By Nick Batzig
It can be surprising to see the grace of God operative in the life of someone you would have deemed an unlikely convert. The opposite can also be true. This was true in the days of the apostles. Many—if not most—of the Jewish people to whom the apostles preached did not believe; whereas many of the Gentiles who heard the gospel did believe.
We see this in today’s reading from Acts. Paul and Barnabas were on a missionary journey. When they came into the synagogue in the city of Antioch, they were asked if they had anything to share from God’s Word. Paul took advantage of such an opportunity by setting out God’s gracious working with Israel. Then he explained how God fulfilled His promises in Christ. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, anyone who believes will be forgiven and justified before God.
Paul brings his preaching of the gospel to a close with a warning (Acts 13:40–41). Those who initially heard Paul received the warning, however, the next week another group of Jewish people came to contradict and insult Paul before the crowds. They were revealing that what God had warned in Habakkuk 1:5 was true of them: though they had all the privileges of hearing the word of God as part of the old covenant people of God, they did not and would not believe the testimony of Scripture about Jesus.
Turning to address the Jewish people who were opposing them, Paul and Barnabas said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). Luke tells us, “When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed” (v.48).
Those who seem most likely to receive the word often reject it, while those we’d least expect to believe in the crucified and risen Son often accept Him. The Gentiles believed because they had been “appointed to eternal life” by God (v.48). God uses the preaching of the gospel to call sinners to Christ for forgiveness and justification. We should be confident that He has promised to accomplish His purposes through the preaching of His Word. It is by preaching of Christ crucified and risen that men and women are saved (v.39). This is a central truth of Scripture.