All of us want to know the will of God. But when His will doesn’t mirror ours, we can find ourselves in a quandary. Do we accept His will even though we don’t like it? Do we question whether it really is His will? And do we consider disobeying it if we decide it’s something we would prefer not to do? The apostle Paul faced this dilemma. Well, if the truth be told, it wasn’t so much him, as it was his well-meaning Christian friends who found the will of God for Paul’s life, as revealed by the Spirit of God, to be hard to comprehend and accept. But Paul would remain resolute and committed to the will of God for his life, even when it wasn’t exactly pleasant. In Acts 21:1-16, Luke begins his description of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, where, according to a vision from the Holy Spirit, Paul will face suffering and persecution for the sake of the gospel. But rather than resist or recoil from such news, Paul accepted it as God’s will and set his mind to go exactly where the Spirit had told him to go. And as he made his way, the message from the Spirit was confirmed by others. But rather than encourage Paul, they attempted to get him to avoid Jerusalem altogether. In other words, they tried to get him to preserve his life by rejecting God’s will for his life. But that was not something Paul was willing to do.
Every believer in Christ is only given so much time on this earth. And God is the one who knows the length of our days. In fact, in the midst of all his loss, suffering and sorrow, was well aware of that fact, stating, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer” (Job 14:5 NLT). Paul understood the brevity of life and the sovereign control that God maintains over the lives of all men. Which is why he was determined to prepare leaders to take his place when his predetermined time on earth came to an end. Raising up and training new leadership was a constant focus for Paul. And in Acts 20:28-38, as Paul makes his way to Jerusalem, not knowing what awaits him there, he calls the elders from the church in Ephesus and imparts to them some last-minute counsel and encouragement. He wanted these men to take their role seriously and to live their lives soberly, fully embracing the cost of their calling and the vital importance of their position as shepherds of God’s flock. Godly spiritual leadership is essential to the well-being of the church. Discernment and wisdom are critical attributes of those who are called to shepherd. And it isn’t enough to lead well, these individual are to live well, modeling what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ, exhibiting integrity, selflessness, love, and an unwavering commitment to the cause of Christ, regardless any opposition they may face.
The Christian life can be difficult at times. We can encounter situations and circumstances that make living out our faith more than a bit tricky and trying. And no one knew that better than Paul. Ever since his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had experienced a litany of faith-testing difficulties, all the way from verbal assault to stoning. He had been falsely accused, beaten with rods, flogged with a whip, and repeatedly forced to flee for his life. And in Acts 20:13-27, Luke will begin to chronicle Paul’s efforts to make his way to Jerusalem, where he knows suffering awaits him. He had been informed of his fate by the Spirit of God and warned by his friends not to go. But Paul was determined to do what he felt compelled by the Spirit of God to do – in spite of potential suffering and even with the distinct possibility of death looming on the horizon. Paul refused to shrink back from the difficulties of life. He would not run from the commission given to him by Jesus. If death was his lot, he trusted that God knew best. And he did everything in his power to pass on that sense of determination and dedication to obey the will of God, encouraging the elders from Ephesus to follow his example and shepherd those under their care with an eye to their future reward. Things in this life are going to be tough at times. But we are to not to shrink back in fear or give up hope. Like Paul, we are to remain committed to spreading the gospel message, regardless of the circumstances we may face in this life.
When God works in or around your life, do you find yourself shocked or surprised? If something out-of-the-ordinary or totally inexplicable takes place, are you prone to write it off as strange or do you immediately give God the credit? We live in a day and age when the miraculous seems ludicrous. The supernatural is dismissed as impossible or, at best, improbable. But as we read through the Book of Acts, we see miracle after miracle take place. Blind people have their sight restored. Individuals who have been unable to walk their entire lives, suddenly discover they can walk and run. And the further we delve into Luke account of the growth of the church, we see a certain expectation being exhibited by those in the church. Their shock over the unexpected taking place in their midst clearly dissipates as the miraculous became more commonplace. And in today’s episode, based on acts 20:7-12, Luke provides us with a look into a truly remarkable story of the death of Eutychus. This young follower of Christ fell asleep while Peter was preaching and plunged to his death out of an open window. He was pronounced dead on the spot, a fact confirmed by Luke, who happened to be a physician. But Luke treats what happened next with a certain flippancy that is truly surprising. Peter brings the deceased young man back to life. In an instant. And Luke treats the whole affair as if it’s nothing more than business as usual. And it was. The people of God were growing accustomed to seeing miracles performed in the power of God. And as a result, they expected the unexpected.
Do you have any spiritual progeny? Can you claim any sons and daughters in the faith whom you have helped to raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Many of us have biological children, and we have a responsibility to point them toward Christ and to mirror the love of Christ in front of them. But we also have a God-given charge to make disciples. And that commission, given to us by Jesus Christ Himself, goes far beyond the initial point of conversion. We are to see to it that our children in the faith grow in their faith. We are to lovingly push them towards maturity and encourage them to take up their cross daily and follow Christ. One of the things we learn about the apostle Paul, as we examine his life in the Book of Acts, is that he had a passionate desire to see people come to faith, but an equally intense desire to see them grow spiritually. In Acts 20:1-6, Luke is going to introduce us to seven men whose lives had been influenced by Paul. They were his disciples, his sons in faith. We know little about most of them, but they were men who had placed their faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s dedication to sharing the gospel with Gentiles. But Paul had not been content to see them come to faith. He wanted to help them grow and watch them carry on the ministry of spreading the gospel to the four corners of the earth. Paul knew that his days on earth were numbered and that the future well-being of the church was dependent upon the spiritual leadership he and the other apostles would leave behind.
When we talk about salvation, we tend to address it in terms of the impact it has had on the life of the individual for whom faith in Christ has become a reality. We discuss how it brings about life change and results in a new way of living marked by behavioral transformation. But it’s interesting how often Luke describes the end result of salvation in terms of its group impact and communal influence. As we open up Acts 19:21-41, we are going to see the apostle Paul
preaching and teaching in the city of Ephesus. And his efforts would not go unrewarded. There would be many who came to faith in Christ and, as we will see, these new believers began to have a powerful impact on the rest of the community. So much so, that the local idol trade had been negatively impacted. People were placing their faith in Christ and recognizing the illogical and unhelpful role that pagan, lifeless gods played in their daily lives. People were discovering
Christ and, at the same time, realizing that the hope they had placed in the saving power of their false gods had been highly misdirected. As a result, they were making significant changes in their lifestyles that were impacting others around them, including both the saved and the
lost. While the majority of the citizens of Ephesus remained unsaved, they were seeing and feeling the influence of the gospel’s transformative power. Like yeast in a batch of dough, the new believers in Ephesus were slowly spreading their influence throughout the city, eliciting a range of reactions, from positive to negative, but rarely indifferent.
Christianity is meant to be life-changing. It is not a religion to be practiced, but a radical new way of life, empowered by the Spirit of God, and intended to be lived out in the sight of a lost and dying world. In the early days of the church, as the gospel continued to spread, many people were coming to faith in Christ and experiencing the redemptive, transformative power of the Spirit of God as He regenerated their hearts and began the process of molding them into the likeness of Christ. In Acts 19:8-20, Luke provides us with a glimpse into the gospel’s life-changing capacity by revealing the impact it had on the people of Ephesus. This was a town with a reputation for witchcraft and sorcery, much of which was directly tied to demonic activity. So, when Paul began to proclaim the availability of new life in Christ made possible by His sacrificial death on the cross, people not only placed their faith in Christ, they underwent dramatic transformations, resulting in behavioral change that was visible and measurable. Ephesus was a spiritually charged city, where the remarkable and sometimes inexplicable were standard fare. But what began to happen when Paul arrived in town and the good news of Jesus Christ began to make its way around the city, was like nothing these people had ever seen before. They were seeing something new and many of them were becoming new creations, and experiencing the life-altering joy of new life in Christ.
We know that Jesus Christ came in order that we might have new life, eternal life. But also, life marked by a radically new way of living. It is said that, upon salvation, we receive new natures. We are new creations. The old has gone and the new has come. But what makes all this possible? It’s the Spirit of God who comes to dwell within us as the point we place our faith in Christ. In Acts 19:1-7, Paul will encounter some disciples of John the Baptist who had not yet experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In fact, they didn’t even know who the Holy Spirit was. They had believed in Jesus, but had not yet been filled with the Spirit. But all that was about to change. Not only would Paul baptize them in water in the name of Jesus, he would lay his hands upon them so that they could receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And at that point, they would receive the power they needed to live truly repentant lives. Rather than trying to live radically different lives in their own limited strength, they would receive the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God who would equip them to live like children of God. The coming of the Spirit made new life in Christ possible and a life lived like Christ achievable.
With the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel around the world, the need for additional ministers and messengers increased exponentially. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and the apostles could only be in so many places at one time. And there were many more places where the gospel had yet to be proclaimed. But God was not going to allow the gospel to be bogged down by limited numbers of missionaries. He would simply raise up new ones. And in Acts 18:18-28, we see him raise up a gifted young man named Apollos. He would prove to be a gifted communicator, but would need input and discipleship from Aquila and Priscilla. God calls, but God also equips. He raises up men and women to communicate the good news regarding His Son, but he surrounds them with competent individuals who can step in alongside them, providing much-needed training and, if necessary, reproof. There was going to come a day when Paul’s mission would be seemingly derailed by imprisonment. He would spend two years under Roman custody in Caesarea. Then, later on in his ministry, he would find himself a prisoner in Rome itself. But while Paul was under lock and key, God would continue to raise up new messengers to step in the gap and take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
In Acts 18:12-19, Paul will attempt to give his defense to the Roman proconsul, Gallio, refuting the false accusations of the Jews. But before he can get a word out, Gallio will shut down the proceedings, refusing to hear what he deems to be the internal squabbles of the Jews. He has neither the time or interest to listen to what they have to say, instead, kicking them out of his court and allowing Paul to walk free and get back to his business of sharing the gospel. All Paul had been guilty of doing was attempting to persuade the people of Corinth to believe in God and His offer of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. The Jews were not interested. At least some of them. They saw Paul as a heretic and a nuisance. And they had hoped to persuade the Roman government to see him as a dangerous troublemaker and a potential threat to the Roman way of life. But Gallio actually found them to be more irritating than Paul. And what we need to see in all of this is the sovereign hand of God, working in unforeseen and unpredictable ways, to accomplish His divine will. Nothing escapes His notice. Nothing happens outside His divine purview. It’s interesting to note that the Jews accused Paul of persuading the people to worship God contrary to the law. In fact, he was. He was teaching a means to have a right relationship apart from the keeping of the law. But the Jews would have nothing to do with it. Yet, God won the day.
When the pressure picked up, Paul seemed more compelled to speak up. He wasn’t some kind of shrinking violet who backed down at the slightest sign of opposition. He was a determined individual with a stubborn streak that had been redeemed by the Holy Spirit. No one was going to shut Paul up or keep him from doing what he had been called and commissioned to do. And in Acts 18:1-11 we are going to get a glimpse of Paul boldly proclaiming the gospel in the face of mounting opposition and increasing hostility on the part of the Jews and the Gentiles. While he was seeing many people come to faith in Christ, he was also experiencing intense resentment to those who opposed his message. And Paul was learning the invaluable lesson that there comes a time when sharing the gospel become nothing more than casting pearls before swine. There were those who were never going to listen and who would never embrace the free gift of God’s grace made available through His Son. While Paul had a deep desire to see his fellow Jews come to faith in Christ, he was becoming increasingly more convinced that his mission was to the Gentiles. They were receptive. Their hearts were soft and their ears quick to hear what he had to say. And yet, Paul was human. He must have become weary with all the resistance and rejection. So much so, that God had to encourage him to keep on keeping on. He wanted Paul to know that there were many more who needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Now was not the time to give up or give in to pressure. But he was to go on speaking and not to be silent.
Paul got his opportunity to share about the gospel in front of a sophisticated gathering of philosophers and great thinkers. These men had asked Paul to come and tell them more about this foreign deity of his. From their perspective, Paul was teaching something new, something they hadn’t heard before, which piqued their interest. They had described Paul’s message regarding Jesus and the gospel as a strange thing and they wanted to hear more. In Acts 17:22-34, we have Paul’s address to the council of the Areopagus. It could have been easy for him to be a bit intimidated by the sheer number of philosophers and great thinkers in the room. But Paul was at ease, a man in his element. He had received his theological education from one of the best: Gamaliel, considered a leading rabbi and teacher in Israel. He had also been trained as a Pharisee, and had a strong understanding of the Mosaic law. Paul was no slouch. He had the credentials and indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. So, he was not out of his element and never felt out of his league. He met these men right where they were, using one of their own gods as an jumping off place for his discussion. He was going to reveal to them the identity of the one god they worshiped but who they didn’t know. They simply called him the unknown god, but Paul was going to let them know that the only God they didn’t know was the one they desperately needed to know. The one whose Son had died on the cross for their sins.
You may recall the 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Jimmy Stewart in the title role. In the movie, Mr. Smith, a relatively naïve and recently appointed United States Senator finds himself emmersed in the corruption-filled context of Washington power politics. He is a fish out of water, an innocent lamb surrounded by vicious wolves. Mr. Smith is appointed because he is seen as an easy to manipulate stooge who won’t rock the proverbial boat or cause any waves. But he would prove them wrong. In a way, Acts 17:10-21 reveals Paul in a similar vain. But he is far from naïve and anything but a stooge. Paul is a powerful proponent of the gospel and a formidable adversary for any who would stand against it. Even when he finds himself alone in the big city of Athens, surrounded by false gods and pagan philosophers who spend their days debating and discussing, he is anything but overwhelmed. In fact, he is in his element, seizing the opportunity to discuss the truth of the gospel with those who had a penchant for new and strange things. Paul was alone, but not intimidated. He found himself in enemy territory, but was not afraid. He saw Athens as an opportunity to spread the gospel and to see God work. While the sheer number of false gods bothered him, it also inspired him to speak of the one true God. The presence of falsehood demanded that the truth be told. The worship of non-existent gods simply proved to Paul that the people of Athens were ready to hear about the God who brought all things into existence, including them.
Radical. Revolutionary. Those are terms we rarely hear used in conjunction with Christianity. Perhaps there are certain third-world countries or places governed by dictatorial or communistic regimes where Christians are still viewed in such terms, but not here in the west. If anything, we’re seen as archaic and old-fashioned, throwbacks to an earlier, more repressive era when people were less educated and enlightened. But in the 1st-Century, when Christianity was still in its infancy, the followers of Jesus were seen as both radical and revolutionary. They were troublemakers who the Jews saw as threats to their way of life and the Romans viewed as disturbers of the peace. While Paul, Silas, Peter, and the other apostles were seeing God move in incredible ways, transforming the lives of countless individuals through the message of the gospel, the opposition was growing and intensifying. All because the light of the truth of God’s grace was shining into the dark recesses of a sin-filled world. In Acts 17:1-9, we will see Paul and Silas accused of turning the world upside-down. And their accusers were right. Lives were being radically changed. Entire communities were being revolutionized by the good news concerning Jesus Christ and His offer of salvation. But while many embraced their message with open arms and receptive hearts, many more refused to listen. They rejected the messengers and their message, choosing instead to listen to the lies of the enemy and remain in the darkness and hopelessness of sin.
The Book of Acts is full of fantastic, almost unrealistic stories, and Acts 16:25-40 is no exception. In this passage, we have Luke retelling of Paul and Silas being miraculously released from prison by a huge earthquake. Actually, they don’t really get released. They simply have their chains fall off and the doors of their prison cells inexplicably unlocked. But what makes the story so incredible is that they weren’t the ones to get set free. That distinction goes to the keeper of the prison, who came to faith in Jesus Christ because of what happened that night. He was set free from his captivity to sin and released from the death sentence that hovered over his head like a sword. The captor became the freed man. Sometimes we wonder why God allows us to go through difficulties or experience circumstances that are less-than-ideal. But we never know what God has up His sleeve. We have no way of knowing what he may have planned and how He is going to use what appears to be a negative situation and use it to accomplish His divine will. Paul and Silas had been thrown in jail. But rather than whine and moan over their lot in life, they had spent the night praying and singing. They saw their situation as an opportunity to serve God and watch Him work. And when given a prime opportunity to escape their unfortunate surroundings, they chose instead to stay right where they were – seeing their circumstances as God-ordained and the jailer’s spiritual well-being as more important than their own physical welfare.
You’re probably familiar with the term, “The devil is in the details.” It is an idiom used to refer to those seemingly small and, often overlooked, aspects of our plans that can end up causing us serious problems later on. It is those unseen or unnoticed elements that can come back to bite us. But in Acts 16:11-24, we are going to see how God is the deity in the details. He is intimately involved in many of those seemingly small and insignificant parts of our lives that appear to be nothing more than luck or chance. For Paul and Silas, God was constantly arranging the details of their days, placing them in situations where they could be used by Him and His power could be displayed through them. There were no chance encounters. Every situation had the divine fingerprints of God all over it. And while Paul and Silas may not have immediately seen God’s presence or sovereign hand in every instant, they were always able to look back and recognize His divine oversight and providential role. Far too often, we fail to see that God is in the details of our lives. We don’t see our interactions with others as part of His plan for our lives. The people we meet and the circumstances we face are never the products of blind chance. They are the well-orchestrated byproduct of God’s all-knowing and all-powerful redemptive plan. Like Paul and Silas, we need to learn to look for God’s unmistakable presence and rest in His unshakeable control over the world He has made and all who live in it.
It’s so easy to see life as just some random collection of isolated and unrelated events. Even as believers, we can be lulled into a false sense that everything we encounter in life is nothing more than a byproduct of chance of fate. But as we read the account of Luke, recorded in the Book of Acts, we can’t help but see the underlying handiwork of God, orchestrating the lives of the characters and directing the affairs of their lives in such a way that His will is perfectly accomplished. In Acts 16:1-10, we have Luke’s account of Paul meeting Timothy for the first time. And, as usual, his retelling of the event tends to come across as just another chance encounter. When Paul arrived in Lystra, Timothy just happened to be there. And this young man, who had come to faith in Christ, in part because of the influence of his mother and grandmother, made an impression on Paul. So much so, that he would become his traveling companion and protégé. The encounter between these two men was anything but luck. It was the divine will of God, and it happened at just the right time. Paul and Barnabas were going to part ways and Paul would be forced to find himself a new traveling companion. Enter Timothy. At just the right time and with just the right credentials to meet the need. Paul was being led by the Spirit of God. His ministry needs were being divinely met and the direction for his ministry was being directed from above. He was operating within the will of God and being directed by the Spirit of God. All for the glory of God.
Getting along with others is not easy, even in the best of times. Families where love for one another is a high priority can still find themselves struggling with unity and battling over things like rights and personal preferences. In Acts 15:22-41, we are going to see that conflicts and disunity were a constant problem in the early church. The increasingly diverse makeup of the growing church was creating natural tensions and disagreements. Debates were becoming increasingly more common, even among the leadership. But through it all, there was a strong desire on the part of the apostles to maintain a spirit of unity in the midst of all the diversity. That is exactly what Jesus had prayed would happen. The members of the church in the first-century were under a great deal of pressure. They faced ongoing and increasing opposition from the Jews as well as the pagans. Their presence in the community was seen as a threat to existing religions and even to the social fabric of the society. Christianity was disruptive, turning entire cities upside-down and creating an unnecessary and unwanted stress on the status quo. And the fledgling congregations felt the tension. Many of the members of the local churches had been cut off from their families because of their faith. Others had lost their jobs. Those who had walked away from pagan religions were ostracized by their former friends. And all of them were having to learn the delicate task of getting along with those with whom their only source of commonality was their faith in Christ.
Things were moving at a rapid pace for the early church. God was doing incredible things and the Spirit of God was moving mightily, not only in Jerusalem, but around the world. And all this change was causing consternation for many in the church, especially those Jews who felt that Christianity was an extension of their Jewish faith. They could not fathom a religion that was anything but Jewish at its core, with circumcision and the Mosaic law as central tenets and non-negotiable requirements. But in Acts 15:12-21, Luke records the testimonies of Paul and Barnabas as they reported their efforts among the Gentiles. But their real focus was on what God had been doing. What had taken place among the Gentiles had clearly been the work of God, and not the result of men’s efforts. And what they had to say was going to have a dramatic impact on those who heard them, because it became clear that God was doing a new and different thing among them. Who were they to dictate to God the rules by which He was going to redeem mankind. They were walking on thin ice if they thought they could tell God how to accomplish His divine redemptive plan. Paul and Barnabas had simply walked in unity and rhythm with God, obediently and submissively doing His will His way. And the results spoke for themselves. Peoples’ lives had been radically changed. The Spirit had come and the light of the gospel had begun to permeate the darkness in which the Gentiles nations were trapped.
Internal conflict. It can happen in a marriage, a business, a home, or even in a church. And it seemed to be a regular presence in the growing body of Christ during the first century. As if all the external opposition wasn’t enough, the new church found itself dealing with an intense and potentially divisive debate over the heart and soul of the apostles’ ministry given to them by Jesus: The gospel. As the news regarding Jesus’ offer of salvation began to spread outside the borders of Judea and Judaism, it raised some critical concerns among those who had been the first to accept the gospel message: The Jews. If you recall, the 120 individuals who had been in the upper room on the day of Pentecost had all been Jews. They had also been believers in Jesus Christ. Jesus had restricted His ministry to the land of the Jews. He never ventured outside of Judea. And, for the most part, his audiences were made up primarily of Jews. He did have interactions with non-Jews such as the Samaritan woman, but they were rare. But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the message of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone had begun to spread, with the result being the conversion of more and more Gentiles. And this is where the conflict arose. Some of the more hard-core Jewish Christians were of the strong opinion that the conversions of the Gentiles were incomplete or invalid unless they converted to Judaism first. But Paul would have nothing to do with it and he would do everything in his power to stand against it.
One minute, Paul and Barnabas were being treated like gods. The next thing they knew, they were being treated like dangerous criminals, with Paul even having to experience being stoned nearly to death. But the ups and downs of ministry didn’t seem to faze Paul or Barnabas. They seemed to know that it came with the territory. It was part of their job descriptions as ambassadors for Christ. For these two men, the real issue was that they had been trusted with the task of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. And they knew that God had opened up a door of faith to these people, because they had watched as countless numbers of them were streaming through the narrow gate and walking the path that led to righteousness. The way of Christ. And Jesus had warned that His way was not going to be the easy or the popular way. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT). Paul knew the way well. And he had discovered that the road was indeed difficult and the journey fraught with dangers of all kinds. But he viewed any suffering he may have to endure along the way as well worth the effort and nothing compared with the value of the final destination.
In Acts 14:8-18, Paul and Barnabas have a seemingly chance encounter with a man who was born with some kind of physical abnormality that had left him unable to walk. He was in the crowd who had gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas speak. Most likely, he had to have been carried there by friends or family members. Or perhaps he dragged himself along, using his arms as his only means of locomotion. This scene takes place in the Gentile city of Lystra, a pagan city where the Greek gods were worshiped and idolized. Upon seeing this man in the crowd, Paul saw an opportunity to perform a sign. But first, he saw that this man had faith, enough faith to be healed. We’re not sure exactly what Paul saw or how he saw it, but he was confident that this man’s faith was strong enough to result in his healing. What happened next left the man transformed and the crowd amazed. So much so, that they attributed the miracle they had just witnessed to the work of the gods – their gods. They explained what they had witnessed by declaring Paul and Barnabas to be the gods Zeus and Hermes in human form. But they didn’t stop there. They actually worshiped the two men, even preparing an animal sacrifice to offer up to them. But Paul didn’t take their adoration well. He flatly refused it and took the opportunity to contrast the one true God with the false gods of the Greeks.
As we begin Acts 14, the first seven verses will reveal Paul and Barnabas ministering in the synagogue in Iconium. They would experience remarkable success in their efforts among the Jews and Greeks, seeing many come to faith in Christ. But they would also encounter more resistance, with some of the Jews doing everything in their power to turn the people against Paul and Barnabas. The end result was that the city became divided, with some siding with Paul and Barnabas, while others chose to join the Jews in their resistance of the gospel. But the real question is, why did some believe while others refused? What was it that caused some of the Jews and Gentiles to hear the message of Paul and Barnabas, accept it and receive Jesus Christ as their Savior? And yet, many others heard the very same message and ended up trying to stone the men who delivered it. It was the same message delivered by the same two individuals. So, what made the difference? What was the deciding factor that led to the conversion of some and not others? For Paul, the answer was simple. It was the sovereign grace of God. Anyone who came to faith, did so, not because of Paul’s powers of persuasion or their own intelligence, but because God had called them. Salvation was and is the work of God, from beginning to end. Paul knew it, because he had witnessed it. Paul was convinced of it, because he had experienced it.
Over the centuries, millions upon millions of people have rejected the offer of salvation from sin offered through Jesus Christ. They heard the message, but deemed it untenable or unnecessary. People from all walks of life and from virtually every nation in the world have chosen to reject Jesus. They preferred the darkness over the light. They found more satisfaction and comfort in what they know, what was familiar to them, than in that which they couldn’t fully understand or explain. In Acts 13:42-52, we will see Paul and Barnabas running into just such a group of people. In this case, they were Jews who chose to reject and contradict the words of Paul and Barnabas, refusing to believe what they had to say. And as a result, Paul accused them of being unworthy of eternal life. Paul was not indicating that eternal life has to be earned or deserved in some way. He was simply indicating that their stubborn refusal to accept the message of salvation made possible through faith in Jesus Christ kept them in a state of perpetual spiritual darkness. They had always been unworthy. Their sin separated them from God and condemned them to His judgment. But had they chosen to accept the free gift of eternal life offered to them by God, they would have been made right with Him, deemed worthy not because of anything they had done, but because of what Jesus had done for them.
What do you think Paul would have to say to a synagogue full of Jews living in a foreign country, far from the land of Israel? Well, thanks to Luke, we don’t have to guess. He provides us with the details of just such a sermon, delivered by Paul in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. And he takes a note from the apostle Peter’s play book, mirroring the content he used when he had spoken before the high priest and the Jewish Sanhedrin. Paul basically gives a history lecture, but with a very specific objective. He is trying to get them to understand that all of Jewish history pointed to Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. God had led them out of captivity in Egypt, back to the land of Canaan, the land promised to Abraham – but for a much greater reason than just their occupation of it and infatuation with it. God had given the people of Israel judges and then kings, including King David, but they were meant to hold the nation together, until such a time that God would send His Son. Paul’s whole objective was to get to Jesus. He is not only the consummation of Israelite history, but of the entire world. He is the focus of all human history. But these Jews, hung up on their heritage and religious rituals, ran the risk of missing the very one God had promised to Abraham: The seed who would bless all the nations of the world.