It is not often that one gets a whole city to listen to the gospel. On this sabbath day, almost the entire city of came to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say. Among the crowd there were the glad and the furious. The Gentiles were delighted that the apostles had a message for them whereas the Jews were enraged that the Gentiles were hearing the gospel.
Luke describes the preaching as ‘the word of the Lord’. The preachers did not merely recite passages from the Old Testament, so Luke does not mean that practice by his phrase ‘the word of the Lord’. Instead he means that Jesus the Lord was speaking through the preachers that he had sent. The preachers also describe their message as ‘the word of God’, another description that indicates the vast difference between a sermon and a lecture. A sermon is a divine message in which the living God is active.
Moreover Luke says that the word of the Lord spreads, a way of saying that a message about Jesus is not confined to a specific time and place. It would spread as others passed on what they heard. This is another difference between a lecture and a sermon – a lecture may send a student to his books whereas a sermon should open the mouths of listeners to speak about and share what they have heard. I suppose this raises the issue as to whether or not we have listen correctly to sermons recently. If we have, we will be speaking about what we heard.
The opposition was public on that sabbath. As Paul preached, the Jews contradicted him and reviled him. Such verbal abuse did not silence Paul and Barnabas. Instead they boldly addressed the objectors and informed them that their behaviour was a rejection of special privileges that they had as Jews. In rejecting the gospel, they were spurning the only way to receive eternal life, which makes their response very serious. After all, it was not merely the message of men that they had rejected, but the message from the risen and ascended Christ.
It is interesting that Paul and Barnabas describe themselves and their calling from Old Testament verses (Isa. 49:6; 45:22) that we might think are more appropriate when used to describe the Messiah and his work. After all, he is the light of the Gentiles and the one who brings salvation. Yet we have to ask, How is Jesus making his light and salvation known? The answer is through his people, and especially through the preaching of his message that he has conveyed to his servants.
The response of the Gentiles is wonderful. They showed their faith by the way they rejoiced and admired the message of Jesus. Their response was not merely intellectual, nor was it merely a determined choice. In addition, it was a deep emotional experience that brought them great joy, and it was a joy that lasted after the preachers were forced to leave town. Those converts were not dependent on the preachers, but they were affected by their messages, and experienced the ongoing filling of the Spirit after Paul and Barnabas had gone.
Of course, Luke gives the credit for the conversions to divine election and not to the eloquence and preaching abilities of Paul and Barnabas. This is to where we should always trace salvation. No preacher has ever ordained anyone to eternal life. Instead all who receive it were ordained to do so by God himself. This is a reality, and it does not prevent conversions. Instead it ensures them. The Son guided his servants to preach in the power of the Spirit, and the Son and the Spirit were fully aware of the Father’s eternal plan.
Jesus had other places for his servants to go with the gospel. They discovered the time to move on through unexpected methods. The method used by Jesus was persecution by the leading people of the town and instigated by the Jews. Some the prominent women had been influenced by the synagogue. No doubt, they assumed that they had stifled the message when they caused Paul and Barnabas to leave. Instead they helped to spread it, a fact that should make us admire the control and wisdom of Jesus over the affairs of humans.