Within three days of arriving in Rome, Paul sent someone to invite the elders of the Jewish community to meet with him. As he had done in city after city he would begin by preaching to his kinsmen. He would do his very best to show them the suffering Messiah in the Scriptures and explain how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled those prophecies. And again, as had happened in city after city, as the day wore on some became convinced and some grew hostile. Many of the elders in that room would have memorized the entire Torah (first five books of the Bible), and in some cases, the entire Old Testament, so quoted passages would have been flying back and forth, meanings debated, and personal observations made about people they knew who had believed in Jesus. Then, when it became apparent that many had decided to reject his message and were preparing to leave, Paul issued a warning to them by quoting from words God spoke to Isaiah when He called him to become a prophet (Isa 6:8-13). God didnt tell Isaiah he would have great fruitfulness. In fact, He assured him of just the opposite. He was calling him to a tough assignment. The people wouldnt repent and the nation wouldnt escape disaster. His ministry would actually leave his listeners in worse condition than before. And Paul was telling the elders that preaching to them was just like Isaiah preaching to his generation. He too, knew ahead of time that only a few would listen. But the point we need to see today is that Paul reached out to them anyway, knowing that no matter how patient or careful he might be, the majority would likely reject his message. He still invited them to meet with him and shared his faith. Why? With that kind of depressing outlook we might wonder why he would bother. Why not bypass the Jews and go straight to the Gentiles? They would gladly receive him. Why should anyone have to preach to people who dont want to hear the truth?
Pauls assignment (Ac 28:24-28) DBS (Sun-Wed)
Jesus assignment (Lk 19:28-44)
What Paul did that day in Rome reminds us of what Jesus did on Palm Sunday. Luke tells us that as the Lord approached the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey, he was surrounded by cheering crowds, yet He began to weep. He looked out over the city and, in the Spirit, saw its future. In spite of the enthusiasm around Him, He knew He would ultimately be rejected. His message wouldnt be believed, except by a few. In His mind His attempt to rescue the city from destruction had already failed. Listen:
He saw the city and wept over it, saying, If you had known this day even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation (Lk 19:41-44).
Yet He kept on riding into the city.
Why God sends us
Why did Isaiah keep prophesying if he knew the nation wouldnt repent? Why did Jesus keep teaching in the Temple if He knew most of His listeners would soon be calling for His death? Why after nearly 30 years of enduring persecution at the hands of his kinsmen did Paul still want to meet with the elders of the synagogues in Rome? Why would God ask anyone to take such an assignment? With so many people in the world why would anyone have to go to those who dont want to listen? Here are some parables Jesus taught in order to reveal Gods heart:
1) The parable of the sower (Mt 13:3-9, 18-23)
We notice in this parable that the sower scatters seed on all types of soil, even the hard, packed soil along the path, and the shallow soil among the rocks. The Lord is showing us that Gods love and justice causes Him to reach out to people even when He knows few, if any, will come. Some of the towns in Galilee to which Jesus went most often, and in which He did most of His miracles, largely refused to repent and believe in Him (Mt 11:20-24). His own hometown of Nazareth was one of the worst (Lk 4:16-30), yet these were not failures, they were assignments.
2) The parable of the big dinner (Lk 14:15-24)
We notice in this parable there were guests who received an invitation yet refused to come, so the host sent servants out to find more. Jesus is showing us that God still faithfully invites people who arent interested in coming to Him, but that He will not let their refusal stop Him from filling His house with people. He sends His servants out to find those we might think are unworthy, or are very different from us, or live far away. In other words, tough assignments arent the only assignments. God will also send us after those who are seeking Him.
3) The parable of the lost sheep (Lk 15:1-7)
We notice in this parable the shepherd is willing to go after one sheep. Jesus is showing us that Gods fatherly love is concerned about individuals, not percentages. He gladly goes after one, because each person is an eternal spirit whom God knows and loves as a parent loves a child. Each is unique and cant be replaced, so God will go to great lengths, and assign us to go to great lengths, even great suffering, to win a few, or one.
4) The parable of the mustard seed (Lk 13:18-19)
We notice in this parable that something very small, in time, becomes very big. Jesus is showing us the transformative power of a single believer. He, of course, is the first mustard seed whom the Father cast into His own garden (Israel). From Him has grown a great tree (spiritual family) in whose branches even those who dont belong to that garden (Gentiles) have found a nest (a place to belong). But He is also explaining what one of His disciples can accomplish. It only takes one to unleash a power far greater than ourselves. Winning only a few or even one, is not a failure, its planting a seed. God, who sees beyond this present moment and into the future, may ask us to take a tough assignment because He sees the effect of that assignment as it grows far past our generation. We must remember we are part of a much larger plan that keeps growing long beyond our death.
A tough assignment is one in which we have to reach out to people who dont want to listen. There are easy places and hard places. There are open generations and closed generations. There are spiritually hungry families who are glad to hear what Jesus means to you, and hostile families who are offended that you even mentioned the idea of God. There are people and places and times when no matter how patient or careful you are, your presence and message will be divisive. One or two might believe, but the majority will reject you and your faith. Yet as weve seen, that does not mean God wont send you there, or call you to that generation, or ask you to witness to the most resistant heart. His justice demands that people be given a chance; His love invites even those who wont come; His fathers heart seeks after one lost soul; and His Holy Spirit needs only the smallest seed to grow a great tree.
each one. Deep down we all know that. Thats why firemen rush into a burning building; police risk their lives to rescue a hostage; soldiers go back after a fallen comrade; medical personnel set up a hospital in the middle of a raging epidemic; missionaries go to a forgotten corner of the earth. And thats why Isaiah and Jesus and Paul wouldnt stop preaching until they were killed. People matter. And heres an irony: some of the toughest opponents become the strongest adherents; some of the most broken people become the most powerful healers; some of the most resistant communities become the brightest light on the hill. Thats because the sweetest fruit grows in the harshest conditions. When God asks us to take a difficult assignment its probably because Hes spotted a gem. Paul himself was hard ground (1Ti 1:12-16). But in him, the fiercest opponent of the Church became the most powerful apostle.
Are you and I facing a tough assignment? Actually, we are. We live in a challenging place at a challenging time in history. Yet there are still people who need us to come after them and persevere through their unbelief until they can spiritually see; people who have no idea how much they will someday love Jesus. And, God knows who they are and wont hesitate to ask us to go after them. So, on this Palm Sunday weekend He asks us again: Will you declare your faith to a skeptical generation? Will you remain faithful in a dangerous place? Will you keep praying for a stubborn family or workplace or city? Will you wait for decades for a heart to soften? Because if we will, well see Him do miracles. We may even see people as rebellious as we were, come to Jesus.
1) Has God asked you to reach out to someone who wont listen? How long have you been waiting? How do you keep your hope for that person alive?
2) Were you resistant when you first heard the gospel? How long did it take for you to believe?