When I was growing up one of my favorite programs to watch was the A-Team (I’m showing my age!). It involved a group of misunderstood guys helping people who had nowhere else to turn. They always achieved what they set out to do and even managed to get away without getting caught at the end. One of the most famous lines from the show was, “I love it when a plan comes together!”
In the Book of Acts, we see God’s plan coming together as Jesus’ last words to the disciples begin to be fulfilled. Before He left them, Jesus told His disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Throughout Acts we have seen God at work through the Holy Spirit, even in terrible circumstances. In chapters 1 to 7, the church was mainly in Jerusalem. From chapters 8 to 12, following persecution the church, and with it the gospel, spread through all Judea and Samaria. In chapter 13 and following we see the gospel begin to spread to the ends of the earth, as Paul traveled on his first missionary journey.
Paul and Barnabas arrived in Pisidian Antioch and, as they often did, they first went to the synagogue. Paul taught from the Old Testament, words familiar to his listeners, but he explained that Jesus is the fulfillment of those teachings. Everyone left wanting more (v. 42).
The following week, “almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord” (v. 44). This sight caused a nasty reaction from the Jews. They became “filled with jealousy,” which led them to criticize Paul in an angry, insulting manner. In fact, the Jews from Pisidian Antioch followed Paul and Barnabas 80 miles to the next town to disrupt their spreading of the word of God there!
Jealousy is a strong emotion that robs us of our joy and can cause us to justify acting in appalling ways. We are warned in James 3:16, “where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice.” Are you ever jealous of the gifts of other believers, or the growing ministries of other churches? We can be filled with joy or jealousy – but not both.
Despite the reaction of the Jews, God’s plan continued, as Paul was appointed to be a light to the Gentiles. Paul quoted Isaiah 42:6, “I will make you a light to the nations, so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.” This reminds us that God intended for the Israelites to be a people set apart for Him, to draw the nations to Him. But in this they sadly failed.
When the Gentiles find out that God had sent Paul to tell them salvation is for them too, they “began to rejoice and praise of the word of the Lord.” They were not excluded from coming to God. This should fill us with great joy and rejoicing, too, as we celebrate how God’s plans and purposes include even us, no matter our background!
Verses 47-49 of this chapter are pivotal to God’s plan; a seismic shift occurs. Up until this point, the majority of believers are people of Jewish decent. Now, mainly Gentiles were coming to faith and the first largely Gentile church was established. Despite the obvious difficulties they faced, they were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” As the church grew the balance would shift to more believers being from Gentile backgrounds.
There are two different responses to hearing the gospel in this chapter. Those who knew the Old Testament well and were awaiting the promised Messiah reacted in hard-hearted ways. Those who knew much less of the Old Testament teachings respond wholeheartedly.
We can never predict how people will respond to the gospel, or who will come to faith. God knows. We are called to be faithful, to live out and proclaim the good news. As we have the opportunity, we share the truth of God with others. We get to be part of fulfilling God’s plan to reach the ends of the earth, to see Revelation 7:9 fulfilled: “an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne.” How amazing is that!
God’s plan is being accomplished. I am sure we can all say we love it when we see God’s plan coming together! Let’s go forward today in joy and in the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the word of the Lord.