Last week we heard about the beginning of the very first congregationally sponsored mission trip. Saul and Barnabas were commissioned by the Holy Spirit, fraternally supported and sent out on a mission to share the message of Jesus with countries that had never heard of him. They made their way to the Island of Cyprus and preached the good news along the coast. Many believed. Then, they were invited to the governor’s palace in Paphos where God struck a false prophet blind and brought the governor to faith! Amazing!
If I were Paul or Barnabas, I would feel pretty good about the mission trip so far.
They just beat a false prophet.
The governor is a believer.
People have been greeting their messages with high fives and hugs.
If people always respond to the message of Jesus this way, then sign me up for a mission trip for the rest of my life.
Today we are going to look at the very city where Paul and Barnabas explored. It’s a city where the reaction is a bit different; in fact, it’s heartbreaking! Our goal with today’s study is to understand (1) why rejection of the Gospel is greatest heartbreak for God and (2) how to deal with heartbreak when you’re sharing the Gospel. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s Heart
The lesson starts in Acts 14 at a place called Pisidian Antioch. It’s called Pisidian Antioch to distinguish it from Syrian Antioch. Both cities called Antioch, different places. (It’s similar to Jacksonville, FL versus Jacksonville, NC – Same city name; very different places). Pisidian Antioch is located a couple hundred miles north of Paphos in a region of modern day Turkey.
When they arrive in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas do what they normally do when they enter a town. They entered the synagogue and sat down. (v.14)
This was clever on their part.
The synagogue was the place where Jewish people gathered; Paul and Barnabas were Jewish people.
The synagogue is where they studied the Old Testament; Paul and Barnabas were scholars of the Old Testament.
The synagogue is where they taught about the Messiah who would come: Paul and Barnabas preached the good news of the Messiah who had already come.
It made sense to start their visit to a new city by attending the local synagogue. They had a lot in common with those people.
So that’s what they do in Pisidian Antioch:
They enter the synagogue.
They introduce themselves to other attendees.
They shake hands with the Rabbi.
They sit down in back.
They listen to the Rabbi talk about how the Messiah will come one day.
Then, the leaders of the synagogue invite them to speak. (v. 15)
Paul gets up and preaches. Interesting note – this is the Apostle Paul’s very first sermon that is chronologically recorded in Scripture. And it’s very specific. In the sermon, He has a few specific points that he wants to bring out for the Jewish audience that is there. It’s a longer sermon. We won’t tackle every verse, but…here’s a brief overview of his main points:
A. Old Testament History Shows God’s Heart for His People
This is the perfect start to the sermon. The Jews there would have been very familiar with the Old Testament stories that he’s about to reference. In fact, they would probably have learned them at their version of Sunday School – maybe even some of the Old Testament that they had just read in their synagogue service.
And it becomes a brief history of God’s heart for the people of Israel:
God chose their ancestors.
God made the people prosper in Egypt.
God used his mighty power to get them out of Egypt.
God endured their conduct in the wilderness.
God overthrew opposing nations.
God gave them the land of Canaan.
God gave them a King. (v.17-22)
God did something even more amazing than any of this.
God sent a Savior because God’s heart is for his people.
B. OT Prophecy is Prompted by God’s Heart
This is important. Because God didn’t want his people to miss out on the Savior.
It’d be like your mom telling you that “Yes, you have one more birthday gift on the way. Keep an eye on the mail. It’ll show up in about 4 days. It’ll be coming via UPS. It’ll be a box about 3-feet-wide by 2-feet-long. It should be in a bright red Package from SweatSocksRUs.com Don’t miss it! P.S. If it doesn’t have Sweat Socks in it, it’s not my gift.
Mom gives you the description, so you don’t miss the gift.
God gave prophecies in the Old Testament, so we didn’t miss his greatest gift, the Savior.
Paul mentions a few of those prophecies in verses 23-35:
OT Prophecy said that a voice from the desert would prepare the way for Jesus; John the Baptist lived in the desert and prepared the way for Jesus.
OT Prophecy says that the Savior would be pierced (Is. 53:5a); Jesus was pierced with nails.
OT Prophecy says that Jesus would be crushed (Is. 53:5b); Jesus’ lungs were crushed as he hung on that cross.
OT Prophecy says that Jesus would be punished (Is.53:5c); Jesus was crucified with the most common of Roman punishments.
OT Prophecy says that the Savior would be mocked (Psalm 22:7); Jesus was mocked (Luke 23:36; Mt. 27:31)
OT Prophecy says that the Savior’s mouth would be dry (Psalm 22:15); Jesus’ mouth was dry. (Jn. 19:28)
OT Prophecy says that the Savior’s bones would not be broken. (Psalm 22:17) None of Jesus’ bones were. (Jn. 19:33)
OT Prophecy says that soldiers would cast lots for the Savior’s clothing. (Psalm 22:18) That’s exactly what the soldiers did. (Jn. 19:24)
All of these things happened…just as OT Prophecy said…to help us identify God’s greatest gift.
That’s not all the Scripture said.
In Psalm 16:10 King David wrote this: “You will not let your holy one see decay.”
Paul quotes it in his sermon. He notes that it’s a strange statement for two reasons:
(1) Most dead things decay.
(2) David died and decayed.
So, if his body decayed, who was David talking about?
I’ll let Paul answer: “David died…his body decayed; but the One whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:37)
That’d be Jesus.
An unmistakable prophecy fulfilled by the Savior.
C. God’s Heart Desires to Bring Forever Blessings to You
This is Paul’s conclusion – God did all those miracles, prophesied all those prophesies, and brought them all into fulfillment because He wants to bring forever blessings to you.
Blessings that can only be yours through faith in Jesus.
It’s kind of like Starbucks rewards points. Do you have them? If you a Gold Card member, you receive free refills on coffee and tea. On your birthday, you get a free drink and every 125 points you receive a free drink, anything on the menu. But if you don’t have your Starbucks card with you – then you don’t receive any of those blessings. Even if your membership is paid for – you don’t get a free refill. You don’t get a free birthday drink and you will have to pay for the White Chocolate Raspberry Mocha.
Spiritually speaking – Jesus has paid for all the blessings of God’s love.
But you need Jesus to experience those paid for blessings.
This is where faith comes in: like a wallet for your Starbucks card, faith holds onto Jesus.
Where Jesus is, there are His blessings.
What blessings? Paul says it this way in verses 38-39. Write it down. Underline it. Put a big permanent marker star by it: “Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law…” (Acts 13:38-39)
The three blessings are:
Forgiveness. It means that God forgives you. God forgives you for that big sin. God forgives you for that little sin. God forgives you for that medium sized sin. God doesn’t hold it against you. God isn’t seeking revenge. God is at peace with you and you are at peace with him. Sound nice? Want forgiveness? Believe in Jesus.
Freedom. Because sin can burden you. Sin can enslave you. It can tell you to keep sinning and trap you in guilt that you can never get away from. Jesus sets you free from that. He gives you God’s power to fight back. He breaks you free from the bondage of guilt to say of yourself: “God loves me; why do I need to sin anymore?” Want freedom from sin? Believe in Jesus.
Justification. That’s a courtroom term. It means “to be declared innocent by the judge.” That’s great news, especially if the crime requires a death sentence. Because if you are innocent, you don’t have to undergo the death sentence. To be spiritually justified means that God has declared you “spiritually forever innocent” and you don’t have to undergo the spiritual eternal death known as hell! How’s that for uplifting? Even when your inner voice says: “Guilty!” God’s divine gavel says: “Innocent!” Want that verdict? Believe in Jesus.
Forgiveness, freedom and an innocent verdict are all gifts of God’s heart, because… the heart of God’s heart is his love for you.
God’s Heart Deeply Desires to Spend Forever with you.
Do you know anyone else who cares for you that much?
II. God’s Heartbreak
When Paul finished his sermon on God’s love, some people believed him.
They invited Paul and Barnabas back the following week.
But it wasn’t to listen.
It was to shout: “Quiet! Stop talking. Shut up!”
It was to ridicule: “You’re a moron. What kind of a fool believes in this Jesus guy?”
It was to contradict: “Jesus isn’t the Savior. The Savior is still coming and will give us freedom from the Roman government.”
They rejected Paul and his teaching.
But rejecting Paul wasn’t all they were doing. Look closely at Paul’s response: “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 Gentile.” (v.46)
This wasn’t a rejection of Paul.
It was a rejection of God Himself.
It was a rejection of God’s greatest gift -- the Savior.
And a rejection of the Savior is a rejection of all the blessings that the Savior brings.
It’s a rejection of forgiveness.
It’s a rejection of freedom.
It’s a rejection of the innocent verdict.
It’s a rejection of eternal life.
This is God’s heartbreak.
Not that God needs you to love him. He doesn’t. He’ll still be God with or without you.
But God’s greatest heartbreak is losing you because he knows what it means for you without Him in your life.
Do you reject Jesus?
If so, can I speak candidly to you on God’s behalf?
Please, please, please reconsider...you will miss out…on everything.
And to be fair, I’m not just speaking to those of you who have recently said: “I reject Jesus.”
Because you can reject something without ever saying it:
It’s like the first girl that I ever asked to dance. She just smiled. She said she had to use the restroom. She went out through the back of the auditorium where we held our dances. I waited for her near the back.
Until I gave up only to return to the dance floor and see that she had already come back to the dance floor via the other door.
You know…the one that didn’t go by me.
You can reject something without saying: “I reject this.”
You can Jesus without saying, “I reject Jesus.”
You can reject Jesus by continually rejecting opportunities to worship Him. You don’t have to say it out loud. You just have to hit the snooze button.
You can reject Jesus by rejecting that invite to grow in faith at Bible study. Again – no words necessary. Just click the delete button on the Google Calendar Invite.
You can reject Jesus by closing your Bible and never ever again looking at that part of Scripture that talks about the sin you really enjoy doing.
Here’s the truth:
Rejection of God’s Word, God’s counsel or God’s people is a rejection of God himself.
And that rejection puts you in grave danger.
Because eventually, after the people have been name-calling, shouting at and abusing Paul and asking him to leave – do you know what happens?
He leaves, and he shakes the dust off of his feet as he leaves.
Taking God’s Word with him.
Here’s a scary truth.
If you keep rejecting God,
If you keep asking God to leave your life.
Stop rejecting your Lord.
Call out for God to stop shaking the dust and return to you.
And? He will.
How do I know? Because God’s greatest joy is having you with him in eternity!
Do you get that?
You are the main reason behind God’s constant interaction with human history.
It’s why he interacted through miracles in the Old Testament to keep the promise of the Savior alive.
It’s why He recorded prophecy after prophecy, so you didn’t miss out on his greatest gift.
It’s why He died on the cross.
It’s why He rose from the dead.
It’s why He has you right here right now to hear this message that I am speaking.
And his greatest joy is making you His eternally.
If you call out to God in mercy, He returns. His love for you is that great!
So, call out to him and believe in Jesus.
Believe in Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW? (Lessons for Missionaries)
Now if I could segue for a second. I want to switch gears. I want to speak to those of you that have been trying to share Jesus with others.
I want to speak to those of you who have a family member or friend who just doesn’t listen and doesn’t want to believe.
Maybe that’s heartbreaking to you.
How do you deal?
Paul had to go through this. His fellow countrymen didn’t listen. How did he deal?
The lesson for today has a few tips:
1) Desire the Heart of God
When you are sharing the Gospel with someone repeatedly and they don’t listen, that hurts. And you might be tempted become callous.
To develop this scarring.
To approach mission work like – “Meh! Whatever...” Because then it doesn’t hurt so much.
That is not God’s heart.
And it shouldn’t be yours.
To truly share the Gospel, we need a heart that breaks at the thought of someone missing out on eternal life.
That drives us.
That motivates us.
That leads us to share the Gospel. Again, and again and again.
That’s why Paul shared the Gospel! He had previously been apart from eternal life. Now he wasn’t.
He didn’t want others to miss out and it drove his mission work.
It’s why He didn’t stop after the rejection at Pisidian Antioch.
He kept going.
If your heart hurts, thank the Lord for that. It’s a key part of doing mission work.
If your heart doesn’t, ask God to give you a heart that sees – not people in no need of interacting with—but souls in need of saving.
2) Understand the Recipient of the Rejection
Because it’s easy to feel rejected. To think: I have invited that guy over 37 weeks in a row! You know what? If he doesn’t want to believe me, fine! I can’t believe he did this to me! I’m a nice guy. I have decent hair. I make good jokes. How could he reject me!?!
Remember what Paul said.
Rejection of the Gospel isn’t rejection of you.
It’s rejection of God.
And God can handle it.
You just keep sharing.
And what will help you in sharing?
Do what Paul did:
3) Rejoice in those Who Do Believe
Because did you notice at the end of the chapter in verse 52. It says: “The disciples were filled with joy.” It isn’t because they were excited that all those people were rejecting the Gospel.
Nope. They were simply focusing on those who received it.
We need to remember that simple tip.
This happens to me just about every week. I get done with the service. I’m feeling pretty good. Then about 2 hours afterwards I’m scrolling on Facebook and I see someone who I invited, and I think: Wait? Why weren’t they here? And…why didn’t so and so come? And where was he? And where was she? And if only they had come too!
What terrible thinking.
What futile thinking.
Instead? Focus on the good.
Celebrate God’s victories.
Thank God for your faith and the faith of your fellow believers.
Because the reality is that there is heartbreak in mission work, yes.
But the heartbreak is outweighed by the incredible joy.
May God lift up your heart with that joy. Amen.