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"Paul and Barnabas didn't back down. Standing their ground they said, "It is required that the Word of God be spoken first of all to you, the Jews. But seeing that you want no part of it -- you've made it clear that you have no taste or inclination for eternal life -- the door is open to all the outsiders. And we're on our way through it, following orders, doing what God commanded when He said,
'I've set you up as alight to all nations. You'll proclaim salvation to the four winds and seven seas!'
"When the outsiders heard this they could hardly believe their good fortune. All who were marked out for real life put their trust in God -- they honoured God's Word by receiving that life. And this Message of salvation spread like wildfire all through the region." Acts 13:46-48 (The Message).
What is this thing called "God's Word"? According to ancient rabbinic teaching, God's Word is a manifestation of Himself in another form. This means that what God says is who He is in words that humans can understand. His Word, therefore, carries the same authority as God Himself.
Unlike humans who can say one thing and be something else, God's Word cannot contradict Him and therefore what He says is what He is. He cannot lie because He cannot say anything contrary to who He is. That makes God's Word reliable, trustworthy and unchangeable and allows us to understand what He requires because He has made His will known to us through the medium of language.
Paul and Barnabas were dealing with two groups of people. The Jews who were God's covenant people were custodians of God's Word entrusted to them in a covenant relationship sealed with blood. The Gentiles were associated with the Jewish religion but were considered "outsiders" because they had no claim to the covenant or the promises of God.
Written into the Old Covenant was the promise that the time would come when Messiah would open the door to Gentiles to have a share in the covenant and in the blessings promised to Abraham. Because of Jewish prejudice, this group of Jews and many others that Paul encountered on his journeys, refused to honour God's Word by believing the message and receiving their Messiah. They pooh-poohed Paul's teaching and turned violently against him with full intention of killing him.
The Gentiles, on the other hand, gladly received their message and honoured God's Word by believing the truth and entering into all the benefits of this new life. Part of the Jewish resistance to the message must surely have been their refusal to accept that Gentiles could share in this salvation on equal terms with them.
When Paul announced that, because of their persistent rejection of the good news he was proclaiming, he would no longer waste his time preaching to deaf ears, and offering God's gift of salvation to people who had no desire for it, they went ballistic. How dare he take what they thought was exclusively theirs and give it away freely to the despised "outsiders"!
But that is exactly what God intended them to do from the beginning and which they failed to do because they did not honour God's Word themselves and they thought that they were better than everyone else. Instead of embracing God's grace and gladly sharing it with anyone who would believe, they shut themselves out of the new covenant and all the blessing promised to them through their revered ancestor, Abraham.
God's Word gives us glimpses into His big heart. When we take what He says seriously and act on it, we both honour Him and we also gain access to everything He has said. What fools we would be to pass that up in favour of our own paltry opinions!
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