42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “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. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that youmay bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
The Jewish people in the synagogue received Paul and Barnabas well. They spent time talking with them after the service and even invited them back for the next Sabbath. But the word got out in the community. Everyone, including Gentiles, wanted to hear the “word of the Lord.” Suddenly, the Jews were jealous. They thought this good news was exclusively for them. Weren’t they the people who had spent centuries trying to follow God? Who were these Gentiles, these pagans? They hadn’t even been looking for a Messiah, and now they were getting the benefit of salvation simply through faith in Jesus!
The Israelites or Jewish people had forgotten that this was always the plan. God didn’t choose a people group in order to limit grace to that group only. Rather, God chose a group of people that he could enact grace through. Abraham had been called so that through him all the families of earth could be blessed. Israel was called to be a nation of priests, not in the world but to the world. And the Messiah was always meant to embody God’s plan to restore all of creation, not just the nation of Israel.
It’s easy to see how the Jewish people might have resented this message of free grace for all. All these years they had been working to maintain their distinctiveness as a people, through practices that kept them pure (clean in spirit and body), following the law of Moses, and devoting themselves to the one true God. They had endured persecution, abuse, death, and been outcasts in their own land, all at the hands of Gentiles.
This is, however, the nature of the gospel. It’s the nature of God. Grace almost always presents itself in a way that is counterintuitive and countercultural. God shows up in the margins of life, in the back alleys, and in the person you would choose to shun. Grace is for everyone. Period. There are no limits we can put on it, even if we try.
When and where do you try to limit grace? How can you allow grace to flow through you to everyone?
Wesley Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own by yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.