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. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. (Acts 13:48-49)
How many times have you heard the gospel preached? How many times did you hear the gospel preached before you believed and was saved? Is it the hundredth or the thousandth sermon? What impact has the preaching of the gospel produced in your life? Whenever the gospel is preached, the people who hear it respond in two ways – there are those who reject and keep on rejecting it until their death and this is to their own damnation. And yet there are others who hear the preaching of the gospel and believe and so they are saved. All the others are a variation of these two basic responses. Therefore, after I have preached this sermon there will be two responses from you, either you will believe and so it will be profitable for you or you will disregard it. Through the centuries that the gospel message has been preached, these have been the two basic reactions.
There are people who respond positively to the message of the gospel and are therefore saved. They accept the truths of the Bible and so the Lord draws them to Himself to give them some more truth.so far we have witnessed a good number of people believing the gospel message and are added to the number of the church.
So may we consider this message to be found in Acts 13 and find out why people respond like this. We are considering the conversions found in this book. So you ask me, pastor is it say that there is no conversion in chapter 12? Yes, there is a conversion in the twelfth chapter because we read in verse 24 that ‘the word of God increased and multiplied.’ This is a reference to the Word of God bearing fruit and producing conversions. These believed the Word of God and so it had lasting effects on them. So we are as well considering the events leading to this momentous event where the Word of God is multiplying converts.
In chapter 13 we are in the church in Antioch, a church that is increasingly becoming the centre of Christendom as we found out last week. And here Luke seek to answer the question of how the church became catholic. You realize that although a number of Gentiles have been saved until now – the Ethiopian Eunuch and Roman Centurion, Cornelius, still Christianity then was very Jewish. Therefore, there was a need to change the old order completely. There was a dire need to have a new wineskin for the new wine. It is for this reason we are back to the church in Antioch because looking at their members we can see the sort of Faith they had and the resulting church that we would call catholic.
By catholic, I mean a church that universally evangelizes to accept anyone without distinction. That is, - it is universal without being Universalistic. There are those who believe that Christ died for everyone and so everyone without exception will be saved – these are the Universalists. We are instead looking forward to a church that evangelizes to everyone without any discrimination or bias – this is a catholic church.
Therefore, we are told that there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers. This means that there were those who received new revelations from God as part of the Scripture and those who taught this truth, applying it to the lives of people as I am doing now and there are those who received the new revelation as well as taught it like Paul.
However, what is the background of these people in order to prove that the Antioch church was very fast becoming catholic. Some of the leading members of the church were , Barnabas, who was a Jew, and a Levite from Cyprus). Simeon who was called Niger (he was Black from Africa). Lucius of Cyrene who was from North Africa. Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch. So he was a foster brother of Herod who had beheaded John the Baptist. He was a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch. And Saul, a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin named after the first king of Israel. As you can well see, there was such a mixture in the church and all these brethren belonged to the same body of Christ in Antioch.
Moreover, The church started in Jerusalem and went on to different regions. (Acts 13:1). They reached to their locality and to the uttermost parts of the earth as we are all called. So apart from gathering people from all sorts of background, the church was also extending to different parts through the preaching of the gospel. The Antichian church was a very missional church and now they were on a time of prayer and fasting seeking the guidance of the Lord in as far as the spreading of the gospel was concerned and the Lord told them to set apart Saul (a Jewish name) also called Paul in Greek and Barnabbas apart. You realize that it was now convenient for Paul to use his Greek name because he was in the area where it was Greek spoken.
The church in Antioch took seriously the Great Commission that they took time to pray and fast for God’s guidance. And when God gave them the guidance they acted promptly and sent out Paul and Barnabas and by doing this the Holy Spirit sent them. Is it amazing that when it was the Holy Spirit sending when they were commissioned by the church?
They sent out the duo to preach who travelled far and wide and God gave them opportunities of ministry in different parts. And the Lord gave them had the opportunity to preach to a leading Roman proconsul called Sergius Paulus, a very intelligent man. The Roman proconsuls were officers invested with consular power over a district outside the city, usually for one year. Originally they were retiring consuls, but after Augustus the title was given to governors of senatorial provinces, whether they had held the office of consul or not. The proconsul exercised judicial as well as military power in his province, and his authority was absolute, except as he might be held accountable at the expiration of his office.
After much opposition from Jew called Bar-Jesus, who was a false prophet, sought to take Sergius away from the faith. However, Paul by the power of the Lord pronounced a judgment of blindness on him. This was to stop him from interfering with the work of the Holy Spirit and in effect the proconsul believed, both because of the teaching of the gospel and the power that worked to cause blindness on this magician.
Then they proceeded with the journey and at place called Perga in Pamhylia, which is now in modern Turkey, John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (Col.4:10) whom they had brought from Jerusalem decided to leave them for his own selfish interest. So that later Paul was so opposed to going with Mark that the two missionaries parted ways as we will find out in chapter 15. Then the Lord sent them to another place called Antioch toward Pisidia, just like their home church and had an opportunity to preach one of Paul’s most elaborate sermon.
Would you notice and compare Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 with Paul’s preaching in chapter 13 and you will draw a lot of parallels between the two sermons:
· Both gave a quick summary of the history of Israel showing that God chose them to be His covenant people.
· They both gave special focus to God’s covenant with David and his house leading to Jesus who was descended from him as the Messiah in fulfilment of the promise.
· They both show that the coming of Christ was in fulfilment of the prophets. They both emphasis the life of Jesus on earth, His death and burial and the fact that He did not decay in accordance to the Scriptures.
· They both preach from the Old Testament referring to the Psalms with Paul even identifying the second Psalm in 13:33.
The crown is their great claim with Peter saying,
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. For David says concerning him, "'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; (Act 2:22-23,25)
The preaching made the Gentiles to see some hope at the end of the tunnel so that they begged for more and they stayed long enough to preach in the synagogue the following week when there was such a big crowd that Luke used an overstatement that the whole city was gathered to hear him preach! As a result, they Jews rejected the gospel while the Gentiles believed.
Why is it that some believed?
The answer is provided in verse 48, where we read that, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”People do not believe because they decide or chose. A person believes for the reason given in this verse, that God in the eternity past chose for Himself a people for salvation. This is what Paul Himself wrote in Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love” (Eph 1:3-4).
They were those that the Father gave to the Son to atone for as Christ Himself puts it in John 6:37,39,-44 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” There is only one reason why people who are so sinful and by nature opposed to God would believe, it is because they were appointed to eternal life. No one can come to trust in Christ except the Father draws him to come to Christ. Look at the way the Apostle of the Lord, Peter says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1Pet 1:1-2).
No one can benefit from the atoning work of Christ who has been the elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and no one who has believed in Christ who is not sanctified by the Holy Spirit so as so to obey the Word of God. “Therefore, those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. (Rom 8:29-30)
The very same group of people whom God foreknew are very same ones who He predestined. Then at the right time in their lives, God by His Spirit and His church sent a preacher who brought the gospel invitation to the sinner and then the sinner believed to as to be justified and so await glorification. Is it not amazing that those who are called by God and have believed the gospel message are as good as in heaven? It is God who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (2Tim 1:9).
You notice the passive voice used in the heading as drawn from verse 48. This implies that God is the agent, for He is the only One who is able to grant eternal life (Matt. 25:46; John 10:28; 17:2). In the Greek, the form ‘were ordained’ is a passive participle in the perfect tense. The perfect tense denotes action that took place in the past but is relevant for the present. In the past, God predestined the salvation of the Gentiles. He also ordained and determined the particular persons who were to believe. Clearly they would only come to the eternal life when they put faith in Christ.
So when the Gentiles who were in Pisidian Antioch believed in Christ Jesus they successfully appropriated blessing of eternal life for themselves. This clearly illustrates the two sides of the same coin: God’s electing love and man’s responsibility to believe in Christ. This is what we read repeatedly in the Bible as already pointed out in John, those who are drawn by the Father must come to Christ:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
(John 6:37, 39, 44)
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed,…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13)
Throughout the Bible, we see those who reject the gospel some silently and others so strongly that they result to violence against those who identify with Christ. Chapter 12 takes us back to Jerusalem where the apostles are gathered and overseeing the Work of their Master taking place all over Palestine from a central place. Then Herod the Roman proxy king, so opposed to Christ, His people and His message, started killing the disciples starting with one of the leading apostle called James. After beheading James son of Zebedee, to the amusement of the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter as well to excite the Jewish party further. However, the Lord comes in answer to the prayers of the church in Jerusalem, and delivered Peter by His angel frustrating Herod’s wicked plans so that he finally murdered his owns pawns! Then an incidental event occurred among the people of Tyre and Sidon. Because they depended on the king for food, they did not want his displeasure and so they sent a delegation to Herod. When they got an audience with him, they praise him so much that he took the position of God, seeking glory for his own. The result was that the Lord killed. This is a warning for us not to ever make an attempt to seek to take from God His glory. So Herod died and worms ate him. This made the people to fear and so then we read that the Word increased and multiplied.
The Jews are again brought into the picture in chapter 13 we are introduced to Bar-Jesus who claimed to have a direct connection with God! He was a false prophet and this is evidenced by the fact that he was opposed to Proconsul Sergius Paulus believing. These are the people that Paul describes as those who oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. (2Tim. 3:8). These are evil people and impostors who will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2Tim. 3:13). Sadly they do not want to down to hell themselves, they want to draw others to the pit of mire with them. Thankfully, the Lord is powerfully faithful that for those He has appointed to eternal life, those who have believed, no one is able to pluck from His hand as He has said.
The Jews rejected the gospel when they heard the gospel message from Paul. No matter how much Paul reasoned with them they would not listen. He pointed to the Scriptures that they well knew:
“we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, "'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' (Act 13:32-33). Second Psalm was a well known to every Jew. They sang it and loved to talk about the coming Messiah and all looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Sadly they had a mental messiah that they wanted, not the One the Lord God had promised. They knew that He was going to be a descendant of David and Paul proved to them. So, why is that that they would not believe when the Old Testament Scriptures were so clear?
Why is it that they would not believe?
Could it be that they had not heard the gospel? NO! They had heard it well preached by the master-expositor, Paul of Tarsus intelligent and learned, an Apostle by all means. And Paul Himself preached nothing but the gospel, as He says in verse 32. But they had not been appointed to eternal life. This is why Paul cries out to them in saying that,
“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, (Rom 9:2-6)
They had all the blessings and privileges of redemption – adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs and Christ Himself! Yet because these ones here were not appointed to eternal life could not believe. The truth is that not every Jew was elected as Paul says in verse six that not all who are descended to Israel belong to Israel – because the true Israel are the elect, those who will be glorified and sit to fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever who are the true of God.
Would you notice then that no one is saved because of circumstantial privileges and blessings? I do not read anywhere in the bible of a son who was saved because of the Father’s faith. This is why I do not understand where our Presbyterian brethren get the idea that children of believers are counted as believers and so members of the church automatically. John Calvin himself says that there is such a thing as the children of the church in his commentary on Acts in chapter 8 trying to justify the paedo-baptism.
You cannot be saved because your parents are believers for you cannot depend on another person’s faith, no matter how strong their faith might be for your salvation. Asaph cannot depend on my faith. Your daughter cannot depend on your faith for salvation. In effect, we are to pray that the Lord might be pleased to save our children. We are to pray that they might be interested in hearing the gospel preached to them. We are to bring the younger ones to the church and for the older one’s encourage them to come and also pray for them have interest and love coming to church.
Why is it that this gospel message is true and we ought to love it?
It is because as I have pointed out it what the whole Bible teaches. Throughout the Bible you will find that people were saved because the Lord chose to save them when He did because in the eternity past He appointed them for eternal life. The work of salvation is only outworked where the Lord has already been. The dry bones that the Lord told Ezekiel to prophesy to came to life because the Spirit of the Lord was at work. Lydia as will find out, believed because the Lord opened her heart to believe. It is because the Lord planned our salvation that we at some point in our lives we are drawn to it.
It is because then salvation will be wholly of the Lord as Jonah learnt bitterly while in the belly of the fish that God will be praised. David says this same thing in the third Psalm. In effect, all glory will be given to God. If we are to give God His credit in wholly saving us then we will more delight in Him and seek to honor Him by being obedient to Him, by listening to Him and by seeking to lead others to Him.
It is because then evangelism will be meaningful and fruitful. How could we go to preach when we do not whether there are those who will ever believe. The sovereign choice of the Lord in appointing men for salvation does not leave them with orange luminous line so that you would know that the guy over there has been chosen by God for eternal life. If that were so then we would not have reasons to evangelize. So please come on Saturday at 2pm for evangelism if this is so true to you!
It is because the lives of our children, our spouses, brothers and sisters as well as relatives, friends and colleagues are at stake and we are supposed to love them. For example, There is no true Christian who will ignore a person at the verge of death when he is able to do something to save that life by taking the injured person to the hospital or calling an ambulance. If this is true of doing something to save this life that will die anyway, how much more should we be willing to give to the life that has no end?
When we acknowledge that we did not save ourselves nor can we save others, then we would be more earnest in seeking the Lord to save others. This desperation will lead us to be more earnest and zealous both to evangelize and to pray. Because the same God who is the Saviour has appointed means, in which He will save. He has given us instructions on our responsibility for our own salvation as well as salvation of others.