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.
Our church’s four canons are (1) “An authentic family” (2) “around the whole gospel” (3) “for the glory of God” (4) “and the reaching of the nations.” The idea in this way of putting it is that the gospel is the center of our life together as a church and we gather around it the way people gather around a fire for life and for light. The gospel, in other words, draws us in together and gives us life.
This is no mere ideal or exercise in wishful thinking. It has been our experience together as a church. The gospel of Christ provides a framework for our life together. It sets the trajectory and equips us with what we need to love one another, to forgive one another, to make peace with one another. This is as it should be.
I am struck, though, by the fact that the gospel not only has the power to draw in and unite, it also has the power to scatter and condemn. This is evident in scripture, in the history of the Church, and in our individual lives as well. What is good news to the one who receives it is hated news to the one who rejects it. Consider our text and how it reveals the uniting and scattering power of the gospel.
The gospel has the power to draw, to save, to unite, and to enthuse.
Paul has just finished his powerful, controversial sermon in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia. We will first observe how the gospel has the power to draw, to save, to unite, and to enthuse.
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.
What a beautiful scene! The people are hungry for the gospel and they “begged” Paul to preach again the next week. This is a scene that was consistently repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry: the crowds pressing in wanting to hear more. In Christian history, this hunger for the Word usually is a sign of revival. Conversely, when a people have grown spiritually cold this hunger for the Word is absent.
They call upon Paul to preach again, and Luke tells us that “the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Missionaries tell of scenes like this when they preach in areas where the gospel has not previously been heard or when they preach in areas where the Church is persecuted. There is a hunger and the people literally call for the preachers not to stop. One cannot help but read this amazing account and marvel at the coldness of our own day. Ours is a day in which the clock is watched and preachers know quickly when they preach too late or too long.
Perhaps familiarity truly does breed contempt. Perhaps the American Church has had such easy access to the gospel for so long that we no longer marvel at its revolutionary message. Regardless, it is an established truth that a Church in which God is a moving is a Church that does not face the gospel with indifference.
Later in our text, we see another example of the unifying, enthusing power of the gospel.
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.
What they are rejoicing about is Paul’s pronouncement that he intends to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. They rejoiced and they glorified God! The Gentiles, of course, had even more reason to rejoice. That the gospel would come to them was an absolute scandal to those Jews who felt that they and they alone were the objects of God’s affection. These Gentiles, even the God-fearers who were drawing near, were keenly aware of their status as outsiders. Thus, at the announcement that the gospel was for them as well, they were exuberant with praise and joy!
Luke tells us at the end of verse 48 that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” This has proven to be a controversial verse for many as it clearly states the predestining purposes of God. John Stott offers some helpful comments.
Some commentators, offended by what they regard as an extreme predestinarianism in this phrase, have tried in various ways to soften it. But the Greek verb tassō means to ‘ordain’ (AV, RSV), sometimes in the sense of to ‘assign someone to a (certain) classification’ (BAGD).
Long ago I determined to preach the scriptures regardless of whether or not what they clearly teach fits in my “system.” I also long ago decided to be skeptical of nice, neat systems. I would not consider myself a Calvinist. I would not consider myself an Arminian. There are, in my view, elements of truth in each system. But I have long been struck by the fact that the mystery of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is just that: a mystery that resides in the heart of God. Emphasize one side and you will see the other calling out to you from scripture.
I love this about God’s Word: it keeps us off balance on those issues that transcend our own limited understandings. Does God sovereignly elect? Yes. Is man responsible to respond? Yes. Does verse 48 say “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”? Yes. Yes it does. There would seem to be no exegetical reason to suggest that it says anything other than what a plain reading of it appears to say. Thus, the Word of God should stand.
Does this fit uneasily in your system? Good! It will keep you from making an idol of your system. Does this make you uneasy? Good! It will keep you humble.
Regardless, the beauty of this moment is clear. Many lost souls are coming to Jesus and they have a deep hunger for the Word of God! Like water before parched travelers, they cannot get enough. This is how the gospel works.
The gospel has the power to draw and to save and enthuse!
The gospel has the power to divide and to enrage.
But it also has the power to divide and to enrage. We see this in the reaction of those Jews who were displeased at the enthusiasm of those who received the gospel.
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.’”
While some rejoice, others fume. They fume because they are jealous of the crowds rushing to Paul and they fume because Paul’s unexpected gospel did not fit into their established boundaries of orthodoxy. Perhaps there were more practical concerns. F.F. Bruce offers a rather humorous but insightful theory as to one possible aspect of the Jews’ irritation.
Knowing (as we unfortunately do) how regular Christian worshipers can manifest quite un-Christian indignation when they arrive at church on a Sunday morning to find their customary seats occupied by rank outsiders who have come to hear some popular visiting speaker, we can readily appreciate the annoyance of the Jewish community at finding their synagogue practically taken over by a Gentile audience on this occasion.
Ha! Perhaps we do have a first century example of, “Excuse me, but you’re sitting in my pew!” But, in all seriousness, the major problem was why these folks were crowding the pews. They were not coming to hear the normal take on the Law and the Prophets. They were coming to hear these newcomers and their scandalous message that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
Something else is happening here. It needs to be recognized that at least a strong number of those Gentiles to whom Paul was turning with the gospel were the Gentile God-fearers and proselytes who first heard Paul in and around the synagogues. Thus, many of these Gentiles were not necessarily outsiders to the synagogue leaders; they were converts or potential converts. In this way, Paul was not only disturbing the interior peace of the synagogue, he was making the synagogues smaller by leaving with some of those who previously attended. Bruce has offered a helpful description of the way the Jews likely viewed Paul and his team.
They regarded him as one who poached on their preserves, a sheep stealer who seduced from the synagogue many well-disposed Gentiles for whose complete conversion to Judaism they had hoped—and seduced them by offering them God’s full blessing, with incorporation in his people, on what seemed to be easier terms than those which the synagogue required from would-be proselytes.
Obviously, in their estimation, this could not be allowed to stand, so the synagogue leaders took action, stirring up dissent and opposition.
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.
The leaders turn to “devout women of high standing” as well as the city fathers. Their argument was undoubtedly that these outsiders were disturbers of the peace and disrupters of synagogue life. So the wealthy and the powerful are enlisted to strike out against these early missionaries. And, in fact, they drive them out of town.
However, we learn two things about the missionaries in their reactions. First, “they shook off the dust from their feet” and left for Iconium. Second, they “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The first phrase comes from the instructions that Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew 10.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
To shake a place’s dust from their feet was a de facto proclamation that God’s judgment would fall on these who had driven the word of life from their borders. These that drove the disciples from their city were sealing their own fate in rejecting the gospel of life and those commissioned by God to share it. Jesus warned that a people who would reject the gospel and its messengers were a people in a worse position than Sodom and Gomorrah. What a chilling thought!
While this was bad news for those who opposed Paul and his team, the reaction of the missionaries showed that it was no defeat for them. On the contrary, they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. They were not joyful at the thought of terrible judgment falling on those who rejected and persecuted them. Rather, their joy was the joy of knowing that they were in the Father’s will. Their joy was the joy of knowing that the persecutions they endured were part and parcel of the persecutions that Christ endured. Thus, they were counted worthy to suffer for the name.
And tellingly, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. God was at work, filling their hearts with love and peace and boldness and courage. They were taking on the mantle of Christ and they were carrying His cross. What might appear to be a road of pain was, to these brave brothers, the road of peace.
So it can be with us. The gospel that draws as well as scatters is the gospel that has been entrusted to us. We are heralds of the great King. Ours is the high privilege and stewardship of proclamation and witness bearing. We get to share in the life and struggles and joys of Paul and Barnabas and Peter and this amazing host of early witnesses. More importantly, we have the privilege of sharing with them in the life of Christ, which is open to us all and which is our calling as well as theirs.
Be a steward of the gospel! Be a proclaimer of the gospel! It draws and it scatters, but it is ours to carry to the world!
 Stott, John (2014-04-02). The Message of Acts (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (Kindle Locations 4051-4054). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Likewise, Bruce: “There is no good reason for weakening the predestinarian note here, as (e.g.) H. Alford does by rendering “as many as were disposed to eternal life.” The Greek participle is from , and there is papyrus evidence for the use of this verb in the sense of “inscribe” or “enroll” (cf. , “thou hast signed a decree,” in Theodotion’s version of Dan. 6:12). The idea of being enrolled in the book of life or the like is found in several biblical contexts (e.g., Ex. 32:32–33; Ps. 69 [LXX 68]:28; Isa. 4:3 Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12–15;21:27), in the pseudepigrapha (e.g., Jub. 30:20; 1 Enoch 47:3; 104:1; 108:3), and in rabbinical literature (e.g., TJ Rosh ha-Shanah 1.9.57a; TB Rosh ha-Shanah 16b). The Targum of Jonathan on Isa. 4:3 (“written among the living”)explains this as being “written for the life of the age to come” (i.e., eternal life).” Bruce, F.F. (1988-06-30). The Book of Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 269). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.”
 Bruce, F.F. (1988-06-30). The Book of Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 265). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
 Bruce, F.F., p. 266.