Summary: A Successful Failure I. In Our Lives II. In The Church
In the 1930s, there was a woman who was baking cookies. She was using a recipe that dated back to colonial times for butter cookies, but she wanted to do a twist on the recipe. Wanting to make chocolate-flavored cookies, she cut up a Nestlé chocolate bar and put the chunks in the batter, expecting them to melt. 20 minutes later she figured that the chocolate would have melted and she’d be taking chocolate cookies out of the oven. Instead, what she got were butter cookies studded with gooey chocolate chips. This was a failure, but her mistake became one of the most favorite cookies of all time.
This would qualify as a successful failure. Things didn’t turn out the way she was expecting, but the end result was even better than anticipated.
Our text today is about successful failure as well. We see failures: Gentiles who didn’t quite belong in the Jewish synagogue. A missionary who was run out of town in disgrace. And yet we see success. People, who despite their failures, are called into the kingdom of God. A church that looked weak on the outside but was flourishing in the things that are most important. And from this story, we can take a lot of application to our lives as individuals, as well as we as a church. We are failures, but because of the Lord, we are successful failures.
The city of Antioch is the scene of our text. And we see something about Paul’s mission-work strategy: how it was smart; how it was planned. Paul didn’t just start preaching a sermon on Antioch’s street corners. His plan was to go first to the Jews in their synagogues. Go first to the people that should know the Savior, and who should have been waiting for him. Then, he would work with the contacts he made there.
This was not Paul’s first Sabbath in that house of worship. He had been there the week earlier, and had raised some eyebrows with his sermon. And so we find on this day not just Jews in the synagogue that second Sabbath, but: “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.”
It’s understandable that the place would be filled with curious Jews wanting to hear a traveling rabbi. But why were Gentiles flocking to a Jewish place of worship? I don’t fully understand. But perhaps there were so many non-Jews searching for spiritual truth that days because:
Maybe they already had a measure of respect for the laws and customs of the Jews? Jews seemed like good, law-abiding people. And their outward obedience to laws made their religion attractive.
Maybe some Gentiles in that crowd were looking for a structured, religious way to raise their children?
But probably many of those people there in a Jewish church on the Sabbath were simply looking for answers to life’s questions. Looking for answers that they weren’t finding in their own religion of Greek and Roman mythology. “How do you know which god is the right God? What happens after we die? What is the meaning of life?” And this traveling preacher named Paul was giving some good answers to these questions!
But these searching Gentiles were failures when it came to coming to God and knowing him. Whatever good that they saw in the Jewish religion, they weren’t able to copy it. They couldn’t follow all the laws. They couldn’t become Jewish. They were always going to be second-class followers of Judaism because they would never be accepted as full-fledged Jews.
And it’s to these failures that Paul preached a message of success. They might have failed to live up to God’s standards, but somehow God still wanted them as part of his family. Paul quoted the Old Testament when he said how Jesus felt about these failures, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
And look what happens, “when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord, and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” Notice that this appointing to eternal life was not something that they did for themselves…it was something that was done for them. In his love, the Lord chose these miserable failures to be his children and heirs of heaven.
You sang about that concept a few minutes ago when you said, “Lord, tis not that I did choose you, that I know could never be. For my heart would still refuse you, had your grace not chosen me.” Basically what you just confessed was that you are a miserable failure. You were saying that:
Even thought you know God’s laws, have a good idea of what is right and wrong, you have done a rotten job at following God’s laws.