God’s Word for You
Acts 28:23-28 ...then for the Gentile
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, March 19, 2021
23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and even greater numbers of them came to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and testified to them about the kingdom of God. He tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.
Luke might have remembered this as one of Paul’s greatest moments. The Apostle was in his own lodging, with all the leading Jews of Rome there to listen to him. Every sunlit hour was spent in this testimony. We can imagine that Paul may have paused from time to time for a quick break, even refreshing his visitors with meals, but continuing the explanation, the testimony, and the convincing arguments. Paul would surely have had time over the course of such a day to have recalled many or most of Jesus’ miracles. I wonder whether Luke used this opportunity to pick up on Paul’s phrasing for Jesus’ Passion Account (Luke 20-24). But much or most of the day was spent proving Jesus’ office of Messiah from Moses and the Prophets. Luke is happy to tell us that some of them were convinced. A congregation of Christians had already begun in Rome, but this day increased its numbers. There were, as usual, some who did not believe.
25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your forefathers through Isaiah the prophet: 26 ‘Go. You are to tell this people, Keep listening but you will never understand. Keep looking but you will never perceive. 27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; their ears have become deaf, and their eyes blind. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28 Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
This quotation is from the Greek translation of Isaiah 6 (Isaiah 6:9-10). The Jews were being told that they were stubbornly rejecting God by rejecting the Son of God. This was illustrated by Jesus in one of his last parables, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Luke 20:9-19). In it, a man sends servants to collect the rent from his tenant farmers, who think that it would be a good idea to beat and mistreat the servants. Then the man sends his son, and they kill the son. Then Jesus asks, “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:15-16). This is the rejection of Christ by the Jews and the carrying of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
God does not want anyone to turn away from him. He says, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23). Paul was in many ways standing before these Jews in the way that Hosea stood before the people of the northern kingdom before the Assyrians came. Their whole world was about to change forever. What was going to be torn down was not going to be rebuilt, not ever. They were rejecting God; rejecting Christ. Yet God’s servant kept holding out the word of hope to them: “You must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always” (Hosea 12:6).
Today, people object when we talk about the way the Jews rejected Christ. In some cases, this might be a naïve question as to whether the ancient Jews really understood Jesus, really heard the gospel at all. Paul’s preaching in Rome shows us that they heard the message from the greatest preacher of his generation, perhaps of any generation. They spent all day with him, listening, arguing, asking; being persuaded. Paul used Moses to show Christ to them. Paul used the Prophets to show Christ to them. Paul used Jesus’ own teaching, his death and resurrection. “Yet,” the prophet says, “you did not turn to me” (Haggai 2:17). And Samuel said, “If you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you as it was against your fathers” (1 Samuel 12:15). The command of God the Father concerning Christ is a simple one: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).
Another objection that’s raised today when we talk about the Jews rejecting Christ is that they still believe in the God of the Old Testament. People like to talk about such a faith as “Judeo-Christian” faith. But everything in the Old Testament points ahead to Christ, which is what Paul was showing and demonstrating here in Rome. How can someone say that they believe in the Creation account if they reject the promise of the Savior given to Eve (Genesis 3:15)? How can someone say that they believe in the accounts of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when they reject the promises of the Messiah given to Abraham on his way to Canaan (Genesis 12:3) and on Mount Zion (Genesis 22:18), given to Isaac in the land of the Philistines (Genesis 26:3-4), and given to Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:14)? No, when the Jews of ancient or modern times join in conspiring against the Son of God so thoroughly described in Psalm 2 as God’s son (Psalm 2:7), as God’s Messiah (Christ, Psalm 2:2), and as Prophet (Psalm 2:7), Priest (Psalm 2:8) and King (Psalm 2:6), then they have become one with the nations who conspire against God and plot against him (Psalm 2:1). God’s enemies are the enemies of Christ, and anyone who is an enemy of Christ is an enemy of God. There can be no such thing as “Judeo-Christian.” There is only Christian. Abraham was not a believer who rejected Christ, but a believer who looked forward to Christ. Everyone who rejects Christ rejects the faith of Abraham.
Therefore, the preaching of Christ, Paul says, will go once again to the Gentiles, just as Isaiah had foreseen. The Gospel continues to be held out to the Jews, but they cannot be saved apart from faith in Christ. “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, and you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
Verses 23-28 of this passage teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which falls under the doctrines of both Law and Gospel, since all the Law and all the Gospel flow from our Triune God. Here we clearly see the working of the Father (from whom salvation comes, Acts 28:28), the Son (Jesus, proved through Moses and the Prophets, Acts 28:23) and the Holy Spirit who inspired Isaiah and the other writers of the Bible (Acts 28:25). Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; this is our Triune God.
This passage preaches a strong sermon of Law against all those who reject Christ, and also against those preachers who do not give clear warnings against sin, including the sin of unbelief (the First Commandment). Without the preaching of the Law, the Gospel is a meaningless medicine, a bandaid on an unset broken bone, a ribbon on a fractured skull.
This passage preaches the Gospel by reminding us all that God’s salvation is held out to all who will hear it. There is forgiveness for all who do not turn away from Christ but who believe in him, like the Jews of verse 24 who were convinced by what Paul said. They believed God, and he credited it to them as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Our righteousness comes from God and not from ourselves (Psalm 7:17; Galatians 2:21). But all who trust in Jesus our Savior will certainly be saved; they will never be lost. They will rise to everlasting life and joy, and all the blessings of Paradise.
Pastor Timothy Smith