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Responding to Different Reactions to the Gospel

July 23, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 13:42–52

Responding to Different Reactions to the Gospel – Acts 13:42–52

PRAY & INTRO (Review)

We’ve noted in the past that what might be most tricky thing about understanding and applying Acts to our own lives is determining what it descriptive and what it prescriptive. Said another way, what specific details are unique to their Apostolic ministry in the earliest days of the New Covenant church, and what things are patterns and examples that we can and should follow as Christ’s church in the 21st century?

So we interpret and apply Acts with that balance and nuance in mind, which corresponds to our emphasis last week even as we looked more closely at the quotations Paul uses from the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call OT) and how he uses them in connection to one another and as fulfilled in Christ.

We applied his handling of the word to the way we should interpret Scripture, and therefore also to the way we should use Scripture in evangelism and teaching. To that end we highlighted three key things that might help us to know what God is saying and to have confidence to say what God says: context of a particular passage, within the whole cannon Scripture, and with an eye on the centrality of Christ in the message of God’s word. Because we ourselves cannot be the Apostles and NT authors, we should cling even more closely to this pattern:

What we say God means must have roots in the original context. What we say God means must hang together with other Scripture. What we say God means must account for the Christocentric message of God’s word.

The previous week before that emphasis, we took the whole missionary message Paul preached on this occasion, the pattern of Paul’s evangelistic approach, as a means to evaluate and improve our own gospel proclamation.

In Evangelism:

  1. We should take care to know our audience as best we can, because although the overall message of salvation is the same, the presentation is impacted by what the person knows and doesn’t know, believes and doesn’t believe.
  2. Rehearse the narrative of Scripture to give appropriate context for who God is and who we are and why Jesus came. (The narrative of Scripture reveals God’s initiative, his faithfulness, his holiness, his choosing, his promises; while showing man’s sin/depravity, man’s dependence, man’s need. It teaches us to fear God and to see our need for him, and it reveals Jesus as the only solution.)
  3. Be as specific and complete as we can about the person and work of Christ: his life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection. (This should include explaining why it was necessary, and that what has happened since then is precisely because Jesus is who God says he is.)
  4. From beginning to end, the truth of God’s own word is our primary tool in evangelism. (Memorize it, summarize it, and quote it. Consider having the person you are witnessing to read the words themselves. When you use the Scriptures, you are letting God speak to them for himself.)
  5. Whether it takes multiple opportunities over time or if we have only one shot, our goal must be to put a choice before our hearers: to accept or reject Christ. (Invite them to make a decision, whether to accept or reject Jesus. We don’t try to manipulate that response because we can’t do the Holy Spirit’s work that only God can do. But we must aim to faithfully and clearly proclaim the gospel and present that God requires a decision.)

Now when we proclaim the gospel faithfully, there could be a range of potential reactions: indifference, enthusiasm, curiosity, confusion, contradiction, hostility, or sincere repentance and acceptance. This mix of possible reactions might lead us to wonder how we ought to respond to these things. Let’s look at how Paul and Barnabas handle the various reactions to their gospel proclamation in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch.

Acts 13:42–52 ESV

42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

True to chapter 13 establishing the patterns of this first missionary endeavor, the author provides the reader with another couple patterns: There is a continuing trend of broad Jewish rejection (and even hostility). This is not unanimous among all Jews; some respond to Christ. But the overall pattern is similar to what Christ himself experienced. Juxtaposed to this then is an increasing focus on, and evidence of, Gentile inclusion into the people of God through faith in Christ.

Against that backdrop, the text gives us a sampling of common reactions to evangelism, and how these missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, respond to each reaction. From the example of Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch, how might we respond to the way others are reacting to the gospel?

How might we respond to  initial  enthusiasm to gospel proclamation? (vv. 42-44)

(things like curious interest, popular attention, or even initial following)

What makes me conclude that there was significant enthusiasm? - the people begged (asked earnestly for) them to speak about this more the following Sabbath, and many Jews and devout converts (proselytes to Judaism) followed Paul and Barnabas, and the next Sabbath almost the whole city was there. That sounds like pretty enthusiastic initial reception to the message, the word about God’s fulfillment in Christ.

So how do we respond if something similar were to occur with us when we faithfully do what God has called us to and proclaim the gospel?

With cautious optimism, we urge  continuation  in the grace of God.

- Continue: Gk prosmenō means to remain, to stay with, to keep on or continue on. The idea is to remain firm and steadfast in one’s association with someone or something.

- Theologically we would argue agreement with the following statement by John MacArthur about this verse: “Those who are truly saved persevere and validate the reality of their salvation by continuing in the grace of God.” (MacArthur Study Bible)

-There is indeed a risk of intellectual assent or emotional enthusiasm … Our brain might comprehend the truths of the gospel, but our hearts might not submit to the Lord Jesus as God’s only means of being restored to him. We might get excited at the prospect of “Jesus changes everything” language, or be emotionally caught up in the apparent revival in the hearts of others around us, but not be yet utterly convinced that without Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection life, I am as far from God and from being “good” as I can possibly be.

So we keep on proclaiming truth, like Christ commanded: “and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:20) In the process of doing this, the false ones will be made known, because they will fall away under testing. Jesus explained to his disciples about the parable of the sower that some only respond initially in this shallow way. Listen especially for the second soil type:

Luke 8:11–15 ESV

11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

So we are cautiously optimistic, because we know God changes people, even as he has made us alive in Him, but we urge those who claim faith to continue in the grace of God. - Will the newborn be almost immediately galloping like a same-day colt (even clumsily)? No. But will the reborn bear the marks of the new birth? Yes, absolutely.

Now this popular attraction to Paul and Barnabas and their message of Christ sparks another reaction, so we ask…

How might we respond to  jealous  opposition to gospel proclamation? (vv. 45-47)

The Jews were jealous because they saw the crowds.

So they started both contradicting Paul and slandering him. The logical fallacy of ad hominem, attacking the person, never slows people down from doing it.

(So what if we experience others contradicting the gospel which we know is God’s truth, including for them; even resorting to reviling us?) - Recall what happened to Elymas the magician on Cyprus in the beginning of ch. 13. ;-) - As a normal practice, we do not aim to be like the Sons of Thunder (James & John) who want to call down fire from heaven to consume Christ’s detractors. (Luke 9:52-54)

With bold confidence in God, we can  confirm  what is true and clarify our calling in Christ.

The first part of their response is “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you.” - God’s salvation not only comes through Israel, but it is also offered to them first. (cf. Rom 1:16) The Jews are nearest in proximity to the gospel of Jesus Christ in every way.  Although it is sad, Paul & Barnabas boldly point out that their hearers are rejecting God’s salvation. And they emphasize their responsibility for such: Because you push away/thrust aside (= reject) and consider yourselves as not worthy of eternal life… that’s confirming the hard truth.

In our historical context, we may proclaim Christ with people who are near in the sense of have lived their whole lives in the Bible belt, or actually fellowshipping in churches, or even growing up in sincerely Christian households. - In such situations, how might we confirm the truth for ourselves and for others when they seem to me more about opposing God’s word than submitting to him? If you reject Christ, I will love you still because I have Christ in me, and because this is not about me. But out of love I can tell you also the result of your rejection. I can warn you about the outcome and I can warn you that you may not have other opportunities for repentance. 

Behold (look, indeed), we are turning to the Gentiles. (This can’t be understood as Paul saying they’ll no longer preach to Jews, because they continue to do so in new places. And he had also preached to Gentiles before this. - But the overall patterns remain the point.

If we need to respond in a similar manner, this allows a person to see why you might need to redirect your efforts because of their rejection. - Again, from the love of Christ in me, I can also be honest and say that your stubborn resistance leads me to the conclusion that I would be wise to invest more gospel energy elsewhere, with others. I love you and will pray for you and may in God’s providence be available to you again, but for now, I am moving on.

[By doing this, we are confirming what is true as well as confirming out calling in Christ.]

To reinforce their calling in this context, Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6. [reread that quote in v. 47] - Paul puts their missionary calling in the context of what Israel’s responsibility was as God’s uniquely chosen people group. Paul now applies that to the church and to their ministry in particular, corresponding to Christ’s command and explanation at his conversion. Paul was called not only to suffer for the Lord Jesus, but also to have a unique role in the expansion of the gospel in the Gentile world of his day.

We too understand that our calling in Christ extends beyond our temporal, physical comfort, and we commit ourselves to be Christ’s instruments so that some of us may be sent out to proclaim Christ beyond the boundaries of our church community. There are yet places where the truth of God’s revelation of himself and his plan of restoration through Jesus is not near to them in any sense. So we must go to them. We must also begin to see that the increasing secularization around has led to a greater degree of Biblical illiteracy, meaning that people are more distant from understanding God’s word and their need for Jesus. So we must approach them accordingly.

And there will be some, both in our midst and more distant from God, who will in fact respond to God’s offer through Jesus Christ of being made right with him.

How might we respond to  sincere  reception of the Lord Jesus Christ? (vv. 48-49)

Even in the midst of some predominant rejection and what would turn to hostility, Paul & Barnabas got to experience the amazing power of God’s grace and work through his Spirit to save some. Here in Pisidian Antioch, it is especially the Gentiles who hear this great news of being invited into God’s family through Jesus, and who are converted. So they rejoice and glorify the word of the Lord (praising God, exalting him for his truth revealed).

[repeat question]

With astonishment and admiration for God’s work through his word, we  worship  God.

Do you know the joy of trusting Christ and being adopted as God’s child? (I am his, and he is mine… forever!) And do you experience the magnitude of appreciation welling up inside you like a tidal wave that boasts in God’s magnificence, his glory and grace, revealed? (Wow, God. I know it is true because you have said it, and you have made it real in my own life. I know this is about you and not about me, God, but in your grace your have brought me into that grace. Wow, God.)

“and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”… putting their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Savior, their Lord.

Maybe you are one who has come to love the sovereignty of God in salvation and are enthusiastic about it (even to the point of being annoying at times? ;-)) because you know that it is a more accurate reflection of who God is, which is always good and right for our hearts. So you worship God for appointing you to eternal life.

But maybe you're someone who is yet wrestling with the Biblical concept of predestination because you feel like it’s hard to reconcile God’s choosing with your own real experience of will and choosing. I mean, we know that Adam had a choice to obey God and chose wrongly. If you want to differentiate that as being before sin entered the world (ironically through that choice), then just consider the countless other choices made wrongly and sometimes rightly from the wills of man deciding whether or not to trust and therefore obey God. Even as believers, we choose to submit to the Spirit or walk in the flesh. We know this freedom God has given us is real.

Maybe it would help you to know, then, as RC Sproul explained in his days of ministry about election (God choosing us), that God can be sovereign in salvation and yet use the agency of drawing a man in submission to him, so that he comes willingly. - You are not a robot, but the Bible declares that you are depraved in such a way that you would not come of your own accord. God therefore takes the initiative to put a new Spirit within in you, drawing you to himself in such a way that you come willingly, because he has taken your blindness and given you sight... of his goodness and grace and glory. So you aren’t dragged to Jesus; no, you rush to weep and kneel at this feet in repentant worship, and you eagerly embrace him in a faith that loves him dearly.

I hope you find that understanding somewhat helpful. Ultimately though, we must remember that we take God at his word and trust him. We do not trust in our ability to logically explain God. Now, of course, God will not be illogical (cannot be). But the problem is in my limits of logic, not His! (Alas, we must move on.)

Again, the point is a response of worship because we are floored and overwhelmed with God’s character and work through his word. So also to this point: What was spreading throughout the whole region? The word of the Lord, the gospel of God fulfilling his promises in Christ Jesus, offering forgiveness of sin and freedom from the righteous requirement of the law—Jesus as the only means to right standing before God, providing right relationship to God.

You just stand back in admiration and astonishment at God, who makes the word of Jesus Christ to advance in people’s hearts even amidst a raging storm of rejection and hostility.

So that leads to our final question about our responses to different reactions when we proclaim the gospel.

How might we respond to ‘ effective ’ persecution that causes us to move on? (vv. 50-52)

This is a Gentile city, so the jealous Jewish leaders get influential Gentiles on their side to stir up persecution against Paul & Barnabas. It sounds like the method used is to get some God-fearing women (which means they would be proselytes and associate closely with the synagogue) who are also prominent. They in turn have influence with the Gentile leading men of the city. (This power of a woman doesn’t surprise men or women in this audience. I’m refraining from any other jokes or commentary that could get me into trouble.)

And this tactic proves effective, and the missionaries are driven out of the district. We ask ourselves too about how to respond if persecution is effective enough that, at least for a time, we have to move on.

We trust God with a clear conscience and continue proclaiming the gospel,  entrusting  those we must leave behind into God’s care.

What do Paul & Barnabas do? They follow a practice that Jesus gave his disciples during his earthly ministry when he sent them out two by two into the cities and towns ahead of where he would be going. If people did not receive them, they were to shake the dust of their feet and move on.

The reason the missionaries apply it here is because shaking the dust of their feet is a symbolic expression of “testimony against them.” (Lk 9:5, Mk 6:11) Shaking the dust off their feet indicates that one has done all that can be done in a situation and therefore carries no further responsibility for it. (able to have a clear conscience) And shaking the dust off their feet is, in effect, saying that those who reject God’s truth would not be allowed to hinder the furtherance of the gospel. (this will not hinder me from continuing to share the gospel to others)

Even while shaking the dust off their feet, it must have been exceedingly difficult to leave behind the believers, most of them undoubtedly very recent converts. - Christ’s followers are not like sea turtles, who hatch from an egg and are completely on their own, making their way across the treacherous sand to the treacherous sea for such a young creature. No, we nurture and welcome into community these infants in the faith, seeking to see them raised up to maturity alongside the whole community as it grows together in faithfulness to God. (cf. Eph 4:12-13)

Paul & Barnabas would have wanted to invest more time in teaching them, to see them grow to greater maturity. Perhaps the future would yet afford the opportunity. But they would have to trust God. And they would have left some who could stay to act as servant leaders of the young church.

So the passage ends on this hopeful and encouraging note: “And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” What an encouragement that must have been to these two missionaries, to see the faithful fruit of God among these people whom they would have to leave behind so soon. But not too soon, because they trust the providence of God and the care of God for Christ’s own church.

[Conclusion] Well, there’s no space in this sermon for a lengthy conclusion. (And who’s fault is that, you ask? We mercifully lack the time for pointing fingers. :-))

So we’ll wrap up with this overarching thought: The prospect of gospel proclamation seems to be that we depend on God and aim to be faithful, while trusting God with all of it. We trust God knowing that Jesus said this would happen, we trust God that he sees our faithful efforts, and we trust God that people’s souls are within the scope of his sovereign will.

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