Acts of the Apostles 13.42-52
42 As Paul and Barnabas* were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.* 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ’
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. 49Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. 50But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. 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.
There were many of those who heard Paul and Barnabas and took their message to heart, and they urged them to return the following Sabbath. Many of the Jews and God-Fearer’s followed them after the meeting and asked them to talk with them further. By the next Sabbath the word was out, and a great crowd gathered. But this made the leaders of the synagogue jealous – can’t you hear them, “Where were you when we were speaking? Who are these foreign upstarts anyway?” When Paul began to speak, they spoke out against him, contradicting what he was saying – heckling as we would say.
I would have been discouraged by such a reaction, but not Paul & Barnabas! They spoke out boldly, telling the synagogue leaders that they had to come first to them, but since they had refused to listen, rejected the message, and “Judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life”, they would turn to the Gentiles. For the LORD had commanded them to be a light to the world, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
And so the Gentiles were glad and praised the word of the Lord, and many of them became believers. And the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But those synagogue leaders weren’t finished – there were some powerful women among the God-Fearers there, and they stirred them up against Paul and Barnabas, and persecution began and they were driven out of the region. And so, they shook the dust from their feet in protest, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit!
This will be the pattern for Paul and Barnabas as they travel on their missionary journeys. They will go first to the synagogues, and almost always be rejected and thrown out. Then they will preach and teach in a home or hall somewhere, bringing many of the Gentiles to know Jesus. And, as often as not, they will be run out of town by the “Jews” – the steadfast leaders of the synagogues – those whose positions are threatened – those who have read the scriptures all their lives but cannot change their perspective and see something new there. Let us always have minds open to what God is doing among us!