On their first missionary journey, in Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas spoke in the synagogue in Antioch. Paul preached the gospel to his Jewish brethren. He summarized God’s work throughout history, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist, culminating in the coming of the promised Savior, Jesus, who provides forgiveness of sins.
This was good news, and some received it with joy! Many Jews, and even many God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who urged them “to continue in the grace of God.” The people begged Paul to return next Sabbath to say more.
Paul did return. But when the Jewish authorities saw the size of the crowds, and how many Gentiles had also come to hear Paul’s message, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting Paul. They blasphemed, denying Jesus as Christ. So, Paul and Barnabas said,
It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: “I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (13:46).
What sad words, “you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life”! They alone stood in the way of their own eternal salvation. Everyone else involved had judged them worthy!
God Judged Them Worthy of Eternal Life
This was really the point of the whole sermon. God had been preparing the Jewish nation for centuries for this very moment. From Abraham to Egypt to the wilderness to Canaan, He kept His promises (13:16-25), all of which pointed to a Messiah who would bless them, and bless all nations through them.
Can it possibly be suggested that God would judge them unworthy of eternal life? By no means! God did all this work, so that in the fullness of times, Jesus would come to save His people.
Jesus Judged Them Worthy of Eternal Life
Paul’s sermon wasn’t just about the power of God through history, but the work of Jesus in the flesh and on the cross (13:26-39).
In a real sense, we are all unworthy of eternal life. We have fallen short of the glory of God. But God demonstrated His great love for us by pouring out upon His Son the wrath due to us, that we might be given the right to be called children of God. A higher compliment has never been paid, than when the divine Son of God looked out upon the great mass of humanity and said, “I am willing to die on a cross for you.” Really, that compliment was paid not just to humanity as a whole, but to each and every person who draws breath individually. The crucifixion shouts forth, “I am willing to die on a cross for YOU.”
Paul and Barnabas Judged Them Worthy of Eternal Life
Think of why Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch. They had perfectly happy careers back home. They took up their walking sticks and headed out for unknown lands to spread the news that Jesus reigns. Paul had already experienced persecution at Damascus and Jerusalem. He would complete more than three missionary journeys over many years. By the end, Paul would suffer much (2 Cor. 11:22-29) and be executed (2 Timothy 4:6-8). For what? For the privilege of proclaiming salvation to the world, out of a love for lost souls.
You Should Really Judge Yourself Worthy!
Don’t say “God doesn’t want me in Heaven.” God wants you! Don’t say “Jesus doesn’t love me.” Jesus died for you. Don’t say “the church is full of hypocrites who look down their nose at sinners.” The church is a people devoted to helping you get right with God.
When you reject the gospel of Jesus, you judge yourself unworthy of God’s gift. You cheat only yourself. Paul warned his audience to take heed, lest the judgment spoken of in the Prophets occur (13:40-41). So far as we know, this belligerent, stubborn group never welcomed the blessings of Jesus. Paul left, and began to work with a Gentile audience, and “they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (13:48).
Perhaps it’s not amazing that people would desire to dwell eternally with God, but that He would desire to dwell eternally with people. To that end, He has planned salvation from before the foundation of the world, promised it since the Garden of Eden, brought it into increasing light through centuries of prophecy, and in the fullness of times, provided it to all. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Won’t you receive it today? —John Guzzetta