Acceptance And Rejection
1. Last week we read from verse thirteen. Paul and his group crossed over from the island of Cyprus to Asia Minor. Then they arrived in Psidian Antioch and Paul proclaimed the gospel in the Jewish synagogue. The sermon Paul gave is recorded in chapter thirteen and verse sixteen onward. He, first of all, began with a speech on the history of Israel. He spoke on the history of God's salvation. Then, he spoke on how the savior Jesus Christ was given according to God's plan and purpose.
2. Then Paul preached further of the cross and the resurrection of Christ. He told how the suffering and death of Christ were fulfilled in line with the prophets. It seems that what was particularly upon the heart of Paul was the figure of the suffering servant which is written in Isaiah chapter fifty-three. "We are a flock of sheep and have erred in the way and have gone heading in all different directions. The Lord took on him all these sins of ours," (Isaiah 53:6). God accepted the intercession of this servant. Therefore, God raised Christ to life. Paul ultimately speaks on the fact of the resurrection of Christ and its witnesses.
3. What was his conclusion? In verse thirty-eight he made the following appeal to those in the synagogue. "Therefore, o brothers, I want you to know: Forgiveness of sins based on him has been revealed, and, although you cannot be justified by the law of Moses, everyone who believes is justified by Him," (verses thirty-eight through thirty-nine). Here we have the heart of the message which Paul has passed on to them. If they are to be accepted by God and live in fellowship with God as God's people it will only be due to God's forgiveness. And, the basis of that forgiveness, he says, was just on the death and resurrection of only one person. Therefore, a person is not justified based on keeping the law of Moses, but "everyone who believes" in that person [Jesus] "is justified by him."
4. It seems this sermon of Paul was accepted by the many Jews and the Gentiles who were there. The people asked Paul to speak to them on the following Sabbath on the same topic. Furthermore, many Jews and converts who feared God had come. So, there was not any major opposition at the beginning. Instead we should see that they were accepted with good will.
Rejection Due To The Jews
5. The passage we read today is a sequel to the previous message. During [that] entire week the situation changed tremendously. Somehow in the time Paul had been invited and had preached the same message again, a great response of rejection arose among the Jews.
6. It seems that the persons who had heard Paul's speech on the first Sabbath, especially the Gentiles who believed in Christ through Paul's sermon, attracted the interest of the whole town. On the next Sabbath day, "Almost everyone in the entire town wanted to hear the word of the Lord and assembled," (verse forty-four). The people, who listened to Paul's speech and believed it, had probably passed it on to those around them. Thus, it seems what attracted the interest of the townsfolk was the figure of these who began to live in the center of God's grace. There was "righteousness, peace and joy given by the Holy Spirit" as a manifestation that they were living in the kingdom of God there," (Romans 14:17). Therefore, on the next Sabbath day, the entire townspeople came to assemble. This was certainly an overstatement, but I suppose it is a fact that it was not only the people [of Israel] who heard the word in the previous week's worship service, but the Gentiles [too], who do not normally participate in a synagogue service, and they pushed into the synagogue all at once.
7. Then an unexpected situation came up. It is written that "However, the Jews saw this multitude, became terribly jealous, talked bad about them, and opposed what Paul was saying," (verse forty-five). Last week the Jews were not particularly in opposition to Paul but it seems they received them instead. Rather, these Jews seemed to accept them in a friendly way, but all of a sudden they began to be in opposition. Luke explained that jealousy was behind it all.
8. What happened among the Jews? To a certain degree we can probably imagine. Seeing the immense crowd of Gentiles they first perceived the seriousness of the conclusion Paul was making in his sermon. In short, they realized the essence of his message where Paul said, "Everyone who believes will be justified through this One." This matter of "Everyone who believes will be justified through this One" means that even those who were disdained as uncircumcised persons up to that point in time and as defiled Gentiles who did not keep the law of Moses, they were accepted by God and were to be included as the people of God. If the basis of salvation was only on a unilateral forgiveness of sin and in addition it was only based on the redemption of Christ, the distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles would no longer have meaning.
9. Therefore, of course, what would become of the effort and the fervency they had up to this point in keeping the law? It was hard to admit that those who had their backs turned on God till now get the same treatment as those who served God till now so fervently.
10. In addition, within the Gentiles who believed in the gospel and in Christ there is a peace and a joy that their sins have been forgiven and they have been justified. They are partaking of righteousness, peace and joy given by the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, there was never any peace or joy inside the people who tried to be the people of God by keeping the law and [by] their fervency and efforts. They never had any from the start. At most what they had was only a feeling of superiority in which they could look down on the ones who did not keep the law.
11. Therefore, they had been jealous. What their sincere effort and fervency up to now has produced was only in the final analysis a jealousy and a heart full of hostility. Their efforts and fervency so far was only that type of thing. When the unilateral grace of God was made plain, it made plain the miserable reality for which they should be sorry. But, this kind of thing happens often.
12. What was the problem? It was that they doggedly only thought of human interests. Even in both the religious life and in salvation, they only thought on human interests. That's where the problem lied. Paul spoke on salvation as the work of God from start to finish. His inevitable conclusion was "the forgiveness of sins based on Him (Jesus Christ). But, the matter of asking "What does a person do?" or "What do I do?" is more important to them than asking "What has God done?" or "What is God doing?" Their eyes were not on God, but were only directed humanward. The result of that was that they rejected the gospel which is the message of a unilateral grace. The result of that was they were not able to obtain righteousness, peace, or joy, which is the unilateral grace of God.
Acceptance By The Gentiles
13. Therefore, Paul says to them. "The word of God ought first to be spoken to you. But, you refused it and turned yourselves into people not worthy of obtaining eternal life. Please look, we are going to the Gentiles because the Lord has thus ordered us: 'I have set you as the light of the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth,'" (verses forty-six through forty-seven).
14. Paul's responsibility went as far as to pass on the gospel and was no more than that. He could let them know the sun came up, but he could do no more than that if the people in the darkened room don't open the door. He could not force open the door. He could not make them believe in forgiveness of sin according to Christ or in eternal life nor could he make them participate in eternal life. Paul knew that quite well. Therefore, he understood that when the Jews rejected [the message], he would have to go on to the Gentiles.
15. But, this did not mean that he abandoned his Jewish countrymen and women. No, he did not abandon them, but from then on they were God's area [of responsibility]. He continues to preach the gospel to the Jews to the very last and he continues to hope and pray for the salvation of the rejecting Jews, (Romans 10:1).
16. As for the preaching in Antioch, the word of God was all the more accepted by the Gentiles. When he said that "I am going to the Gentiles," the Gentiles were glad to hear this. Many believed and became Christians. However, Luke does not even attribute this matter to the effort and ability of Paul. "As many as were ordained to obtain eternal life entered into faith," (verse forty-eight) says the text. Luke was not trying to teach in this text the doctrine of "some people are ordained to eternal life and some are ordained to destruction." No, he wasn't trying to teach that, but he was saying that when the Gentiles believed in great numbers it was the will and the work of God. It means that what Paul did was to pass on the gospel and no more than that.
17. Ultimately, Paul was driven out of the town because the Jews provoked the God-worshipping noble women and the prominent ones in town. It could mean that the Jews allied themselves with the authorities of the town's administrative leadership and publicly banished them. In conclusion, they yielded to the official powers. If we look only at this, they are failures. It must have been a serious blow to the Gentiles who believed the gospel and became Christians and to the new church born there. But, then it would not be true to say that the word of God itself has suffered defeat. The problem truly is not who did the speaking or who did the preaching. The problem is not with what humanity does. Therefore, even though they had been banished, the gospel was [still] alive. "On the other side of things, the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit," (fifty-two). Truly, by the preaching of the word, righteousness, peace, and joy by the Holy Spirit remained behind there and "the word of the Lord spread through out the entire region."
In The Interval Between Acceptance And Rejection
18. They were banished from Antioch and made for Iconium. What happened there is briefly recorded in chapter fourteen and verse one on. The basic pattern [of events] was almost the same as the events in Antioch we saw in chapter thirteen. Therefore, so much the more we should see what is being given here is an example, a typical example of the events at the beginning of Paul's mission.
19. Even in this place Paul gives out the word first in the synagogue of the Jews. There many Jews and Greeks believed and became Christians. But, not everyone believed. There were "Jews there who were not about to believe." Had Paul been a superior public speaker would they have believed? If his sermons had persuasive power would they have become Christians? No, they wouldn't have. The text in verse four says, "The townspeople were divided, some were on the Jews' side and some were on the apostles' side." The people were divided into two groups with respect to the gospel. They were divided over whether rejecting the gospel and trying to save oneself by one's own persistent ability or entrusting everything over to Christ after admitting that there is no grounds for salvation within the self. Also, it was no longer the responsibility of Paul nor was it his problem anymore.
20. Thus, they devoted themselves to speaking the word. They stayed there and kept on speaking. In verse three, the word "then" originally should have been translated "therefore." "Therefore, the two of them stayed there a long time and spoke with boldness trusting the Lord." Because that was all they could do.
21. In conclusion, at the end it was the same situation in Antioch. The Jews embraced the authorities and planned a lynching for them both. They would have stoned and killed them. Paul and Barnabbas got wind of their plans. They escaped from town. At times they stayed behind, other times they fled. They did not live bound by any principle. Please look. They were truly free. In between the interval of acceptance and rejection they were free. Why? Because they knew that the results of their mission did not depend on their fervency and efforts or their ability and persuasive power. Because they knew that it was not dependent upon their dedication to the risking of their lives. Because they knew that as God was the leader in salvation God was the leader in the mission as well. Therefore, they preach what they must, pray to God for the salvation of the people and then leave it to God.
22. In conclusion, when the church reflects on missions the church should adopt the attitude of what the word says and requires. No matter what may come if we fix our focus on the word, we don't [really] have a problem. Also, we should have fervency in passing on the gospel to others, but we need to bear in mind that such fervency does not "create" a believer nor does it cause salvation. When the gospel is rejected, it is no longer the responsibility of the one doing the preaching. Surely when we preach the gospel to others, even if there is human unbelief and rejection, we do not need to be ashamed of our lack of ability or blame ourselves. We should just keep on preaching the gospel and as for what is expected of us it is only this issue of whether or not the gospel as the gospel has truly been passed on to others.
23. Those who think that they believed through human work (i.e. at someone's hand) also think that other people come to believe through human works whether through his work or somebody else's. (Or more naturally put: Those who think human work brought them faith (i.e. somebody gave you faith) also think that human work, whether of their own or of somebody else, can bring faith to unbelievers.) They think people would come to believe (in Christ) only if they were excellent Christians or good witnesses. Or, some end up thinking a person is saved if only the evangelist was eloquent or capable. But that's not true. When the word is given out God himself does the work and gives righteousness, peace and joy by the Holy Spirit as a miracle of God. As we continue to only depend and rely on God, I would like us to be a church and themkind of Christians who pass on the gospel to others with freedom and joy.