Look: “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.’” (Acts 13:46)
I find it striking the way in which Paul and Barnabas respond to the rejection by their fellow Jews of the Gospel message in Pisidian Antioch.
On a sabbath, they had gone to the synagogue there and then Paul, after he was invited to do so, addressed both their fellow Jews and Gentiles who were together worshiping the God of Israel. He shared the Gospel and there was initial interest.
So much interest was shown, in fact, that the next week, they were asked to speak again. But this time, they encountered heckling from jealous synagogue leaders who turned the Jewish worshipers there against Paul, Barnabas, and their message.
I’m struck by what Paul and Barnabas say in answer to those rejecting the Gospel about Christ. They say that the rejection is rooted in a belief that they aren’t “worthy of eternal life.”
It’s always sad when people reject Christ and His Gospel. In doing so, they’re spurning the forgiveness, life with God, and purpose that only Christ can give.
There are many different reasons people might reject Christ.
For me, when I was an atheist, the biggest reason was that I couldn’t accept someone being bigger or more important than me or the human race.
I also felt that our knowledge of many of the mechanics of the universe and the lack of empirical evidence for God meant that there was no God.
Above all, it was my egotism that led me to my atheism.
There are some people though, who reject faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ and the truth of His death and resurrection not because of their egos, but because they don’t feel worthy of eternal life.
They’ve moved from legitimate guilt, the kind of guilt that can lead to repentance and new life with God through Christ, to shame.
It was no doubt to this shame and the certainties of a legalistic religious system that the opposing synagogue leaders were able to appeal to among their fellow Jews in in Pisidian Antioch. In other words, they played upon shame and tradition to convince people that, even if the good news of justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ, was true, it was too good for them. They weren’t worthy of the life that was being offered to them in Jesus’ name. They were so conscious of their inadequacies that they couldn't accept the free gift of new life God offers to all who repent and believe in Jesus.
The sense of shame and unworthiness from which some people suffer is the hardest, most resistant rock for the Gospel message to drill through.
For Paul and Barnabas, addressing their fellow Jews in this place, the bit broke.[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]
Jesus tells us: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14). That’s exactly what Paul and Barnabas ended up doing in this chapter (Acts 13:51).
Listen: We should be lavish and inefficient in sharing the Gospel with others. This is what Jesus’ parable about the seed scattered on the different soils (Matthew 13:1-23) tells me.
And we should never stop lifting people up in prayer, asking God to send workers (disciples) to them so that there can be a harvest of the seeds of the Gospel that have been planted in people's minds and wills (Matthew 9:38; 1 Corinthians 3:6).
But loving witnesses for Christ sometimes reach the point at which they can’t drill past the resistance. They must pray that the witness they’ve given has not been in vain and that at some point later, the resistance will disappear and that even those who don’t count themselves as being worthy of God’s grace or salvation given in Christ, will embrace the Gospel.
When the bit breaks, change things and drill somewhere else.
Respond: God, help me to be lavish in spreading the Gospel with others. But help me to accept that there are some rocks of resistance on which you won’t use me to break through; that task will be someone else’s. Help me to pray for and to love those I haven’t reached and to move onto the next person with whom You call me to share Your Gospel. In Jesus’ name.