Sunday Morning Sermon — Acts 13:42-52 “The World-Shaking Gospel”

31 Dec

In 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon and the world marveled. But just a couple of years later, people grew bored watching people travel to the moon and the Apollo program ended. Do you remember when you were amazed at how you could get the internet over your dial-up modem? But pretty soon dial-up modems became a thing of the past. Then desktop computers gave way to laptops and smartphones and the demand for more and more continued. This is a common pattern in our lives. We become quickly bored with even the most amazing things. We even become bored or uninspired by the most amazing thing of all, the gospel. There is a sense in which one of the hardest places in the world to be a Christian is America, where the gospel is assumed and our hearts are always looking for the next big thing. And we believe that big thing will come from somewhere other than Jesus.
Studying the book of Acts as we have has been good for me going into a new year, for in it I have seen things we tend to take for granted or discount altogether. We have already talked many times of the focus in Acts on prayer. How we need to grow in this. That we would be crying out to God for His moving in the world to bring people to Himself and to bless the ministry of the gospel. We have noted several times also the work of the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that for some reason we Baptists are scared of the Holy Spirit. But He wants to comfort us and guide us and encourage us and convict us and He promises to be with us and empower us for effective ministry. A third aspect of the book of Acts we see, particularly in the passage we’re going to look at today, is the wonder of the gospel. When the truth about Jesus is preached, people react strongly to it. It is a world-shaking gospel.
Several years ago, I saw a missionary video called E-tao. The video told the story of a tribal people who were hearing the story of the Bible and the gospel for the first time. When they heard, revival swept over the tribe and it was said that for over two hours the people of the tribe cheered over the good news of Jesus and they lifted the missionaries on their shoulders and carried them around the village. Their excitement over the good news could not be contained.
My prayer is that we would recapture this excitement for the good news of Jesus. My hope is that the message is heard in such a way that no one can remain neutral or uninterested. For the last two weeks, we’ve been looking at Paul’s message at Pisidian Antioch. Now this week we’re going to look at the response of those who heard his message. The one thing we will see today is that their response was anything but neutral. There may have been people who didn’t like Paul’s message but no one was bored with it.

Now Notice First the POSITIVE Response to the gospel in the opening verses . . .
42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath.
Now if you were here last week you might remember that Paul shared the good news but he ended by warning those gathered not to scoff at the things he had shared about the risen Christ. But even though Paul ended with a warning, the people received the Word with great enthusiasm. They wanted to hear him again the next week. The Greek text makes it clear that they were continually begging or entreating him to speak to them. I love to hear it when people say things like, “this is the shortest hour of the week” or “I can’t wait to get back tonight or next week to hear more.” And I don’t love that because I think they’re saying I’m such a great preacher. I love it because it shows a great love for the Word. I love people who can’t get enough of the Word. When I am on vacation, I almost always go to church on Sunday wherever I am, not out of duty but out of a desire to hear the Word preached. I pray this hunger for the Word would capture every heart in this room and many more in the coming year. Will you come expecting to hear God speak through His Word? Will you come hungry to hear from Him?

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.
Many of the Jews and Gentiles who were following the principles of Judaism followed Paul and Barnabus and continued to speak with them. This is another indication that they were hungry for the Word. The message of salvation in Jesus was getting through, to the extent that they were hanging on every word Paul and Barnabus spoke.
These verses fit so well with our year verses, Hebrews 10:24 and 25, that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to remember again this passage which tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but to encourage one another daily.
May there be among us great conversations about the Word ever y Sunday. As you eat lunch, may your conversation not be about the soloist or the loud tie somebody was wearing or whether everything went smoothly. May it be instead, “Oh, I was encouraged by the grace of God again, Jesus is so good.” “The psalm that was read reminded me that God is with me in the valley.” May there be constructive conversations, not just critiques. May we value the Word we are hearing and share it with each other in conversation.
Paul and Barnabus use their opportunity to encourage these believers to remain in the grace of God. The fact that they are told to remain or continue in the grace of God leads me to think that they were believers in Jesus, already in God’s grace, and not just seekers. It is interesting that Paul and Barnabus encourage them to continue in the grace of God. There are obvious benefits to remaining in God’s grace, but there is also the sense here even at this point they know that opposition to Paul’s teaching about grace is coming and so these who have believed need to remain steadfast when this teaching is challenged.

The true hunger for the word reaches its peak in verse 44 . . .
44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
Almost the whole city of Pisidian Antioch is Gentile, so those who are showing up are neither Jews nor converts to Judaism. They are pagan, idol-worshiping Gentiles. They have heard of a new teaching and want to check it out. Paul has been preaching the risen Christ, a way of forgiveness and freedom that is greater than the law of Moses. God is blessing Paul’s and Barnabus’ work. The crowds are gathering.
Pray for this in our midst. Pray that we so preach and teach here that it’s not the buildings or the kid’s programs or the music that we would depending on to attract people but that people would be drawn because they are hearing a true and earth-shaking message. Let it be for us that we faithfully preach the grace of God with joy and worship God with our whole hearts.
When we preach like this and worship like this we can expect God to move. But we can also expect opposition as well.

45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. Notice the crowds aroused their jealousy. Until they saw the crowds of pagan Gentiles crowding around the synagogue, Paul and Barnabus were welcomed and their message was acceptable. But when the crowds come, then comes the envy. Now as they gather with these crowds, Paul and Barnabus are opposed by the Jews. Their jealousy makes them oppose the doctrine. Their jealousy makes them slander Paul. The phrase here in the Greek seems to be that they were not only slandering Paul here but were blaspheming God. Perhaps this means that in opposing Paul’s teaching they were in effect speaking against the truth of God.
When the Jews saw the crowds gathering, they knew their way of thinking was at odds with Paul’s teaching. While there was no big problem with saying that Jesus had come as Savior to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who converted to Judaism, it was another thing to say Jesus had come to save the Gentiles without regard to the law or the traditions of Judaism. And this is what Paul was saying. The law of Moses can’t free you or forgive you, but Jesus can. Paul’s message attracted the Gentiles and repulsed many of the Jews.
We can expect opposition when we are faithful to preach the gospel. Some people who think they are right with God by their works and their so-called moral life will not like it when God saves people from the depths of sin. Others who value their tradition more than the working of God’s Spirit will not abide a work of God that goes against those seven cherished words, “We’ve never done it that way before.” We saw it with Jesus. Wherever His message rang out with power, He faced opposition. We have seen it all through Acts. We will see it our own church. This is why I have come to believe that if nobody in the church is dissatisfied with your preaching, you’re either not saying much or you have a whole congregation that is hungry for the Word.

Notice Paul’s and Barnabus’ response to the Jews in verse 46 . . .
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.
Now Paul and Barnabus speak out against those who spoke against the message. They were the first to receive the message. This was right for many reasons. God had chosen the Jews to be His old covenant people, to be the channel through whom the Savior would come. The message of Jesus had continuity with Judaism and was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. Finally, Paul and Barnabus rightly ministered first in a Jewish context to show this continuity and to prepare the way for the message to go out more broadly.
But the Jews did not receive the word, they rejected it. Just as those who came before them had put Jesus to death, now these who have received this great message have rejected Jesus as well. In doing this, they were acting as their own judge and jury. Having not wanted the Word, they are seen as not worthy of the Word and the eternal life it brings.
So Paul and Barnabus say, “We are turning to the Gentiles!” This is what Paul was made for. In the aftermath of his conversion back in chapter 9, Ananias was told that Paul would be called to bear the name of Jesus before the Gentiles. But Paul connects this call to the Gentiles not only to the rejection of the Jews or to his own calling by God, he also connects it to the prophecies of the Old Testament.

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.’ ”

Paul took this message from Isaiah as his own commissioning. Paul is to go to the Gentiles and Paul is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is a summary of God’s command to him. Paul states these two goals clearly in the book of Romans. He says that he has come to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles for the sake of God’s name. And then, toward the end of the book, Paul expresses his desire to go to the regions beyond, the places where Jesus has not been named.
Now the other thing we need to remember from Romans is that Paul is not excited or happy in any way that the Jews have rejected the gospel. Romans chapters 9-11 show us that Paul was deeply grieved by the turning away of the Jews. So Paul does not delight in turning to the Gentiles.

But the Gentiles were delighted in this message . . .
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.
Now I love this verse. First of all, when the Gentiles saw that this salvation was for them, they rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord. The Greek tense points to a continual rejoicing and glorifying of God. And notice that they rejoice in and glorify the word of the Lord, the gospel message. They don’t glorify Paul and Barnabus. They don’t glorify this synagogue for hosting such a great meeting. They don’t glorify each other because they’re all so friendly. They glorify the message of salvation in the crucified, buried and risen Jesus.
And then I love this verse because of the way it ends: “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” The word appointed is a military term that means to arrange or put in ranks. So these were ordered to eternal life. And they believed. So they believed because they were appointed to believe.
Now I want you to notice what happens here. God saves people. They were appointed to eternal life. Now there has been lots of controversy over this through the centuries of church history. But to me it’s not that controversial. God saves people. We are dead in our sins. God makes us alive. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.” Paul will later write in Ephesians that God in love predestined us for salvation. Paul will write in Romans that God foreknew His people and predestined them. So what does that mean? Are we robots? No. We have real moral choice. And we must believe in order to be saved. But we won’t believe without God empowering us to believe, because dead people can’t make themselves alive.
Notice in this passage, the Jews willingly rejected God’s grace but the Gentiles freely received God’s grace. The Jews counted themselves unworthy of eternal life while the Gentiles were given eternal life. But the Gentiles didn’t earn this or deserve this. It was a gift of grace. God brought it about.
Now one more thing here before we go to the next verse. Some people will say, “If you believe it’s God that does the saving, you won’t share the gospel with people. You’ll just sit back and do nothing and wait for God to do it.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Who wrote those passages in Romans and Ephesians? It was none other than the apostle Paul, the greatest missionary the world has ever seen. Paul didn’t believe God’s work in saving people meant he did nothing. He worked harder than anybody in making Jesus known.
Do you know how encouraging it is to know that God is at work in saving people? What hope would we have if we had to depend on our own ability entirely to persuade people to be saved? Would anybody ever be saved if it was left to that? Because God is at work in saving people we can always have hope.

49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.
Again the Greek verb points to a continual spreading of the Word. New believers are being won throughout the whole region. So for some time this ministry of Paul and Barnabus flourishes. And when it reaches its peak, then the hammer comes down.

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.
The Jews of high standing probably convinced the Romans that Paul and Barnabas were disturbing the peace and that they were a danger to the region. Just a few days or weeks before they had been the toast of the town but now they’re just toast. But not really, because this opposition doesn’t sidetrack them one bit.
When you face hardship or opposition for being faithful to God, don’t lose heart. Stand firm. Keep going. This kind of hardship is part of the territory with faithfulness to God. In this case, Paul and Barnabus choose to keep moving.

51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.
In this, Paul and Barnabus are just following the instructions of Jesus from Matthew 14:10 “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” They had to part ways with those who had rejected their message, but they were not discouraged. Note the final verse.

52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
The disciples here probably includes Paul and Barnabus and those who were with them and the new Christians of the region around Pisidian Antioch.
As is so often the case, this persecution had the exact opposite effect the Jews hoped for. Those who try to discourage us from being faithful are our to deflate our spirits and quench the Spirit. But it doesn’t work. God uses the persecution to strengthen hearts.
The one thing we can see as we finish up chapter 13 is that the gospel doesn’t leave things as they are. It will make some people angry and opposed to us. It will make others joyful and filled with the Spirit. As we close a year and prepare for a new year, would you pray with me that this earth-shaking gospel would have free reign in this place? Would you pray that in 2013 we would see dozens and dozens of people saved and baptized and brought into the community of believers here at West Hickory? Would you pray that we would come to the end of the next year with every trial and joy and be able to say with thankful hearts, we saw in 2013 something in our midst that only God could have done? Come pray with me at the front as we end the year. If you’d like to get that prayer off to a good start today, come profess your faith in Christ to this group. Come join our church family. Come in response to God’s working in this time and then encourage each other with these things as we go.

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