As a child I was taught to keep my eyes open and my mouth closed. Naturally for a little farm boy, always outside exploring, talking to imaginary friends as I played Tarzan, climbing from one tree branch to the next, keeping my mouth shut was an impossibility. As the years went by and I grew up into a teen, I tended to speak against what I felt was wrong. By the time I was an adult and married, someone gave me a wise bit of advice. He said … “Choose your fights.” Although I failed at times I have never forgotten this and have taught this to younger people. In Gospel Ministry it is not always possible to choose your fights! Sometimes the fight you don’t want comes to you and you need to tackle it … and tackle it head on … but how you do this is extremely important because you are God’s servant and at all times you want and need to honor Him, seeking to bring Him glory in all you do. Let’s see how Paul and Barnabas respond to the onslaught from the Jews at Pisidian Antioch’s synagogue.
Ac 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “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. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
1) God often uses an attach upon His Gospel and His Church for His glory and good. We might cringe and be filled with much anger when other religions or groups attack the Gospel without even knowing the Real Gospel. The results might be persecution, hardship and even death for His people but in the end, God is the one glorified. I think back to the attack on St. James Church, Cape Town on 25 July 1993 when four members of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army caused a massacre with eleven people dying and 53 wounded, some extremely seriously. God used this to draw the congregation together in love and forgiveness, as well as to draw many into the Church to experience the Gospel lived out by the congregation. We shall see later how God used this episode of blasphemy against Paul and Barnabas for Kingdom good. How did the missionaries respond to this attack?
2) They used boldness. They did not walk away or even run away. They did not stop talking about Jesus. They did not change their message or water it down. There was no retreat! In fact … they become bolder. This meant they believed in the Gospel they preached so much that they were not afraid of their reputation, image, possible danger as in beatings or even losing their lives. They were courageous, fearless and because of the Holy Spirit indwelling, they were authoritative. They stood their ground. But note they did not use the wicked tactics of their accusers! As God’s people we know without any doubt we have the Truth. His Spirit has birthed us into His Kingdom. We are born twice so we do not fear those who attack, nor do we use attacking language. We use love, prayer and forgiveness. Our desire is that these attackers be saved … this is why our response is done in love and with love. Their boldness was followed by …
3) They reminded their attackers that Truth was used. “We had to speak the word of God to you first. The missionaries used the Word of God. We saw this when Paul started to preach the previous week. He used the Old Testament starting with their forefathers (The Writings of Moses), moving to Isaiah, Psalms and Habakkuk. He did this to prove Messiah Jesus was spoken about and promise in the Old as he preached the Gospel. I was at a funeral today and although the preacher said he was keeping everything about Jesus, the Gospel he presented at the end was so weak, any non-Christian would think Christianity was not worth it! We need to be bold and loving but we need to preach the Word of God and unless sinners are called to repentance and commitment we have failed in our task. So they presented the Truth and they kept to Jesus’ instruction. Jews first … and that is what they did … but these Jews who rejected the Gospel were only Jews in name and religion, not in heart. Our duty as Christians is to evangelize the Church first. How can we go and bring new people into our Church when the Church is full of un-Believers already? They might be baptized, confirmed and Church members … and possibly serving … but if they are spiritually dead they will affect and influence those we bring in and try to save. The Church must be radically different to the world!
4) They pointed out rejection was opted for. By their behavior and blasphemy against the Gospel they were saying they rejected the Lord Jesus, God’s Messiah. They were given first option … they chose first refusal. Look what they refused and how they refused … Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life. They refused eternal life. They refused forgiveness of sins. They refused to be redeemed. They refused reconciliation with God. They refused the Holy Spirit’s work of grace bringing new life. They refused God’s Messiah … and Paul says this means they consider themselves unworthy of eternal life. Wow! How damning! By themselves, their refusal, they considered themselves as unworthy of God’s free gift of eternal life! This is mind blowing! Yes? The same is true today with so many who hear the Gospel message. They feel they are unworthy to receive salvation so decide to live in sin and follow the world, led by the devil all the way to eternal hell! Refusing the Gospel means believing you are unworthy of God’s free grace and choose hell instead! What will it take to arrest the souls of such people? Many of them are nice folk. They are loving, family, community people adding value to others, yet they are as stubborn and as hard hearted as these Jews. What will it take to change their hearts? Our prayers for God to send His Spirit to arrest them, holding them captive in agony until they understand their wickedness and surrender their all to Jesus to live under His Lordship and Reign.
O God, You who searches all hearts and minds, graciously visit our hearts and Churches and where You find hard hearts, resistant to the Gospel … please soften us and change us to fall at Your feet in repentance, faith and surrender to follow Jesus as Lord. Amen.