April 24 sermon
Text: Acts 13:44-52
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
The Lord Sends His Gospel Where it Needs to Go
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ:
Martin Luther once compared the spreading of the Gospel to rain showers. It would go from place to place. This is a good description, but we don’t want to get the idea that there is a randomness to it. To us it may that way, but the Lord is very intentional. He sends the good news of a Savior to where it needs to go in order to gather in the elect. He uses means that we wouldn’t have thought of including using sinners as His messengers. This is our charge as believers – to lift high the banner of Christ and is doing so carry out His commission to take His saving message to the ends of the earth, starting where you are now. We may have confidence that the Lord will see to it that the Gospel will get where it needs to go. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive His message.
1. He uses people as His messengers
You might recognize verse 47 from the Song of Simeon which we generally sing after communion. I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth. It is a quotation from Isaiah 49, and in Luke 2 it is speaking of Jesus. How unusual, even blasphemous, it seems then that Paul uses it to refer to himself and Barnabas. In fact, this is true of all believers. We are a light to the world, and since we are spreading the news of Jesus we are salvation to the ends of the earth. Of course, we are not Saviors, but Jesus speaks through us to bring people to faith in Him.
This is God’s chosen form of communicating salvation to those in need. We don’t have time to study all the passages today (unless you want a 45 minute sermon), but it is established that God only works through the means of grace. That is to say that He works through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. There are no instantaneous conversions without the Gospel The Word of God, specifically the Gospel needs to be used. After the Bible was complete, this became the work of people to bring the message. This is both a terrific honor and responsibility. We can have the same confidence as Paul and Barnabas. Even in the face of rejection by many people we’re told that they grew bold.
Recall a couple of Sundays ago when we studied the conversion of Saul. He became a believer through the words of Jesus (one of the rare times He converted someone directly), and immediately he went out into synagogues and beyond and talked about Jesus. He didn’t quit his job. He continued to support himself as a tentmaker. From everything we can tell he never took a salary as an apostle, not that couldn’t have but he had his reasons. The point is that this working full-time in a secular job describes the vast majority of Christians. Yet that doesn’t exempt you from communicating the Gospel to others, In fact, you probably have more opportunities than a pastor who for the most part works with members of the congregation and you have a bigger network. We can relate everything in our life to the Savior and what he means to us. That is the work that God has laid before you.
2. Some will reject the message
Throughout the book of Acts we find that there mixed results. This was even true when Jesus spoke to people Himself throughout His three year ministry. In this case we found that the Jews who were initially receptive to what Paul was saying became envious of the fact that Paul and Barnabas were giving the same message of grace to the Gentiles. Verse 45, But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. What a shame. They thought they were special and that the Gentiles were undeserving of being on their level since they were God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. They didn’t think that the Gentiles should have their Messiah and the forgiveness that He brings.
This is a common trap that we can fall into as well. We may make assessments of who is deserving or not. We might think that only those who led godly lives, at least on the surface, are deserving and that open sinners wouldn’t believe what we have to say anyways. Or we may jealously guard what we have going on here and hunker down.
We’re told in verse 46 in speaking of these Jews, It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. Because they made that decision to reject the Gospel they brought put themselves in a position of spiritual condemnation. It doesn’t read that God judged them unworthy. They brought that on themselves and it would affect the next generation as well.
That’s a lesson for us. Don’t take God for granted because whether we reject Him in one fell swoop or gradually, or put Him off until another time, there will come a time where God will move on. In verse 51 we’re told that Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. The picture here is that the rejection was so complete that they didn’t even want to carry the dust from that area on their feet. Many things may seem more important than the Lord, but there is no greater priority than paying attention to the Word our Lord. Now is the time to be involved in His Word before He moves on.
3. Some are glad to hear it
On the other hand, what angered the Jews delighted the Gentiles. This was something new to them. They probably knew about the religion of the Jews but many were unaware that it applied to them. I would guess that many were unsatisfied with their idolatry because any work righteous religion brings unrest instead of peace. Something was missing from their lives. They found peace in Jesus for He gives the path to eternal life. He is the way to heaven through His work. We don’t ever have to worry if we have done enough because we are clothed in His robe of righteousness.
There is a parallel in our synod. Overall the CLC has been pretty stagnant when it comes to membership. We’ve remained at about 8000 or so members. If we would retain even half of our young people we would be growing. There is some apathy toward God and His word in America. On the other hand, our sister synods in places where there is massive idolatry are growing at a phenomenal rate. They have doubled in the last 10-15 years where now there roughly 60,000 souls that have been brought to Christ. Most are not from other branches of Christianity, but are being converted from idolatry.
But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities in our own backyard. I never got around to it, but I always wanted so survey Markesan and the surrounding area to see how many people have baptized. I think that you would be surprised. There are those who are caught up in alcohol and drugs or new age garbage that seems to be an enlightenment. A large number of people believe in evolution or are caught up in sinful notions about sex. These are our opportunities to become bold and proclaim the Word before the shower of the Gospel moves on from our country.
It is comforting to know that the Lord will get His Gospel where it needs to go. We read in verse 48: Now when the Gentiles heard this they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. In the 10th chapter of Romans we read, And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? To be a preacher is to proclaim. We have examples of the little slave girl in Syria that spoke to her master’s wife and Naaman was persuaded to go Israel to see the prophet Elisha for a leprosy cure. There he came in contact with the Word of God. There was the Samaritan woman at the well who very quickly spoke to her fellow villagers.
Consider what kind of God we have. He sends a Savior who dies for all people. He has declared the entire world not guilty and then makes that verdict yours personally. He gives this salvation as a gift not demanding a sacrifice from us because Jesus has taken care of that, the innocent for the guilty. It took great love to do that. He then sends that Gospel through us in order to reach those who are appointed to eternal life. This is our gracious God and why we prepare to give an answer for the hope that is within us. Amen.