And they gave him audience to this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth…
Paul was listened to attentively until he came to the word "Gentiles." How some words madden men! We are not offended by the word "Gentiles," otherwise we should be offended by our own name; but the Jews were the enemies of the Gentiles, and they have written oaths that they themselves would rather not have any Messiah than one that had a kindly feeling towards the heathen; and their books are full of cursing against all men who were not Jews. This explains the fury of the mob: so long as Paul had a tale to tell they listened to him. Paul — a wise rhetorician — kept the burning word until the very last, but, like a man skilled in speech, he got it quite out. Its very place is a stroke of genius; it is the last word, but the moment it was uttered it was like a spark thrown into a magazine of gunpowder.
I. IT IS CURIOUS TO OBSERVE IS THE NEW TESTAMENT THE POINTS AT WHICH AUDIENCES BREAK AWAY FROM THE SPEAKERS.
1. Take the case of Christ. In John 6:66, we read, "From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him" — the time of spiritual revelation. So long as there were parables to hear, and loaves and fishes to be divided, and miracles to be wondered at, there was no turning away; but when the Lord became intensely spiritual then they left Him. This is a point which is often forgotten. We are often told, "Preach like Jesus, and the people will hear you gladly"; whereas the truth is that the moment Christ left the elements of teaching and came to deal with the real and eternal purpose of His teaching, the people left Him. That must be the result of spiritual preaching everywhere. The world does not want spiritual preaching. If we were to speak spiritually, the churches would be empty: we are obliged to keep on the outside, and show the great stones of the temple; we dare not go inside and touch the altar.
2. The Athenians left Paul at another point. They listened to him with more or less interest when he made his great speech upon Mars' hill, but the moment he began to speak about the resurrection, "some mocked," etc. They did not want to hear about the resurrection; they wanted philosophy, speculation, high discourse, poetry.
3. In this particular instance another point of departure is chosen. The Jews listened to Paul so long as he confined himself to matters which were more or less of a purely Jewish kind, but the moment he said "Gentiles" they went mad.
II. THE GREAT TEACHING OF THIS REVIEW IS THAT ALL MEN PART COMPANY WITH THEIR TEACHERS AT CERTAIN POINTS. The point is not always the same: some remained with Jesus, notwithstanding the spirituality of His teaching; some heard about the resurrection of the dead with comparative interest; others could hear about the Gentiles with mental composure. But there are points at which we all fly off, which would dissolve this assembly in a moment. Men always like to listen to themselves preaching. Who dare speak the new word? Look at this particular case: the disease under which these people were suffering was the eternal disease of humanity — narrow-mindedness. The man who could entertain a kindly interest towards the Gentiles was a "fellow" "not fit to live." That was called religious earnestness, contention for the faith once delivered to the saints! Have we learned Christ's great lesson: "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring"? Have we left the ninety-and-nine accepted ideas in the wilderness and gone out after that which is lost, until we find it? I do not ask for new truth, for there is none and can be none; I ask for great-heartedness that will listen to all kinds of people, hoping that they will drop one word which the great Teacher can take up and magnify into a gospel. If any man has a prophecy, let us hear it; if any man has a new reading of the old Book, let us hear him. A tone may be a lesson; an emphasis may be equal to a revelation. The only condition of mind which Jesus Christ can approve is a condition of all hopeful love.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.