Certainly we live in a day where particularly with political speech there is a great deal of hostility. When an idea is rejected or disapproved, it is no longer enough to simply disagree. Now the pattern is to also personally destroy and discredit the messenger or proponent of the disliked idea. This double-barreled attack is deployed to assure that the opinion is eliminated from viability.
Yesterday we noted the establishment of a pattern by Paul and Barnabas to begin their evangelistic strategy from city to city by starting in the synagogue. And today we will note the beginning of a pattern of reaction to this methodology: some Jews and proselytes believing, while the leadership rejected the message and the messengers by inciting vindictive violence upon them and creating great upset. The result would be that the gospel message would move beyond Jewish circles to include increasing acceptance by Gentiles, even as civil authorities would grow more hostile to the church movement as distinct from Judaism.
Paul had finished the sermon with a quote from Habakkuk that was a warning to not miss God’s true work and thus risk judgment. A number of listeners were sufficiently moved by this to want more information …
Acts 13:42 – As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
We need to remember that the sermons and events we read about in Acts were just some representative highlights of all the preaching and teaching that Paul, Barnabas and others did on the missionary journeys in the early church era. Conversations lingered long after gatherings and were surely continued on other days as well. Ministry, then and now, is truly a 24/7 type of thing. The “conversation” must have been very intense, resulting in a huge crowd congregating the next week …
Acts 13:44 – On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
There is a new term we hear in political discourse these days – “the deep state” – referring to career Washington insiders who are threatened by the prospect of change from the outside. The bulk of Jewish leadership at the time of Christ and the New Testament era was a sort of “deep Jewish state” who liked things just the way they were – with them in authority. And they were willing to fight to keep it that way.
Acts 13:46 – Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” [Isaiah 49:6]
This prophecy from Isaiah was specifically anticipatory of Christ personally, though the messenger of this gospel who was most particularly commissioned to take it to the Gentiles was Paul. So there is a sense in which this passage would apply to this missionary ministry.
Acts 13:48 – When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
It was God’s plan to reach Gentiles. God always desired the nation of Israel to be a beacon of light and outreach to the rest of the world. They were never very good at it however. Though God had especially selected them through which to work his plan of salvation (and in that sense they needed to be the first to hear the fulfillment of it in Christ) God’s heart was always of a missionary bent toward the whole world.
It is impossible from this passage (in my view) to not see the sovereign work of God in salvation and, dare I say the word – election. Surely from this entire passage and work of the Spirit through Paul, God was choosing (electing) for the gospel to go to multitudes of Gentiles – people whose hearts were divinely prepared and open to embrace this saving truth. We can surely thank God for His grace in this matter that extends down to today and to each one of us!
Acts 13:50 – But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Those hostile to Paul were persistent, working with and through sympathetic people in governmental authoritarian circles to have the missionaries expelled from the region. We will yet this week see that their hostility led them to pursue Paul and Barnabas even to their next several destinations, with dramatic actions and incitements.
Look again at that last verse: the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Even in the midst of all of this turmoil, there was joy in the assurance found through the knowledge of Christ. Growing the Church in a hostile surrounding culture has never been easy. Plan to stay for our luncheon after church on 7/16 as we hear reports from our missionaries in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Spain. We’ll hear of great difficulties and opposition, but also note the greater joy in serving Christ for those carrying the gospel to these regions. Do you have that joy in your office… your neighborhood… wherever you live for Christ and share the gospel in an unbelieving culture? It is never easy, but it is worth it all in the end.