Let us pray: Dear Savior, the truth of the 8th commandment is about “putting the best construction” on what others say and do. O that people, including all of us, would operate that way in life! For if they did, much more mission work, much more sharing of the Gospel would result. And yet, even when sinners are hard-hearted and hard-headed, You still provide us with opportunities to turn evil into good. Today impress that comforting truth upon us once more. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO IS A MASTER AT TURNING EVIL INTO GOOD!
TEXT: Acts 13: 44-52
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
His name is: Tim. He attended college with me. His family was entirely agnostic with some of them bordering on atheism. His parents sent him our Bethany Lutheran College because it was just down the street from their home, convenient, and affordable. Some time after coming into campus life he began to hang out with the “pre-thes” or pre-theological students. He was very bright and witty and liked the banter we all engaged in. He became a friend. Over time, we occasionally got him to church down the street. Eventually he transferred to a secular college in town and we saw less of him. Then I heard, after his college years he became a disc jockey in town at a local radio station for a few years. Sometimes, when I was back in Mn I would hear him on the radio. After that, I lost any connection and the years went by. Then, last year I got an email from him literally out of the blue! It seems that in those intervening years he had become a Christian, eventually a Pastor in another Lutheran denomination, and had been serving a congregation for the past few years. He wanted to express his gratitude to me and others for planting the seed of faith within him and not writing him off in his early years. That little note made my week! O how mysterious are God’s ways! And it reminds me a bit of this lesson where we see played out:
St. Paul and his fellow pastor, Barnabas, are traveling in modern day Turkey. They are on a missionary swing, going from town to town in the central region of that country. Now they arrive at a city called Antioch—a different one than Paul grew up in. Think of Burlington MA vs. Burlington VT. Their contact point was always the local synagogue as those folks had a knowledge of the OT and the Messianic prophesies. So, they went there to preach. Everything was going along nicely until some of the stiff-necked, law and ritual are more important than all else Jews took exception to their preaching Christ crucified. We’re told: “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.”
Most of you have had some sort of similar experiences. People generally shy away from “God talk” today because it arouses animosity. How many folks have you chatted with that literally “shut down” when you started to talk about church? Some even become angry or belligerent. Human pride doesn’t like to be challenged to examine and think through a person’s pre-conceived notions. With social media and the advent of the “hate speech” moniker this has gotten only worse with time.
Paul isn’t a shrinking violet. He doesn’t turtle and let them off without something to make them think. So, he says: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life (ouch!), 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.'”
Now those Jews thought they had a corner on the God market. They thought they were far superior than the sub-human gentiles. They are much like people around us today who know nothing of God’s Word and just rely on some platitudes about God that they grew up with. Why is it that very few want specifics when it comes to God “stuff” but insist on specifics when it comes to business and finance? Of course the answer is: sin causes folks to be spiritually lazy.
Now, you’d think that Paul and Barnabas would simply pack their bags and leave. But, no, they are moved by Christian love to try doling out the Gospel. They do exactly this to the Gentiles in Antioch. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 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. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
This whole section is full of unintended consequences. First, the people who should have known better and welcomed God’s grace did the opposite. Second, those who knew nothing of the Triune God and His gift of salvation to us in Jesus Christ eagerly listened and many believed and now reside in heaven as a result. Third, unbelief and pride seemed to get the upper hand and eventually they were able to expel Paul and Barnabas, but in actuality these stiff-necked “leaders” won the battle but ended up losing the war to save their souls. And finally, God turned their evil into joy and goodness for the believers who remained behind and who eventually became a thriving church!
Did Paul plot all this out in advance? Did Barnabas figure out all these eventualities? Of course not. But God the Holy Spirit did! And the Spirit is in charge of saving souls and changing attitudes by means of our humble efforts at neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend mission work. It worked then and it still is the paradigm of how souls are saved today.
My pre-theological friends were disappointed that we could never make a meaningful crack in Tim’s veneer of cynicism those many years ago. But now, 40 years later it’s obvious that God found a way and we actually accomplished much more than was apparent to the eye. I’m left to wonder this: how many more souls have come to faith as a result of Tim’s ministry? And how many additional souls will be saved because of those new converts? Yes, Christianity is about many, many unintended consequences. But because God always wins in the end, don’t get discouraged and give up. Never, ever. Amen