Today’s reading begins in the middle of a story. As is usually the case when we read the Bible, the meaning of this reading gains clarity and depth in the context of the whole story, beginning in verse 1 of this chapter.
Led by the Holy Spirit, the church in Antioch (in Syria) sent Paul and Barnabas to other cities to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Eventually, they arrived in a different Antioch (in Pisidia). As was their custom, Paul and Barnabas attended services at the local synagogue. One Sabbath, synagogue officials invited them to speak to the congregation – a common invitation for visiting rabbis or teachers. In response, Paul and Barnabas spoke about God’s saving purposes, first among the people of Israel and then in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The hearers – Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism – asked them to come back the next Sabbath to speak further about these matters. This is where today’s passage begins – on that next Sabbath.
As it happened, many others also came to hear Paul and Barnabas. This angered some in the congregation. They spoke harshly against Paul and Barnabas and against the message of the good news.
What a fearsome thing to set oneself against God’s purposes and actions! God had acted lovingly toward the people of Israel, for their good and the good of all. God intended them to be a light for the world, to bring salvation to all peoples. Now, many of them set themselves against God, against his purposes and actions.
What a blessed thing to align oneself boldly with God’s purposes and action! Paul and Barnabas became what God intended his people to be – a light for the world, agents of salvation for all. Others in Antioch also aligned themselves boldly with God, with his purposes and actions.
These are the alternatives we see in this passage – opposition to God or alignment with God. These are what faced the people of the first century in Antioch. The same alternatives face us in the twenty-first century in Sterling. Will we set ourselves against God, against his purposes and actions? Or, will we align ourselves with God, with his purposes and actions?