A sermon delivered May 15, 2022 to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week four in the series “Acts & Eastertide.”
Think of some of the most awkward experiences you’ve had in church. If you’ve been a Christian for long, you’ve had one or two. But it probably wasn’t as bad as the ending in Acts 13 this morning. We’re looking at the fallout of St. Paul’s preaching in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch. And, as Matt Whitman puts it in YouTube channel “The Ten Minute Bible Hour,” this is the account of the time when Paul “ruined the vibe” at their church. In fact, it gets so bad that by the end of Acts 13, Paul and his companions are being escorted out of the district, probably by the local police.
We remember that we’re focused on the message of the Resurrection, the mission of the church, and the mission of our church. What can learn this morning?
God’s people are blessed to be a blessing, chosen in Christ for the salvation of the world (v. 44-47)
I want you to see the dynamic of what’s happening in the synagogue. Paul says in Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
That was his principle – the Jew first and then everyone else. And we see him doing that here. Remember that in his sermon he focuses on Jesus as the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel – the faithfulness of God to an unfaithful people. And now, almost the “whole city” is gathered on the following sabbath to hear more! Quite an event!
And what happens? The Jewish leadership in the synagogue gets cranky. Jealous. There’s a what are you doing with our building kind of attitude. In response, Paul says essentially, “Fine! If you won’t receive the message of eternal life in Christ, we will take it to those who will.” And he quotes from Isaiah 49:6 to back this up. “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Now, that’s a passage about God’s suffering servant – Jesus. It’s a messianic passage. But the irony is that the leadership of the synagogue, devoted as it was to the study of God’s word, should have recognized the truth of what Paul spoke. They should have recognized that the God who rescued, chose them, put up with them, blessed them, and made them fruitful was a God who intended to bless the whole world through his Son. That’s what so painful about Acts 13. The people who are on the inside of God’s work in history and world show themselves to be on the outs. Paul says in Romans 9:1-2, probably because of experiences like this, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
- Now let me take it home. In a similar way, we have been blessed with Christ Jesus so that we might be a blessing to others. We have been chosen in Christ so that others might come to know him, too. That’s what was missing that day amongst the synagogue leadership! The fact that the heart of our God is the heart of a missionary. He has reached us, that others might be reached, too. “That salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Appointed to eternal life, believing, evangelists! (vs. 48-49)
And that’s exactly what begins to happen. The Gentiles hear the preaching of Paul, that “everyone who believes [in Christ] is freed [justified] from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (v. 39) What the Law could not do for them, the Gospel did. These would have been the “God-fearers,” Gentiles who were in the synagogue, but seen as not fully part of the Jewish nation.
But now comes the Good News – they are appointed! Note the connection in verse 48. One the one hand, they were appointed to eternal life. Their faith didn’t begin with them, but with God. On the other hand, how they were appointed? By believing. If you believe in Christ, you are appointed. And, eternal life requires believing on Christ.
But then look what happens – in verse 49 the word of the Lord spreads through the whole region through their witness. In the words of I. Howard Marshall, “Converts are meant to be evangelists.” (The Acts of the Apostles, pg. 231) As the Gentiles are delivered and reconciled and justified with the true and living God, it spreads!
- One of the lessons here for us is that is that the normal response to the gospel should be the willingness to share it with others! In fact, if you don’t really believe that the Gospel is necessary for eternal life, you’ll never be a good evangelist like these Gentiles were.
It should seem wildly inappropriate to us to have any other response to the light of the Gospel other than wanting to see more light in other lives. Friends, as we talk about mission this Eastertide, let those of us in Hagerstown remember that we are not done! All you have to do is show up on a Wednesday morning, come minister at the soup kitchen, come walk with us as people approach us for prayer and help, and you will know that there is still much darkness in our community that needs to lightened by Jesus. We here need to be reinvigorated in our gospel mission, too, this Easter. As we talk about Frederick and Chambersburg, be assured that we are not a shelf!
Paul writes in Colossian 1:13-14 that “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” For these Gentiles, the gospel was nothing less than a deliverance from darkness into light. May it be that for us, too, and may it spur us on to faithfulness in our common mission with the church of Acts.
The Content of the Gospel (vs. 48-49, 52)
Next, note the content of the gospel. First, let’s talk about what Paul did not preach. He didn’t preach a gospel of felt needs and personal problems. Certainly the gospel speaks into those, but that wasn’t Paul’s approach. He also didn’t preach a gospel of personal opinion or what was helpful for him – he didn’t get caught in that trap. Author Ajith Fernando writes:
“The Gentile converts in Antioch did not view Christianity only as an answer to some earthly personal problems of theirs. If that was their attitude, the expulsion of the missionaries from the city would certainly have taken away their joy.” (Acts: NIVAC, page. 390)
Instead, Paul preached Christianity as the truth revealed from God in Jesus for the whole world. Paul preached Jesus as the centerpiece of world history. We need to recapture that objectivity in our day. You know what’s great about that? What’s great is that you don’t have to take rejection of the Gospel by others personally! You can simply be faithful to Jesus and leave the rest to him. That’s all that’s needed.
Shaking the Dust Off & Planting the Seed (vs. 49, 51)
Look at how the passage ends in verse 51. St. Paul and his companions are thrust out of the city and move on. Don’t miss the meaning here. I. Howard Marshall writes:
“It was customary for Jews to shake off the dust of a pagan town from their feet when they returned to their own land, as a symbol of cleansing themselves from the impurity of sinners who did not worship God. For Jews to do this to their fellow Jews was tantamount to regarding the latter as pagan Gentiles.” (The Acts of the Apostles, pg. 231)
But because it wasn’t about them, they didn’t have to be belligerent and they didn’t have to put up a fight. They were willing to let God be God and move on.
But look at verse 49 again: “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” The good seed had planted in Pisidian Antioch, and that’s what mattered. Remember the Parable of the Sower from our Lord: 75% of the seed sown doesn’t bear good fruit, but the 25% of seed that does is super-abundant. This is how the dynamic of the Kingdom works in this age. The apostles didn’t have to force it – that wasn’t their job. But the joyous seed of salvation in Christ took root and left the beginnings of a church at Pisidian Antioch.
- In the mission of church, there will be many, many times when we must be content to shake the dust from our feet and simply move on, praying for the seed we’ve planted to bear fruit another day. But bear fruit it will.
Almighty Savior, who at mid-day called your servant Saint Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles: We pray you to illumine the world, and our communities, with the radiance of your glory, that all nations may come and worship you; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.