Good news for the Gentiles
But something happens during the next few days. Paul and Barnabas have done their bit; and now the Holy Spirit sets to work. People go home and start talking to their friends and relatives about what they’ve heard, and a ripple of interest starts to flow through the city. And next Sabbath, when the synagogue president goes to open up for the meeting, he finds such a crowd in the street outside the synagogue that he has difficulty getting to the door! Now weekends haven’t been invented yet; for most people the Sabbath is a normal working day. Yet here is a vast horde of people, most of whom he has never seen before, pouring into the building, filling up all the seats, pressing in until there isn’t even room to stand – and still there are people trying to push in at the door! And are the ‘regulars’ pleased by this? Not a bit! They are thinking things like:
“Most of these people don’t know anything about the way we do things here. They don’t understand our traditions. They will be irreverent.”
“We’ve come here to listen to the Scriptures – the Law that makes us God’s special people. But this Gentile riff-raff aren’t interested in the Law at all, they want to hear Paul tell them that the Law has been fulfilled!”
And so the mood changes completely from the previous week, and in fact it gets quite ugly. Paul tries to explain the Gospel to all these new people, but the other Jews start shouting him down, contradicting him, and even insulting him. Like the guests invited to the wedding banquet in the parable, they are turning down their invitation into the Kingdom of God. And they don’t just refuse to join the party; they try to trash the party. Paul and Barnabas are saddened but not surprised, because they know that this was also something foretold by the prophets!
Mission is never going to go smoothly, because it’s a spiritual battle. But we do not fight alone – the apostles are witnessing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit plays a very obvious role, sometimes a more subtle one. Many people in and around Antioch became Christians – you can look at it from one angle and say that it was because Paul went and preached the Gospel there, but you could also look at it from another angle and say, as Luke does, that it was because God had “appointed them for eternal life.” (verse 48).