SALVATION HAS COME TO |THE GENTILES
SERIES: PAUL, AN INSTRUMENT OF THE RISEN CHRIST
by Ron Ritchie
"If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship
with one another," says the apostle John in the opening chapter of
1 John. When I taught that passage at a singles' Bible study a few years
ago I changed the location of the study that evening to a different apartment
than the one we usually used. I turned off all the lights and asked each
person attending to enter into the darkened living room and take his or
her place. I began by asking everyone to guess what the room looked like;
to describe the apartment, the chairs or cushions they were sitting on,
etc. They all did so, saying what they thought the decor was like, where
they were sitting and what they were sitting on. When at last I turned on
the light, it was painfully obvious that their efforts at describing the
various furnishings were at best only partially correct, and at worst, woefully
inaccurate. Those who were sitting on chairs had failed to identify the
type of chair; those sitting on cushions had the color of the fabric wrong;
those sitting on couches failed to identify the type of covering. the length
of the couch, etc. The reason, of course, was that the room was totally
dark when they entered: there was no light whatsoever. Thus. their guesses
at what the room looked like were severely limited and inaccurate.
What I was trying to do in this exercise was to demonstrate hat the world
looked like before we came to Christ. We were living in the dark, without
spiritual discernment, groping for truth. John continues in the first chapter
of his gospel,
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the
light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it . .
. There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every
man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world
did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not
receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become
children of God, even to those. who believe in His name . . .
Before we came to Christ, we were lost in the darkness of the world. And
people who are living in the dark cannot accurately or adequately interpret
what is going on around them. They lack definition and clarity because in
the absence of light they cannot possibly see what is really going on in
the world. For instance, non-Christians do not know what is the real significance
of the AIDS epidemic. They do not know why the Marine Guards at the United
States Embassy in Moscow compromised both themselves and their country for
their own selfish ends. People who are living without light cannot interpret
what is really behind child pornography, child abuse, or drug abuse. How
can they learn? They need compassionate Christians to help them see that
they are indeed living in darkness, remembering that we too once shared
that darkness with them before the "Light of men" came to illuminate
our lives. When we came to Jesus, things that were closed and in darkness
to us were suddenly illuminated by him. We began to understand what life
was all about: how to live, how to relate to others, how to love them. But
Christians must always remember that, having left the darkness behind them,
they are now privileged to shine their light back into the darkness, not
walk away from it, and thus help others come to the light.
That is what we want to talk about this morning in our study of the life
of the apostle Paul. We will discuss salvation and light; the Light of men
coming to the Gentiles. Here in this passage from Acts 13 we will see that
Paul's preaching of the gospel divided the city of Antioch. Once again the
good news was rejected by the Jews but embraced by the Gentiles.
Last week we studied Paul's first recorded sermon which he delivered in
a synagogue in Antioch. In it he traced the history of the Jewish nation
from the time of their deliverance from Egypt. through the family of David,
from whose loins came Jesus, the Messiah. The apostle spoke of the rejection
of Jesus by the chief priests, his crucifixion and resurrection, and the
forgiveness of sin that God offers through faith in him. Verses 42 and 43
of Acts 13 gives the response of those who heard the apostle's sermon:
And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging
that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the
meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and the God-fearing
proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging
them to continue in the grace of God.
There was, apparently, an excellent response to Paul-s message. It's probably
fair to say that the apostle and Barnabas could hardly wait for the next
opportunity to speak again of the things of Christ to people who seemed
to be open to hearing. The missionaries' hearts must have been filled with
joy at their reception, but at the same time they probably were fearful
lest they not present the gospel clearly and forthrightly. They must have
prayed and asked others to pray also, that many would respond to their message.
Yet I am sure they realized that it was quite possible their plans and God's
plans might very well not coincide. God's word in Isaiah is, "My ways
are not your ways, and your ways are not My ways." As things turned
out, God did have a different plan, as is obvious from what happened the
I. The Gospel is Rejected by The Jews, Acts 13:44-46
And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear
the word of God. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with
jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary
that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate
it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning
to the Gentiles.
"Nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God . . . "
When men of God preach the word of God by the power of God, life begets
life in a community. Good news travels fast. People came to hear the word
of God, not hear about taxes, slavery, or women's rights. All of these subjects
should. of course, be addressed at certain times, but these men and women
who assembled in Antioch on this Sabbath came because they needed to learn
of their sin, guilt and shame. They came to hear what Paul and Barnabas
had to say about Jesus, whom they claimed was the Messiah to the Jews. They
came because they were living in a dark and sinful society and they wanted
to hear what life was really about. Word had gotten around that these men
from Jerusalem were offering something which would deal with their deepest
needs. Thus they came with hope in their hearts, seeking answers to their
As Christians, we know that only in a relationship with God through Jesus
Christ can we find the answers to life's problems. Once the basic spiritual
issues have been dealt with, then the Holy Spirit can proceed to deal with
the various emotional, intellectual and social issues which need to be addressed.
Notice how the world, however, is always occupied in dealing with peripheral
issues. The central problem, the issue of sin, is never addressed. People
talk for hours about their problems, about various emotional and social
issues, while they ignore the fundamental problem which is spiritual in
nature. The spiritual issues are what affect everything else.
Thus the Jews came to the synagogue in Antioch, ready to hear the word of
God spoken by Paul and Barnabas. They would hear that life was to be found
only in the Son, in Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews says in his letter:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets
in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in
His Son ( 1:1)
They came to hear the powerful word of God, so wonderfully described later
in the same letter in these words,
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any
two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit,
of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions
of the heart. (2:14)
When God speaks, whether in his word, or through a prophet, an apostle,
a pastor-teacher, no matter whom, his word cuts right through to the very
heart of things. That is why these people came o the synagogue-to hear the
word of God spoken.
As I studied for this message I remembered one evening a few years ago watching
a Billy Graham Crusade televised from Czechoslovakia. The announcer said
that the crusade was forbidden to meet in a building or any public arena,
and that no advertising of the meetings would be allowed. They were forced
to meet in a forest setting in wintertime, with several feet of snow on
the ground. The camera showed the scene. and there appeared to be no people
present. But then, as the camera panned, the trees seemed to be moving.
I watched fascinated as people came walking through the snow and the trees
to the meeting place. Next the camera focused on a little road nearby and
it too appeared black with people coming out to hear the word of God. Before
too long there were people everywhere, standing in the snow, ready to receive
the word of God. They came hoping to hear words of encouragement, so that
their souls might be refreshed by the light of Christ in the midst of the
darkness of their society.
The arrival of 'the whole city" to hear the word of God in Antioch.
however, had a negative effect on the Jews: it made them jealous, according
to the text. It seems that their message and the message of these visitors
from Jerusalem had a quite different content. The size of the crowd was
proof of that. The Jews didn't care about what was happening to their people
or what they were coming to hear; they were green with envy because so many
people came out to listen to Paul and Barnabas. A spirit of rivalry and
mistrust had arisen. The Jews never had this kind of a response to their
services before. They feared they were going to lose their flock to these
two strangers. Paul may have been thinking of this very occasion when he
wrote years later in his letter to the Romans,
I say then, they did not stumble as to fall, did they? May it
never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles,
to make them jealous. Now if their transgression be riches for the world
and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment
be! (Rom. 11:11)
God turned to the Gentiles because the Jews rejected the truth. That made
the Jews jealous. But the Gentiles will bring the gospel to Israel so as
to lead them back again to God. During the millenium, and certainly during
the time of the tribulation, many Jews will turn and confess Jesus Christ
When large crowds come out in response to a ministry of the word, jealousy
sometimes surfaces. I ministered in Walnut Creek as a young pastor and the
Lord began to develop a vital high school ministry so that the gymnasium
where we met was almost filled for each meeting. When word got around about
this. a pastor from another church said to me, "I notice that your
church has begun to attract a very large number of teenagers. Since we are
in the same presbytery, it seems only fair that you bus half of them to
my church." I pointed out to him that he was jealous of what was happening
in our church, that he was fostering a spirit of rivalry and mistrust. Needless
to say, I didn't order any buses.
Not only were the Jews in the synagogue jealous of the crowds that came
out to hear Paul and Barnabas, they began to contradict and revile the message
that was preached. I will list three of the possible contradictions they
felt the apostle was guilty of. First, his word in verse 23 of chapter 13,
where, referring to David, he says, "From the offspring of this man,
according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus . . . "
The problem the Jews had with this passage was that they were looking for
a triumphant Messiah, not a suffering Savior. They wanted a conquering son
of David who would break the yoke of Rome, subdue all nations, and reign
in glory on the throne in Jerusalem, bringing peace, prosperity and righteousness
to all nations who worshiped God. It is important to remember that that
concept is valid and Biblical. But Jesus disappointed them. The Jews expected
him to declare his kingly authority, expel the hated Romans in spectacular
display of invincible power, and assume the throne. His teaching was all
well and good, but they wanted actions, not words. When that didn't happen,
the best they would grant him was that he was a prophet, like Elijah, but
certainly not the Messiah they had hoped for. Despite the fact that Paul
had already demonstrated from Psalms 2 and 16 that Jesus was the Messiah,
they refused to believe what the apostle had said. Even today Jewish scholars
reject the New Testament affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah. Liberal
Judaism has abandoned belief in the coming of a personal Messiah. They anticipate
only the coming of a Messianic age, an era of world justice, peace and prosperity.
This they believe will be achieved by human effort and progress. with Israel
in the forefront, leading the way to the great era of understanding and
accord among the nations.
A second possible contradiction the Jews may have found with Paul's sermon
was his emphasis upon the cross, as set out in verses 28 and 29 of chapter
13: "And though they found no ground for putting him to death, they
asked Pilate that He be executed. And when they had carried out all that
was written concerning Him. they took Him down from the cross and laid Him
in a tomb . . . " They had the same problem Saul had before his conversion,
in light of the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, " . . . anyone who is
hanged on a tree is under God's curse." Jesus could not possibly be
the Messiah, they felt, because when he was crucified he was placed under
the curse of God. Any claim that he was the Messiah, therefore, was blasphemous.
Furthermore, those who chose to follow Christ must also be blasphemers,
they held, and so deserved to suffer the fate of revilers. Christians were
deluded fools, deceivers and impostors who went about deceiving others,
they charged. The story that Jesus rose from the dead was ridiculous because
the divine curse could not be reversed, they said.
Paul answers these objections in wonderful fashion in Galatians:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become
a curse for us for it is written, "Cursed is every one who hangs on
a tree" in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might
come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit
through faith. (Gal. 3:13, 14)
The apostle would have agreed with them that anyone who is hanged on a tree
is cursed of God. The difference with Jesus, however, was that when he was
crucified he was taking our place, incurring the curse that we justly deserved.
As a-result of his sacrifice, the door of salvation was opened to us.
A third contradiction the Jews would have found in Paul's sermon was his
position on the law of Moses, which is given in verse 38 and 39: "Therefore
let it be known to you, brethren. that through Him forgiveness of sins is
proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all
things, from which you could not be freed through the law of Moses."
That was the teaching that confounded them. They resented its implication
that forgiveness for sins is not found in doing works of law, but through
faith in Christ. Paul answers these objections also in his letter to the
We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles;
nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus,
that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the
Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified . . . for
if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly . .
. (Gal. 2:15, 16; 21)
These may have been some of the contradictions which the Jews found in Paul's
teaching in the synagogue in Antioch. Thus when the apostle and Barnabas
returned to find a packed house on the following Sabbath, the Jews, as the
text says, "began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were
blaspheming." Their actions demonstrated that they had rejected Jesus
as their Messiah. This rejection was nothing new to Paul and Barnabas. They
had already experienced a similar response by the Jews in Damascus and Jerusalem.
Paul was ready with his answer in the face of their rejection: "It
was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first.' he said.
"Salvation is of the Jews," Jesus said to the woman at the well
of Samaria. The Messiah would come from the Jews. The gospel was first preached
to the Jews, so that they in turn could bring it to the Gentiles. The gospel
is the power of God to both Jews and Gentiles, but it was the Jews who were
given the law, the temple and the prophets. They had first claim to the
New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Had they believed the word of God that
Jesus was the Messiah, they would have had the privilege of evangelizing
the Gentiles. But Paul had to witness, as had Jesus before him, the tragic
rejection of the gospel. We remember the heartrending words of our Lord
as he gazed over the city of Jerusalem,
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones
those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together,
the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling."
Since the Jews in Antioch had repudiated God's word, Paul said, and had
judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, both he and Barnabas were turning
to the Gentiles. Furthermore, since they had taken such a violent stand
against the truth of the word, Paul is saying, they had judged themselves
unworthy of eternal life. The Jews, of course, felt that the apostle was
referring to the hereafter, but we know that he was referring to the here
and now, to a relationship with Jesus Christ. You don't want eternal life,
he says, so we will offer it to the Gentiles. Had the Jews accepted God's
word, they would have had the joy of bringing the good news to the Gentiles,
in fulfillment of Isaiah's world mission, as outlined by the prophet. That
is why, Paul says, they were now turning to the Gentiles.
A Jewish friend asked me at lunch last week what I thought was the purpose
of the nation Israel. I felt I should have asked him why did God choose
Israel'? He did so. of course, because he wanted to bring salvation to you
and me and other Gentiles like us. If we placed our faith in Jesus as Savior,
we too could enter into the joy Israel experienced as a nation. My friend
is in the dark, unable to interpret life. He asked me a lot of questions:
What did I think about pornography? What did I think of TV evangelists?
etc. His own thinking was very fuzzy on many subjects because he did not
know the One who could shed light on all the affairs of men.
Thus was the gospel rejected by the Jewish leaders in the synagogue at Antioch.
Paul and Barnabas therefore decided to turn to the Gentiles and the God-fearers
II. The Gospel is Embraced by the Gentiles Acts 13:47-19
"For thus the Lord has commanded us, "I have placed
you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the
end of the earth.' " And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing
and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as had been appointed to
eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through
the whole region.
Here we see how clearly Paul understood his commission. The Lord had said
of him, "He is a chosen instrument of Mine to bear My name before the
Gentiles." These were the God-fearers and the pagan worshipers who
lived in Antioch. They were the uncircumcised who were excluded from the
commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, without God
and without hope. "For thus the Lord has commanded us," says Paul.
Here he quotes Isaiah 49:6: "I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles,
that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth." The Lord
God had commissioned Israel to this task, but they refused. God then commissioned
his Messiah to be the Light to the Gentiles, and now the torch is picked
up by Paul and Barnabas. In time, God's plan of redemption would be shared
with the Jews by the Gentiles and they would receive salvation. But now
the Gentiles have the light. They have been carrying it in every generation
and will continue to do so until our Lord comes again. Then, the Jews will
pick up the light and once more offer it to the world.
Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are the light that dispels
the darkness. If we do not grasp that we have no idea why we're here. In
Philippians Paul says.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may
be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst
of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in
the world . . .
That, in effect, is what Paul and Barnabas are saying to the Gentiles and
God-fearers in the synagogue in Antioch. It was now up to them to believe
in the gospel of Jesus Christ so that they would become the light that would
dispel darkness and bring truth by the Spirit of God to others.
All this was good news to the Gentiles present, in contrast to the angry
response of the Jews. The Gentiles rejoiced because they could have the
gift of eternal life and could be justified by faith rather than works of
law. They glorified the word of the Lord, being thankful for the truth which
they had heard. As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
They were enrolled by the Spirit of God in the book of eternal life. God
was choosing men and women who were dead in their trespasses and sins, enabling
them to see who he really was, and they were left with the responsibility
to choose him or reject him. That is a mystery that I don't understand.
When people come to know Jesus they are appointed to eternal life. I have
often said in my spirit, "I don't know how I got in, I don't know how
it happened, but I'm not going to mess with it. I'm in. And God promises
in the book of Revelation that if I'm in I can't get out."
As a result of what had occurred in the synagogue, the news spread beyond
the city. People's hearts were opened by the Spirit of God and they turned
to Jesus in faith. The rest is history. Life begets life. Wives told husbands,
husbands told children, masters told slaves, families told friends and neighbors.
The good news spread throughout the region, and soon the first church in
Turkey would be established in the city of Antioch.
I don't understand how all this works. Recently I visited a local restaurant,
wearing old jeans, an old baseball hat, and my old beard. A waitress came
up to me and said, "I'm new here, but I know who you are. Would you
be open to marrying me and my boyfriend'?" "I know who you are,"
she said. But I hadn't told her who I was. Before too long it was obvious
that she didn't care so much about a marriage ceremony; she wanted instead
to talk about her 12-year-old daughter. Various voices kept telling her
to let her daughter go, to treat her as though she's 18. I told her not
to do that. She said she had talked to some friend who told her she was
all wet, but the more she listened to me the more she thought I was right,
she said. What I said seemed to ring true for her. This woman is living
in darkness. I gave her a couple of books by Dr. Dobson and she was very
grateful for them. She asked if she. could come and talk with me again after
she had read them. And I just went to the restaurant to read the paper on
my day off! I went in disguise! But the word spreads. Life begets life.
People know where life is to be found. If you have Jesus Christ living within
you, then you are like stars in the universe, shining in a dark, dark sky.
You don't have to advertise by putting a sticker on your car. Take all that
stuff off. People know who you are.
When the Jews heard the good news in Antioch, they rejected it. The Gentiles,
however, received it. The result was that
III. The Gospel Divided the City, Acts 13:50-52
But the Jews aroused the devout women of prominence and the
leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their
feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were
continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
The Jews initiated a persecution against Christians in the city. Their leaders
were blinded by tradition, hatred, jealousy and envy. Their eyes were closed
to the light of the person and the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Light of
men. When they saw the number of people they would lose to the gospel, and
the fact that God was at work in their midst, they were concerned for their
own theology, power and position. It was simply too much for them. They
worked behind the social and political scenes and indirectly stirred up
some of the leading women in the city to protest. They also influenced some
of the city fathers, asking that charges be brought against these men who
worshiped another King, not Caesar. As a result, Paul and Barnabas were
forced to flee the city. Later, Paul would write to Timothy about the persecution
and suffering he and Barnabas experienced both in Antioch and Iconium. It
seems what happened at the synagogue involved more than just a shouting
match; they may also have been beaten. In protest, they shook the dust off
their feet, following Jesus' instructions in Matthew 10, and left.
While the Jews inherited spiritual death in Antioch, the new Christians
who had received the word were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. They
had come into eternal life. And although Paul and Barnabas left the city,
the Holy Spirit, of course. remained on to direct all these new disciples
in their new home churches. While the messengers could be beaten and silenced.
the message would continue to go forth.
Let us enjoy who we are in Christ! We are the light of the world because
he is in us. We will have the joy that was once Israel's---the joy of seeing
many saved out of every nation because the Spirit is at work within us.
We don't have to manipulate or intimidate people. We just have to show up,
like stars, to dispel the darkness. A woman said to my wife in a store the
other day, "I love the jacket you're wearing. You look so pretty."
She told me her name was Vera Mae. I thanked her for saying that to my wife.
and we had a great time talking to her. I think she's coming to live with
Everybody has a name! People don't talk to each other because they are living
in darkness. When you hear them talking up their philosophy, don't let them
get away with it. Tell them they sound fuzzy. Quietly challenge their half-truths.
Tell them they have some great ideas but they are lacking the complete message;
then fill it in for them. If you are shy and reluctant to do so it is because
you are depending on your flesh. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, depending
on the Spirit at work in them. Not rudely, but boldly. Speak without being
fearful, within the personality God has given you. You have the answers.
You have the life, the truth. The dark world needs just that life, truth,
and answers. People are caught in their sin, shame and guilt. They can't
interpret what is happening around them. "Are we having fun yet""
asks the bumper sticker. "No, we're not," they are saying, "this
can't be fun; it's killing me. Somebody's lying to me." The Christian
can say, "Exactly! The world is always lying."
We are living in the Age of the Spirit. God wants to use us as he did Paul
and Barnabas to pick up the torch of Isaiah 49:6 and live as the Light of
the good news of Jesus Christ to which we have been called so that we can
bring salvation. That is our calling. We are the light of the world, the
light of Jesus our Savior reflecting his love and forgiveness to the world
of darkness we once lived in and they still live in. What a privilege, what
a joy. what an opportunity, what a wonderful day to live in! The world is
dark, confused, helpless and hopeless. We have the word of God, the truth
of God, the word of God that offers the forgiveness of sins and the hope
of being justified by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.
Catalog No. 4036
Acts 13 :44-52
Ron R. Ritchie
April 5, 1987
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