In Acts 17:32-34, we find three responses to the resurrection of Jesus. Paul had been asked to speak at the Areopagus in Athens, a location overlooking the city marketplace that served as the meeting place for hearing civil and criminal cases, and for debating new religious ideas and teachings. Pointing to an altar set up to worship an Unknown God, Paul then shared with them about Jesus. Everything was fine until he brought up the resurrected. Three groups emerged:
- Some ridiculed Paul. To some, the idea of a resurrection was nonsense. Notice they didn’t have any problems with Jesus living or dying–the resurrection was the issue. If someone accepts that Jesus was resurrected, then he or she must come to terms with Jesus being God and Savior. If you don’t want to admit you are a sinner in need to a Savior, then you must find a way to explain away the empty tomb of Jesus. We tend to ridicule that which we want to discredit.
- Some wanted to hear more. A second group wanted to hear Paul out, but were skeptical. They were at least open but not ready to accept the idea of a resurrection. Many reasons exist for a person to be skeptical and needing more time to think. Many times, we view this group as rejecting Jesus, but that is not always the case. What they just heard challenged the very core of their beliefs, which takes time to process. We may want them to make a decision right then and there, but God is patient with us all. Paul would turn away from the rejectors and the skeptics on this day. His focus would be on the third group.
- Some accepted the gospel. Two are named in Acts, Dionysius and Damaris, but we don’t know the exact number who accepted Paul’s message that day (v. 34). Paul gave this group his attention, most likely helping them more fully understand what it meant to follow Jesus. One of the early church historians suggested that Dionysius became the first pastor of the church in Athens. This group would become the core of that influential church, engaging those who wanted to know more about this resurrection in the days and years ahead.
We sometimes think that times have changed but this event reminds us of two major truths. First of all, the resurrection of Jesus is the central message of the gospel. It is the stepping stone to faith and the stumbling stone that leads to rejection. Secondly, people fall into one of three categories when it comes to the gospel: rejecting, waiting, or accepting. These two realities have not changed in two thousand years.
How do you see these three reactions in today’s world? How does the resurrection of Jesus divide and unite?