Sermon title:

A Jewish Church Filled with Gentiles

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, March 7, 2021

 

 

When we look at the religious scene around us today,

we see churches and synagogues.

 

Here on the South Coast, we see around 10 synagogues

from Fall River to Falmouth,

and dozens of churches in the same area.

 

But Christians worship the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob,

and so do the Jews.

 

In fact, Jesus is the Jewish Messiah,

born in a Jewish family in Bethlehem of Judea.

 

And the Apostles of Christ began as Jewish fishermen.

 

So, why the separation that we see

between Jews and Christians today?

 

It’s a long story, of course.

 

But it’s important to know the foundations of our faith,

just as we know the foundations of our nation.

 

The foundations of our faith are outlined

in the New Testament.

The 4 Gospels tell the story of Jesus:

-- that he left his throne in heaven

to be born of a Jewish virgin,

to teach us how to live,

to die on the cross for our sins,

only to rise again,

sitting now at the right hand of the Father in heaven,

until he comes again in power.

 

The Gospels also tell us how he gathered the Apostles

and a few other followers,

giving them a Grand Commission

to share this Good News with all the world.

 

The 3rd Gospel writer Luke

also wrote the Acts of the Apostles,

where we find the history of the early Church.

 

In it we see that the Church was, at first,

made up entirely of Jews—

Jews who accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah.

 

Then God miraculously told Peter

to preach the Gospel for the very first time

to Gentiles—non-Jews—gathered

at the home of a Roman army officer.

 

That opened the Church to Gentiles,

but it was still like a Messianic Jewish Church,

with Jews still in the majority,

and still occupying the leadership positions.

 

Then the Apostle Paul’s missionary trips to pagan lands

resulted in people of all nationalities

flooding into the Church.

 

We see that starting to happen in Acts, Chapter 13,

where Paul leaves the island of Cyprus

and sails North to the mainland

of what is now the nation of Turkey.

 

This was around 600 years before

Mohammed started the Islamic religion,

so Turkey was not a Muslim nation then,

as it is today.

 

It was a pagan land—part of the Roman Empire—

formerly part of the Greek Empire—

where Greek and Roman culture prevailed.

 

The people there worshipped idols

of Greek & Roman gods.

 

But there were also small Jewish communities

in the larger cities,

where Jews had settled centuries earlier

after the Babylonian captivity.

 

So, in Acts Chapter 13, beginning with the 13th Verse,

we read,

13After setting sail from Paphos, Paul and his companions came to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14And from Perga, they traveled inland to Pisidian Antioch, where they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and sat down.

 

Because Paul and his traveling companions

still dressed and groomed themselves

in the distinctive style of Jewish men—

as they had all their lives—

they were welcomed in the synagogue.

 

They were recognized as fellow Jews.

 

And so, the leaders of the synagogue

invited them to speak

to share in encouraging the congregation.

 

Verse 15 says,

15After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue leaders sent word to them: “Brothers, if you have a word of encouragement for the people, please speak.”

 

That was the moment Paul was waiting for. 

 

He would be able to share the Gospel of Christ

with these Jews who had never yet heard of Jesus.

 

But he didn’t want to sound like he was presenting

a foreign concept—a message strange to Jewish ears.

He needed to let his audience know

that he believed the Hebrew Scriptures,

and that Jesus was the One

the Hebrew prophets foretold

in their prophecies about a coming Messiah.

 

So, Paul began by summing-up

the Old Testament’s history of the Jews.

 

We read,

16Paul stood up, motioned with his hand, and began to speak: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who fear God, listen to me! 17The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers. He made them into a great people during their stay in Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out of that land. 18He endured their conduct for about forty years in the wilderness. 19And having vanquished seven nations in Canaan, He gave their land to His people as an inheritance. 20All this took about 450 years.

 

In just a few words,

Paul summed up 450 years of Israel’s history.

 

He reminded the synagogue audience

that the nation spent all those centuries

without a Jewish king ruling over them.

 

Then he continued—reminding them how God began

the line of kings descended from King David.

He said,

After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21Then the people asked for a king, and God gave them forty years under Saul son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin. 22After removing Saul, He raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart; he will carry out My will in its entirety.’

 

Those first kings were “anointed”

by God’s prophet Samuel pouring oil on their heads,

anointing them to be King.

 

And that line of kings descended from King David

ruled for hundreds of years,

but then came to an abrupt end,

when the armies of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem

and carried the people off captive—

leaving the land of Israel empty

of its human population.

 

The Persian Empire conquered the Babylonians

around 70 years after that,

and allowed Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem.

 

But many of the captive Jews taken off their land

by the Babyloniansremained scattered around the

eastern Mediterranean.

 

And that synagogue where Paul was speaking

in that pagan land

was, itself, a reminder of that scattering.

 

All that time, since Jerusalem was destroyed,

they were without a Jewish king to rule over them.

 

But God promised them another future King,

to come rule over the Jewish people,

another Anointed One.

 

Our English word “Messiah” comes from

the Hebrew for “Anointed One,”

and our English word “Christ”

comes from the Greek for “Anointed One.”

 

So, the Jews were waiting for hundreds of years

for God to send them this Messiah, this Christ,

descended from King David.

And that was what Paul was building up to

by reciting their history

before mentioning Jesus.

 

So, Paul referred to King David and continued,

23From the descendants of this man, God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised. 24Before the arrival of Jesus, John preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25As John was completing his course, he said, ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not that One. But He is coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

 

That synagogue audience Paul was speaking to

may have already known about John the Baptist,

who drew so many Jews to repent.

 

So, Paul explained that John admitted

he was not the promised Messiah,

but that the Messiah was coming, after him.

 

Some news about Jesus may also have reached these Jews

in the synagogue in this pagan land.

 

But it would have consisted of negative news reports,

or rumors—“fake news” if you will—

brought to them by travelers

who were not believers in Christ.

 

So, Paul gave them the truth about Jesus

and what really happened.

 

He said,

26Brothers, children of Abraham, and you Gentiles who far God, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning Him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28And though they found no ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have Him executed.

 

The Jews in that synagogue

may already have heard reports about this.

 

But what Paul went on to tell them next

came as a complete surprise.

 

He continued, by telling them what happened

after Jesus was crucified:

29When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. 30But God raised Him from the dead, 31and for many days He was seen by those who had accompanied Him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now His witnesses to our people.

 

Jesus’ rising from the dead was sufficient proof, in itself,

that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ.

 

But Paul was also prepared to show them

the dozens of Old Testament prophecies

that Jesus fulfilled—

further proving he was the One

the Jewish people had been waiting for.

 

And proof that Jesus would be King

over not just Israel, but the whole world.

 

Paul began showing them from the Hebrew Scriptures

by quoting from Psalm 2:7.

 

He said,

32And now we proclaim to you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

‘You are My Son;

today I have become Your Father.’

 

Yes, the promised Messiah was the Son of God.

 

The synagogue audience would not grasp

the full implications of that right away,

but Paul was only whetting their appetite

to dig into the Hebrew Scriptures more deeply.

 

He went on to show them

that the promised Messiah was foretold to die

and then to be raised from the dead. 

 

Paul quoted first from Isaiah 55:3

and then from Psalm 16:10,

when he said about Jesus,

34In fact, God raised Him from the dead, never to see decay. As He has said:

‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’

35So also, He says in another Psalm:

‘You will not let Your Holy One see decay.’

36For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep. His body was buried with his fathers and saw decay. 37But the One whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

 

God’s promise about not letting the “Holy One see decay”

was given to David,

but was meant prophetically

for the Messiah descended from David.

 

Christ’s body did not see decay in the tomb,

but was raised to life on the 3rd day.

 

And now he rules in Heaven at the right hand of the Father

with power to forgive the sins

of those who turn to him in faith.

 

So, Paul told them,

38Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.

 

This was almost unbelievable—too good to be true—

but Paul shared a warning from Habakkuk 1:5,

a warning that would apply to them

if they scoffed at the Gospel message:

40Watch out, then, that what was spoken by the prophets does not happen to you:

41‘Look, you scoffers,

wonder and perish!

For I am doing a work in your days

that you would never believe,

even if someone told you.’” 

 

It really would seem almost unbelievable—

the work God was now doing,

reaching out to the whole world of pagan mankind

with a Gospel message

that would save them from their sins,

without burdening them with

the Law of Moses.

 

For centuries, God worked patiently with Israel,

blessing them when they obeyed his Laws,

and disciplining them when they disobeyed.

 

Now he was replacing that Old Covenant through Moses

with a New Covenant through Christ—

a New Covenant that would bring salvation

to people of all nationalities

in all the pagan lands, around the world.

 

It seemed almost unbelievable.

 

But many of Paul’s listeners in that synagogue audience

did believe.

 

The next Verse says,

42As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people urged them to continue this message on the next Sabbath. 43After the synagogue was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

 

Many of those who heard the Gospel

followed Paul and Barnabas after the synagogue service,

eager to hear more about Jesus.

 

And the synagogue audience, as a whole,

showed so much interest

that they invited Paul and Barnabas to return

and continue to share the Gospel message

by speaking to them again

 on the following Sabbath.

 

But, when the synagogue did meet again,

something quite unexpected happened.

 

And what happened thenhelps us understand

the local religious landscape today—

with a handful of Jewish synagogues

and dozens of Christian churches

in New Bedford and along the South Coast—

with Jews and Christians meeting separately for worship.

 

The first message Paul spoke generated such interest

that it came to be talked about

beyond the small Jewish community.

 

And it resulted in crowds of non-Jews

showing up to hear it, too,

when Paul was due to speak again

at the synagogue’s next Sabbath service.

 

Verse 44 says,

44On the following Sabbath, nearly the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they blasphemously contradicted what Paul was saying.

 

It’s hard for us to picture that—

standing room only, in the synagogue,

and crowds filling the streets outside,

straining to hear the message as Paul spoke.

 

Just imagine if that happened at our church,

with so many people showing up on Sunday morning

that regular attenders

found it hard to get into the building,

and no place to park their cars.

As a church eager to share the Gospel, we would rejoice,

rather than feel inconvenienced.

 

But the leaders of that synagogue

evidently regarded it as their little club

that belonged to them, rather than to God.

 

The salvation of their Gentile neighbors

didn’t mean as much to them

as preserving their own turf,

their own way of life.

 

The leaders were also jealous of Paul,

since his message drew huge crowds,

while their own weekly messages

drew just the same old regular attenders.

 

How did Paul and Barnabas react

to this sudden hostility from the synagogue leaders?

 

We read,

46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. But since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

 

Paul quoted that from Isaiah 49:6 in the Hebrew Scriptures.

 

The Old Testament is full of prophecies

that God would someday stop dealing with just Israelites,

and would extend the offer of salvation

to people of all nationalities

all around the world.

 

When Paul responded to the synagogue leaders

he told them they were rejecting salvation,

and that he would now  

“turn to the Gentiles.”

 

The account goes on to say,

48When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49And the word of the Lord spread throughout that region.

 

So large numbers of Gentiles—became believers.

 

They recognized Jesus as,

not only the Jewish Messiah,

but also the Savior of the whole world.

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And, so, this is how the separation came about

that we still see today,

with a handful of synagogues across the South Coast—

where the Gospel of Christ is not welcome—

and dozens of Christian churches,

filled mainly with Gentile believers.

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The leaders of that synagogue where Paul preached

further cemented the division

by instigating persecution

against Paul and Barnabas.

 

The account concludes by saying,

50The Jews, however, incited the religious women of prominence and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of their district. 51So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

 

The scene that played out in that synagogue

repeated itself all across the Eastern Mediterranean,

wherever Paul and others brought the Gospel.

 

They started out preaching in the synagogues,

but ended up having to separate,

with Christians meeting auditoriums

or in private homes.

 

Christians eventually built their own church buildings.

 

And, so, the situation with churches and synagogues,

side by side, but separate,

has persisted into modern times.

 

A number of Bible verses point to

a massive end-times conversion of Jews

accepting Jesus, as the world comes to an end.

 

But it would take another sermon to cover that.

 

Meanwhile, today

there are some Messianic Jewish synagogues

where Jews look to Jesus as Lord and Savior,

but those are few and far between.

 

Jews who accept Christ in our day

usually integrate into Gentile churches.

 

We can reach out to our Jewish neighbors

by sharing the Old Testament prophecies

that Jesus fulfilled.

 

Some Christians who share the Gospel with Jews

find Isaiah Chapter 53 a good place to start.

 

That’s because the whole 53rd Chapter of Isaiah

describes Jesus,

and the description fits no one else.

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And it’s never too late to reach out.

 

I recall a 96-year-old Jewish lady

I visited in a nursing home.

 

After leaving her a large print Gospel to read,

I returned the next week to find her crying real tears

as she told me,

“Jesus is good!

All my life, I thought Jesus was bad.

But Jesus is good!”

 

Like the thief on the cross, who asked Jesus

to remember him when he got into his kingdom,

this 96-year-old Jewish woman

turned to Jesus at the very end of her life.

 

Let’s not rule anyone out,

as we share the Gospel, while there is still time.