by Roger McCay
26 April 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 13:14-52
Link to Audio Version
The Word of the Lord, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is divisive, exclusive, and yet inclusive. The enemies of Christ hate it, and they seek to muzzle those who would proclaim the true Gospel in word or deed. Nonetheless, they act in vain – the Word of God is unstoppable, and it will always be victorious.
Yet, the enemy has long been mounting a battle against God and his people. You don’t have to read the news or social media for very long to recognize that the denial of Christ by so many and the increasing opposition to Christianity is prevalent in our society. The examples of this are endless. We could talk about instances of attacks against …
– faithful bakers
– Air Force Cadets, Chaplains (and other examples of service members being muzzled and even disciplined for their Christian beliefs)
– the attack against students beliefs in college classrooms
– the resistance of Christian organizations on campuses
– the removal of prayer from schools
– the removal of the Ten Commandments and crosses from public venues
– the very odd hatred of Chick-fil-a
– the anti-Christian organizations that seek any opportunity to attack and undermine
– the vile comments against Christians that are posted on just about any article on the news that refers to Christians and their beliefs
– and on and on.
I wonder, even, if some of the specific targeting against churches meeting together during this coronavirus thing have anti-Christian motivations. It sure is suspicious when a governor singles out churches, specifically, in an order not to meet.
Anyway, the pushback against Christ and his Kingdom has been happening so long and is so regular that we aren’t even surprised when we see or experience it.
While the attacks of the evil one against the Lord, his Word, and his people may have many of us scrambling to set up a defensive perimeter and hold our ground, more than defense is expected of the Lord’s disciples. We are called to boldly testify to the truth of the Word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of whomever it might be, individuals, organizations … governments … anyone that would dare stand against it.
In our passage today, after the beautiful sermon Paul preached the prior Sabbath (in vv. 16-41), there were a number of Jews and Jewish converts (God-fearers) that believed. During the week, Paul and Barnabas spent some time discipling them, and the word got out among the people of the city of the wonderful message of these missionaries—the gospel.
So, hearing about the amazing message (as Luke tells us in v. 44), the following Sabbath “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” at the synagogue. Sounds great, right! Well, this outpouring of interest in the good news of Jesus Christ drew a very negative reaction from the Jews who did not believe the message.
Look at v. 45.
45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.
It is interesting that the passage tells us that the motivation of the Jews was jealousy (something we looked at a few weeks ago in Romans 11:11). To compound things, the message was about this Jesus whom their leaders had had crucified in Jerusalem. Further, their leaders, in Jerusalem, had forbidden the followers of Jesus to preach in his name. Yet, here they were boldly doing just that in their synagogue. What is even worse is that all sorts of people believed the message! Oh yeah, they were jealous.
What an example of the divisiveness of the Word of God! Many of those who do not believe respond violently against its message. Why is this? Well, the gospel message makes an absolute truth claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. It acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and King, ruling over all things right now. It denies any salvific value in following the law or being a good person. In fact, it says that all people are sinners deserving damnation for their sins. It also insists that only through submission and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior might one be saved from judgment and eternal separation from God.
Further (something that probably really chafed the Jews concerning the Gentiles), the gospel says there is no need to convert to Judaism. There is only one path to God—straight through Jesus. No other way than Jesus is valid – any other belief is a lie. The gospel draws the line in the sand dividing the redeemed in Christ from the damned separated from Christ.
Such is what Peter proclaimed concerning Jesus in the face of the leaders of the Jews who sought to suppress the gospel in Jerusalem saying, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We should not be surprised the Word of the Lord is divisive. Jesus told us this. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This statement makes a division between Christ and any other proclaimed way, truth, or life. Jesus even told us explicitly of the division this would cause—Matt. 10:34-37:
And Jesus said…
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Nothing but absolute love for and allegiance to Jesus Christ and his Kingdom is sufficient for a follower of Christ. It is all or nothing, and the world cannot stand such claims. Paul and Barnabas’ proclamation of the Word of the Lord certainly contained these elements. Boldly, despite the pressure put on them by the Jews, they continued to speak the truth of God’s Word in utter defiance of the enemies of Christ.
And so, since the Jews attempts to deny the Word of the Lord by contradicting Paul and reviling him did not suppress the gospel, they tried another tactic—v. 50:
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.
These enemies of Christ and his people incited the leaders of the city, bringing down persecution upon Paul and Barnabas, resulting in them being driven from the city.
There are those today who would seek to muzzle us, when it comes to our speaking the truth of the gospel, and living accordingly. While there are many tactics, a common tactic is to call people names such as “bigot,” with the hope that the label will disqualify anything a person with such an attached label has to say.
For example: To say a person or a person’s lifestyle is sinful, and they need to repent their sin draws fire (particularly in these days when sexual identity is such a hot topic).
“How dare you say they are sinning.”
“Well, God says it is a sin.”
“Then your God is a bigot and so are you.”
“But, if a person doesn’t repent their sins in faith in Christ, they cannot be saved.”
“Who would want a bigoted God? Your God is clearly evil.”
“But God created people, and he knows and wants what is best for us. Sin destroys that best life.”
“How dare you or your God tell us how to live. We have the right to live however we want, bigot.”
The arguments go on and on in circles. The labels are used as a tactic to shut us down without rational discussion. It seems ridiculous, I know, but foolish people (remember the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – Proverbs 9:10; Psalm 111:10) … foolish people fall for such nonsense.
We must not cower before those who would intimidate us into silence. Our responsibility is to boldly speak the Word of the Lord into people’s life situation. This includes God’s design for marriage and sexuality—man and woman. Such bold speech is not hateful. It is confidently speaking the true and loving message of the Lord God. Like it was given to us, it must be spoken in love. Let us speak the truth in love regardless of how divisive it is. Pray that the Lord would open their eyes and reveal himself to them.
And know that faithful proclamation of the gospel is not just for preachers and teachers of the Lord’s Word. It is the duty of every single follower of Christ. Do not think that living a quiet and comfortable life of personal piety while not rocking the boat is sufficient. Let us engage.
Such obedience to the Lord may require great personal sacrifice. But do you think that the Lord is surprised by this? He told us we would suffer: “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matt. 24:8-9). Yet, because of this, he does not say, “Ah, well then, nevermind.” We are called to be witnesses no matter what the enemy sends against us.
Some people may hate you for your faithfulness. But so what? If that becomes the case, wear it like a badge of honor. Even if you are shouted down and shut down, if you are faithfully speaking the truth of the gospel in love, you have won. The victory is and always will be the Lord’s.
The Word of the Lord is the message of freedom to those who are enslaved (John 8:31-32). It is the good news! Christ sets free those who are trapped by the evil one (2 Tim 2:26). Because the Word of the Lord is divisive; disciples of Christ must be bold in our witness.
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.
In response to the rejection of the gospel of salvation, Paul and Barnabas pronounced the result. The Jews had judged themselves “unworthy of eternal life.” This is an absolute statement of the exclusiveness of the gospel. No other way than Jesus brings eternal life. Rejection of Jesus is to reject eternal life. It is just that simple.
Perhaps these Jews were extremely devout believers in God and dedicated to keeping the Law. Yet, in their rejection of Jesus none of that mattered. They rejected eternal life, choosing bondage rather than freedom in Christ.
Paul said this was their judging themselves as being “unworthy” of it. How? Well, as Jews, they saw themselves as worthy—being of the chosen people of God and the ones who kept his law. But that was their problem. It is a strange irony that seeing oneself as worthy of eternal life is to judge oneself as unworthy.
You might ask, “Who is worthy of eternal life, then?” Well, no-one really—except Jesus. The gospel tells us that only those who submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, acknowledging that they are unworthy sinners, needing forgiveness, and trusting in him for salvation in repentance, are worthy. You have to know you are unworthy to become worthy. This is because Christ’s worthiness is transferred to those who believe. And that is what makes them worthy.
Later, in v. 51, we see further exclusivity and judgment upon those who would reject Jesus.
51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.
So, what does it mean that they “shook off the dust from their feet against them?” We see it in Luke 9:5. When Jesus sent the twelve disciples out as his witnesses, he told them, “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” This was a symbolic gesture—a sign of judgment to come on those who rejected the gospel message of Jesus, as proclaimed by his messengers. It was a warning. Judgment would come on them unless they repented and believed the gospel.
In today’s post-modern culture (where truth is considered relative, and all religious claims are considered equal with a pluralistic understanding of religion), such an action might seem ludicrous. How dare they judge them! Well, Paul and Barnabas dared because the Word of God does not provide any latitude for those who would claim there are other paths to salvation—to life.
Today the pluralists seek to have Christians move from a Christ-centeredness to a God-centeredness. The thought is that focusing on Christ “separates Christians from other believers.” Hence, according to them, being “God-centered,” rather than “Christ-centered,” removes the stumbling block of Christ. It puts Christianity on the same footing as other world religions that believe in “quote – God – end quote.” This is in order to concede that all beliefs are all “equally valid and equally true.” However, the Scriptures do not allow for this at all. If it did, Paul and the Jews would have gotten along just fine in Psidian Antioch.
The Word of the Lord is clearly exclusive. Affirming any other path or behavior or belief than Jesus Christ is to deny the Word of the Lord…and Christ. As long as one denies Christ he or she is excluded from salvation and the Kingdom of God—just like the Jews in our passage today.
Christians are called to remain faithful to the Word of God—in word and deed—despite the enemy’s resistance. Enabled by the power of the Spirit of God, let us steadily and boldly proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and live according to his truth. Because the Word of the Lord is exclusive; disciples of Christ must be bold in our witness.
Take a look at the last part of v. 46 to v. 49 and v. 52.
… 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.
52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
In the midst of opposition and persecution, there is the light of hope and joy. The Spirit of God himself works to turn such things as tools towards the purpose of his Kingdom. Hence, opposition and persecution actually contribute to the victory of the Word of God—they just can’t win. Like the Psalmist said in Psalm 2:4:
“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”
Please understand that not all the Jews rejected the Word. Many actually believed. But, it seems they were the minority of Jews at Psidion Antioch.
Because of the Jews who rejected the Word of the Lord, it was then given to the Gentiles, just like God said it would be. Paul’s quote in v. 47 is partly from Isaiah 49:6. Going to the Gentiles with the gospel was not an afterthought or a “second-best solution.” It was God’s plan all along. Those who take the Word of the Lord to the nations are a light to the nations. This is the mission of the people of God—to be a light to the nations and take salvation in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
Notice in v. 49, too, that the new converts began witnessing to other immediately! That is how the good news spread so quickly. They didn’t wait around. They were overjoyed with the good news, and they told everyone (their neighbors, their co-workers, family, friends—anyone who would listen) about Jesus. Hence, all those that the Lord appointed to eternal life (those he elected) believed. The Lord brought a large number of people to him in the region of Psidian Antioch. So, despite the persecution of the Jews driving Paul and Barnabas out of the region, Christ’s church was established there.
The Word of God is inclusive. All who believe (no matter their race, country, background, state of sinfulness, religious background, or whatever), all who trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior are saved from the bonds of sin and the trap of the evil one – Set free! – receiving eternal life in the Lord.
Disciples of Christ – Christians – are called to take the light of the gospel to the nations. It is not in our power that the Word of the Lord is victorious. It is in the power of God that people come to believe. This is a great comfort, because it means that even those of us who only have the basic ideas of what being a Christian is all about can still share it with others, and the Lord can use it to bring them to saving faith in Jesus. So, because the Word of the Lord is inclusive, disciples of Christ must be bold in our witness.
As we boldly witness, by the power of the Spirit of God, people will hear and believe the message. The Lord simply calls us to be faithful in our witness. Obeying the Lord, we do much more than just desperately try to hold ground. We assault the stronghold of the enemy.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
The Word of the Lord is divisive, exclusive and inclusive. Many people will reject the message. Despite their protests and resistance, because the Word of the Lord is victorious, disciples of Christ must be bold in our witness.
 John Azumah, “Following Jesus in a Broken World,” ERT 31 no. 4 (2007): 295.