Forgiveness of sins and life eternal
Paul and Barnabas, driven out of Antioch in Pisidia, travel about 90 miles to Iconium. Undeterred by the persecution they suffered in Antioch, they go into the synagogue and speak the word of God’s grace to the people in the city. And we see that “a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1).
In verse 2 we see those who didn’t believe stirred up opposition toward the apostles and the new converts. Nevertheless, the apostles continued to preach boldly for the Lord (verse 3). The city became divided, some with the apostles, and some with the unbelieving Jews. The opposition became so intense the apostles had to flee the city to avoid being stoned (verse 5).
A truth throughout the New Testament is that the gospel divides people. The city of Iconium was divided over Christ. A passage like this anticipates eternity where there will be a clear distinction among those who belong to Christ and those who do not.
In Luke 16 Jesus tells a story of a rich man and a poor man. The poor man, Lazarus, went to heaven. The rich man went to hell. The point of division spiritually between the two was not economics, but the word of the Lord. Being poor in this world doesn’t compare to a rich inheritance with the Lord. Conversely, being rich in the world is no consolation at the judgment. Lazarus embraced the word of the Lord, the rich man did not.
It is the Lord himself who makes distinctions between people. In Luke 12 he said, “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Jesus began with the division among family members over him, but it extends to all relationships in the world. Ultimately, the difference among souls is who does and does not know Christ.
Jesus used the “I am” statements to declare his divinity and to show that he alone was the way to life with God. By saying, “I am the bread of life,” he meant there is no other way of life. “I am the Good Shepherd” means there is no other shepherd who lay down his life for his sheep. You cannot be reconciled to God except through Christ. The good news is he receives all who come to him.
The apostles fled from persecution, but they were undeterred by it. They continued to preach the gospel (Acts 14:7). The conflict was no surprise to them. The Lord had told the apostles to expect trouble. The Lord was spit upon, scourged, and put to death by men. It is no surprise his people will be too. Paul himself had been offended by the gospel before his conversion. He knew how great the resentment is in the breast of man’s sinful nature at the truth of Christ.
This passage warns how great a difference there is between the converted and unconverted. Those who are converted are united to Christ and have the Spirit of God. The unconverted are strangers to him. They want to stone to death messengers of God sent to proclaim the good news of forgiveness of sins and life in the name of Christ.
God has sent Christ to be the Head, the King, and the Savior of sinners. Those who come to Christ are united to him. They are welcomed as God’s children. They are the objects of great love from God. He esteems them as his jewels and his delights are with them.
The converted have a perfect righteousness imputed to them. God looks upon them as being one with Christ. The unconverted have all their sins against them, and are under the guilt of all the sins they have committed and will commit. The whole of their sin lies upon them.
There is a great difference between those who belong to Christ and others because Christ is a person of infinite dignity, a person infinitely near to God the Father. And he is great with respect to his work as a Mediator. He came to do the greatest work that ever was wrought. Those who are his are the beneficiaries of all he conquered and won. The riches of Christ are unsearchable (Ephesians 3).
This is cause for love and praise from those who know Christ. It is he who has made you to differ and blessed you. And it’s an encouragement for those who have rejected him in that he still stands ready and willing to receive all who are willing to come to him.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.