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As the Leaders Go, So Goes the Nation

29 Nov

Sadly, but almost always true is the fact that the people follow the leadership of their nation even when the end is folly. It was not only true of the Jews, but it was so of the gentiles, as well that Christ was rejected. The Romans never embraced the Gospel, so why do we make a particular point in saying the Jews rejected it? Perhaps it is because they were God’s chosen people, but nevertheless, the scriptures show that when Jesus was given the Kingdom (Revelation 11:15-19), the kings or leaders of the earth were angry. None of the nations ever embraced the Gospel.

As the worship service concluded in Pisidian Antioch, many of the gentiles and believing Jews asked Paul and Barnabas to preach again the next Sabbath about the same things Paul did that day (Acts 13:42). If this study is true concerning Paul preaching during the Passover of 44 CE, then the next Sabbath, may have been only two or three days away, because that week there would have been three Sabbaths—the first and last days of the Days of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath that fell between the two annual Holy Days. It may also be true that Paul and Barnabas may have been asked to offer a word of encouragement in the middle of the Days of Unleavened Bread on the weekly Sabbath and the final Sabbath that completed the holy day season was less than a week away.

However many days it was until the next Sabbath, the Good News spread throughout the community and the evangelistic team found there were more gentiles crowding into the synagogue on the Sabbath than there were Jews (Acts 13:44). In fact, there were so many gentiles there that the Jewish leadership, who may have been respectful of Paul’s new ideas on the scriptures on the previous occasion, waxed zealous for the Jewish traditions and began speaking against those things Paul claimed about Jesus (Acts 13:45). These Jews feared the blurring of the clean and unclean, that the line between Jew and gentile would be erased entirely by Paul’s presentation of Jesus as the New Way – whether beside or contrary to the Law (cp. Acts 13:38-40).

What occurred here reminds me of a time when Jesus preached in Galilee near the beginning of his public ministry (Luke 5:17-26). At that time Jesus healed a paralytic, saying “your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20). The local rabbis took issue with this saying that only God could forgive sin, but Jesus asked: “What difference does it make whether I say, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or if I say, ‘rise up and walk’? Jesus was pointing to the prevailing doctrine of the rabbis at that time, namely, that men suffer illness or handicap due to sin. Jesus was concluding a logical premise: if the sin would be forgiven then the ailment would go away, but to prove he had the power to forgive sins, he commanded the man to rise up and walk (Luke 5:24-25). All were amazed and glorified God, but the rabbis said they had never seen it this way before (Mark 2:12), and Luke records the same event, saying they had seen strange things that day (Luke 5:26). In other words, they needed time to think these things over. Caution prevailed over immediately accepting the gift of God, for Luke introduced the whole event by saying that “the power of the Lord was present to heal them (Luke 5:17)? One might ask heal whom, for the paralytic man had yet to be introduced. Luke means for us to see there was power present at that certain day to heal ‘them’—the Pharisees and doctors of the law or the rabbis (Luke 5:17). Had they accepted Jesus on that certain day, their hearts would have been healed and would have found Jesus’ message easier to believe.

It was no less true of the Jews in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch during the visit of Paul and Barnabas, but caution ruled the day. Caution dictated the Jewish leaders’ behavior in the face of the gift of God, and zealous allegiance to the traditions and teachings of men took precedence over the Gospel (Acts 13:45). Moreover, just as it had been on the very next Sabbath for Jesus after he healed the paralytic (Luke 6:1-11), so it was with Paul and Barnabas on the next Sabbath in Acts 13:42. God had done a work in their days, a work that they refused to believe even though witnesses had declared it unto them (Acts 13:40; cp. Habakkuk 1:5). It was the new work of God that they rejected. The resurrection had begun in Jesus (cp. 1Corinthians 15:21-23), but the Jewish authorities rejected the Good News that the Messianic Age, had begun—i.e. the age in which the dead would be judged, resurrection had begun in the born again, believing community (cp Ephesians 2:1-6), and as the leadership went, so went the majority of the Jewish people.

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