Why do some people believe the gospel of Jesus crucified and resurrected and others don’t? The aftermath of Paul’s sermon at the Pisidian Antioch synagogue contains an unconventional answer.
(If you missed it, you can read his sermon in Acts 13:16-41—http://theoldpreacher.com/look-you-scoffers/).
Thoughtful Response to the Gospel.
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue,the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.
When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked
with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:42,43).
Did resurrection prove Jesus is God’s Son, the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel? The Jews’ answer would be life-changing, so they wanted more information. They invited Paul and Barnabas back next Sabbath. Others, however, followed the missionaries to learn more that day.
We should commend people like that who recognize the gravity of the gospel and want to think deeply about it. I grew up in a generation where responding to Jesus seemed more emotional than thoughtful. Even today, I suspect many people’s reaction is knee-jerk. Such a decision for or against Jesus is foolish. This is the most transformative choice we will ever make.
Hostile Response to the Gospel.
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:42-52).
The next Sabbath “almost the whole city”–that would include a high number of Gentiles–attended synagogue. That made the Jews, especially the leaders, resentful. They reacted, not by sending unwanted Gentiles home, but by openly contradicting Paul and criticizing him.
How might we feel if a guest speaker visited our church and attracted a huge crowd of “undesirable” people? Especially when they sat in “our”seats!
Paul responded by saying, “We came to you first, since you are descendants of Abraham. But you’ve refused to listen. You’ve decided you’re unworthy of the gospel of eternal life.” So we’ll go to the Gentiles, because the Lord made us a light to them to bring this salvation to the whole earth.” At that the Gentiles were happy and the Lord’s word spread throughout the whole area. But the Jews convinced the “women of high standing” to presumably persuade their husbands (city leaders) to drive Paul and Barnabas out-of-town. It was an ignominious conclusion for the apostles, but a glorious one for the gospel.
God-Appointed Response to the Gospel.
That brings us back to our original question: Why do some people believe the gospel of Jesus crucified and resurrected and others don’t? The answer sits at the end of verse 48—all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The implication is clear: some were appointed for eternal life, others were not. The ones appointed believed, the un-appointed did not.
The Greek word translated “appointed” is tasso. It’s used in Acts 15:2 of Paul and Barnabas and others “appointed” by the church in Antioch to attend the important Jerusalem Council. And it’s used of a day “appointed” for visiting Jews to meet Paul who was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:23). The English definition of “appoint” is “to name or assign to a position, office, or the like.” To “appoint” is to “assign, choose, name.”
Someone “appointed” some of these Antioch Gentiles (and probably some Jews also) for eternal life. Who? Certainly not Satan! No human has such power. The only possible answer is the Lord. So Luke is explaining that those whom the Lord named to receive eternal life believed the gospel. Those not named did not believe and did not receive eternal life.
Therefore, what looked like a chaotic defeat for the gospel in Antioch turned into a joyful win! Despite city-wide, official opposition, despite the messengers being kicked out-of-town, many believed with great joy and “and the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.”
Our Hope for a Gospel “Win”.
I don’t want to get into a Calvinist/Arminian debate. (If you don’t know what those terms mean, you’re probably better off.) Rather than debate, let’s be encouraged. Obviously God was the initiator here. He appointed many for eternal life. Consequently, they believed. This is what and why we pray for unbelievers we care about. God must be the initiator. (“Lord, please move Mary to believe in Jesus!”)
This gives us great hope for “Mary”, because her coming to faith doesn’t depend on our powers of persuasion. It depends on the Lord acting on Mary’s mind and heart. It depends on him appointing “Mary” for eternal life and giving her faith.
So, instead of getting tangled up in knotty theological questions, let’s stand firmly on this text and pray for the unbelievers we love, begging our Lord to act in mercy and grace and love to “appoint” them for eternal life and bring them to faith. What an encouragement this is! “Mary’s salvation doesn’t depend on us, though we have to speak the gospel. Eternal life, and the faith that leads to it, depends on our God who has mercy on whom he has mercy (Romans 9:15). Only he can enlighten dark minds and soften hard hearts!