist organizations in Britain who actually admire the shameful, hateful Klu Klux Klan. I cannot see how anyone whose trust is in Jesus of Nazareth can belong to such white-supremacist organizations. You have to choose between a gospel church or that. You cannot have them both. You cannot be a member of this church and also be a member of a racist organization. You are welcome to attend, but before you join us you have to deal with your white supremacist views and mortify them. Kill those ugly prejudices.
We in Wales live under the shadow of our big powerful neighbour, England and we Christians have to be very careful about how we speak about the English. We love the English. We love so much of their history and their great men. John Wycliffe, the Yorkshireman, the morning star of the Reformation, the translator of the Bible which he believed was the only authoritative guide for what we’re to believe. His body was burned and its ashes thrown into a river in 1384. What a man! William Tyndale, the Luther of England. The translator of the Scriptures into English. What a giant. Oh that he were Welsh! And then his successors, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, Rogers, Hooper, Bradford. What Englishmen! What martyrs! Then the next century, John Bunyan, William Gurnall, John Owen, Richard Baxter, Thomas Brooks, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Manton and the others. Giants, every one of them and hundreds more like them. And then the next century, George Whitefield, John Wesley, William Grimshaw, John Berridge, Henry Venn. What men! Then the 19th century and the forerunners of the modern missionary movement, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, James Paton, and then Spurgeon and J.C.Ryle. How we love and admire the English for the blessings that God poured forth upon them for half a millennium. They are our eternal brothers who have been such a benediction to us in Wales for centuries. God made every nation of men. There are times and periods when God favours a nation, but God can also withhold his blessing from nations and he can send leanness upon them. Think of what he did to a mighty nation like Germany in the last century. Only in the Lord Jesus Christ is there deliverance from our pride in our history and nationality.
God, I say, is involved in the progress of every nation. Have you considered the strange prominence that genealogies have in the Bible? They are there at the opening page of the New Testament, and even today genealogies are especially regarded by some cultures. People from those nations are not embarrassed that the New Testament begins with a family tree and a hundred unusual names. Some nationalities nod their heads soberly as they read that chapter. The genealogy in Luke’s gospel goes back and back from Jesus to his parents and grandparents and it finally ends at the very beginning of human history with the words “the son of Adam, the son of God.” People read such a genealogy and they can happily say, “Ah, this is not Welsh history, or European history, or the history of the white race, not someone else’s story, but our story and my history. It tells me the truth of my ancestry in Adam, and I can trust it to tell me the truth about my destiny in Christ.”
There is no place for believing some nations come from some superior blood lines while other are inferior blood lines. We are all one family, my brother and my sister and me. We all have our one common origin in our father Adam. And Christ is offered as the Saviour of all men. You remember the day of Pentecost and the names of the nations gathered in Jerusalem and every nation is told it needs to be saved from this crooked generation. They are all exhorted to repent and believe the gospel. It was William Carey’s vision of a world of different nations, all of whom must hear of a friend of sinners, of one who was able to save men to the uttermost who come to God by him. It was the most breathtaking discovery for Christian Jews in the early church, that God loved the Romans and the Greeks and the Asians and Ethiopians and he offered to them all Jehovah Jesus his Son. It almost fractured the early church from top to bottom, that the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was broken down in Christ.
3. GOD HAS DETERMINED THE TIME AND PLACE OF EACH NATION.
Paul looked at these proud Greeks in the capital of the greatest city of the greatest nation in the world – so they bragged, and he said to them that the God he was proclaiming had, “determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (v.26). The great triumph over the Persians five centuries earlier was determined by God. The disastrous destructive civil war in the next century between Athens and Sparta – also determined by God. There are the great words of Moses, “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples” (Deut. 32:8) God Almighty is in charge of the nations. God had to humble proud Nebuchadnezzar so that he lost his reason for a while “until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Dan. 4:32). In other words, the history and the geography of nations are determined by God, not by various political systems. God determines the various times they pass through, the swinging sixties, the naughty twenties, the desperate wars, recession and austerity, boom and bust; All those times are set for every nation by the Almighty. A nation has . . .
“a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.” (Eccles.3: 2-8)
What time is it in Wales today? Is it a time to plant and build and a time to keep and a time to love and a time for peace? Oh, may it be such a time! Our times are in God’s hands, as individuals, as families, as congregations, as nations.
And the exact places of nations are also set by God, empire building and empire contraction, land grabbing and national shrinkage. God will determine our future and our peace. That is his prerogative. Why else does the English Parliament begin each day with a service of reading and prayer, (not the Welsh assembly)? Shouldn’t the powers that be, shouldn’t our Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street take this very seriously?
The inhabitants of a nation and especially its leaders must cry to God to preserve and encourage all that is best in the history of our country and grant that it flourishes, its families and cultural life, and care for one another. Let a nation be known for its work ethic and its honesty and integrity. “Lord you determine the times set for nations and the exact places when people live.” I might wish I lived when Daniel Rowland was alive, or Thomas Charles, or some time when gospel Christianity had far more influence than it does today. But God has determined the time where we live and the exact place, and told me that I am to serve him here and now, fulfill my chief end of glorifying and enjoying him here and now.
Every nation has epochs of its history and limits to its territory. Every nation is held accountable to God for aggressive expansion and empire building and tyrannical control of other lesser nations. I think of the Welsh knot which was a device to wipe out the Welsh language in the coming generation. I think of China’s control of Tibet, and again Russian expansion, the resulting tension and bloodshed, the shooting down of a passenger plane, killing everyone on board, and the threat that expansion is to European peace. I think of ISIS and Islamic expansion. God is not responsible for the aggressive cruelty of nations, but let the nations who fearfully rage together remember that our God is ultimately in control of their history and geography. The Areopagus was facing the news that the God Paul preached to them was in charge of their future and the future of proud Greece. Pride comes before a fall, and the higher the pride the deeper the fall. You may remember Shelley’s famous poem;
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
Percy Bysshe Shelley
God made every nation, tongue and tribe of one race. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus, the God of absolute reality. Nations and races and the history of men and our personal histories cannot be properly understood without him. Man is in the image of God. The meaning of human personhood is rooted first in who we are, those made in the likeness of God. What are skin-deep differences to Christians? They are utterly insignificant compared to the rational, volitional, spiritual bonds that tie us together as persons. Race is profoundly non-essential to personhood. It is sin that dishonors God and depraves humanity. Sin’s irony is that it is the reason we are hurtful to each other and it is one of the reasons we should not hurt each other. We are all equal because we are all sinful. We’re all as bad as each other and equally worthy of disrespect.
John Piper says, that Jesus of Nazareth, God’s great definition of what a man is, is the example of perfect humanity. The last Adam never treated anyone disrespectfully. He was patience and wisdom incarnate when dealing with a Samaritan woman. How he dealt with reaching Israel was his strategy to teach us how to reach all nations. Christ is the revelation of sacrificial love. Jesus died to show us how to love each other. Jesus is the universal Savior. Christ died to buy people of every colour and yoke us to him easily and yoke us together.
Jesus is the ground of our justification by faith alone. Jesus is the one righteousness that will commend any human being to God. There is one way to get united to Jesus and it has zero to do with race and everything to do with faith.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on all races at Pentecost. In the end times all peoples will be gathered together to worship one God. For no people group will this be someone else’s god. Every tribe and tongue among the sheep of Christ will say, “Our good Shepherd is our God.” Church, today, on Sunday mornings, should be a rehearsal for that day.
Jesus’ and the apostles’ commands forbid disrespect on the basis of race – or anything. Even if you consider another race your enemy, you have no right not to love that race though deploring the evil actions of individuals. If you’re a Christian pray for that race! “But I say unto you ‘Love your enemies. Do good to them who despitefully use you.’” God loves people of all races and does not want any of them to perish but become members of the new age, the new heavens and the new earth.
2nd August 2015 GEOFF THOMAS