And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them.
— Acts 17:32,33
There are a wide variety of reactions to the preaching of truth. I’ll give you an example from my own life — a personal experience I will never forget when I received multiple mixed reactions to a message I preached. I remember how stunned I was at the different ways people responded to what I ministered. To me, the message was thrilling, life-changing, and powerful, and I was so excited about the prospect of preaching it. I could hardly wait for the day to come to deliver what God had put on my heart, since I anticipated that people would respond to it the same way it had affected me. However, when I preached the message, people’s reaction was not exactly what I expected!
By the time I had finished preaching, it was obvious that some people were visibly blessed. However, others were upset and even furious with what I had said! Then there was a third group that wouldn’t immediately respond one way or the other, saying that they wanted to put their opinion “on hold” and think about what I had taught for a while.
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I was shocked. I wondered, How in the world could this message produce such a mixed reaction, and how could it possibly anger people? I assure you that my intention had not been to make anyone angry, but only to speak a word from God that would set people free.
I was so perplexed that I decided to make copies of the message and send it to several nationally known ministers I respected and ask them to listen to it and give me their reaction to the message. As I waited to hear from them, I wondered what kind of response they would give me to this message. As the written responses came back, one after another said, “Not only is this message needed, it is very needed — and I would like to schedule you to come preach it in my church!”
Anyone who has been in the ministry long can testify that there is often a mixed response to the teaching of truth. What thrills one person can be a source of irritation to another person. When I was a younger man in the ministry, this varied reaction was confusing to me. But through the years, I have learned to expect the preaching of God’s Word to elicit different responses from different people.
Since you will one day stand before Jesus to give account for what you preach, it is crucial that you inwardly know you are saying exactly what He wants you to say; then you must trust the Lord with the results. As God’s messenger, you are ultimately responsible to speak what He puts on your heart, regardless of the response from your listeners.
When Paul concluded his message in the Athenian court, he had a very mixed response to his sermon. Acts 17:32,33 tells us, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them.”
This verse tells us that “some mocked” when they heard Paul’s message. The word “mocked” is derived from the Greek word echidna, which is the word for a poisonous viper. This word echidna is exactly the same word used in Matthew 3:7, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33, and Luke 3:7, when Jesus referred to the religious leaders of his time as a generation of “vipers.” By using this vivid word, the Holy Spirit lets us know that when Paul concluded his masterful message, one group was so furious that they wanted to sink their fangs into him! They were livid and fuming because of what Paul preached.
That was one reaction to Paul’s message, but there were other reactions as well. Acts 17:32 goes on to tell us, “…Others said, We will hear thee again on this matter.” This second group wasn’t jumping and shouting, “Amen!” But the fact that they were open-minded and wanted to hear Paul again constituted a significant victory for the Kingdom of God. This means they were interested — and for judges in the highest court of this pagan land to be interested in the Gospel was a huge development!
This was a massive triumph for Paul’s ministry. Sometimes when a door of opportunity remains open rather than slamming shut, that open door is in itself a great success. Sure, these Athenian judges didn’t walk the aisle or pray the sinner’s prayer. But they wanted to hear more, and that let Paul know that he still had an open door into their hearts.
Acts 17:33 says, “So Paul departed from among them.” The Bible doesn’t explicitly say how Paul felt when he walked out of the amphitheater. However, we do know that he had enraged one group, interested another group, and had no visible proof that anyone would be saved as a result of his preaching that day. It is likely that he felt like a failure or thought he hadn’t performed as powerfully as he had hoped.
Although the response to his message was very mixed, there was a small group of notable people who not only heard it but were deeply touched by it. Acts 17:34 says, “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” These people believed the truth they heard and desired to know more.
This verse tells us that “certain men clave unto him.” I want you to especially notice the word “clave.” This word is taken from the Greek word kollaoo — a word that means to glue to, to cleave to, to adhere to, to attach one’s self to, or to associate with. There is no doubt that this word conveys the idea of discipleship and faithfully following after someone else. We know that these individuals were saved as a result of Paul’s ministry that day, because this scripture tells us they “believed.”
Among this group of new believers was “Dionysius the Areopagite.” This man’s name indicates that he was named in honor of the Greek god Dionysius, which tells us he had been reared in a very pagan home. The Bible also tells us that Dionysius was an Areopagite. This word is taken from the word Areopagus, which describes the highest court of the land. We therefore know that this newly saved Dionysius was one of the 12 judges who ruled in the highest court in the entire nation.
This man’s conversion was no small victory! Because he was one of the 12 judges who ruled the land, he was well known in Athens and throughout all of Greece. The early Christian historian Eusebius later wrote that Dionysius became so rooted in the faith that he was eventually named the bishop of the church at Athens and died a martyr’s death.
In addition to Dionysius’ conversion, Acts 17:34 says that “a woman named Damaris” was also converted as a result of Paul’s message in the high court. Although the Bible doesn’t give us much insight into Damaris, we do know that, like Dionysius, she was a very wealthy aristocrat. The verse goes on to tell us, “and there were others with them.” The original language implies that although this group was not huge, it was a notable group of people who were probably members of the upper class. The seed of God’s Word became deeply rooted in their hearts, and they kept the fire burning in Athens long after Paul’s departure.
I am sure that Paul must have been perplexed by the mixed reaction he received to his message that day. Just as was true in my case, some were blessed, others infuriated, and others held their reactions to themselves. If you were just counting numbers, it would appear that the message Paul delivered in the Areopagus was no great success. But although the number of people converted wasn’t substantial, the identity of those converted was of great consequence.
By penetrating the upper class of Athens with the Gospel, Paul pierced the most difficult category of people to reach. These were people of influence, people of power, and people of high regard. Therefore, even though there were not vast numbers of new converts, the influential nature of those who were converted provided a significant advancement of the Gospel in Athens.
When you reach people with the message God puts on your heart, don’t be misled by the various reactions people have to you and to your message. Know beforehand that some may be glad to receive what you say, and some may end up mad at you because of the message you have preached. What is most important is that you know exactly what God wants you to say or do and then faithfully stick with that message, regardless of the reactions you experience. You will ultimately answer to Jesus, so when you step out to obey what He has told you to do, do it to please Him!
Make the decision not to permit yourself to be disturbed or disappointed because the numerical response you anticipated is smaller than you hoped. Even if the numbers are small, it may be that you have reached the heart of someone who will one day have great influence and power. That would make your results very successful indeed!
You may not know for many years the full consequences of your obedience. So if you have done your best to say precisely what Jesus has asked you to say, know that you have nothing left to do but rest your case. Then you can leave the rest of the matter in His hands!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I ask You to help me know exactly what I am to say, how I am to say it, and when I am to speak. Then once I have obeyed You, help me trust You with the results. I admit that I’ve been affected by people’s reactions in the past and have allowed those reactions to influence my obedience in the present. Please forgive me for allowing the opinions of man to affect me, even when I know I’ve done exactly what You told me to do. Help me keep my eyes on You when I step out in faith to obey the prompting of Your Spirit in my heart.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am not negatively affected by people’s mixed reactions when I speak the Word of God. People will always respond differently to truth; therefore, I put my trust in the Lord and keep my eyes on Him, not on the responses of people. I will do my best to speak His Word accurately, and I trust the Holy Spirit to assist me. He is my Helper, my Standby, my Assistant, and my Mentor, so I am depending on Him to teach me how to speak as I ought to speak. From this moment on, I will no longer worry or fret about the reactions of people when I do what I am instructed to do with a right heart. Instead, I will rest my case and then leave the results with the Lord.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of a time when you spoke exactly what God put on your heart, and it caused a wide variety of reactions that surprised you? Exactly when was that experience, and what was the message that seemed so controversial?
- What did you learn from that experience when it was over? Did the Holy Spirit show you how you could have done better? What lessons did you appropriate from that experience?
- Can you recall a time when you felt like you had failed in sharing the message God had given you? Did you later find out that God did remarkable things in people’s lives as a result of the seeds you planted that day?
- What conclusion can you draw when you see eternal fruit produced in people’s lives from a time of sharing the truth that you thought was disastrous?