Isn’t it curious that talking about Jesus and sharing the biblical gospel generates such strong reactions, but if someone talks about a false religion, no one seems to care? Other religions have certain tenets of faith that their followers believe are true. They teach a way of life and behavior and require certain things to gain heaven, or utopia, or whatever it is they are striving to achieve in this life or the afterlife. The world is content to let them be…to practice their faith in peace with an attitude of “if it works for you, then go for it.”
The same is true for other “non-traditional” beliefs that are now being accepted by our culture – such as the idea that we can choose our gender or change our biological sex or even as I’ve read recently, supporting, and allowing children to identify as “furries” in school. (Look it up; our world is getting weirder and weirder!)
The difference is that other worldviews don’t confront us with the truth. They are false, made-up, man-made ideas that our enemy, the devil, has planted in our hearts and minds to distract us from the truth found in God’s Word. Think about this…the devil loves to make us ignorant fools; he delights in destroying lives and he laughs at the pain and suffering false ideologies and religions bring to our world. He is quite content to let us go on in our ignorant beliefs and take us to hell with him.
Paul and his fellow apostles and servants of the gospel certainly found a variety of reactions to their gospel message. Acts 16-17 tracks their journey through several cities, and in each place, the good news about Jesus brought a strong response – some positive, but sadly, much of it negative.
In Lystra, Paul adds a young disciple named Timothy to their team. Timothy has a Gentile father, so even though it’s not required, Timothy agrees to be circumcised so as not to offend the Jews to whom he will be preaching. As they traveled back through the places where new churches had been established, many were strengthened in their faith. They arrive at Philippi, a Roman colony. They meet Lydia, a worshipper of God who responded to the message of Jesus and became a believer, along with her household. This disturbs the spiritual warfare going on in Philippi, and Paul is annoyed by a demon-possessed girl who follows them around saying, “These men are bondservants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” This was not helpful; it was a distraction, so Paul casts out the demon but is accused of civil disobedience by the girl’s masters.
Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown in jail; the city officials reject their message. God causes an earthquake to release them from their chains, and the Philippian jailer seeing their faith in God that kept them from running away, also believes. In the morning, they are run out of the city. In Thessalonica, the Jews are jealous, and they are again accused of civil disobedience; a mob scene occurs, and they again have to leave town. In Berea, Paul finds people who are “more noble-minded;” they receive the word with eagerness and examine the scriptures to see if what Paul says is true, and many believe. Unfortunately, the jealous Thessalonians track them down and stir up trouble in Berea, causing them to move on again.
Finally, Paul reaches Athens, a city filled with people who loved to talk about new ideas. Paul confronts them with their worship of even a god unknown, saying, “What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you,” and goes on to preach the gospel. Some people sneer, mocking Paul for believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. Others are curious but uncommitted, just wanting to talk about ideas but not really interested in faith. But as in all the places Paul went as he followed the Holy Spirit’s leading, those appointed for eternal life came to faith in Jesus and were saved.
Things haven’t changed much, have they?
The message of Jesus will always elicit a strong response. I know some people who adamantly claim that the Bible isn’t true, that Jesus was simply one of many religious teachers, and that there is no truth in the message of the gospel. They get angry, defensive, and downright obnoxious if you want to discuss it, but are willing to talk about any number of other religious ideas or strange ideologies that go against all common sense. Why? Because deep down, God has set eternity in our hearts. We were created to worship Him, and we know we are sinners whether or not we admit it to ourselves or others.
Jesus is offensive to those who refuse to believe. As my husband says, “He’s just not going to be as popular as we want to make Him.” Knowing that, Paul was not swayed from continuing to proclaim the truth, and neither should we be deterred. There’s a judgment day coming, and the time for ignorance has passed. People need to hear the gospel, whether they know it or not. Let us pray that some will listen and believe.
Acts 17:30-31 – Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.