The following sermon is based on Acts 13:44-52. You can listen to it here.
How do you deal with conflict? Whether it’s politics, religion, sports, or life in general, there are always those hot-button issues that ruffle feathers and cause conflicts. Who will be the next president? Just about everyone has an opinion, and many aren’t afraid to share it. How do you feel about abortion, or same-sex marriage, or some of the more recent racial tension in our country? These topics, and others, tend to get the blood pumping. So, when these topics come up, are you quick to get involved in a heated debate or are you the type of person that is somewhat reluctant to share your view on issues like these to avoid debates? How do you deal with conflict?
And more importantly for our purposes this morning, how do you deal with conflict when it directly impacts what God has to say about the sinfulness of mankind and God’s grace in sending Jesus? We aren’t all given boldness like the apostle Paul, but this morning we’ll see an example of why Easter gives all of us a life, free to speak boldly.
Our text this week picks up right where we left off last week. Paul was on his first missionary journey in a town called Pisidian Antioch. As was his custom Paul began preaching to the Jews at the synagogue. Paul encouraged them with the gospel, and the Jewish people, who were there that day, were happy to hear it. Here’s what Paul shared with them just a few verses before our text, “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39). Paul shared a wonderful message of free forgiveness. This would have been particularly liberating for Jewish folks because it freed them from the guilt they carried around—guilt over all the times they hadn’t kept the law God gave through Moses perfectly. They were so eager to hear more that they invited Paul and Barnabas to come back the following Sabbath day. After they invited Paul and Barnabas back and the congregation was dismissed, we’re told in verse 43 that many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God! But then, one week later, when everyone comes back, to hear Paul and Barnabas again, that’s when things went south.
“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” (Acts 13:44-45). What changed? Why was it that so many of the Jews responded favorably to Paul’s message of the Risen Jesus the week before, but now when “almost the whole city” shows up the following week, the Jews become filled with jealousy? I think there is some insight in verse 43. The people who supposedly responded well to the news of forgiveness in Jesus were “Jews and devout converts.” These were people who felt they had been faithful to God and his Word. They were people who were willing to admit they weren’t perfect, but HEY! at least they tried their best….
Now what? All of a sudden there is news spreading around Pisidian Antioch about these two guys with a new message to share and “almost the whole city” shows up!? Oh sure… now they show up… Where were they before while we were faithfully serving God? We work hard—we’re faithful to God—but now all these other people who aren’t faithful and they’re going to be given the same blessings we are?
All of a sudden a once receptive crowd has turned hostile. There is conflict. How do Paul and Barnabas deal with it? They speak boldly. “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. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” (Acts 13:46-47). It’s not easy to communicate God’s Word when things turn hostile. This text ends with the sad news that the Jews drove Paul and Barnabas out of town. In essence, the conflict led to broken relationships. One week, these Jews are walking out of the gathering with their arms around Paul and Barnabas—inviting them back—encouraging them—the next week these same people are driving them out of town.
Isn’t this where the problem lies? When we don’t boldly share the truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that all are justified freely in Jesus—isn’t our reason for keeping quiet, fear? Fear of consequences? Whether we think we know what those consequences may be or simply fear the unknown…? Fear of the damage our bold answers might have on relationships?
We are all different with different personalities. Not all of us are given the type of character that jumps headlong into a religious debate—and even those of you who are more comfortable dealing with conflict that doesn’t mean you enjoy it. And yet, different though we all are, Paul, Barnabas and many others, were made a light to the Gentiles. They shared the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. Different though we are, we all live in that same light. We all live in the light of the good news that Jesus died for the sins of the world—yours and mine included!
We’ve all been given a message that changes our lives, and that will change the lives of those around us. That’s the whole point of this series we’ve been focusing on in the weeks since Easter. Easter impacts LIFE! Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. It means our death is not the end. We will rise too! And yet, we often shy away from the opportunities we’re given to share that message with others. Instead of speaking the good news of Easter boldly, we so often become discouraged at the slightest scent of conflict.
We’ve all had those moments when we’ve shied away from the truth of the message we’ve been given—when we weren’t bold enough to share Jesus with others. Our sinful nature gets the better of us sometimes. We face pressure—we face conflict—and instead of speaking boldly, we clam up.
So how do we gain that courage to faithfully proclaim the truth we’ve come to know and hold so dear? Our courage to speak boldly comes from the same message we’ve been given to share. Paul spoke it clearly, and it still speaks to us today. “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified.” (Acts 13:38-39a). The courage to speak boldly in the face of pressure or conflict comes from this liberating message of sins forgiven in Jesus. The message that God loves us so much, that he sent his one and only Son, to stand up for what he believed in—to stand up for what he wanted more than anything. Jesus wanted sinners reconciled to God the Father. And Jesus felt so strongly about that message, about that desire to redeem sinners that he was willing to die for it. And that’s what he did. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, to forgive them and to free them. And the God who saved us from these sins is not dead, but alive forever and ever! That’s a message that’s too important to be bottled up by fear. FEAR OF WHAT!? A broken relationship here on this earth? The relationship all human beings have with their God is broken from conception! Is not the news of Jesus making our relationship with God right worth sharing?! Easter means our relationship with God has been fixed. Our sins are forgiven, we’re at peace with our God, and though we may die should Christ not return first, thanks to the Easter message we know death can’t hold us. You will rise.
Easter means you have been given a life, free to speak boldly! Boldly certainly doesn’t mean easily. There will always be a part of us that fears conflict—a part of us that fears the damage our boldness to share the gospel might cause to our earthly relationships. But, it’s worth it. Like Paul and Barnabas, you have a message of peace with God for all eternity. That’s a message that’s worth sharing, even when we fear earthly consequences.
And that’s just looking at the negative possibilities. Yes, Paul and Barnabas’ relationship with the Jewish locals in Pisidian Antioch was broken, but did you catch what happened after that? “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
You have been given a message worth sharing and a life, free to speak boldly!
I pray the Lord gives you an opportunity to share this awesome message today!
Blessings on your week!