Thoughts on Acts 13:44-52

hikeSummers at The Table are usually thin.  We’re a community that likes to get out.  So, one way we are staying united over the summer is in prayer.  As we’re all out and about, we are still together.  In this, we’ve been individually praying for five folks or so.  And to help us consider how we can bless our friends, we’ve been studying Acts 13.  And the question we’ve been asking is: Why are we on missions?

So far in Acts 13, we’ve seen that we’re on mission, because we’re called by God.  It’s His idea, and He goes before us. We’re called to preach words of life, to share good news that’s good.  And as we’ll discover here, we’re called to help bring salvation and peace, and that God is for us and not against us, that’s He’s for our friends and not against them.

 

Text

Our text is Acts 13:44-52.  Acts 13:44-52 continues the scene of the 1st proactive mission trip of the early church.  The church in Antioch was praying (v. 1-5), and God called them to send Paul and Barnabas to preach the good news of Christ to the non-Jewish world.  This was their calling.  When things got tough, they would have remembered that moment, knowing that this was God’s plan for them and that He went before them.  This calling was the anchor of their ministry.

In the passage right before this we saw Paul preaching this gospel in a synagogue.  The people there heard his message and received it well. The good news was so good to them they invited Paul back the following week to speak again.  This is where our passage begins, with Paul and Barnabas continuing their message. Acts 13:44-52:

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. 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 Jewish leaders 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 off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Here we see that after preaching the week before, more people have gathered to hear the word of God. Things were going well until Paul and Barnabas were confronted with opposition.  The Jews of the city did not agree with what they heard, and were jealous. And so they speak up and attack Paul.  Paul then counters their opposition, first stating that by their own actions, these Jews have rejected the words of life.  Then Paul points to scripture, showing that what he and Barnabas are doing is actually God’s plan, His idea. Paul mentions Isaiah 42:6, which speaking of Jesus says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  In other words, when they faced opposition, Paul went back to his calling from God. From the outset, God’s salvation and heart has been for ALL people. And it was His calling on Paul and Barnabas to help make this a reality.  If these people disagreed with Paul, they were disagreeing with scripture.

The people hearing Paul that day, most of them non-Jewish, receive this with great excitement.  But why would they rejoice at these words?   They would rejoice because they discovered that God was for them not against them.  This was good news to them, and this was different than what they had heard.  Both pagan and Jewish faiths required these people to work to get salvation.  But the good news of Jesus is that the gift of His salvation is for ANYONE and EVERYONE who believes, because God is for us and not against us. As a result of this message, we’re told the word of God spreads.  This is the bottom line.  God is using Paul and Barnabas to fulfill His mission of expanding His kingdom.

This did not excite the Jewish leaders, however. Unable to defeat them and convince the people, the these leaders call upon allies in power to expel Paul and Barnabas.  We’re told these people were elite God fearing women and the leading men of the city.  One commentator says these women were the Jewish wives of the city magistrates that convinced their husbands that Paul and Barnabas needed to get out of town.  Either way, Paul and Barnabas were forced out by folks who did not see the good news as good news.  They did not believe that God was for the people.  Perhaps it could be said that these folks believed that God was only for those who were like them, folks who shared their beliefs, their politics, their opinions.

IS THIS NOT OUTSIDE OF THE REALM OF POSSIBILITES FOR US TOO? For me that’s a warning.  It’s a warning to keep the main thing the main thing, to keep Jesus at the center of my prayer for folks, at the center of my opinions and how I share them.  If this goes unchecked, the good news gets skewed.  The good news moves from how God is for us, to how God is only for those who are like us.

So Paul and Barnabas are forced to leave.  They shake off the dust of their sandals as a warning. This was a practice of foreign Jews entering the Holy Land.  They did it so they wouldn’t defile the Holy Land with foreign dirt.  So Paul and Barnabas do this to declare that those opposing them were no better than pagans.[1]

But these guys don’t leave angry. It says, they are filled with joy. To me this shows us that they were keeping the main thing the main thing.  They were staying focused on their calling and mission.  They had joy on 2 grounds.[2]  1st, the Gentiles were being included into the blessing of eternal life. And 2nd, the good news was spreading in the area.  And so, they move on to continue their work.

 

Good News

I see huge parallels between this passage and our context.  In this prayer season at The Table we are reigniting a paradigm of mission. We are on the offensive.  We are being proactive.  We are advocating for our friends, blessing them with our prayers.  Like Paul and Barnabas, we are on mission to help in bringing salvation.  We are called by God in this and He goes before us.  We are called to preach words of life, and to share good news that’s good.

The good news is that God’s salvation is for all.  His peace is for all who believe.  It’s a gift.  The good news is that God is for us.

 

Difference

Knowing God is for us, we can rest in peace.  His peace defies the chaos and fear in our lives and in the lives of those we are praying for.  That’s exactly what I’ve been praying for one of my five folks.  My friend’s paradigm of the world is one of fear, that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  It’s a paradigm without hope, one of distrust and anxiety.  Simply put He needs Jesus.  He needs the peace of JC.  I imagine how his life would be different if suddenly the peace of Christ saturated His life.  Imagine the change that could occur.  Imagine if his life was rooted in the reality that God is a God of redemption, that God is redeeming His creation.

That’s what I pray for all of us, for all these we’re praying for, that the peace of Jesus would reign in all aspects of our lives, and that peace would drift off of us like a refreshing mist in the heat, refreshing those we meet.  I think that’s worth praying for. I think that’s worth longing for and looking forward to. I think that’s worth believing in.

God is for us.  He’s for those we pray for, and this is good news!

Amen.



[1] David Williams. New International Biblical Commentary: Acts. p. 240

[2] Ibid., p. 241

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