Salvation to the Ends of the Earth
Text: Acts 13:42-52
Main Point: Our gospel privileges in Jesus Christ are the product of God’s purposeful work on our behalf.
I. A Quick Review (Acts 13:15–41)
II. A Two Fold Response (Acts 13:42–45)
III. A Devastating Rebuttal (Acts 13:46–47)
IV. A Surprising Conclusion (Acts 13:48–52)
Good morning church and happy thanksgiving. As you probably noticed from the Scripture reading this morning, I am not preaching from a typical thanksgiving text. And that is because I am trying to wrap up Paul’s first missionary journey before we get to the final two weeks of Advent (December 18th and 25th)
Yet, it is my greatest hope this morning, that our passage in Acts will kindle a deep-seated sense of thanksgiving and gratitude and joy in your heart— no matter your current life circumstances. And that is because even though Luke’s main point in this section is that God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. These verses are more than a historical record of the gospel’s expansion through the ancient world AND they are more than a prophetic endorsement of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.
They are an ever-present reminder to the church in every age that our gospel privileges in Jesus Christ are the product of God’s purposeful work on our behalf. Just think about it, everything you and I have in Christ is the product of God’s intentional planning and purposes before the foundation of the world!
But the sad reality is that the joy-producing power of God’s work on our behalf can be quickly obscured on at least two at least fronts. On the one hand, it can be quenched by our familiarity with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now by this I am not saying we should stop focusing on the gospel. Rather, I am saying that, if we are not careful, the glorious news and privileges of the gospel can become commonplace; kind of like the difference between your first and last bite of turkey or ham on Thanksgiving.
And on the other hand, the true power of God’s work on our behalf can be obscured by the difficulties and business of everyday life. Difficulties at work, in our marriage, with our kids, with our finances, or our fellow church members. It’s not that we do not appreciate God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, it’s just that it can seem so small and so far away when compared to the pressures we are facing in the moment.
So if you are struggling to find joy this morning; it is my hope that these verses will awaken you to a greater vision of God’s infinite grace in Jesus Christ AND fuel your ever-increasing joy and happiness in him. Yet, before we turn to these verses, we need to anchor them in the broader context of the story that we studied last week so we can grasp how the people’s begging (v 42), turned to the Jew’s vicious reviling (v 45), and outright persecution by the end of the account in verse 50.
A Quick Review (Acts 13:15–41)
So how did this whole account begin? It began with a simple invitation.
Acts 13:15–16 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 16So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.
And what did Paul want to tell his listeners? He wanted to tell them:
One: That God’s ultimate purpose in the election of Israel was to provide a savior in the person of Jesus Christ.
Yes God chose Israel as his treasured possession. Yes, God made them a great nation and gave them a great inheritance and gave them human saviors in the judges throughout their history. And yes, God sovereignly raised up David to be their king and promised that he would raise up a future king like him.
And Paul’s good news for his listeners was that the centuries-long wait was over! God had finally fulfilled his promise by providing a savior for Israel in the person of Jesus Christ. But this very affirmation raised a significant problem. How could his audience believe that Jesus was God’s promised savior if he was rejected by the religious leaders in Jerusalem and crucified as a criminal?
Two: God’s plan of salvation always required the rejection, execution, and resurrection of David’s promised Son. In fact, Paul demonstrated this truth two ways: First, by revealing that the religious leaders were clueless to the fact that they were merely fulfilled the prophets predictions in their sinful rejection and unjust execution of Jesus. And secondly by showing them how the Psalms and prophets declared that David’s promised son would not only die but be raised from the dead. The resurrection was prophetic proof that Jesus was David’s promised Son and Israel’s promised savior.
But what did this mean? How was it good news for his audience? Especially since their leaders had rejected their promised Messiah? Well, the good news (and Paul’s third point) is that, in Jesus, God had sent a savior to save his people from their sins. Or to put it in terms of the main point last week: The law of Moses could never secure what God freely offers through faith in Jesus Christ— lasting forgiveness that did not require an never-ending list of sacrifices.
So how did Paul’s audience ultimately react to this message of God’s work in Jesus Christ?
A Twofold Response (Acts 13:42–45)
Excitement, Interest, and Faith
Notice, how did the congregation initially respond to Paul’s message of salvation in Jesus Christ? A large number of them want it! One the one hand, a number of them were gripped by the gospel even though they did not fully grasp its message they begged Paul to come back the next sabbath. And on the other hand, a significant number of Jews and converts to Judaism instantly responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith. We see this in that Paul and Barnabas are encouraging some of the people to “continue in the grace of God.”
Yet, as Luke quickly transitions to the next Sabbath, we are quickly confronted with an opposite response.
Acts 13:45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.
So, what is going on in this verse? Are the people who were excited to hear the gospel the previous Sabbath turning against the gospel on the second Sabbath? I don’t think so because Luke does not tell us they abandoned the gospel. In light of this, it seems much more likely to conclude, that “the Jews” in this verse are a group of unbelieving Israelites.
But this begs the question, why didn’t they oppose Paul the week before? If the “Jews” believed Paul was a false teacher, they never would have invited him back. Even more, they would have actively barred him from preaching the next week. But they didn’t, did they? No. They did not launch their attack against Paul until after the enormous crowd showed up at the synagogue to hear Paul preach.
This helps us see that the problem was not proper doctrine but prideful jealousy on at least two fronts. First, and most obviously, their jealousy was clearly driven by the size of the crowd that came to hear Paul on the second sabbath. And in this we see that Paul’s attackes are not jealous for God and his Word, are they? No! If they were, they would be celebrating the fact that — “the whole city had gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (v. 44) no matter who was preaching. But the second reason is not as obvious until we remember that the city of Antioch of Pisidia was a predominantly Gentile city. See, the source of the conflict is not just that Paul is preaching to a massive crowd. No, the problem is that he is openly proclaiming forgiveness of sins through faith in Israel’s promised savior to an audience that was historically excluded from God’s covenant with Israel.
And when we see this, we can see that their jealousy is more than the size of the crowd, it’s their underlying belief that God is always for the people of Israel AND always against the Gentiles. Don’t miss this, this group of Jews were not merely attacking Paul because they were jealous of his crowd. No. They were attacking Paul because his message of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ was a direct threat to their special status as God’s chosen people. After all, they were the sole and rightful heirs to God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and king David… but what they failed to realize in all their zeal was that God promises to Israel were never “just about Israel.”
In fact, Paul drives this very point home two different ways in his devastating rebuttal.
A Devastating Rebuttal (Acts 13:46–49)
The Priority of Israel
The first thing we see in Paul’s rebuttal is that his Jewish attackers are partially right about their privileged status. Yet, how was this privilege manifest in regard to the gospel? Well according to Paul, it was manifest in the fact that he preached the gospel to the people of Israel before he openly preached it to the Gentiles. Simply put, it was only proper that the people of the original promise should be the first people to hear the good news of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.
In fact we see this principle carried out multiple ways in the book of Acts. The gospel is first preached to the Jews in Jerusalem. Then it is preached to the Jews in Samaria. Then as Paul and Barnabas begin their missionary endeavor what do they do? They visited the synagogues in Cyprus and the present synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia to preach the gospel to the Jews before they preached directly to the Gentiles. And even after the conflict in this chapter, Paul continues to follow this pattern wherever possible.
The Inclusion of the Gentiles
The second thing that we see in Paul’s rebuttal is that his gospel preaching to the Gentiles was not a pragmatic knee-jerk response to Jewish rejection nor was is a sign that God was abandoning the Jews. No, to the contrary, Paul wants his attackers to see that his intentional preaching to Jews and Gentiles a like was an act of obedience to God’s express command. Yet, what is surprising in that Paul does not locate this command in his unexpected encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus () nor does he indicate that it came through God’s revelation to the church in Antioch (). No, he anchors his authority in God’s revealed word through the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 49:6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant (1) to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; (2) I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Notice, what does God promise? He promises that his we will raise up a future servant (the suffering servant of Isaiah 53) who will not only bring back the preserved of Israel but serve as a light for the nations SO THAT his salvation will reach not just to Israel but to the Gentiles and the ends of the earth. The God who brought Israel a Savior, just as he promised (v. 23) so that he might provide lasting forgiveness and freedom from the law of Moses through faith in Jesus Christ (v. 38–39), had also promised that this Jewish Savior would bring salvation to the Gentiles (v 47).
Don’t miss this, the very heart of Paul’s rebuttal, his apostolic calling, and his philosophy of ministry was driven by one glorious truth. The singular Biblical conviction that God’s election of Israel always included his pursuit of the Gentiles. In fact, Luke goes out of his way to demonstrate this very point three ways in his surprising conclusion.
A Surprising Conclusion (Acts 13:48–52)
Idol Worshipers Appointed to Eternal Life
At this point in the story, we might expect Luke to quickly transition to the surprising response of the Gentiles and the subsequent persecution of the Jews. But he does something more, he goes out of his way to emphasize God’s deliberate and sovereign hand in the salvation of these Gentiles.
Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
Now, I know full-well that we all don’t come to this verse with the same theological convictions. And if you are wondering if the Greek text and grammar behind this phrase really carries the idea of God’s active choosing of individuals, the answer from countless scholars and Greek professors throughout the history of the church is “yes.”
But that leads us to the question why? Why does Luke say, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” instead of “as many as believed received eternal life,” like John 3:16? Well, as I wrestled with this passage this week, I believe it’s because Luke is addressing an underlying question. “How can his readers be certain that Paul’s interpretation of Isaiah was right, and that the Jews were wrong? How can they know for certain that God was always planning for the inclusion of the Gentiles?”
Well, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke reveals the unexpected fact that God was just as involved in salvation of these Gentiles as he was involved in the election of Israel. The God who freely chose Israel’s fathers in history past (in v. 17) had sovereignly appointed these Gentiles to believe and receive eternal life (in v. 48).
And if this is the case, the implication is this, God’s “appointment to eternal life” proves that the Gentiles were always at the center of God’s saving plan. In fact, the final 4 verses serve in many ways to underscore this very point by recording God’s continuing work among these Gentile believers.
Evidence of God’s Continuing Work
The first way we see God’s continuing work is that the gospel is spreading like wildfire across the region. But it’s not spreading through the direct preaching of Paul and Barnabas. Rather, it is spreading through the witness of these now-saved Gentiles just like it spread earlier in the book of Acts through the witness of gospel-believing Jews.
The second way that we see God’s continuing work is that this new band of disciples do not cave into the growing persecution that eventually forced Paul and Barnabas to leave for Iconium. No to the contrary, they joyfully persevered in the face of persecution because they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 3:13–14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
So how can God’s work in these verses enlarge our vision of God’s grace AND fuel our ever-increasing joy and happiness in him.
1. These verses can cut through the spiritual fog of our apathy and our shame by reminding us that God is always faithful to his promises.
One the one hand, every one of us struggles with the spiritually deadening effects of apathy some time or another in our lives. And it’s not always because we have abandoned the church or our personal time in the Word and Prayer. It’s that we feel spiritually dead, even though we are spiritually alive in Christ. And on the other hand, every one of us knows what it’s like to live in extended periods of shame as a Christian. And it’s not just that we sin and fail. It’s that we fail at the same sins over and over again. Or it’s that we feel like we have failed God in a significant way, whether that be our marriage, our kids, or some other area of life.
Yet, if we look at the broader story of chapter 13, what do we see? We see that God’s election of Israel, promises to Israel, faithfulness to Israel, and provision of a Savior were never an indication of Israel’s merit before him. No, God continued to fulfill his promises despite his people’s inconsistent relationship with him. He saved them from Pharaoh, he saved them through his judges, he saved them through King Saul, he saved them through David, and he offered them lasting salvation in Jesus Christ. Despite all of their history.
Just think about it, if he did all this for a stiff-necked people in the past; how much more will he do for his blood-bought people today in Jesus Christ!
Romans 8:31–34 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
2. These verses reveal the true depths of God’s love for his people by emphasizing the glorious fact that God was actively working for our salvation in Jesus Christ before we ever existed.
We see this two-ways in chapter 13. The first is that God’s purpose in the election of Israel was always bigger than Israel. Your salvation in Christ was not an afterthought or an accidental result of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. No, everything in the OT and the Gospels and Acts point us to the fact that God was actively working for our salvation before the foundation of the world.
Second (if you are able to receive it this morning) Luke’s statement in verse 48 points us to the difficult truth that God was more active in your salvation that you could ever imagine. Is this verse mysterious and full of tension? Yes. Does every Christian agree about God is working in this verse? No. But I am convinced that God gives us difficult statements like this so that we might grasp the true depths of his love AND that our affections might overflow in humble, joyful, thankfulness.
As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon once put it, the door into the kingdom is inscribed with the open invitation: “Whosoever will, may come.” Yet, it is only after that we freely respond and are safely inside, that we discover a surprising inscription on the inside of the door: “Chosen from before the foundation of the world.”
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
 Brian J. Vickers, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in John–Acts, ESV Expository Commentary, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M Hamilton, and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 466.
 Bruce Milne, The Acts of the Apostles: Witnesses to Him… to the Ends of the Earth, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2010), 296.