Last year I was invited to a breakfast in Jacaranda Hotel, Westlands to pray for Israel. Many Christians together with almost all the world renown tele-evangelists especially drawn from the Word of Faith movement or the health and wealth preachers and were going to Israel for a pilgrimage. A tour and travel company that was seizing on a business opportunity organized this breakfast. The whole arrangement is made very spiritual and Christians are being encouraged to go to Israel to have a spiritual encounter. Is there any special spiritual encounter through this? I hope at the end of this sermon you will be able to say with me, NO!
Finally, Paul is at Rome and of first priority for him is to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. But there is the procedure of the evangelization of the world given by the Lord Jesus Christ. It has to be to the Jews first then to the Gentiles. This is the formula that Paul used in Pisidia Antioch (13:46); in Corinth (18:6) and Ephesus (19:8-10). This was the plan of God in bringing His salvation to sinners. You notice that salvation is here called explicitly the salvation of God. Salvation belongs to God as Jonah said. Salvation comes from God not from men, definitely not preachers or pastor or anyone – it is of God, as belonging to Him, coming from Him as the source and is only sustained by Him. We should never suppose salvation can come from any other quarter. It was planned by God the Father in the eternity past by electing some to come to be salvation at His appointment, it was accomplished by His Son by His death and resurrection through which the gospel is proclaimed and it was effected by the Holy Spirit regenerating those whom God chose and those for whom Christ died. This is the salvation of God that Peter in his first letter describes Christians as those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. At lease this serves to prove that the Triune God is the author and the perfector of salvation.
1) Why was the salvation of God sent to the Gentiles?
1. Because the Jews have rejected it as a nation
Looking at this passage we see that as soon as Paul arrived in Rome, after three days he called the Jewish leaders so that he could explain to them the gospel, which was the reason for His coming, bound in chains. He explained to them what happened in Jerusalem providing very little information as possible without laying any accusations against the Jews. How he was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans without even saying his fellow men were responsible for this unlawful and cruel act to add over their own to the Romans when he was innocent. He had done nothing worthy the punishment and this was even proved by the Romans because there was no reason for the death penalty in his case as the Jews were demanding, as a result he was compelled to appeal to Caesar. When the Jews confirmed that they had not received any letter or messenger with information about Paul. They agreed to meet again so that Paul explain further about Christianity since all they had heard about it was derogatory. They said with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.
At the appointed day Paul received them in his rented house, still under arrest, he could not move around. They came in great numbers to hear the Apostle Paul. So he took the whole day – from morning to evening, expounding to them the word of God from the Law and Prophets – Genesis to Malachi. He explained to them that the Law and Prophets were pointing to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He testified of what He had heard and known about Jesus of His life and ministry, of his suffering and death, of His burial, resurrection and ascension. He then made the application for them that they had to believe the gospel for them to be saved. Some were convinced and believed so were saved. But many more refused the gospel and disbelieved so that there was a disagreement between them so much that they left Paul. But before he could let them to go, he played the last card.
He announced to them that the end had come, the words of the prophets which they spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit that they were the were like that because had withdrew His grace upon them. They could neither hear nor understand; they could neither see nor perceive. Their hearts had grown dull so that their senses were gone. The truth of the matter is that their eyes, though not physically blind were so spiritually blind. This is because as Bruce says, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear, none so blind as those who will not see. Jesus applied this same Prophecy to the Jewish leaders in the same manner in Matthew 14:13 and John 12:39-10 to show that the attitude of the Jews to resist the gospel was divinely ordained just like the heart of Pharaoh to show God’s wrath and justice.
Sadly, just like Christ, He came to his own but His own people did not receive him (John 1:11). For this reason, like his Master, the Lord Jesus, Paul invoked the passage of Isaiah to announce the final decree that God would not contend with the Jews forever – Salvation will now be sent to the Gentiles and they will listen. The priority for the gospel would now go to the Gentiles, who unlike the obstinate Jews will accept it. This was in accordance to the eternal plan of God as Paul explains it in Romans – so that the purpose of election could continue (9:11). The Israelites were not willing to pursue the righteousness of God by faith instead they wanted to attain to it by works, the Israelites ignorantly and zealously, wanted to establish their own righteousness instead of submitting to the righteousness of God that comes by faith in Christ on all and to all who believe in Him. For reason Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4). God had to finally, and sadly announce to the Jews that, “All day long have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Rom. 10:21). In Rom. 11:11-16 Paul also said that when the Jews see salvation going to the Gentiles, they will be provoked to jealousy and turn to God so that the salvation of the Gentiles is itself a blessing for the Israelites. It was not that God had rejected His own people but it was that most of them had rejected Him.
Thankfully, there is a remnant of Israel who had not bowed to the Baal of works, there was a remnant, who believed like Paul. These were convinced that Jesus is the Christ and they attained to the righteousness by faith. And these were the ones that the Gentiles added where made to belong together to a tree called Christianity. The branch of the Gentiles was now ready to be grafted in and the announcement was to be made from the capital of the Gentile world – Rome. SALVATION OF GOD HAS BEEN SENT TO THE GENTILES, THEY WILL LISTEN. This is because it is God’s prerogative to save and those who reject the gospel invitation will at one point find themselves rejected like the Jews. If the Jews, God’s people that He said he had carried them by His outstretched arm.
1. Because the Gentles will listen and believe
While the gospel is rejected by one person or a group of people, it is received by the other person or group. While the Jews rejected their much-awaited hope, when they had all the privileges, god purposed to bring in the Gentiles and in-graft them to the branch so that they may become His own people. This is what happened when the Jews refused to listen and heed the gospel so as to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and turn that He may heal them, the Apostle by the mandate of the Triune God told them, “Let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, they will listen.” This is a full loaded statement announcing judgment for the Jews and a blessing for us Gentiles. It is because of the full meaning of this statement that we are gathered here today. It is because of the divine appointment that these people refused to believe. It is because of this reality that God did not grant them faith to repentance. It was in His purpose of election that He planned that He will bring this partial hardening upon the Jews until the fullness of the Gentiles had come in so that in this way all Israel is saved.All Israel is from both among the Jews and Gentiles! This is how the promise of Abraham for many nations is realized! And this is then ending of the book of Acts, now with the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews but by the bold witness by Paul among the Gentiles in Rome without any hindrance. The exciting news is that the Gentiles will listen!
2) How has God sent this salvation to the Gentiles?
I have explained why God took this radical step in the plan of redemption to bring in the Gentiles so that the full number of the elect from every tribe and language and people and nation will be gathered before Him to be myriads upon myriads, thousands upon thousands to worship the King of eternal ages in glory for all eternity having been ransomed by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. How is this work of bringing in salvation to the Gentiles done so that the exact number will be brought to the lordship of the Lord?
1. God has sent the messengers to the Gentiles
The book of Acts is about the proclamation of the message of the salvation of God being disseminated from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth first of all by the Apostles and then the disciples of Christ who make many more disciples so that by the end of the first year, there were so many Christians on earth and this has grown so much over the years so that there are Christians in every place on earth.This was possible through the faithful obedience to the Great Commission by the disciples of Christ. It was through the willingness of believers to travelto take the glad news to the nations that salvation came to the Gentile community.
From the beginning of Paul’s ministry, the Lord greatly blessed his endeavors. Although he was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, church traditions has it that other Apostles labored in the Gentile world. For example Matthew also called Levi went to the Ethiopians, Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes and Persians, and died in India. Andrew who was brother to Peter preached to the Scythians, Sogdians and Sacae and Ethiopians. Apostle John preached in Ephesus etc. this is how the Lord sent forth His apostles to reach the Gentiles.
In this passage we see Paul laboring among the people in Rome for two whole years at his own expense to spread the gospel even after his won people had rejected it! This means he rented his own house but was guarded by a soldier who was relieved after every fours hours (this was another opportunity for the gospel to reach the whole of imperial guard, and to all the rest and even Caesar's household (Phil 1:13; 4:22). This is particularly significant because as he labored with the gospel with the people who came, he also wrote letters we now call prison letters such as Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon so that he still had contact with the external world. At this time we know Onesmas, the runaway slave, was converted!
Luke’s emphasis here is that the ultimate plan of redemption is realized. Paul stayed in Rome under house arrest so that he could not freely move to meet with the people he had brought the gospel. But notice what happened – he made his own house the gospel mission center or the headquarters for the gospel in Rome and the whole empire! Many people came to listen to him and he welcomed them all! Here is the manner the gospel was taken to Gentiles.
2. God has sent His salvation through the proclamation of the gospel
The messengers needed to reach the Gentiles with the message of the gospel so that they could obtain the salvation of God. The salvation of God had to come by God’s power for salvation for those who believe. Notice that the proclamation of the gospel is even used interchangeably with salvation itself. This is exactly what those whom God sent did – they preached the gospel, through which people were converted and brought to eternal life, which is knowing the Father as the only true God, and Jesus whom He sent. This is only possible through the proclamation of the gospel truth by all who are called by the name of Christ. Here we have Paul with the message of the gospel. What did he do with it?
Here is a summary of Paul’s ministry to the Jewsand this give a glimpse of what he did with the Gentiles:
¾ From morning till evening he expounded to them the Scriptures
¾ Her testified to them the kingdom of God
¾ He tried to convince (‘peitho’ - persuade) them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses &the Prophets
¾ He made strong prophetic statements to awaken them from their stupor
Sadly only a few Jews were convinced and so believed and were added to the numbers of Christians. Thank God that some believed. So what did he do with the Gentile community? He did basically the same – he reasoned with from the Scriptures trying to convince them of the salvation by the Lord Jesus alone.
With Gentiles this is what he did:
¾ He invested his time so that he lived in Rome for two years
¾ He invested whatever resources he had so that he lived on His own expenses
¾ He extended hospitality universally (to all), no discrimination
¾ He proclaimed the kingdom of God
¾ He taught about the Lord Jesus
¾ He did this ministry with boldness
¾ The Lord removed all hindrances so that he ministered without any problem for the two years.
The book of Acts trails off so that it doesn't end with a full –stop but a dotted line as Gordon Keddie rightly observes. This is because after Luke provides us with the vehement refusal by the Jews to receive the gospel, the attention now is to the Gentiles and this is our work until the second coming of Christ.
v Christians have carried on this work until now and this is the reason why we exist.Lyoyd Ogilvie commented, “The abrupt ending leaves us with the challenge and opportunity to allow the Spirit to write the next chapter in the Book of Acts today in and through us!” (Acts, p. 357)
v Here we see the grace of God at work in the gathering in of the Gentiles to be part of God’s Kingdom. We ought to rejoice in the Lord for this and honor him every day and in every way. How have you shown your gratefulness to the Lord for saving you, when He rejected the people of His own possession?
v As Gentile Christians, we should pray for the salvation of the Israelites. We should like Paul say, “I have unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom. 9:2) and “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Rom. 10:1). However, such movements that think that Israelites are special people than Christians should not take us up. Therefore beware of John Hagee and all others who preach Israel as their gospel. And we should not think that pilgrimages to Jerusalem have any Christian or spiritual value. We pray for the conversion of the Israelites just like we pray for the Somalis. We are to be missional in all we do for all peoples of the world, not just one community.
v If we have not heeded the message of the gospel and we continue to reject it every time, we risk losing it forever like the Israelites. Beware that although God is slow to anger and abounding in love, He has said that He will not contend with men forever, for man is flesh (Gen. 6:3). When you continue to remain in sin when the invitation to believe in Christ has been given to you so many times, while you continue to doubt the promise of Christ’s coming and the judgment to follow, know this for sure, that a day is coming when it will be too late for you. You should know this for sure the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, now wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away, with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth will and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2Peter 3:8-10)
v For you who are believers and saved by Christ know this: Therefore, since these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2Pet 3:11-13).
v Finally, we are the ones called out to enjoy the blessings of being in the Kingdom of God. We have such great privileges as the citizens of the Kingdom of God. But we have also been entrusted with a great responsibility of taking the gospel wherever the Lord sends us. We are to faithfully live in a manner that honors the Lord so that your children, relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues and employers may admire God and so believe in Christ. Your talking has also to adorn the gospel so that more are brought to the Lordship of Jesus.