Acts 17 has a fantastic sermon in it – a great message to study when we consider how to share the good news of Jesus with those who come from a non-Christian or non-Jewish society or background. But today I want to focus in on the different reactions that Acts 17 records to the proclamation of the gospel.
As we noted a few days ago, whenever the gospel is preached, there is a divide: some accept it and put their trust in Jesus. Others refuse to accept it.
So also here in Thessalonica. After spending three Sabbaths in the local synagogue reasoning from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah, some of the Jews who listened along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women (Acts 17:4) became believers.
But the alternate reaction in Thessalonica is very antagonistic towards Jesus and his disciples. Driven by jealousy (was it jealousy because people accepted Jesus so readily whereas it had taken hears to convince Greeks that Judaism was a worthy religion to pursue), some of the Jews formed a mob to try and drag Paul and Silas to council (or the crowds, depending on how you translate verse 5). Not finding them, they instead drag their Christian host (Jason) and other believers out before the city council. The accusation: that they profess allegiance to “another king, named Jesus” (Acts 17:7). If the charge was taken seriously, there would have been major ramifications: definite jail time. But they’re released, even if they are forced to post bond!
Next, in Berea, we find a more receptive audience. The Jews here eagerly compared what Paul and Silas taught with the Scriptures. What an example to us. If only we would take seriously our task of thinking through what we believe!
And yet again we find the Thessalonian trouble-makers at work. How jealousy must they have been of Christianity, to travel all the way to another city to try and squash the nascent church!
Sent off by himself, Paul finds himself awaiting his companions in Athens. Troubled by the paganism of the city, Paul shared the gospel with them.
Again – note the divided reactions. Not belief and jealousy, this time it is belief and mockery. They think themselves above Paul’s silly ideas. A bit like Richard Dawkins calling atheists “brights”. And yet even so, for the most part, they listened. But when they’d had enough, they simply walked away.
Which do I prefer? Violent antagonism, or condescending aloofness? Both are the enemy of the truth. And yet in the midst of both? People coming to a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ his Son.
Father, why do the nations rail against you? Even those who should know better so often respond with antagonism. And those who think they know better respond with curiosity and disdain. But thank you that in all of that, you still call those who are yours to yourself. Thank you that I heard your voice calling. Thank you that you are my shepherd. Please help me to not fear the reactions of those around me when I speak of who you are and all that you’ve done for us.