Soldiers of Christ arise!
We see the reaction to Paul’s sermon (Acts 13:16-41) in this passage. The initial response is positive. The people begged to hear more from Paul the next Sabbath. Some believed in Christ and followed Paul and Barnabas, who urged them to continue in the grace of God (verse 43). We begin the Christian life by grace and continue in grace.
What a difference the gospel made in the lives of these people. They had been without God and without hope a week before. Now they have the greatest treasure a man can have: fellowship with the living God. They now find Christ to be a more worthy and noble portion than anything else. It is the Lord’s way when he has made a beginning to go on bestowing the grace of his Spirit, but our faith must be true.
Believing in Christ is a commitment. It’s more important by far, but not unlike other commitments we make. When I graduated from high school I had offers to play baseball. The first school I went to visit was a relatively new junior college. They were proud of their new facilities; and someone took me and some other recruits on a tour extolling the benefits of campus life there.
The coach talked with us about his style of coaching, the team, opportunities, and such. Then, he talked with each of us individually. He told me I had an offer for a scholarship, and that if I signed, he expected me to do well. He said he also expected commitment on my end to represent the team and the school with effort and class. He presented his case, and it was left for me to decide.
Paul had told his hearers the story of the Old Testament. He had reviewed the rebellion of men against God. The history of the Jewish people is a paradigm of the need men have for a Savior. Paul noted how in the prophets God had promises of a Savior who would come.
He told them God’s promise culminated in Jesus of Nazareth. Christ was the one written of in the prophets. Though he was sinless, men put him to death on an accursed tree. Yet, Paul said, by doing this they unknowingly fulfilled what God had said long before of the Savior suffering and dying for sinners.
So Paul makes it very clear that the gospel is the pure grace of God. The gospel is of God. It’s not men’s gospel, its God’s. He offers the gift and sets the terms. The benefits of coming to Christ are immense. Paul said you will receive forgiveness of sin, justification before God based on Christ’s finished work, and eternal life. So it is left for you to choose.
The whole substance of faith is in Christ’s person. He requires commitment to him. Those who come to him enter his kingdom, meaning they are under his reign. Therefore, they purpose to honor the Lord, who gave himself for them and who rules over all things. They are no longer their own, but belong body and soul to Christ.
Some reacted angrily to Paul’s sermon (Acts 13:45-46). Why, you might ask, would any refuse the offer of being saved from such sin and misery while entering into such blessedness? We see the answer in John 11, where the Jewish leadership responded to the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. They didn’t celebrate such a miracle and come to anoint the feet of Jesus with precious ointment. They made plans to put him to death so he wouldn’t take away their place.
And that is the way of all who reject Christ. He threatens their position. They regard him as a hard master, not a blessed Savior. We see in verse 50 that they ran Paul and Barnabas out of town. Paul and Barnabas shake the dust off their feet, a sign that the curse remained on the city.
Conversely, we see in verse 52 that the new converts in the city “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” This is an important notation. They had just witnessed the leaders of their city drive out Christian leaders. No doubt they understood this meant trouble for them. They still had to live in the midst of that hostility. But the Holy Spirit gave them joy in knowing they were no longer under the curse of death. They had life with God through Christ. Tribulations and temptations lay ahead, but so did Christ and his kingdom. They were now soldiers of Christ.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.