Day 167: Paul: Missionary to the Jews…and then not so much

Acts 13:13-52 (AD 48)

This was a very conciliatory way of preaching to the Jews, despite the fact Paul was expelled from the entire region because of it. There was no notion in his message the whole nation was responsible for the murder of Jesus. References to prophets without pointing out a lot of them were murdered, and mentions of David and Isaiah. Paul was clearly connecting with the Jews in the synagogue.

He described the coming of Jesus as a fulfilment of God’s plan and promises to his people, and reminded them that the risen Jesus “was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (v.31).

And he reiterated, three times, the central message of Jesus’ ministry:

“John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel” (v.24)

“it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent” (v.26)

“through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (v.38)

Paul’s routine when he went to a new town or city was to go and speak with the Jews in the synagogue – their primary meeting place. He spoke with individuals, reasoned with people, debated and preached to them. He “urged” them to follow Jesus. He clearly prioritised his own people.

Until that day.

Tragically for the Jews, that was the decisive break point, when a large proportion of the Jews didn’t merely disagree and debate with Paul, but “heaped abuse on him” (v.45). And it was due, again, to jealousy and a misplaced pride in their heritage. Same as the Pharisees sixteen years earlier, so with the scattered Jews in southern Europe. You could say all kinds of things to them and they would listen, right up to the point where you challenged their way of life and told them they weren’t as special as they thought they were. That they weren’t as OK as they thought they were. That they needed to change.

From that day, Paul’s primary mission was to the Gentiles. Jesus had gone to his people, and they killed him. Paul had gone to his people and they persecuted him. So his calling to the Gentiles kicked in to a high gear from this point on.

Despite the sadness, we see from the joy of the disciples and their filling with Holy Spirit (v.52) that it was also a great time. Amidst the persecution, almost an entire city had “gathered to hear the word of the Lord”, and as the persecution grew and the Christians scattered, they took the message about Jesus with them and shared it everywhere they went.

It doesn’t matter how nicely you share the love of God with people, or how gentle you are when you tell people they need to repent and believe in Jesus because. The message will anger some and save others.

But how people respond to you should not shape your joy, because your sense of worth and contentment isn’t based on how people respond to you. So we should mourn for the lostness of others, and no-one likes to have their words thrown back at them, but let’s look beyond that to the joy of knowing that God is still at work. Let’s determine to be a part of that work, telling people of the love of God, and their need of salvation.

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