Sermon on Acts 13:44-52
Text: 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.
On Tuesday morning, as I was doing some work in the office, the electricity blinked. It only lasted a second, but it was enough to shut down my computer and make all of the clocks blink. It was very annoying. That was just a momentary loss of power. We have all experienced a longer period of time when the electricity is off. When it happens at night, we reach about in the dark to find some source of light. How thankful we are when we turn on that flashlight or light that candle. Now we can see what is going on. There is a sense of relief, because the light has pierced the darkness. The Bible often makes use of that picture of light and dark. In our text for this morning, as the apostle Paul addresses the crowd in Antioch, he quotes from the book of Isaiah. We make use of that quote as the theme of our sermon, “I HAVE MADE YOU A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES.” We are reminded to 1. Let Christ Shine Where You Are and to 2. Let Christ Shine Where You Will Be.
Our text for this morning takes place a week after the events of last week’s sermon. Paul and Barnabas had attended a service in the local synagogue. They were asked to speak to those who were assembled. Paul, as he addressed the people, pointed to Jesus as the fulfillment of all of those Old Testament prophecies that they were familiar with. Paul, also, told them about Jesus’ resurrection. The message that Paul gave that day, through the working of the Holy Spirit had an effect. We read in verse 44, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” What previously might have been a sleepy synagogue was now a standing room only auditorium. All had gathered to hear more from Paul about Jesus.
The devil could not let this success go unchallenged. We read in verse 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.” First of all, the Jews were filled with jealousy when they saw the large crowds. Paul and Barnabas had been there only one week and already the entire city was coming to here them. There was more to it than just being jealous of the crowds. They saw the crowd’s devotion to the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ rather than the holy law of Moses. They believed that the way to eternal life was by observing the law. They felt that God’s honor was being attacked. They were zealously trying to guard the law of Moses. What they failed to recognize was that the law was given to point humanity’s complete lack of ability to be perfect and the need of a Savior. The gospel that Paul proclaimed pointed to that Savior.
Paul and Barnabas addressed the Jews by saying, “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.” (Verse 46) Paul and Barnabas began their teaching by going to the Jewish people. It was to their nation that the Messiah had been promised. However, in their devotion to the law, the Jews rejected the word of God. As a result, Paul said, they would now turn their attention to the Gentiles. As proof of the fact that Paul had fulfilled his duty to the Jews here and that he had a God-given duty to the Gentiles there in Antioch and beyond, Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6, “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.’” (Verse 47) In this verse from Isaiah, the Lord spoke of the coming Messiah’s work. This work would be so wonderful and encompassing that its benefits could not be limited to just one nation. The coming Messiah would be the light of salvation, not just for Israel, but for all people.
God gives us an insight into the effectiveness of their message. We read in verse 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.” The Gentiles rejoiced in the fact that a door, which had previously been open only a crack, was wide open to them. Those who had been chosen by God before the creation of the world were brought to faith and were saved.
By God’s grace this wonderful light of salvation has also shined on us. We were born lost in the darkness of sin. We were hopelessly lost. There may have been thoughts that we could, in one way or another, find our way out of the darkness, but each and every attempt would always lead to the same place. It would lead to destruction. However, our loving God did not want us to wander about, hopelessly lost. So, he sent his Son into the world. Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He came into the world to bring light, to lead us out of the darkness. To do this, he had to come to the earth to be our Substitute. He lived the life that we cannot live. Then, to pay for our sins, he plumbed the deepest darkness, as he was punished on the cross for our sins. Just as the sun came up that first Easter morning, Jesus burst forth from the tomb and the light of salvation has burst into the world. The Holy Spirit, working through the gospel in the Word and the sacraments, turned on the light for us so that we might see all that Jesus has done for us. There is no more beautiful message that has ever been shared with humanity. This is the wondrous message that has been shared with you. You were chosen from eternity to be saved. Bask in this wonderful gospel message. Let the light of Christ shine where you are.
The message of salvation continued to have an effect in the area around Antioch. It says in verse 49, “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” Gentile mouths and feet carried the message through the entire area. Antioch quickly became the center of gospel ministry as these Christian converts carried the message of salvation back and forth in the central highlands of Asia Minor. They were so excited about what they had been told that they just had to go and share with others what they had learned. They wanted others to know about Jesus, too.
What a wonderful example for us! You and I have also been told that Jesus is our Savior. This message is too wonderful to keep to ourselves. We want others to know that Jesus is their Savior, as well. Whom do we know that doesn’t yet know this? There is our mission field. There might be a relative that has fallen away. There is a mission field as you reach out to them with the Savior’s forgiving love. There will be people that we interact with every day. While we might not be able to converse with each and every one of them, we can still, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In reality, we are only reflecting the light of Jesus that has filled our hearts.
What kind of success should we expect to have when we let the light of Jesus shine? Will it always be that almost the entire town comes to hear us? That would be nice, but not very realistic. In all likelihood, we will face opposition. This happened to Paul and Barnabas. “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.” (Verse 50) Convinced that the honor of God’s law was at stake, the Jews waged a war against the gospel and its carriers. As a result, Paul and Barnabas were legally and officially expelled from their district.
While we may never face a persecution like that, it may be that we find someone who will not listen to the gospel message. So, what do we do then? Do we give up and say, “What’s the use?” Let’s look at what Paul and Barnabas did. “[They] went to Iconium.” (Verse 51) Paul and Barnabas were not discouraged by the hostile treatment from the high and mighty in Antioch. Instead, they went on a four or five-day journey to Iconium. There were people there who needed to hear the gospel message.
May this encourage us when we face rejection as we share the gospel message. Perhaps, that person is not willing to hear the message at this time, but there is always someone whom we can tell. We want to let the light of Jesus shine from us not only where we are at the moment, but also wherever we might be in the future.
But, what about the people that Paul left behind in Antioch? Did the group that was there fold up after Paul and Barnabas left? No, as we read in verse 52, “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” God’s Word was still at work there. They took what they had learned from Paul and Barnabas and encouraged one another with it. It’s also worth noting that Paul revisited Antioch on his second missionary journey. No doubt, in the meantime, he kept the believers in Antioch in his prayers. This is a good reminder that God’s Word is powerful. As the Word is preached and taught, it strengthens the heart of the believer. Even though Paul wasn’t with the people, they continued to hear God’s Word and be filled with the joy of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Perhaps this is an encouragement, when we hear about a church closing or a mission start being discontinued, such as is happening in Blair, Nebraska. God’s Word is effective. The group may not have a full time worker in their midst, but this doesn’t mean that gospel ministry cannot continue. It means that the way that the gospel can be shared changes. It means that the way the group is served changes. However, the effectiveness of God’s Word never changes. He will continue to use that Word to create and strengthen faith in the hearts of believers. We pray for our brothers and sisters during this transition in their ministry. We pray that the light of Jesus may continue to shine brightly in their hearts.
The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:8, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” In that one verse, the apostle highlights the entire spiritual journey of a believer. “You were once darkness.” You and I were in the darkness of sin, headed for certain destruction. “Now you are light in the Lord.” We are light, not by our own doing, but through the work of our Lord. Then, we have the exhortation, “Live as children of light.” We want our entire lives to reflect the light that has been shined into our hearts. We pray that the Lord would shine in us today as we go about our various tasks. We, also, pray that the Lord would continue to shine in us and through us wherever he might lead us in this life. May God help us to this end. Amen.
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