Study in the Acts of the Apostles. Presentation 28. Gospel Polarity Chapter 13v42-14v7. Presentation 28. Introduction.
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Acts of the
We often think of the gospel as uniting men from different traditions, social backgrounds, ethnic groups and personalities. It is equally clear from scripture that the gospel divides men; like a magnet with two polarities. One group is bound together in the cause of Christ and the other in their opposition to him.
This bipolarity is seen in our passage. Indeed, there
is something wrong if the gospel we preach
leaves men unmoved. Note that it is not
the manner of the communication which
got people’s backs up but its content and
effect. By examining the two polarities
produced by the gospel, we will discover
drove men in two different directions.
We begin by thinking about those who were receptive to the gospel and eager to commit themselves to the cause of Christ.
Notice first, their appetite for and responsiveness to God's Word. The gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation proclaimed by the apostles addressed the burning concern of their hearts; ‘How can I get right with God, how can I be sure of heaven’.
These are the people Jesus had in mind when he said, ‘blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.’ Matt.5v6.
Like sponges they soaked up the Word of God.
John Wesley described his pursuit of God in the following manner:
“I'm a creature of the day passing through life as an arrow through the air... Just hovering over the great gulf till a few minutes hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing the way to heaven; ... God has written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me...and what I thus learn I teach”.
Can you identify Wesley’s appetite for God and his salvation in the way that some in Paul’s congregation could? Some of them could not wait for the next synagogue service to come round that God might minister to them again through his word v42.
What a refreshing contrast to the many people who can’t
wait for the service to be over that they might dismiss from
their minds matters of pressing spiritual value. Some of
Paul’s hearers wanted an even clearer understanding of the gospel which was becoming increasingly precious to them. When you attend a church service, do you bring with you an appetite for God? Does the prospect of God communicating
with you, through his Word, thrill your heart, or, are you
merely fulfilling a religious ritual?
Secondly, note that the lives of this group are marked by joy in believing v48. The discovery that their salvation was on God’s agenda made them ‘glad and caused them to honour the word of the Lord’.
We all have a God-awareness in our hearts, which some supress because they are not comfortable with the idea of being accountable to God - thinking of what it will mean to stand before God’s bar of justice makes men quake in fear. But the gospel reveals an additional aspect of God’s character. In it, we are confronted with the love, mercy
and grace of God, who sent his Son to be our Saviour. It presents salvation as God’s grace gift and invites us to experience the reality of God’s forgiveness. A cause for great joy!
Can you think of what it means to stand in God’s presence no longer as his enemy crushed by the guilt of your rebellion but as his adopted child?
You may know that C. S. Lewis. Lewis was a Cambridge professor, an atheist who discovered that his thinking about God was all wrong. He was converted and when writing his biography he entitled it, "Surprised by Joy."
When we discover, that where we stand before God is not because of any merit or worth on our part but because of the work of God’s grace in our lives then ours is an ‘unspeakable joy’.
Thirdly, this group became living adverts for the gospel as their joy in salvation had an evangelistic effect on the city, v44whose people turned out en mass for the next church.
For a similar response see the response from Sychar to the Samaritan woman’s invitation, “Come see a man” Jn.4v29.Those who have an appetite for God and his salvation and who enter into the wonder of the forgiveness and a new relationship with God, will invariably cause others to pay attention.
Nothing arouses curiosity like the joy of a transformed life. After his conversion, away from home, William Wilberforce's mother heard alarming rumours that her son was out of his mind. But on meeting him, his cheerfulness, his consideration and the absence of quick temper greatly surprised her.
When he did arrive home, a family friend, Mrs Sykes remarked, “If this is madness I hope that he will bite us all”.
Do you see how contagious the gospel can become?
But the gospel produces two polarities. What of the second predominantly Jewish, group that showed itself opposed to the gospel? Their background, history and upbringing had prepared them to receive the gospel they opposed.
First, they reject the very Word of which they were the proud custodians, refusing it entrance to their minds and hearts. It disturbed and challenged their cherished beliefs. Do you find it strange that the Word which for years they had given lip service to, is something that they reject, as it challenges them to a personal commitment to Christ..
In rejecting God's word they rejected eternal life and put themselves out of reach of God's grace v46. It is not that they were incapable of responding. You may think, that if God in grace appointed some to eternal life v48then he was to blame for the failure of others to believe. Not so! We are responsible for our own actions. The choices we make are real choices! No one else makes them for us.
Men cannot argue before the bar of God’s justice, ‘We are only sophisticated machines and if you did not press the right buttons we are not to blame.’
People excuse their behaviour by placing the responsibility at someone else’s door; ‘It was my upbringing, my environment, my parents are to blame’. I am not suggesting these things cannot influence our behaviour, they can! But the choices we make are still our choices. Many claim to be puppets in God’s determinist hands saying; ‘I could not help myself. It must have been God’s will’.
When we come to make the most important choice we will ever be faced with, ‘what to do with Jesus and his offer of salvation’, God treats us as responsible human beings and accountable for the choice we make. Men reject God, before he rejects them. We can’t deny having responsibility for our destiny.
Secondly, these men are angry when others respond to God’s grace. In any other matter such people campaign for the rights of others to choose but here perversely not only do they refuse to benefit from the gospel, they don't want others to benefit either. The joy of the believers made their blood boil. They resented the joy and liberation of the new converts.
They attempt to undermine Paul’s ministry v45. They tried to contradict apostolic teaching not with reasoned argument or open debate, but by abusive speech. A public speaker once wrote at the side of his speech, "shout here, argument very weak". That is precisely what they did. Cogent argument was replaced by volatile speech.
When they failed to win over the crowd the only thing left was to persecute the apostles driving them out of the city. But who were they hurting? Not the apostles who ‘were filled with joy and the H.S’. v52. It is possible to rejoice in opposition.
The persecutors hurt only themselves as they estranged themselves from God's message of grace. In addition their own shallow religion was exposed. There were no lengths to which they would not stoop, mis-reporting what was said by the apostles, playing on the weaknesses and fears of others, so that the most unlikely people are incited to join the opposition moment - the God-fearing women and leading men of the city v50.
How did the apostles react to these two polarised groups? Those who were receptive to God's word were encouraged to ‘continue in the grace of God’ v43. What does that mean? They had been spiritually awakened, and knew that God by his Spirit was at work in their hearts and so are encouraged to persevere in their enquiries, and to learn more of the gospel of forgiveness. But more than that. They had learned that law keeping was not the way to eternal life v39. For years they had tried but failed to gain God's approval by keeping the law.
In contrast, the gospel of grace encourages
men to come regularly to God with open
hands. Taking God’s forgiveness and
approval and making it their own.
And so they were to continue as
When the apostles taught their hearers to depend on God’s keeping power, did they know that their stay might be brief? This is how we mature in our faith and not by leaning on others as a crutch. It is so important to learn to depend upon God and his grace alone.
During the Iranian revolution an elder in the church in Tabriz heard that the missionaries were about to leave. He came with tears in his eyes and said, “the church can’t survive without missionaries”. He was wrong! Dependence on a Christian worker is a poor substitute for dependence upon God.
Above all else discover the comfort, support and
strength which God can give - it far surpasses anything
a mere man can offer.
How did the apostles react to the second group? cf. v51they shook the dust from their feet as a protest against those who had rejected the gospel. This was the instruction given by Jesus in Matt. 10.14-15.
Wiping the dust from one’s feet symbolised rejection. In visual and dramatic form the apostles were saying to the inhabitants of Antioch who had rejected the gospel, that God would in turn one day reject them. Theirs was not an expression of contempt but of grief. In visual form they impressed upon the minds the inhabitants the significance of rejecting what had been so clearly held before them.
Preaching the gospel is an awesome business for the gospel divides men and women.
Paul told the church in Corinth that in his preaching was a savour of life to some and a savour of death to others 2 Cor.2v16.
Pray that the gospel will prove to be a savour of life to unbelievers whom we have contact with and who attend our church fellowships. We cannot predict how others will respond but can commend them to Jesus who said, “Come unto me all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest” Matt. 11v28. May each one experience peace and joy in believing.