42As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
So, what did Paul and Barnabas speak about that the people would be excited to hear it again the next week? Paul went through the history of the Jewish people. He takes them through how they left Egypt, spent forty years in the wilderness and then conquered the Promised Land and settled there. Paul takes them from the days when the judges ruled, and the people asking for a king. Saul was the first king, then David.
Then John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, who is Jesus, a descendant of King David. Jesus brought the good news that through Him, what God promised to their ancestors has been fulfilled. But the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah, they had Him put to death on the cross. But God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus appeared to many people from Galilee to Jerusalem to preach the good news. By believing in Jesus, they can be set free from their sins and attain salvation that could not be attained by obeying the law of Moses.
The following week, Paul and Barnabas spoke about the same thing to an even larger crowd, but the Jews would not accept, riled up by the contradicting statements by the religious group. So, Paul and Barnabas announce that since they rejected the word of God, they are now going to focus on the Gentiles. When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord and many became believers.
This didn’t mean that Paul is giving up on his own people, since we will continue to see that wherever he goes, he first goes to the synagogue to share the good news. But he knows that the preaching to the Gentiles is going to be his main mission.
It is interesting to note that even though everyone heard the exact same message, some accepted, and some rejected. Reminds us of the parable of the sower in Mark 4. In that parable, the sower sows the seeds, and some do not grow, others grow but do not mature, others grow amidst thorns and get choked out, but some do grow and yield thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.
Jesus explains this parable to His disciples to mean that the sower’s job is to sow the seed without worrying about the results. The sower does not control the outcome of the seeds. One thing is sure – All the seeds might not grow to be fruitful, but if one does not sow seeds, none will grow.
It is a good reminder that only God can bring salvation. What we can do and are commanded to do, is to preach the gospel by words and deeds. We need not be discouraged if people do not come to believe immediately. We also need to make sure that we do not take credit for the hearers coming to believe – that credit belongs to God.
It is interesting to me that Paul’s message is very simple. It is basically that Jesus is the long-awaited savior of the world, and by believing in Him, sins are forgiven, and we are set free from our sins. In his epistles, Paul teaches about the substitutional aspect of Jesus’ death on the cross – That He took the punishment that we deserved in our stead. That aspect of salvation is not mentioned here.
What is mentioned throughout Acts is the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus is who He said He was. He foretold the resurrection, so if that doesn’t happen, it would make Jesus either mistaken, fraudulent, or out of touch with reality – any of which would disqualify Him as the Messiah.
Having studied theology, I have the tendency to explain every detail about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which in some cases might be too much detail. Sometimes, all the person needs to hear is that God loves her or him and that’s why He sent His Son, Jesus to the cross, where He died and then was resurrected on the third day. And by believing in Him, forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life can be gained. All the other details can be explained when the person is ready for it. Sometimes the simple message is the best.
We can also see that regardless of what the church, the government or any detractors do, God’s plan is going to move forward. It does not need our creative help or political or social activities – just committed believers spreading the good news about Jesus Christ.
We see Paul and Barnabas doing this, at the expense of their own safety and liberty. This is what we are also called to do. Not to work to preserve our own freedom, but to spread the gospel so that others can be freed from their sins. Let us pray that we can do the same in this world where there is so much need for the gospel.
(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship service on November 14, 2021.)