A Light For The Gentiles
By Pastor Teddy
Key Verse: 13:47
“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.’”
Still on their first mission journey, Paul and Barnabas end up in Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath they now go to worship with fellow Jews, as perhaps was their custom. It was customary for the Jews to read Scripture on the Sabbath, and so after the assigned Old Testament Bible passages were read, here’s what happened. Look at verse 15. The synagogue rulers sent word to Paul and Barnabas, saying: “If you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” Paul was eagerly waiting for this moment, and so he raised his.
Now Paul got up to tell them the message of salvation, which if they believed it, if they took it to heart, it would provide them the two most priceless things that every human being needs and which no earthly treasure could ever buy them— but that only faith could. They just need to take to heart the message he is about to tell them. They only need to believe it. And the Lord who is gracious would gladly give these treasures to them and much more. What are the two treasures Paul is talking about in his sermon? Here they are in verses 38-39; see if you can catch them: “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” These are the treasures God wants to give his people; and that’s what he had to sacrifice in order to do it. Forgiveness and justification! A human being who dies without them dies an eternal death apart from God. No soul should ever be that desolate! So God offered his people forgiveness of sins through faith in his Son Jesus. And he offered them justification through that same faith.
Last week Timothy gave what in my opinion is a truly superior message on that first part of Apostle Paul’s sermon to the congregation at Pisidian Antioch. So I need not go into detail regarding much of what was already said. But in order to understand the flow of Paul’s sermon, it’s necessary to repeat some of the major points that have been stated so as to better understand where Paul is going with his sermon, the point he is trying to make. He begins by recounting some of the amazing history of their people. God had chosen them as a people and prospered them as a people and even when they became slaves to another nation, God did not abandon them but rescued and led them with mighty acts of power to the freedom of a new life. They were his chosen people, but they weren’t the best of people. But like a father he endured their waywardness and cared for them deeply for many years to come. He helped them until they overcame nations stronger than them and settled in their place. It is impossible to imagine the love God held out for them. It was nothing less than his one sided grace that sustained them throughout the formative years of their history, when their nation was only a youth. Paul needed them to remember God’s hand of grace. Why? So that they might also remember where God was leading them. I think this is a lesson for us as well. We all need to remember God’s grace in our lives, otherwise we begin to drift aimlessly not knowing why God even saved us, like so many Christians of this generation.
Now about lessons for us to be learned from this! There’s a heretical element to those who consider the Old Testament to be stories and myths not to be taken seriously. It’s amazing what one can learn from those stories. Paul seems to have given these supposed stories and myths a great deal of credence and authority when he delivered his message to this congregation. I want to remind all of you that there is nothing in the Old Testament that is either just a story or a myth. Here is why the Apostles frequently studied it and used it for reference. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
After giving them a short history of God’s grace until they settled in the land of their conquest, Paul goes on to remind them of one of the greatest sins that the people of God had ever committed before their loving God. God had given them judges to rule them for a time. Those judges weren’t perfect but rather ordinary people whom God empowered from time to time to resolve issues and to overcome enemies who posed a threat to his people. But God did so only when they had cried out to him in repentance and in faith. In a way, it was the perfect arrangement. Every time they back slid from God, they suffered some disaster. And every time the disaster they suffered became unbearable, they were forced to cry out to God. And God would not hear of it until they genuinely cried out to him from their hearts with the right attitude; that is, when they humbled themselves, repented of their sins and trusted him to help them in faith. That’s when he gave them a judge or empowered the judge they already had to deliver them from the disaster that troubled them. It was the perfect arrangement! God took care of them like a tigress mom with young cubs. They just had to go and ruin what good thing they had with God and ask for a king to rule over them. Why did they do that? Because they wanted to be just like all the other nations. They were jealous of those other nations who seemed to have worldly glory. We talked about that last time, so there’s no need to go into that.
But suffice it to say that they were tired of having to live a spiritual life. They were tired of having to be different from everyone else. They were tired of having nothing while everyone else around had everything. They were tired of struggling to live poorly and purely just to be an example to worldly people who didn’t even seem to care! They didn’t want to be different any more. They demanded to have a king. It was a mistake and a sin. Still, God told the prophet Samuel at the time to go ahead and give them a king as they had requested. It would be a long time before they would realize that God alone is truly king. Lo and behold, the first king Saul, who at first seemed ideal, soon turned arrogant and disobedient and began to do things his own way until God was forced to remove him. So Paul reminds them what God then did. Look at verse 22: “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testifies concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” When God looked into David’s heart, he was pleased; he saw a man of obedience. He saw a shepherd boy who will do everything God wants him to do. And God promised that through his line he would send the Savior of the world. David was a shadow of the Savior Son of God and the very Savior King who would carry out God’s will without question even to the point of death. For it was God’s will for the Savior King to give his life in obedience to God for the salvation of the world. Paul had now made his case in history that the God of grace was finally about to fulfill his age old promise to his people, and bring about that long awaited Savior King from the line of David.
Look at verses 24-31. The great prophet John the Baptist prepared the people of Israel to receive their Savior King through a baptism of repentance. Here Paul spoke directly to the Jews, calling them children of Abraham (26) for Abraham was a man of faith who saw Jesus’ day and greatly rejoiced in it. (John 8:56) He also spoke to those among the Gentiles who feared God, because fearing God is to love God and to heed his word. He tells them that the message passed down through the ages and of which he is now speaking is no ordinary message, for it is a message of salvation. Countless eyebrows must have knotted at these words! The Jews prided themselves in the salvation that comes from their obedience to the Law. (They thought they were already saved) And their Gentile converts prided themselves in being counted privileged proselytes and candidates of salvation. (They thought that by that same rule they too might be saved) But Paul must speak the truth! The message of salvation can only be found in One Man. It is in One Man. It comes from One Man. It’s accomplished though One Man. And it is granted to sinful men through the grace of God and the sacrifice of that One Man. And furthermore, salvation has nothing to do with what any man does and it has everything to do with what this One Man Christ does. And so Paul begins to tell his story. The One Man Jesus came exactly as Scripture and the all the prophets had foretold. And he did exactly what had been said about him. He lived and served and loved as a shepherd. He used his divine power to bless the most unfortunate of people. But his people did not recognize him as the Promised Savior. Rather they killed him, and they buried him in a tomb. Yet God raised him from the dead according to the promise. Paul then says there are witnesses to the Risen Christ.
And he goes on to say in 32-33. “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” This is the good news, the message of salvation Paul was delivering to them. Paul spoke of this good news and of salvation only in relation to Jesus’ resurrection and nothing in relation to fulfilling any laws or living a certain way, or accomplishing certain things. In the following verses Paul continues his sermon emphasizing the facts of Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Because the resurrection is the power of God that changed the world and everything in the world. It changed our hopes and our lives and our destinies. Jesus’ death on the cross and the shedding of his blood brought forgiveness for sins. But forgiveness of sins without resurrection is useless. It is the resurrection that makes our forgiveness meaningful. Because of the resurrection, we who believe are forgiven and cleansed. Our conscience is clear before God and our hearts are pure to come to his presence as his dearly beloved children, clothed in his Son’s grace. Because of his resurrection, we who believe become in every sense a child of God who inherits everything along with our King Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is our gateway out of this dead world into God’s living kingdom. Once, death kept us prisoners here. We were prisoners of sin, prisoners of fear, and prisoners of everything vile which chained us to this world. But the resurrection of Christ broke the chains of death and bound us to life such that we have nothing to fear any more.
How do we receive this? By faith. We just believe what the Lord has given us. Read verses 38-39. “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” It was a tremendous challenge to them. Maybe the challenge wasn’t only to them. Look at verse 41: “Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.” It’s true. The gospel message seems unbelievable! Maybe then it’s also a tremendous challenge to the arrogant and to the prideful; to the self righteous and the bigot; a challenge to the religious and the self confident; and to him who thinks he knows it all! But here are the treasures of faith and of salvation which the Lord has made available for those who want them. Forgiveness and justification! And they can both be gotten by faith. That’s also good news, because faith simply believes what God is offering you.
If you look at verses 42-52, it seems that the people were touched by the message. And, many who heard followed Paul and Barnabas home. I think they wanted to study the Bible with them. The next Sabbath amazingly almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of God. But then the Jews were jealous when they saw so many people crowding Paul and Barnabas to hear them preach and began a great persecution against them. I think it must have been very discouraging for Paul who loved his people to be rejected by them. Even more, it must have been painful for him to see them reject the gospel and by rejecting the gospel to reject life eternal because of pride of heart. But when we see Paul’s response we can see the mature Christian attitude towards bigotry and persecution. Look at verses 46-47. “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 one lives in the grace of our Lord like Paul did, he sees even persecution as an opportunity to glorify God. Paul saw his people’s rejection as God’s invitation to change direction and serve the Gentiles instead. He understood the urgency of being a light which God wanted him and his people to be for those who were still living in the darkness of sin. Now he could actually be the light of the gospel for the people of the world. He could now reflect God’s love to Gentile people who never knew God before, and bring the message of hope and of salvation to them, as God had always intended.
One more question remains: Who are the Gentiles of today which God also commands us to be a light to? I think the Gentiles could be anybody who doesn’t know the Lord, who is still living in the darkness of this world and of sin. To some the Gentiles may be those at work who we work with and whom we generally don’t give much thought nor care for. To others it may be the students on campus whom we see every day and never think twice about whether they will perish or not. To the church today, it may be those Muslims who all look alike, who deserve to perish because they are all terrorists and who don’t deserve salvation like us good people. But the Lord did not call us to behave this way. He called us to a higher calling to be a light to all those who live in the darkness of the world. He commanded us to bring the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. How can fulfill our calling? When we remember God’s grace in our own history and life story. When forgiveness and justification are the treasures that we value more than anything else in this life. When the good news of the resurrection is our own story of deliverance from chains of this world and from fear. When we truly want to see others escape the chain of sin and be liberated to serve and honor Christ. Then we can honestly say “I am light for the Gentiles.”