In about the year A.D. 52, a preacher of a new and little-known religion became the center of a great controversy in the ancient Greek city of Athens. The man had arrived in Athens from Berea, where his presence had caused such an uproar that he had been forced to flee for his life.
No sooner had he entered Athens than he again began to stir up controversy. In the local Jewish synagogue, he plunged into lively religious discussion. Also, he began a series of daily debates with those in the Athenian agora, or “market place.”
It was not long before his activities attracted the notice of the intellectual community. Stoic and Epicurean philosophers sought him out to learn what he had to say. That they expected nothing of real significance to come from their encounter with him was evident from their attitude to- ward him: “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” (Acts 17:18b).
They led him away to Mars’ Hill, the Athenian courtroom, located on a steep, rocky hillside above the city. The courtroom itself was an open air platform on the rock, complete with benches carved in the solid stone. It was reached by a long flight of steps from the marketplace below.
Standing in the midst of a hostile audience with the evidence of Greek learning and religion all around him, the stranger began to speak. His words still challenge our thinking after 20 centuries.
Paul’s sermon in Athens centered on the resurrection of Christ from the dead. He emphasized the resurrection as the focal point of the Christian faith. He realized that nothing about Christianity could be true if the resurrection were not true.
The very essence of the gospel—the “good news”—is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1– 4). In Athens, as in every other place, Paul justified Christianity on the grounds of its risen Lord.
As might be expected, those who heard Paul’s sermon reacted to the doctrine of the resurrection in different ways. That day in Athens, three attitudes toward the resurrection were exhibited.
People today still respond to the preaching of the resurrection in the same ways that the people of Athens did. As we consider their reactions, let us ask ourselves, “How have I responded to the good news of a risen Savior?”
SOME SNEERED AT IT: “I REFUSE TO BE CONVINCED”
“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer” (Acts 17:32a). They were unconvinced; they laughed about it.
There are always people who are ready to dismiss the “good news” of the resurrection as a preposterous impossibility. One recent claim was made by a researcher named Suzanne Marie Olsson. In 2002, she announced that she had found the final resting place of the body of Jesus in the Muslim shrine of Rozabal in India. She wanted to exhume the body and take DNA to compare with samples from a body in Pakistan which was purported to be the body of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
Some years ago, a movie called The Passover Plot was released. It was based on a book with the same title by Hugh J. Schonfield. According to this book, Jesus was a clever political schemer who used cheap tricks to convince people He was a miracle-worker and manipulated His own crucifixion for political effect.
According to the text, which is a variation of the “swoon theory,” Jesus plotted to have Himself dosed with a drug which slowed down His respiration and heartbeat and made it appear that He had died. His plan was thwarted, the book claims, when a Roman soldier thrust a spear into His side.
The theory presented by Schonfield is that Jesus revived briefly in the cool of the tomb and managed to recruit an understudy to make His post-resurrection appearances before succumbing to His wound and being buried in another tomb.
The fundamental implausibility of these notions makes them harder to believe than the Bible’s account of the resurrection. Why would the body of Jesus have been stolen and taken to India? How could this have happened under the watchful eyes of Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers without someone’s noticing?
What about the idea that Jesus survived His ordeal on the cross? Are we to accept that experienced Roman executioners could not distinguish a dead body from a live one and that no one realized a mistake had been made until a “scholar” figured it out 20 centuries later?
According to the testimony of eyewitnesses, blood and water flowed from the spear wound in Jesus’ side. Forensic pathologists say this likely indicates that the spear had pierced the heart (see John 19:34).
Jesus died on the cross and then appeared, alive again, to many eyewitnesses. How could an imposter have fooled these witnesses—especially Thomas, who apparently examined the nail prints and the wound in Christ’s side?
Such theories must be seen for what they are: the unfounded sneers of those who will go to desperate lengths to keep from having a risen Lord rule over them.
People do not scoff at the resurrection because of a lack of evidence, but because of an unwillingness to consider the evidence. Famed scholar Brooke Foss Westcott said, “. . . there is no single historic incident better or more variously supported than the Resurrection of Christ.
Those who seek to dismiss the resurrection as a ridiculous fairy tale only succeed in making themselves ridiculous in the process.
SOME SHRUGGED AT IT: “I AM INDIFFERENT”
While some mocked, others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this” (Acts 17:32b). They were not antagonistic toward the gospel message, but they were indifferent. They were polite, but not sincerely interested.
Indifference is far more common than mockery. Most people are not so much hostile to Christianity as they are unconcerned about it. Whether or not Christ was raised from the dead is not nearly so important to them as living in a nice house, having a good job, or sending their children to good schools.
Tragically, some people today who claim to be Christians fall into this category of the “indifferent.” They may still go to church on special religious holidays, but the resurrection of Christ makes no real difference in their everyday lives. They are living as though Jesus remained dead. They do not even really want a risen Lord.
They would like to forget about the resurrection so they can live on their own terms, enjoying life and making themselves comfortable. They want to do as they please, with no concern for serving others or a living God.
If we took the resurrection as seriously as the early Christians did, it would change everything. It would have a profound effect on the way we live every day. For all practical purposes, many choose to live as though Jesus were still dead. The resurrection has no impact on their lives. These “Christians” live side by side with unbelievers, and no one can really see any difference between the two groups.
SOME WERE SURPRISED BY IT: “I AM AMAZED. First-century disciples were not looking for a resurrection. They were disappointed when Jesus died; but with human nature being what it is, some were probably a little bit relieved too.
Following Christ had been an exciting, exhilarating experience—but it had also been demanding. Perhaps they were ready to get back to their usual work. They wanted Jesus to be a beautiful memory, not a living reality.
When the women went to the tomb on the first day of the week, they were not planning to greet a risen Savior, but to but perfume on a corpse. When they found the tomb empty, they were amazed, astonished, and afraid. (See Mark 16:5, 8.)
When Paul received the shocking revelation that Jesus had been raised, he saw that his life was going in the wrong direction. When he became convinced of the resurrection, his life was completely changed. He gave up family, friends, home, job, and security; he put his life in constant peril in order to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Acts 15:26 (ESV) men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:24–29 (ESV) Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
He saw himself as a “debtor” (Romans 1:14). He felt obligated to tell the world about the saving grace of Jesus. What could compel a man to brave the fury of an enraged mob in Ephesus; to endure the ridicule of sneering philosophers in Athens; to suffer stoning in Lystra, beating in Philippi, imprisonment in Jerusalem, and shipwreck in the Mediterranean? He was amazed by the transcending reality of the resurrection.
Of the fourteen witnesses of the resurrection who can be identified by name from 1 Corinthians 15:5–8, thirteen of them died violently for the sake of the “good news.” The Greek word for “witness” is the source of the word “martyr” (see Acts 2:32). What does the resurrection mean to us? Unless we are amazed and convicted so that it makes a difference in our daily lives, it really means nothing at all.
SOME SURRENDERED TO IT: “I WILL ACT” “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others was one of the twelve members of the great court of Athens.” Of the woman named “Damaris,” nothing more is known. Thanks be to God that there are always some who will consider the evidence honestly and accept the reality of the resurrection.
What does it mean to believe and accept the resurrection? We became participants (in a symbolical way) in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the act of baptism.
Romans 6:3 (ESV) Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Paul referred in Romans 6:17 to a “form [tupos] of teaching.” This word for “form” means a mold, a die, or a stamp—a pattern which must be imitated or obeyed. The gospel is summed up in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We submit to that pattern when we die to sin in baptism and are raised to “walk in newness of life.”
Paul wrote that, “having been buried with Him in baptism,” we “were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
Baptism is faith’s response to the resurrection. It is the re-creation of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in the life of the believer.
It is a response of faith in the God who raised Christ and who invites and empowers those who are dead in sin to turn to Him and receive life.
Baptism is followed by a new life lived in submission to the risen Lord Jesus. The victory of Christ over death assures those who will respond to it that they can be victorious over sin.
CONCLUSION In reacting to the resurrection, some laugh about it, some brush it aside, and some take it in with awe, dedicating their lives to the risen Lord.
Which reaction is yours? Your reaction to the resurrection will determine your eternal destiny. Can you afford to scoff? Do you dare to look the other way?
Why not respond to the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead by obeying “from the heart that form of doctrine” presented in the New Testament? with them” (Acts 17:34).
A few thoughtful Athenians weighed the evidence and believed what Paul preached about the resurrection.