May 26, 2008

Three Responses to the Gospel – Acts 13:42-52

Posted in Evangelism, Gospel, Reformed Theology at 11:28 pm by Dan Lowe

The following is a sermon preached Sunday morning at Maranatha Baptist Church on May 25, 2008.

Acts 13:42-52 (ESV) – 42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

What we have recorded for us here in the book of Acts is the results of Paul’s preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. 

As was typical for Paul, he began his ministry in Pisidian Antioch by preaching in the synagogue before an audience of Jews and Gentile God-fearers.  “God-fearers” were Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel, but had not fully converted to Judaism.  They were permitted to attend the synagogue, but were not allowed to participate in the worship of God.  They were allowed simply to observe, because they were outsiders to the people of God.

After the typical prayers and Scripture readings, Paul was asked by the rulers of the synagogue if he had a word of exhortation for the people (Acts 13:15.)  Of course, Paul never turned down an opportunity to preach.  So he stood up before the people and delivered a sermon to them (Acts 13:16-41), after which the synagogue service let out.

As they left the synagogue, people began begging Paul and Barnabas to speak to them about “these things” again next Sabbath.

What are “these things”?  This is a reference to the sermon Paul had just preached.  Let me sum it up for you…

Paul began by recounting the history of the Israel.  Really, he was recounting the work of God on behalf of Israel and, by doing so, he described the character of God.

1)      God is sovereign over all things… including the call of His people to Himself.  God chose the patriarchs… Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… and called them to Himself (Acts 13:17.)

2)      God is just.  He judged the inhabitants of the land of Canaan for their wickedness (Acts 13:19.)  He will not let sin go unpunished.

3)      Yet at the same time, God is patient.  He put up with the Israelites in the wilderness (Acts 13:18.)  Despite their complaining and sin… God was longsuffering with them.

4)      God leads His people…providing protection and guidance for those who are His (Acts 13:20-22.)

5)      He is a God of salvation… a God who delivers His people with a mighty, uplifted arm (Acts 13:17.)

6)      He is a God who makes promises… He made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and David (Acts 13:23.)

And Paul makes it very clear that all these promises are fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 13:23-39.)

1)      He is the Son of God.

2)      The promised Messiah… the Savior and King which God had promised long beforehand to the patriarchs and David.

3)      He lived a righteous life on our behalf, fulfilling all righteousness, so that His people could be declared righteous in the sight of God and enter into eternal life with Him.

4)      He died for our sins upon the cross.  He was cursed by God and punished for our sake so that we might be forgiven.

5)      He was buried in a tomb…

6)      But God raised Him from the dead on the third day, clearly demonstrating for all the world to see that Jesus is His only begotten Son… the Messiah… and Savior of sinful men and women.

This was the heart of the message Paul preached and he called all of his hearers to respond to the message by trusting in Jesus Christ, because through Him, God offers the forgiveness of sins and justification (i.e. being declared righteous) (Acts 13:38-39.).

Paul warned his hearers to take these things very seriously…

Acts 13:40-41 (ESV) – 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: 41 “ ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’ ”

He warns them not to scoff.  Don’t be astounded.  Don’t be amazed by this.  Don’t think this is too good to be true.  Don’t cast this message aside.  Because if you do… you will perish…and face eternal judgment.

This is an amazing message… the most amazing message ever preached… and the most important message ever preached.  It is a message which demands a response.

This is the same gospel message we preach today.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the only living and true God.   He is the eternal God… the unchanging God… and His message of salvation is the same today as in the days of Paul.

We are all sinful.  That is true of every one of us without exception.  All have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.)

And God’s justice demands a punishment.  He is patient with us, but He cannot allow sin to go unpunished (Ex 34:6-7.)  And that punishment is death and hell for eternity (Rom 6:23.)  .

God in His justice must punish sin, but God in His grace has made a way for sinful men and women to be delivered from the judgment to come.  There must be a punishment for sin, so God provided  a substitute for us… Jesus Christ… who lived and died and rose again in our place so that we might have eternal life through Him.

This is the only message of salvation.  There is no other.   And this the message which Paul proclaimed.  And it is the message which we proclaim today.

This is a powerful message (Rom 1:16)… and it is a message which produces a response.

Here in Acts 13:42-52, we see three common responses produced by the proclamation of the gospel

First of all, notice that some took him seriously and wanted to hear more…“As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath (Acts 13:42.)

This message was astounding and some begged to hear more the next week.

But also notice that some of them were impatient.  They weren’t willing to wait until the next week.  They followed Paul and Barnabas, who told them to continue in the grace of God  (Acts 13:43.)

It is interesting that they were told “to continue” (προσμένω  (pronounced prosmeno.))  In order to “continue” in the grace of God, a person must first enter into the experience of the grace of God.  This implies that some of these people who followed them had already become Christians.  They were believing in Jesus Christ and Paul and Barnabas urge them to hold fast to their Savior.  No wonder they wanted to hear more.  We’ll see more about them in a minute.  But they weren’t the only ones who wanted to hear more.

Notice that the next week… “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44.)  Most scholars agree that there is a little bit of hyperbole here.  Pisidian Antioch was a very large city.  It is highly unlikely that every person in the city showed up the next week.  Many of the people in the city would have been completely uninterested in hearing about a message preached in a Jewish synagogue, since most of the city was not interested whatsoever in the God of the Jews.  But there is no question that a large crowd turned out to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say.

Now really think about this for a moment… how did these people know to come to the synagogue on this particular Sabbath?  It is doubtful that Paul and Barnabas… merely two men… could have gathered this large a crowd by themselves.  They didn’t have email or television advertising.  How did all these people know to show up in this place on the Sabbath to hear more about the gospel?

This turn out must have been the work of those who had been converted and those who wanted to hear more of this message.  They must have talked with others throughout the week about these two men and the message they came preaching the week before.  They must have invited others to come and hear the message of the gospel.

And people came…a whole lot of people came.  It was much like a 1st century Billy Graham crusade.  Christians went out and invited everyone they knew to come and hear the proclamation of the gospel.  And many came, because they wanted to hear more about the gospel.

This is the first response we see here to the preaching of the gospel… some people wanted to hear more.  But that wasn’t true of everyone, because some rejected the message of the gospel.

When Paul began speaking to this massive crowd, the Jews began contradicting everything he said.  They argued with him and attempted to refute his message by speaking against him. 

But this wasn’t all.  They were also “reviling Him.”  The word translated “revile” is the Greek word βλασφημέω (pronounced blasphemeo) and it typically means “to blaspheme.”  Now the ESV renders it that they were “reviling him”, meaning Paul, but the pronoun “him” doesn’t occur in the Greek.  The NASB gets it right here, they were simply “blaspheming.”  Now this could mean that they were blaspheming Paul, but it seems more likely that they were blaspheming God.

There is an important point to be made here.  To reject the gospel is blasphemy.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God… the Messiah… who suffered and died for our sins and rose again the third day according to the Scripture.  He is the greatest expression of the glory of God in human history (Heb 1:3.)  To reject the gospel is to reject Jesus Christ… to deny that He is Who God says He is.  And that is blasphemy…

They were doing exactly what Paul warned them against in verse 41, they were scoffing at the gospel.

Why?  Notice that it wasn’t for theological reasons. It wasn’t because of their study of Scripture.   It was because they were jealous.  And not just a little jealous… they were filled with the jealousy.

Why were they jealous?

We aren’t told for sure, but it is not hard to guess.  Paul and Barnabas were getting all their attention.  People were listening to them and believing the message that they were preaching.  This weakened their role in the lives of Jews and Gentile God-fearers.

The same thing happened in Jerusalem back in Acts 5.  As the apostles were preaching this same message in Jerusalem, multitudes of men and women were being saved.  And the religious leaders in Jerusalem didn’t like it, because they were jealous of the popularity of the apostles (Acts 5:17.) And they did all they could to stop the preaching of the gospel.

How did Paul and Barnabas respond to this rising opposition?)

They didn’t cower.  They didn’t shut up.  They spoke out all the more boldly and this is what they said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you…

What does Paul mean by this?  We find the answer in the next verse.  Notice the word “for” (γρ.)  This tells us that what follows is the ground of this statement.

Why was it necessary that the Word of God be spoken first to the Jews?  Because “the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’.”

Notice that the Lord has commanded “us.”  Who is the “us”?  Not just Paul and Barnabas, but the Jews.  This is made clear by the passage from which Paul is quoting.

Paul is quoting here from the Second Servant Song in Isaiah 49:5-6

Isaiah 49:5-6 (ESV) – 5 And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

This is speaking of the Servant of the Lord, who is identified in Luke 2:32 as Jesus.  Notice what He will do.  He will reconcile the Jewish people to God.  But that isn’t all.  In fact, that is “too light a thing” for Him to do.  It isn’t big enough.  His ministry will be much bigger than this.  He will not only bring salvation to the Jews, but He will also be a light to the nations, meaning the Gentiles.  He will bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

As I said, Luke 2:32 makes it clear that this is referring to Jesus in His role as the Servant of the Lord, but if we go back just 2 verses to Isaiah 49:3, then we see that the Servant of the Lord is identified as Israel.

So what is the point of all this?  Jesus came to reconcile sinful Jewish men and women to God through His life, death and resurrection.  But that isn’t all.  That would be too small a thing for Him to do.  He would also reconcile the Gentiles to God and He would do so through reconciled Jews (see F.F. Bruce, NICNT, 265-267.)

Paul and Barnabas went first to those who were to fulfill this role… the Jews… but…they thrust the gospel aside and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.

Notice very carefully what Paul says here.  They are responsible for rejecting the gospel.  They thrust it aside and, by doing so, they are passing judgment on themselves.  They are making a decision which declares them to be unworthy of eternal life.

Scripture is clear that this is our natural state.  Apart from the work of God, every human being will reject Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel.  That is because we are thoroughly and completely contaminated by sin…

Romans 3:10-11 (ESV) – 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.

No one seeks for God.  No one.  Even though God’s attributes and power are clearly seen in creation, we willfully choose to suppress the knowledge of God and worship things in creation rather than God, our Creator (Rom 1:20-23.)

This describes all human beings in our natural state.  We are innately sinful and idolatrous and we willfully choose not to seek after God.  And in doing so, we judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life with God.

This is what we see going on here… the natural rejection of the gospel by sinful men and women. 

Since the Jews rejected this message and the ministry which was rightfully theirs, Paul and Barnabas, taking on the ministry of the Servant of the Lord, they turn to the Gentiles.  They turn to those who are receptive to the gospel.  They become a light to the nations, proclaiming to them the gospel, so that they might be saved.

This leads to the third response to the gospel here in the text… some receive the gospel and are saved.  When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord…” (Acts 13:48.)

We should remember that the Gentiles were excluded from the people of God and the worship of God.  Even those who were God-fearers were not really part of the people of God.  They were outsiders… strangers and aliens to the promise of God (Eph 2:11-12.)  But now they are welcome to come to God through Jesus Christ and enjoy the full privileges of being His people.

No wonder they rejoiced and gloried in the gospel.

We are told here that they “believed.”  Whereas many of the Jews rejected the gospel, scoffing at the Messiah and blaspheming God, these Gentiles believed.

Doesn’t this contradict what I just said about human beings being innately sinful and not seeking after God?

What makes the difference between these believing Gentiles and the unbelieving Jews?

These Gentiles who believed were “appointed to eternal life.”  The word translated “appointed” is τάσσω (pronounced tassō) and it means to be “ordained” or to be “destined” for something.  It is a perfect passive participle in the Greek, which means that it was something which happened in the past but has continuing results (perfect tense.)  Also, it is something which was done to them (passive verb.) In other words, they didn’t appoint themselves.  In other words, sometime in the past, they were appointed or destined by someone to eternal life.

Who appointed them to believe and receive eternal life?  God did…

Compare this to Ephesians 1:3-6

Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV) – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

It is only because God in His sovereignty chooses some for salvation that anyone is saved.  He chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world and, at the right time, through the hearing of the gospel, He causes His people to be born again (I Pet 1:23, James 1:18), granting us repentance (Acts 11:18) and faith (Eph 2:8), so that we can be saved.

This sovereign choice of God makes all the difference in the world…and all the difference in eternity.  It determines who will accept the message of the gospel and be saved.

Some people will say this is unfair.  After all, if God appoints some to believe and be saved and not others, than isn’t He playing favorites?

That is God’s prerogative if He so desires.  He is the Potter and we are the clay and He can do as He sees fit with His people (Rom 9:19-23.)

But this question is ultimately missing the point.  This question seems to picture God standing at the gates of heaven and pushing away those who are seeking to enter into His presence.  That is not the case at all.  There is none righteous, no not one.  There is none who understand. There is none who seek after God (Rom 3:10-11.)  We are all naturally running away from God as fast as we can.  Naturally, we all choose to reject the gospel and be damned to hell forever.  If left to ourselves, we would all judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life.  But God graciously reaches out and seizes hold of some, drawing them to Himself and granting us eternal salvation (Jn 6:44.)  If God didn’t do this… then no one would be saved…

God isn’t unfair.  God is gracious.

If God treated us fairly, then all would be damned to hell.  But God is gracious and saves some… those whom He has appointed to salvation according to His own sovereign will.

This is cause for rejoicing and those who are converted will rejoice and glory in the gospel… not just to themselves… but before the watching eyes of the world. 

That is what we see going on here… “The Word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region” (Acts 13:49.)

Who was doing the spreading of the gospel?  Those who believed and were saved.

A great thing is happening here.  The gospel is going forth boldly and powerfully.  But it seems like this only served to throw more fuel on the fire of the Jew’s jealousy, for they stirred up the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city against Paul and Barnabas.  These were important Gentiles in the city.  Most commentators believe that the women described here were Gentile God-fearers and the men were their husbands.  These men were leaders in this region.  They are powerful men and they began to persecute Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of the area.

As a result, Paul and Barnabas traveled down the road to Iconium to continue their ministry there.  But as they leave, they shook the dust off their feet.  This was a symbolic way of saying this city was unclean and bound for destruction.  In fact, it is a way of saying that this city is so unclean that they didn’t even want the dust from the city’s streets to cling to their shoes.

We don’t know if these new Christians in Pisidia Antioch were persecuted after Paul and Barnabas left.  But their teachers were thrust away from them.  Yet God did not leave them as orphans.  They were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.  His Holy Spirit dwelt within them, filling them with joy even in the midst of persecution.

What do we learn from this passage?

There are three common responses when the gospel is preached:

1)      Some will reject the message…

2)      Some will want to hear more…

3)      And some will be saved…

God is the One who determines how people respond to the gospel.  Only those who are appointed by God to believe in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life will be saved.

This leads us to an important question.  If God has already in eternity past appointed those who will be saved, then why do we share the gospel?

The simple answer is because God has commanded us to (Matt 28:18-20.)  But we also preach the gospel, because God works through means to call sinners to salvation.  He works through the proclamation of the gospel to call those who are His to Himself.

This is a privilege which God has given to His people, that we might take part in the saving work of Jesus Christ through proclaiming the gospel.  Bringing salvation to the nations is His ministry… He is the Servant of the Lord… but through our relationship with Him, we are the means by which He brings light to the very ends of the earth.

Are you a Christian?

Then be a light to the world. Preach the gospel.

It won’t be easy.  You will be persecuted.  You probably won’t get run out of town… you might… but probably not… but you will likely be mocked and scorned.

Don’t let that stop you.  Speak out boldly about Jesus… no matter what occurs…

If you are not a Christian then I would warn you… don’t scoff at the gospel…

To reject the gospel is to blaspheme God… And there is no salvation for those who those who reject Jesus Christ.

 

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