22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 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,  25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:22-25 (ESV)
We now come to a controversial speech that Paul gives before the Areopagus. The odd thing about this speech that has many people scratching their head is that Paul doesn’t seem to mention the cross, of which he tells the Corinthians he knew nothing but amongst them. It’s a curious thing that has been pointed out to me by both Moe and Bo Giertz concerning this speech, though both of them believe that this is a faithful representation of Paul’s speech. It could, I suppose be that Luke leaves this out of his story, and concentrates on those things that he found more interesting and unique about this sermon of Paul. I mean, one has to wonder how Paul gets to the resurrection at the end of this speech if he doesn’t also talk about the cross, it is kind of hard to have the one without the other. On the other hand, it is also possible that by “knowing nothing but Christ and him crucified” than that he brought the cross to the forefront of every sermon.
In this evangelical opportunity, Paul actually has to lay down a lot of ground work to make the cross make sense. This starts with a discussion of who God actually is. This would be a foreign concept to the Greeks he is talking to who would as Stoics not really think of God as being personal, or as polytheists, imagine God a the creator of the world.
It’s a very interesting proclamation also in that he doesn’t start out berating the Athenians for their temples. He holds in check that which originally upset him. In fact he uses this to praise them! “I see that you are religious,” he says. Then starting from an altar to the unknown god, Paul begins to tell them about God. He then explains that this God is the creator of the world, and therefore can’t be pacified by anything we have to give. He really appeals to the stoic concept of God here. Taking what they have right and discarding what they have wrong, even showing to them why they are wrong appealing to their logic.
And here Paul undermines all forms of works righteousness. We just aren’t in any position to bargain with God. We have nothing to offer. He has whatever it is he wants. We can’t earn our righteousness because even the best we do falls short of his law, and even if it didn’t it is hardly more than anything God has commanded in his law that could make up for those places where we have failed. In other words, there is nothing we can do about our guilt. There is only the forgiveness of sins on account of the Cross of Christ who had no need of forgiveness himself and was able to go above and beyond the law of God to show love for sinners like you and me, and with that give God the one thing he wanted, you.