Act 13:44-52 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 blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then 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. For 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.'" 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. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But 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. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Paul and Barnabas are men who grew up thinking that their Jewish roots entitled them to claim an exclusive relationship with God. The teaching of Jesus helped them discover both that the love of God is larger than their particular Jewish beliefs, and that they are called to share this love outside of their Jewish identity. The passage for today describes them explaining this to other Jewish people – and drawing on the authority of the prophet Isaiah to do so. Acts 13:47 shows them quoting Isaiah 49:6 to explain that Jesus did not bring a new message: he came to remind the Jewish people of something that the prophets had been saying through the generations... that the love of God is “to the ends of the earth”, and those who know God ought to be a light to this truth.
Let me invite us as Christian not to fall into the same kind of thinking that Paul and Barnabas opposed: let us not become a closed circle of “Jesus-followers” who thank God that ‘we are in’. Jesus calls us to turn outwards and be a light that includes “the ends of the earth”.
The Lord is with us
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.154