It’s not what he taught that choked them, but all who had listened. The synagogue leaders didn’t object to Paul’s teaching after that first Sabbath when he proclaimed Jesus as the Savior promised through the line of David. They didn’t get their shorts in a knot when Paul said their brothers in Jerusalem had condemned Messiah to death “because they did not recognize Him nor understand the utterances of the prophets.” They didn’t even scoff when, on that first Sabbath, Paul testified to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as the defining sign proving He was the Son of God. But when, on the next Sabbath, crowds of people gathered again to hear Paul’s good news, then their blood started to boil.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.
(Acts 13:44-45 ESV)
A week earlier they had welcomed the visiting Paul & Co. into their gathering and onto their pulpit, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” (13:15). And did they ever!
Ask me about great sermons in Acts and Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2) comes to mind immediately. Think a bit more, and I’d come up with Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17). But Paul at Pisidia in Acts 13? Honestly, not top of mind. But should be.
Paul’s word of encouragement for “you who fear God” (13:16b) is a masterful summary of Israel’s redemptive story. A chosen nation. Flourishing under the hand of God while oppressed under the hand of Egypt. Delivered from bondage, cared for in the wilderness, given a land as their inheritance. Ruled by judges, then by kings, but in need of a Savior. A Savior promised from the line of David. Jesus.
Paul preaches the word and the word points to Jesus. And the people listened. They got a taste of the good news and they wanted more. The people “begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath” (13:42). And that’s when it started to come apart. When the Jewish leaders saw the crowds gathering to Paul and his message on that next Sabbath, they were filled with jealousy and began to oppose them.
They didn’t object to Paul’s truth but to Paul’s popularity. They didn’t refute what he said because it was misaligned with Scripture, but because it threatened their power and authority. It wasn’t Paul’s error that compelled them to thrust aside the gospel and judge themselves unworthy of eternal life (13:46), but their own envy. It wasn’t Paul’s facts but their filter. Not his beliefs but their bias. Not the seed he sowed but the soil they presented.
As I hover over this dynamic of minds made up so as to protect their own cozy worlds, far from judging these religious leaders, I sense one of those “beware” sort of things. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1Cor. 10:12).
How I need to beware of filtering Scripture through self and not fully submitting self to Scripture. Aware that the flesh has a way of corrupting truth to suit it’s own desires. How I need to determine, as much as lies within me, to open my Bible each morning with an open heart. How I need to desire the Spirit’s illumination and not settle for my own confirmation.
By His grace. For His glory.