"When the service was over, Paul and Barnabas were invited back to preach again the next Sabbath. As the meeting broke up, a good many Jews and converts to Judaism went along with Paul and Barnabas, who urged them in long conversations to stick with what they'd started, this living in and by God's grace." Acts 13:42-43 (The Message).
For a revolutionary new message, the gospel made quite an impact on the Jews and God-fearers of Pisidian Antioch, so much so that Paul and Barnabas were invited back to preach again the following Sabbath. The after-meeting was longer than the service, a kind of new believers' class to anchor the converts in their new faith.
What a task and what a leap of faith for these missionaries! They had no Bibles or gospel booklets to leave behind. They could not spend months teaching the new believers. They had no guarantees that these vulnerable new "babies" in the faith would not be corrupted or persuaded to turn back to their old ways. The Holy Spirit was the one they trusted to teach and keep these people true to their new-found faith.
"When the next Sabbath came around, practically the whole city showed up to hear the Word of God. Some of the Jews, seeing the crowds, went wild with jealousy and tore into Paul, contradicting everything he was saying, making an ugly scene." Acts 13:44-45 (The Message).
On the island of Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had experienced one isolated incident of opposition from the Jewish magician, which Paul quickly squashed. Now they were up against a deluge of Jewish religious fanatics. Paul could not exactly strike them all with blindness! The odds were stacked against them. What could two men do against an angry mob?
This was the beginning of a tide of opposition and persecution from his own people in Asia Minor and Europe that Paul had already aroused in Damascus and in Jerusalem. What was it in this message that inflamed the Jews instead of attracting them to their Messiah?
According to Paul himself, it was the cross that they could not accept. For both Jew and Gentile the thought a of God dying on an execution stake made no sense to them.
"Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 (NIV).
Jesus did not come to teach a new philosophy or start a new religion. He came to rescue people from their self-inflicted separation from God through the independence our first father set in motion. He came to show us just what this God is like, the God who is calling us back to Himself, so gracious and loving that He took the punishment for our rebellion on Himself.
Why should the cross be such a stumbling block to both Jew and Gentile? Is it because it is unthinkable that a person should do that for another person, let alone God doing it for people who are at enmity with Him? But He did and, through it He offers free pardon to anyone who will receive Him.
"You see, just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for an unrighteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:6-8 (NIV).
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