To The Jews First

Title: To The Jews First

Bible Book: Acts 9

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Cross; Paul, The Apostle



Paul had been to the Cross where he found Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He had responded to the Lord’s special call to take up his cross and bear it to Gentiles, to kings, and to Israel. With a profound sense of gratitude to His Lord, He took up his cross and began proclaiming the Gospel, of which he was never ashamed. He was never ashamed to preach the Gospel, either to Jews or to Gentiles. In fact, he put that in his epistles:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church. I have become its minister, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. God wanted to make known to those among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:24‑27, HCSB)

Paul is not saying in verse 24 that Jesus left anything done in providing for our salvation. As the hymn writer stated it, “Jesus Paid It All.” What Paul is saying is that Jesus left a ministry for us, and each person should take up his cross and minister to the Lord through His church. In other words, Jesus suffered and bled, and died to provide for our salvation and to establish the church and He has left us with work to do through His body, the church. He was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, but he never lost sight of his call to declare the message of salvation to the Jews.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith (Rom. 1:16‑17, HCSB).

If you were able to ask Bible students of any age, of any century the one person who fulfilled that call more effectively than any other, most of them would name Paul. I would never argue that point, but I think we must qualify that to some degree. I believe James, the half-brother of our Lord, performed a service through the church that Paul could never have performed. Long after Paul had been martyred, John continued to win the lost, disciple the saints, and write Scripture. He was also the one the Lord used to bridge the gap between the age of the Apostles and the age of the early Church Fathers. Countless men and women have discharged their duties to the Lord as faithfully as Paul, even if less qualified; even if not given the same opportunities. Paul faithfully took the Gospel to His own people, then to the Gentiles.


A. The Apostle to the Gentiles Never Lost Sight of His Own People.

Paul has been accused of taking a Jewish movement and turning it into a Gentile church. While I can understand why some may come to that conclusion, we can be sure that Paul never turned his back on his own people, the Jews. God called Paul to salvation miraculously and sensationally. Ever salvation experience is miraculous, but not many so dramatic as the experience of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road. Not only was his call to salvation miraculous, his call to take up his cross and follow Jesus dramatic and spectacular, yet no more dramatic than the way his discharged his responsibilities. He listed many, many persecutions and numerous hardships, anyone of which would be enough to lead another believer to believe he had really suffered for the Lord.

B. Paul’s Heart’s Desire Was to See Israel Embrace Jesus as Lord.

What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith.

But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written:

Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over, and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:30‑33, HCSB).

The church had become primarily a Gentile church because the Gentiles, with no background in the Word of God, and no rich heritage in the Law or the Prophets, embraced Jesus Christ by faith. The Jews, for the most part, rejected Jesus and any offer of salvation offered only to those who believed in Jesus. Why do you suppose the rejected the Gospel? Luke gives us a hint in Acts 13 where he records the work of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch of Pisidia. When Paul taught the people about the death of Jesus for our sins, and His resurrection, many Jews and many Gentiles were interested in hearing more. Their interest was met with jealousy on the part of the leaders of the synagogue there. Jealousy was but one reason. Another had to do with their attitude toward Israel and yet another to do with their attitude toward Gentiles.

The Jews knew they were the Chosen People, but they forgot why they were chosen. The Scripture was clear enough. They were to be a nation of priests which God might use to reach out to the nations of the world, but they interpreted that choice to mean a position in the Lord which was available only to Jews, and to those who became proselytes to Judaism. Some believed that Gentiles were fit only for fodder for the fires of hell

Paul preached only one Gospel for Jews and Gentiles alike. We must never compromise the Gospel in our day. It is unbelievable how many Christians compromise when talking with Jews today. Sadly, many Christians profess to believe that there are many ways to heaven, and that Jesus is but one way. I have known people who did not have a burden for Jews because they, in ignorance, believed that all Jews are going to heaven because they are God’s Chosen People. Jesus is the only one way to know the Father. Many years ago a youthful Billy Graham rode is the Rose Parade before the Rose Bowl. Commentators had to explain why he held the index finger on his right hand aloft. It mean that he believed there is but one way to go to heaven.

Franklin Graham may lack a little of the tactfulness of his famous father, but sometimes I believe he may well take advantage of his opportunities even more quickly than his father. Billy Graham had to learn very early to be diplomatically because of the way reporters tend to spin anything that has to do with the Gospel. I have been amazed at the way Franklin Graham gets in a word about how to be saved, even when talking with a liberal Jew like Alan Colmes.

My long time friend, Phil told me years ago that he is Jewish, “But I’m not religious. I’m a scientist. I don’t believe in religion.” As he had grown older he has obviously given some thought to religious matters because he once confided to me, “I wish I could believe in heaven.” He attended a funeral and later told me that he spoke with the local rabbi and asked him, “Why to they always have to talk about Jesus? It’s always Jesus this and Jesus that.”

He once told me, “You are the only one I can talk with.” Since he talks with everyone he knows, I knew he meant about anything of a spiritual nature. I said, “Phil, I am your friend and I an concerned about you. But I would never try to convert you, as much as I would like to see you trust Jesus, as many Jewish people have done. In fact, I am indebted to you and to all Jews because Jesus was a Jew and I have found salvation through a Jewish Messiah. I will always be glad to talk with you and I would love to see you trust Him. But I will never try to convert you. I cannot convert anyone. All I can do is share what I know about Him.”

We are still friends. When the old rabbi retired and moved away, Phil called me over one day and asked, “Johnny, do you play poker?” I told him that I didn’t. He said, “I got the rabbi involved in our weekly poker game years ago and now that he is moving there is a slot open and I was going to invite you to take his place.” I didn’t go into detail about my convictions about gambling, but I did tell him about the marble I lost when I was in the fourth grade. I didn’t know we were playing “for keeps” but I decided to forfeit the marble rather than admit my ignorance. I never got over losing that one marble!

C. Paul Sought Their Salvation, not Personal Glory.

For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he is deceiving himself. But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load (Gal 6:3‑5).

It was his desire that “and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). Sadly, some misinformed Bible students have concluded that Paul was filled with pride, that his ego often got the best of him. These people have obviously take some of his words our of context because when he listed either his trials, he is embarrassed to do so. In fact, he wrote:

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation (Gal 6:14‑16).

D. Paul Declared the Deeper Meaning of the Cross to Jews and Gentiles.

For through the law I have died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:19‑20).

To be crucified with Christ means to be alive in Christ, but dead to the world and the principles of the flesh. We live in the world but we are not of the world. When a Christian lives a worldly life he brings dishonor to the Christ and disgrace to the Cross. A lot of people who profess to be Christians have never been born again, and a lot of born again believers are walking in the flesh. They have been delivered from bondage and death, as Israel was delivered from Egypt by the mighty hand of the Lord. However, they refuse to live in Canaan, the position in Christ available to every believer. The insist on wandering in the wilderness that is the world, somehow convincing themselves that the choice is theirs.

Let me set the record straight. The Israelites could not deliver themselves from Egypt. It took a might act of God to deliver them. No lost person can deliver himself or herself from death and bondage to sin. Only Jesus can save us from death and bondage to sin. When one is wandering in the wilderness, he cannot, through his will, or through his works, transfer himself to Canaan. It took another mighty act of God to take the Children of Israel from the wilderness into Canaan. The person who is walking in the flesh cannot simply turn over a new leaf. He must repent and asked the Lord to restore him.

A. Paul and Barnabas Traveled to Antioch of Pisidia, 13:14-33.

Paul adopted a missions strategy which he followed from place to place. Following the major Roman Roads, he traveled to the major population centers. Upon arriving at a new city and finding lodging, he went to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath, where he, as a distinguished guest would often be asked to speak. He preached the Gospel, and continued going to the synagogue until he was turned away, at which time he turned to the Gentiles and with believing Jews started a church. We are safe in assuming that the message he preached in Antioch of Pisidia was the message he preached to Jews everywhere. Let’s look at the account in Acts 13.

Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and went back to Jerusalem. They continued their journey from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, you can speak” (Acts 13:13‑15).

This was on the First Missionary Journey. John Mark had sailed with Barnabas and Paul to Cyprus and accompanied them when the sailed to Perga, but for some reason, decided to leave them and return to Jerusalem. The parting was not pleasant as far as Paul was concerned. In fact, Paul refused to let him go with them on a second mission trip, a controversy which was resolved when Barnabas took John Mark and returned to Cypress and Paul and Silas formed a new missions team.

Paul was not perfect. There comes a time in everyone’s life when he stumbles, fails, or simply does not take advantage of an opportunity. At such a time, one is very fortunate if he finds a Barnabas to comfort and restore him rather than a Saul to judge him. Paul later acknowledge that John Mark was valuable to the work.

When Barnabas and Paul arrived in Antioch, they went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. This was the mission strategy Paul adopted and followed whenever possible. He could not do this in places like Philippi where there was no synagogue. Every synagogue service began with a reading from the Law and a reading from the Prophets. After that, Paul was invited to speak.

B. He Preached the Old Testament Scriptures, 13:16-22. 

1) Paul reviewed the history the Jews all knew very well.

Then standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and spoke: “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen! The God of this people Israel chose our forefathers, exalted the people during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm. And for about 40 years He put up with them in the desert; then after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, He gave their land to them as an inheritance. This all took about 450 years. After this, He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. After removing him, He raised up David as their king, of whom He testified: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will carry out all My will’ (Acts 13:16‑22).

2) He showed them that Jesus is the fulfillment of their hopes.

From this man’s descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Savior, Jesus, to Israel. Before He came to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Then as John was completing his life work, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the One. But look! Someone is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on His feet.’ 

“Brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. For the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers, since they did not recognize Him or the voices of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled their words by condemning Him. Though they found no grounds for the death penalty, they asked Pilate to have Him killed. When they had fulfilled all that had been written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and put Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead, and He appeared for many days to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people (Acts 13:23-31).

And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our forefathers. God has fulfilled this to us their children by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm: You are My Son; today I have become Your Father (Acts 13:32‑33).

C. Paul Proclaimed Jesus as the Fulfillment of All Their Hopes.

1) He is the Seed of David, 13:22-23.

2) He was introduced by John the Baptist, 13:24-25.

3) He was crucified, 13:26-29.

4) God raised Him from the dead, 13:30-33.

D. In Christ There Is Forgiveness of Sin, Acts 13:38-39.

“Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything, which you could not be justified from through the law of Moses (Acts 13:38‑39).

1) Sin is not a psychological problem.

2) Sin is not a sociological problem.

3) Sin is a spiritual problem.

4) Sin has but one solution and that is Jesus.


A. The First Witnesses Were Jews.

All of the Apostles were Jews. The 120 who waited in the upper room were Jews. Those who witnessed on Pentecost when 3,000 were added unto the church, were Jews. The first deacons were Hellenistic Jews. There were many Jewish believers in Jerusalem, and we know there were believers in Damascus and Antioch. Many of the most committed believers were Jewish women, like Dorcus.

B. Many of the Early Converts Under Paul’s Preaching Were Jews.

He was a powerful witness in Damascus before he had to escape and return to Jerusalem. After a brief visit in Jerusalem, he returned to Tarsus, his hometown. For several years, he lived and I am convinced witnessed throughout that part of Cilicia.

At the close of the First Missionary Journey, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria and reported on the mission trip, highlighting the number of Gentiles who were saved. We have seen that Paul had a mission strategy that took him first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. I would like for us to think of one Jewish family in one Jewish town to illustrate His witness to the Jews.

I remember visiting church plants when you could walk through the educational building and see names on Sunday School classrooms. One you often saw read simply, TEL. We know that stands for Timothy, Eunice, and Lois. Timothy was a young man who had been taught by his mother and grandmother, and it seems that all became Christians on the First Missionary Journey when Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the Word in Lystra.

Timothy joined Paul and Silas on the Second Missionary Journey. They would be joined by Luke the physician at Troas. Timothy became a close associate until Paul was martyred around A.D. 66-68. Paul could send Timothy to deal with special issues in churches and he knew he could trust him. In fact, there was no one he trusted more than his young friend and companion. I would like to mention just a few things that made Timothy special

In the first place, Titus was saved on the First Missionary Journey and Paul took him with him to Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Conference in A. D. 51. He used him as a test case, refusing to have him circumcised. Before he permitted Timothy to join them he had him circumcised. Why the distinction? Titus was a Gentile and would be dealing with Gentiles and Jewish believers. Timothy was a half-Jew, whose father was Greek, which explains why he had not been circumcised. He would be working with Jews and he would have many doors closed to him if he had not been circumcised. Timothy’s work would not be limited to the Jews, however. Paul would often send him to Gentile churches. Now, look with me at some of the points of interest in the ministry of Timothy.

1) Paul called him, “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2)

2) Jews from Thessalonica followed the missionaries to Berea and “Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to go to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there” (Acts 17:14).

3) Silas and Timothy joined Paul and Luke in Corinth: “When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching the message and solemnly testified to the Jews that the Messiah is Jesus” (Acts 18:5).

4) When he needed to send someone on a mission, Timothy was often sent: “So after sending two of those who assisted him, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, he himself stayed in the province of Asia for a while” (Acts 19:22).

5) Paul trusted his son-in-the-ministry: “For I have no one else like‑minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father. Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me” (Phil 2:20‑23).

6. Upon his release from the first Roman imprisonment, Paul took Timothy to Ephesus and after a period of time, left him there to teach the people and to straighten out problems in the church there.

As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith (1 Tim 1:3‑4).

7) Paul urged Timothy to study the Word of God: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). 

C. Many Jews Became Powerful Witnesses for the Lord.

Who was it who preached the first sermon empowered by the Holy Spirit? A Jew - Simon Peter.

Who was it who took the Gospel to the Samaritans? A Jew - Phillip.

Who was it who led the Ethiopian Eunuch to the Lord? A Jew - Phillip.

Who was it who became the first martyr? A Jew - Stephen.

Who was it who befriended Saul in Jerusalem? A Jew - Barnabas.

Who was it what gave all he had to help the poor saints in Jerusalem? A Jew - Barnabas.

Who was it who helped take the Gospel to Cypress? A Jew - Barnabas.

Who was it who took the Gospel to Asia? A Jew - Paul.

Who was it who took the Gospel to Asia? A Jew - Paul.

Who was it who wrote the first Gospel account? A Jew - John Mark.

Who was it who wrote all those doctrinal epistles? A Jew - Paul.

Who was it who served as leader of the church in Jerusalem? A Jew - James.

Who was it who two epistles for the edification of the church? A Jew - Peter.

Who was it who wrote the evangelistic Gospel? A Jew - John.

Who was it who received the Revelation? A Jew - John.

Who was it who taught Apolos sound doctrine? Jews - Priscilla and Aquilla.

Who was it who stood labored with Paul on two missionary journeys? A Jew - Silas.

Who was it who became Paul’s “go to” man? A Jew - Timothy.

And, who are the most effective witnesses to Jews today? Marvin Leaventhal and Zion’s Hope,

and organizations like Jews for Jesus (Yeshua). I could add the name of a half-Jew who has served the Lord as an international evangelist and radio preacher, pastor, and educator, college and graduate school president who has stood for doctrinal and intellectual integrity? Gene Jeffries, president of Cambridge Graduate School and author of the book, ALIVE IN THE SPIRIT.

We must pray for Israel and pray for those who reach out to Israel. We must witness to our Jewish friends and not simply assume that they will never accept Jesus as Savior. The simple fact is that many are receiving Jesus as the Messiah.


A. When the Cross Is Preached, People Are Urged to Repent.

1) Everyone is free to choose. Let me hasten to add, that you do not choose Jesus, He chooses you. You must, however, choose to respond to His love and to His call. Jesus closes out the Revelation with an invitation: “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Jesus declared, “Him that comes unto me I will in no wise cast out.”

2) No one is free not to choose. A professor once told our class, “To fail to choose is to choose to fail.” When it comes to Jesus, to fail to choose is to perish. In reality, when you refuse to accept Him as Savior, you have chosen to be the enemy of the Cross, the enemy of the Lord.

B. There Is a Word of Warning to Those Who Reject Jesus.

1) You must pay careful attention to the Gospel.

We must therefore pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding, and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him (Heb 2:1‑3).

2) If you reject Jesus there is no hope.

If anyone disregards Moses’ law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28‑29).

3) You must not put off trusting Jesus.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works 10 for 40 years. Therefore I was provoked with this generation and said, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known My ways.” So I swore in My anger, “They will not enter My rest” (Heb 3:7‑11).


Our Lord has a special invitation for us: “Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson,

they will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). This is a conditional promise in the original language. The word “shall” does not seem to be conditional in the English, but I once heard Dr. J. Hardee Kennedy, an esteemed Hebrew scholar, explain that the results are conditioned on our response. That is not the speculation of a novice but the interpretation of a scholar. We are not saved by reasoning (KJV) or discussion, but by faith. What the Lord would have us discuss is the salvation made avialabvel to all who have faith in Him. Would you have your sins, scarlet though they may be, washed white as snow? Then trust in Jesus and His blood will cleanse your sins.

We have looked at one of the great hymns of the Christian faith in each of the sermons in this series on the Cross. Today, I would like for us to consider another familiar hymn:

What can wash away my sin?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus;

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus;

For my cleansing, this my plea,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus

Nothing can for sin atone,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus;

Naught of good that I have done,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus;

This is all my righteousness,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! Precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow;

No other name I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson,

they will be like wool.” Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Today is the day of salvation, this is the accepted time.

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