C Cycle – 4th Sunday of Easter 22
Acts 13:14. 43-52
Paul continuing his mission to preach the good news of salvation to the Jews reaches Pisidia. On the Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas speak to Jews and converts urging them to be faithful in their response to the “grace of God.” What is interesting in that comment is how Paul as a Pharisee, was advocating an attitude of thanksgiving to God for the gift of grace versus adherence to the law as a means of obtaining favor with God. He was not emphasizing the ritual sacrifices for the atonement of sin, but instead was pointing out God’s forgiveness cannot be earned by anything they did. He was not emphasizing outward obedience but an inner response to the ‘grace of God.” An attitude of celebration versus an attitude of compliance and conformity.
It is no wonder that on the following Sabbath almost the entire city gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas. It was no wonder that the Jews seeing the crowd responded and “with violent abuse contradicted Paul and Barnabas.” The message those in Pisidia would have heard each week was vastly different than the message of Paul and Barnabas. Coming to grips with a loving, forgiving and merciful God changes how we approach him and relate to him. Think of that message for just a minute; close your eyes and digest the me fact any penalty you must pay for your sins no longer exists. Sin has its own penalty and our response to sin is to embrace the gift of Jesus Christs death for our sins. The only required response is it demands a faith in something unseen and unbelievable.
It is no wonder the leading Jews of Pisidia challenged and contradicted the message of grace. The message of God’s grace is in the polar opposite of what the Pharisee’s were trained to teach, and what they believe was the only way to appease God when we sin. Their message demanded discipline and a belief that without a sacrificial penalty their sin will condemn them. God’s forgiveness of transgressions can only be removed by the offering of a sacrifice.
Paul and Barnabas were not advocating the abolition of the sacrifice but were redefining what the sacrifice was accomplishing. Grace demands a response and to Paul the sacrifice we need to make is not to seek atonement but to acknowledge and give thanks for the gift of grace. That attitude changes the meaning of the sacrifice.
A shift in our thinking occurs when we begin to grasp the full meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we begin to grasp the impact of God’s plan to remove the barrier of sin between him and us our response should be one of thanksgiving. That attitude frees us to worship without concern for decorum and frees us to respond with thanksgiving, wonder and awe because it is unexpected. When we hold fast to an attitude of sacrifice then forgiveness can only be obtained by atonement on our part and that attituded keeps us from discovering the freedom given to us by the death of Jesus. That motivates us to depend on ourselves to restore the broken relationship with God.
However, when we realize the truth in the message of God’s grace, we know there is nothing we need to do but to allow ourselves to be embraced by a loving forgiving God.
It is no wonder the people responded to Paul and Barnabas. We know how our self-condemnation for repeated failures clings to us. We know how often we have made tried to rid ourselves of sin and how many times we have failed. Repeatedly we seek forgiveness and make sacrifices for the same offense while asking ourselves why we cannot change.
We fail to realize the only way to eliminate repeated sins is to allow God’s grace to wash over us. The response of the religious leaders to the message of Paul and Barnabas should send shivers down our spines. They were in fact, denying the impact of Jesus’s death for the atonement of sin. Their message tells us we can earn God’s grace and that my brothers and sisters is blasphemy. The very reason they crucified Christ. Their rejection of the message of grace is a rejection of God’s plan for our salvation, our restoration as sons and daughters and the rejection of what God desires for us.
The scriptures tell us all sin will be forgiven except “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 12:31). God’s gift of grace flows from the fullness of the trinity, God the Father sent us Christ to die for the penalty of our sins and the Holy Spirit who will change our hearts, so we choose God over self. On this day, those who rejected the message of God’s grace, condemned themselves and were deemed by Paul to be unworthy of eternal life.