Why did Paul’s address upset the crowd? He had been doing everything possible to stress how Jewish he was. He had been born a Jew, raised and educated as a Jew. He had studied under Gamaliel. He had gone about his job as a Pharisee trying to exterminate the church. Even the story of his conversion had been given a Jewish emphasis. Paul had pointed out that Ananias was a devout Jew, for example. And when Ananias came and talked to him, he talked in Jewish terms, according to Paul’s account: “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One” (v. 14). Paul did not even use the word “Jesus.” He had done everything he could to bridge the gap. But as soon as he uttered the word “Gentiles,” the mob reacted violently and would have killed him if it could have done it.
Why did they object to that word? They were objecting to Paul’s persuasion that Gentiles could be saved without adhering to the law of Moses—without circumcision, without the temple worship, without the sacrifices—without, to put it very simply, first becoming Jews.
At this point we are inclined to say, “What prejudice that was! How narrow they must have been!” Well, yes they were narrow. But we must see that the problem here is not just Jewish prejudice. Their prejudice was only one example of the common prejudice of the sinful human heart. What they were really saying was, “In order to get to heaven, you first have to become like me. You have to do it my way.” We all do that. But the Gospel says you can’t do it your way; in fact, you can’t do anything. God saves people His way, and His way is through Christ.
If you are a Gentile, you can come as a Gentile. But it must be through Jesus Christ alone. If you are a Jew, you can come as a Jew. But you must come through Christ alone. If you are an Englishman, you can come as an Englishman. But you must come through Christ. If you are Japanese, you can come as a Japanese person. But you must come through Christ.
Why must we come in this way and not in some other way? Why can’t we invent our own way? It is because God sent Jesus Christ to be the Savior. This is how God has done it. So when we talk about the Gospel today, we are not talking about a religious opinion, my opinion or your opinion, though the world would like to make it that. We are talking about reality, about truth.
Once I talked about this to a woman on an airplane. We got into a conversation about spiritual things, but every time I said something about the Gospel, she said, “But that’s just your opinion.”
I replied, “That’s true, it is my opinion. But that’s not the point. Whether it is my opinion or not does not matter. What matters is, is it true?”
When I explained something else the same thing happened. “But that’s just your opinion,” she said.
I replied, “Yes, that is my opinion. But the point is not whether it’s my opinion or not. The point is, is it true?” We went on that way for about an hour, and at the end even she was beginning to get it, because she was laughing. She knew what was coming.
Did God send Jesus Christ to be the Savior? Paul knew He did. Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and that meeting turned his life around.
God sent Jesus Christ to be the Savior. If you rebel against that, you are doing exactly what the Jews did. You are not saying you have to become a Jew first, though you may say that if you are Jewish. But you are saying that you have to do something first, and you want others to do it your way. If you are thinking like that, it is no wonder you despise and even hate a Gospel as humbling as this Gospel is.
Well, it may be simple and it may be humbling, but it is still the Gospel, and it is the way to be saved. May God give you grace to embrace it wholeheartedly.