ACTS13v42to52: REACTIONS TO THE GOSPEL
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.) The substance of this short passage is repeated several times in the book of Acts. The gospel is preached, the Jews reject it but many Gentiles accept it. This gives three convenient and simple subdivisions for the exposition.
(B) Paul and Barnabas had to preach the gospel to the Jews. v46: We had to speak the word of God to you.
Paul and Barnabas proclaimed three important gospel truths:
v23: God had brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.
(b) Jesus died that men might be forgiven. v38: Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.
(c) Those who believe in Jesus enjoy new status with God. Through him everyone who believes is justified.
For one reason or another Christians find it difficult to speak God's saving word to those under condemnation of death. We have a problem with communication. In January I asked my two Japanese visitors what caused them most trouble during their stay in England. I half expected them to reply, "You're cooking." But no, it wasn't my cooking; it was the problem of making themselves understood.
Whilst I was helping with the Brockley Youth Club I heard a very pretty little eight year-old girl say, "I don't know much about Jesus." This is increasingly true for a whole generation of young people. One hardly knows where to start with a generation totally lacking in Bible knowledge. How can the truth be communicated in a way that will be understood? When I gave assembly talks at school I usually commenced with what the children could identify with and through their shared experience tried to convey simple truths about Jesus. See the story about the, 'Peace Offering'.
The way we speak the word of God to others is important. Paul and Barnabas spoke boldly on behalf of Jesus. See v46. We in Western Europe have largely lost our freedom and confidence to tell others about the saving work of Jesus. We are defeated and dispirited by the long period of church decline. We are frightened to speak up in case we give offence.
During the visit of our Japanese friends to Bury St Edmunds a trip to Cambridge was arranged for them. Whilst they were shopping in Waterstones my friend Tommy Bamber and I took the opportunity to relax with a cup of coffee. For some reason we got to talk about Germane Greer. Tommy said, "She's done a lot for women." I said, "I don't think so. Christianity teaches that men and women are equal but different. They have different roles in marriage and the church ...." At this point a black lady who was at the next table to ours turned round, looked at me and said, "I agree with you." Tommy nearly fell of his stool with shock. I myself was surprised. Tommy said, "You can't agree with him! Nobody agrees with him." The black lady then began to witness to Tommy. She said, "You will never be happy until God is at the centre of your life. I was once like you and rejected God. When my sister was converted I was angry and vowed that I would never become a Christian. One day as I was going up the stairs in my house I submitted to God. On the bottom step I was an unbeliever and by the top step I was a believer. My life was so full of joy. One day you will believe in him too - I know you will." At this point Tommy decided that he would like another cup of coffee and left his seat. The lady looked at me and said, "I have been sitting here waiting and praying for someone to talk to about God. You pray for your friend. He will believe."
By the time my friend returned with his coffee the lady had gone. Tommy said to me, "She was a nice woman." She was that; charming, intelligent and cultured. The lady was also bold and confident. She had to speak the word of God to us.
I don't expect many of us sit in a cafe praying the God will send us someone to talk to about Jesus. We do not always take the opportunities God gives us. The black lady put me to shame - although she had assets that I lack: a winsome, gracious and non-threatening personality.
(C) The Jews rejected the word of God.
Paul says to the Jews who were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying, .... "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." vs45and46.
Paul is speaking ironically when he says, "You ... do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life." The Jews did not like Paul offering the Gentiles salvation and eternal life through belief in Jesus. He wasn't making this offer to proselytes or God-fearing Gentiles but to all Gentiles. Almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. v44. This is, perhaps, something of an exaggeration but it does indicate that Paul preached the gospel to a large crowd of Gentiles.
I can imagine what the Jews said to Paul: "Look, we've kept the law; we've observed the ceremonies and kept ourselves pure; but we don't believe we're worthy of eternal life. If we don't deserve it the Gentiles certainly don't because we are better than they are."
I wonder if you think like that. There have been a lot of people through the years who have tried to make themselves worthy of eternal life. Yet in spite of all their efforts they lack assurance of salvation. Such an individual is inclined to say of sinners saved by grace, "If they think they'll go to heaven then so shall I because at least I am better than they are."
John Wesley is a classic example of someone who tried to make himself worthy of God's approval. He received no assurance of salvation until, to use his own words: I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation. Only then could he write: I was assured that Jesus had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Martin Luther tried to make himself worthy. No-one could have tried harder! If works could save a man then Martin Luther should have felt saved. He would spend up to 6 hours at a time confessing his sins - wearing out his confessor. He was eager to do penance. None of this availed to give Martin Luther peace. It was only through studying the Scriptures for himself that he came to see that salvation was a gift and recieved through faith in Jesus. Then he had peace.
The unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble for Paul and Barnabas. They rejected the gospel and its messengers. Paul and Barnabas, reviled, persecuted and expelled from Antioch Psidian shook the dust from their feet in protest against them. v51. This reminds us that God does not flog a dead donkey. The unbelieving Jews are left to take the consequences of their unbelief.
I noticed in my newspaper only a few months ago that a man in England died of rabies. It is a terrible death. The man who died contracted rabies after being bitten by a bat. He worked with bats and was advised to get inoculated with anti-rabies serum. The man did not take the advice. He took the risk and it killed him. The remedy was at hand and he ignored it. The wages of sin is death. The remedy is at hand. Jesus died to save his people from their sin and give life to all who believe in him. Those who ignore the remedy will most certainly take the consequences.
Last year I read, 'Dr Zhivago' by Boris Pasternak. It is a story about the toll the wars and revolutions in Russia took on the Zhivago family in the first half of the twentieth century. Dr Zhivago had a lovely mistress - Lara. She was gorgeous - a good, hard-working, resourceful, compassionate and loving woman. Near the end of the book there is a dreadful passage about Lara. It is, I think, the most awful few sentences I have ever read in fiction:
One day Lara went out and did not come back. She must have been arrested in the street, as so often happened in those days, and she died or vanished somewhere, forgotten as a nameless number on a list which later was mislaid, in one of the innumerable mixed or women's concentration camps in the north.
What so troubled me about these words is that the author of the book finally lost all knowledge of Lara. It is almost as if Pasternak loses interest in his wonderful creation. A character lost to the author of the book is lost in the profoundest sense.
Eventually those that reject Jesus will be lost like that. They will be lost to the Author of the Book. God has no further knowledge of them as they disappear into the eternal night.
(D) The Gentiles were glad and honoured the word of the Lord.
When Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to the Gentiles: They were glad and honoured the word of the Lord. v48.
On afternoon in January I took my Japanese visitors, Toru and Thomio, to the ancient city of Ely. As we had fried cod for dinner in one of the pubs of the town they asked me what I found most surprising about Japan. I told them that I found it very strange that a people who were so welcoming, hospitable and gracious lacked mercy. The Japanese exhibit grace without mercy. They do not support the wide range of charities that the English do. The Japanese are not very compassionate to the victims of famine, war, disease or just plain bad luck. I may be wrong but that is how it seemed to me. My two friends and I toured Oliver Cromwell's house, the magnificent Cathedral and then I asked them if there was anything else they would like to see. Thomio replied, "We would like to go around an Oxfam shop." They had taken my words to heart!
It is vital to be open to God's word and to learn from it. Men and women need to let it change their conduct. They need to take it to heart.
The Gentiles were glad that salvation was for them; that through Jesus God would accept them as his own. They were delighted to be included in the gospel invitation.
During the visit of our Japanese guests we had a day in London. Our trip included a reception at the Japanese Embassy. We hoped for tea - but there was no tea. We had, instead, a rather dull speech from the cultural attache about Anglo-Japanese relations. An assistant to the cultural attaché - a very pretty, demure, intelligent, beautifully dressed Japanese woman, captivated me. She was exquisite. I could have watched her for hours. I was sad to take my leave of her. There was no way I could get to know her better.
There is a way to know God better. It is open to all. We can enter an intimate family relationship with God through Christ. Everyone who believes is justified - made right with God and adopted into his family.
Luke writes of the Gentiles who honoured the word of the Lord: All who were appointed for eternal life believed. v48. This means that God ordained that all who believed, whether Gentile or Jew, would be given eternal life.
One of the little treats I give myself is to take Mrs Haylock, an old colleague, out to lunch. I hesitate to say that I am giving her a little treat! She said to me recently, "Now that you are retired are you beginning a new and exciting life?" I replied, "I doubt it!"
I suppose I hope to live a worthwhile life. It was said of John Wesley that in old age he was comforted by happy memories of a life well spent. One of his many obituaries contained this tribute: He devoted a long life in practising and enforcing the plainest duties.
There is no better preparation for the life that is to come than to practise obedience to Jesus. This involves the plainest duties! I know that plenty of excitement awaits me. Eternal life will be exciting. I hope you will all be there to share in the excitement and that you can sing with assurance:
I'll be there.