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Sermon: Acts 13:44-52
Easter 5 – May 19, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

A number of years ago I traveled with a tour group to China. We visited a number of the major cities of that country including the capital Beijing. In each of the cities we had a tour guide who was familiar particularly with that city. But throughout the whole trip in China there was a young woman who was our tour guide who oversaw all our travels for almost two weeks. She was a young college age woman, very gracious, very knowledgeable, and very patient. She spoke pretty good English which is not always so easy for someone from China.

We were in the city of Goughzhou (or Canton) on our last day in China. Our bus was leaving to get us to a train that would take us to Hong Kong. Our tour guide had to leave us there as we boarded our bus. I was sitting on the bus looking out at her as she smiled and waved good-bye. I remembered that in my travel bag I had a small Bible that I used for devotions on the trip. I reached into the bag, got the Bible out, and quickly got off the bus and gave the Bible to this young woman who had been such a good tour guide.

Her response surprised me. She was almost overwhelmed that I would give her anything, but she seemed overjoyed that I gave her a Bible. Bibles aren’t totally forbidden in China, but they’re also not readily available for purchase or to be dispersed among the people. I was so glad that I made that final effort to give her the Bible before we left, and I shouldn’t have been surprised by her reaction. She now held in her hands a book that she might not have had the opportunity to ever read, a book that held the words of forgiveness and eternal life.

We have such an abundance of Bibles in the United States and such freedom to proclaim the gospel that we almost take the Bible for granted. We shouldn’t. We should take every opportunity we can to read the Bible and hear God’s word preached.

Today we’re encouraged

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE GOSPEL WHILE YOU HAVE IT

The Apostle Paul was on his first missionary journey. He and his fellow missionary Barnabas and a young man named John Mark, the eventual writer of the gospel of Mark, were sent by the Christian congregation in Antioch in Syria to Cyprus and then up into the central portion of present day Turkey to proclaim the gospel. They traveled into the provincial areas of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Galatia and then retraced their steps back to a ship in Perga that returned them to Antioch in Syria.

This entire trip was probably a little less than a thousand miles roundtrip for Paul and his fellow missionaries, and including the time they stopped to proclaim the gospel in various cities it took them about two years. Today we could cover that many miles by car in one day or perhaps a day and half of driving. In a jet we could cover that distance in about an hour and a half.

A thousand miles was a long way for Paul, and it must have been a daunting idea and task for him to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ that far outside of Judea and Syria. What Paul didn’t know yet is that God had plans for him to travel much, much farther, many more miles, proclaiming forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ. After this first missionary journey he would go on a second taking the gospel to Greece, into Europe. He would take a third trip retracing the steps of the second journey. And it’s likely he took a fourth missionary journey as far away as Spain, the western end of the earth in those days.

It ought to be amazing to us to know how God has always had really big plans to have his people proclaim the gospel not just a thousand miles from Jerusalem but thousands of miles around the world. It ought to astound us that what might seem daunting and impossible to us, God does quite readily and routinely through us his people.

Two years ago our congregation began a missionary journey. But we didn’t have to travel a thousand miles on our journey. We haven’t had to travel any miles. The people came to us. Most of them traveled over a thousand miles to settle in our community. They speak a different language so God provided us with a pastor who could speak their language and proclaim the message of Jesus Christ to them in Spanish. Some people are hearing the real gospel of eternal life for the first time.

We might think of this Hispanic mission endeavor as a first missionary journey. Like Paul we can be amazed how far God has already taken us. We pray that God will take us even farther, on a second and third and maybe fourth missionary journey, expanding this ministry to win many souls for his kingdom. We want to take advantage of the gospel while we have it, take advantage of this blessing of God who has placed it so graciously into our hands.

But back to Paul and his first missionary journey. Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark their helper, taught the gospel to many on the island of Cyprus. From there they traveled to Pamphylia on the southern coast of Turkey. It’s here that John Mark for some reason turned around and went home to Antioch in Syria. John Mark’s behavior would become a source of serious disagreement between Paul and Barnabas before the second missionary journey.

But for now Paul and Barnabas traveled on to the province of Pisidia to another city called Antioch, Pisidian Antioch to distinguish it from Syrian Antioch. They went to a synagogue on the Sabbath and were invited to share the word of God with the congregation. Paul preached a long sermon about Jesus. He told his Jewish listeners that Jesus was the Messiah. Pontius Pilate crucified him, but God the Father raised him from the dead. Paul’s preaching stirred a lot of interest among the listeners. They invited him to come back again on the next Sabbath.

That’s where our text begins, telling us that what seemed like the whole city of Antioch came out to hear Paul’s preaching. But what started out to be a wonderful day of Sabbath day preaching suddenly turned in a different direction. A number of Jews, who were likely leaders and influential members of this synagogue, didn’t like the numbers of people, including Gentiles, hearing the gospel and the success that Paul, this outsider, was having. They began to speak abusively about Paul.

Paul refused to take their abuse. He said to them, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” The Gentiles were glad and honored to hear the word of God, and many of them believed in Jesus. The word of God spread through the whole region of Pisdia. Many people believed, but a number of Jews continued to stir up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and kicked them out of their region. As a sign of judgment Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet as they left Antioch as if to say, “You had your chance to hear and believe the gospel, but you wouldn’t have it.”

So one group of people took advantage of the gospel while they had it. Another group didn’t take advantage of it. From this point on Paul focused more and more on bringing the gospel to Gentiles in many nations. But we don’t want to overgeneralize this event and condemn the Jews for rejecting the gospel and commend the Gentiles for believing it. The truth is that many Jews in Paul’s day believed the gospel. In the 2000 years since many Jews have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And many have not believed. As Paul continued farther on his missionary journeys many Gentiles believed in Jesus. And in the 2000 years since many more Gentiles have come to believe in Jesus. But many, too many, have also refused the gospel.

The lesson we want to learn from this account in Pisidian Antioch is not that the Jews rejected Jesus and the Gentiles believed, but that we, no matter what our culture or nation, want to take advantage of the gospel while we have it. That day in Antioch the Gentiles sure did. They listened with amazement as Paul quoted a Bible passage from Isaiah that the gospel would one day come to them. “I have made you [Paul] a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” The Gentiles saw an unimaginable opportunity for them to hear the gospel and to become a part of the kingdom of God, and they took it. They were thrilled to have the privilege of hearing the gospel, and they honored the word of God.

I wish we could be like these Gentiles every Sunday, every day of the week, grabbing the opportunity to hear the gospel. I wish we could be like that young Chinese woman who was thrilled to get a Bible. I wish that we would come to church every Sunday like it’s the only opportunity we will ever have to hear the gospel. I wish we would open the Bible and read it like it was the only Bible left in the world. I wish that more and more people would take advantage of the gospel while they have it.

I have this horrible thought about the thousands, the millions, of people in hell. How they must beg for one more opportunity, one more chance, one more Sunday, to come back to this world for just an hour, for just fifteen minutes, to hear the message about Jesus and believe it and be saved. But there’s no one listening to their begging or pleading. Their chance is gone. Take advantage of the gospel while you have it.

In that little Bible I gave to the Chinese tour guide were words of God’s forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus’ name. In the many Bibles that we have here in our church and school, in the Bible you have at home, are words of forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus died on a cross to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. He rose again from the dead to assure us that our sins are forgiven and eternal life is ours. Hear the words of the Bible like it’s the only opportunity you have to hear the gospel. Come to church on Sunday morning to worship like it’s the last Sunday that will ever be. Read your Bible like it’s the only one left in the world. Take advantage of the gospel while you have it.

I was in China twenty-six years ago. I of course never saw that Chinese tour guide again. But as she waved good-bye with one hand she held in her other hand the words of eternal life. I pray that she read them and took advantage of their life-giving power. Maybe I’ll see her again in heaven. Amen.