The Gentiles Rejoice
We read yesterday that upon hearing Paul’s sermon in the synagogue declaring Jesus of Nazareth to be the long-awaited Christ, the people begged that they might hear of these matters again the next Sabbath. We also read that “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas,” implying that they believed. Apparently the preaching of the Gospel created quite a stir for the on next Sabbath “the whole city gathered to hear the word of God.” But as is often the case when many people turn to hear a new speaker, others become jealous and begin to speak against the upstart. So the Jews did. This brought a stinging rebuke from Paul and Barnabas: “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (The passage is cited from Isaiah 49:6.)
From here we read two wonderful things. First, that “when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord.” It seems that the Gentiles were waiting for just this revelation – the revelation that God had sent His Son Jesus to save them, too, from their sins. Salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22), and as the covenant people, and as Paul and Barnabas affirmed, they must hear the Gospel message first. But after that hearing, the Gentiles are awarded their opportunity, for the promise to Abraham was that through him all the families of the earth should be blessed (Genesis 12:3). This is why Jesus sent his apostles to all the nations, that they may be his witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8). The plan was always universal – to all the nations.
And yet, that plan has always been particular, for the next line reads: “And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Please note the order: those who believed were not thus appointed to eternal life, but those appointed to eternal life believed. God has graciously chosen myriads from every tongue and nation scattered abroad upon the earth. Through the drawing and convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the Father continues to make a heavenly Pentecost out of our worldly Babel bringing “a great multitude that no one [can] number” to the foot of the cross (Revelation 7:9). This is why sharing our faith shouldn’t be so scary; God has many out there just waiting to “rejoice and glorify the word of the Lord.”