When Paul came to Jerusalem for the last time and gave the Jews there his defense of himself and the Gospel, we are told of the following reaction of the Jews concerning his statement about being commissioned to preach to the Gentiles, Acts 22:22-24:
And they gave him audience unto this word; and they lifted up their voice, and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.”
And as they cried out, and threw off their garments, and cast dust into the air, the chief captain commanded him be brought into the castle, bidding that he should be examined by scourging, that he might know for what cause they so shouted against him.
The Jews would not hear another word of the message which Paul spoke. It had become too offensive to their ears to endure no longer, so they convicted him in their hearts of improper conduct and were about to kill him.
This was not the first time the Jews had done such a thing, for when Stephen preached to them in Acts 7, he received the following response in Acts 7:57-58:
But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
The Jews had “stopped their ears,” for they did not desire to hear any more of the message which Stephen dared to present to them. They then killed him by stoning in their intense anger over what he had said. Why was this so?
Paul and Stephen were messengers of the Gospel, and it was for this reason that they suffered in the flesh. The Jews did not desire to hear the Gospel, for by it their sins were revealed, and they were “stiff-necked and obstinate,” as Stephen and Isaiah, respectively, called them. The Jews ceased to listen when the words spoken to them had become a stumbling block for them, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 1:23.
There is much that we can learn from this obduracy of the Jews. The Gospel, as we are told in Hebrews 4:12,
is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The Gospel, when preached properly, will cause a single reaction, one shared by the accounts of its preaching in Acts 2 and 7: the piercing of the heart. Many will be pierced in the heart and desire to repent, having recognized the need for the salvation in Jesus Christ and the need to repent, as seen in Acts 2:37. The Gospel will also pierce many in the heart and they shall reject Christ and Him crucified, as is evident by the lesson of Stephen in Acts 7:54. What, then, is to be done when they will hear no more?
We must recognize that it is inevitable that some will not accept the Gospel, and that it will offend many; after all, many do not want to hear that they are lost in sin and that their actions are actually wrong. Many who are lost do not want to believe they are lost, and they will forcefully reject our glory, as is said by Paul in Romans 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Further, we must remember the advice of Jesus in Matthew 10:14-15:
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
There is a point at which we must determine that our works are not producing fruit with people, and recognize that our words will not penetrate the hardened heart. We wish for their salvation, yet they must desire to be saved themselves.
What happens, however, when it is no longer a problem that they will not hear, but that we will not? We must always give diligence to make sure that we retain an open heart so that we may constantly accept the nurturing and admonition of the Lord, and constantly examine ourselves that we have not fallen astray from Christ Jesus, as we have been told to do in 1 Corinthians 13:5. May we always give heed to Christ and His words of life.