“‘Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,
and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:
“Look, you scoffers,
be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.”’
As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath.
And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas, who as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds,
they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘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.”’
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.”
Look at the hunger for and rejoicing at this word. At the gospel heard for the first time. After hearing Paul’s words telling them of Jesus, the One who had been promised through the ages, and of the salvation, forgiveness, and freedom found in Him, the people begged to hear it all again at the next Sabbath. And almost the whole city gathered the next week, to hear the word of the Lord.
These people weren’t gathering to see miracles performed. No miracles are spoken of in this passage. And they weren’t coming to see some drama play out between those in power and these outsiders. They weren’t drawn by sensationalism or controversy.
No, the Scripture says they came for one reason: to hear the word of the Lord.
Jews and Gentiles alike, gathering to hear these words of hope. And Paul’s response to an opposing group (though please note, it was not all the Jewish people who opposed them) brought rejoicing to the Gentiles. Because hope applied just as clearly to them. They were not on the outside looking in anymore; salvation was brought to the ends of the earth regardless of bloodline or family history. Regardless even of personal history, because it is through Jesus that forgiveness of sin is proclaimed to us.
Through Jesus. Not through our proving ourselves worthy or strong. Not through continual sacrifices. But through Him who became our sin and gave Himself to save us, the sacrifice offered once for all, powerful enough to take all the wrath due to us and cover us completely with transforming grace.
These people had never heard such hope proclaimed. The freedom offered in Jesus was unlike any experienced before. Freedom and hope that continue to elude all who do not know Christ today. Freedom and hope that, if they experienced it, would bring rejoicing – because their souls would be brought to life by the very Spirit of God and they would be filled with His fullness, with joy and light and peace.
This is what we are to proclaim to a world that is dark and without hope, a world that is searching and might not even realize it. This is what we are witnesses to. And as witnesses, we simply share of our experience with this God who saves. Like a witness in a courtroom, we don’t necessarily have to be experts in the field; we just share our experience of our relationship with God. We share how we have known freedom and the difference His hope and salvation have made within us. And if we can’t think of anything…perhaps we have lost sight of it. Perhaps we have become complacent or distracted by everything else around us. What a sad state that is, to have hold of such a hope but forget the wonder of it.
May the enthusiastic response of the individuals in this recounted history stir our hearts with new wonder at the amazing hope brought to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, our Messiah. God our Savior. The One in whom hope is not a question, but a decisive confidence that eliminates fear – because we are saved, held, kept forever by the One who is greater than all. The One who takes away all condemnation and shame, redeeming our past in glory. The One who frees us from sin itself and empowers us to walk in the likeness of God, bringing our heart out of darkness into marvelous, life-giving light. The One in whom we experience love and belonging in its purest, most steadfast form. The One we do not have to clean ourselves up for, because He is the One who cleanses us, the One who came to die to save us because we could not save ourselves. The One who rose from the grave in victory, conquering death so we could know life in Him forever.
The Jewish people begged to hear of this hope again. The Gentiles rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, because it came to them as well, salvation brought to the ends of the earth.
May our response reflect this eagerness to hear, this rejoicing at such hope and freedom, and this glorifying of our Lord and the truth His Word reveals to us through His Spirit. And may it compel us to speak, bringing light, hope, and freedom to those around us, knowing that it is the Lord who goes before us, who is mighty to save.
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”
“‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD,
‘and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me,
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
I, I am the LORD,
and besides me there is no savior.’”
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ,
God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:17-21