PENTECOST 2021 : Nr 5
Scripture: Acts 13: 13 – 52
Theme: The essence of the Christian Faith
Last night we began to follow Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey to the island of Cyprus.
Now they move on – from Cyprus – northward, back to the continent and Pisidian-Antioch. That is also in what is Turkey today, but a different Antioch to the city where the first church among the Gentiles was established and where their journey started.
It was situated in the Galatia of that time – in other words where the Galatian churches, later on, would be established. To reach there from the coast, they had to cross the Taurus mountains, and that might be the reason why John-Mark decided to turn back. Later we see in Acts that Paul was disappointed in him for that.
Summarized in two sentences, Luke relates to us in 13:13-52 how Paul proclaimed the Word in the Jewish synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, with a twofold reaction:
The majority wanted to hear more, and the other Jews were filled with jealousy, and incited the people against Paul and Barnabas and had them expelled from their region. Particularly when almost the whole city turned up the following Sabbath to hear Paul preach.
Even today these are the two reactions to the preaching of the Gospel message: Some want to hear more, but the others stay at home.
What is of great interest in 13:13-52, is the fact that it contains the first concise version of a Paul-sermon. Naturally not a verbatim version, but a summary. Earlier in Acts, Luke gave a summary of sermons of among others Peter and Stephen, but this is the first of Paul’s.
The question is: how to preach it in 2021 to be relevant and of present interest?
Well, if you look carefully you will see in this Paul-sermon a concise summary of what the Christian Faith (as religion) in essence is. Someone interested to know what the essence of the Christian Faith is can see it here.
Furthermore: someone who is already a Christian can use this passage to explain to someone else what the Christian Faith is about and lead such a person to the Lord. Very practical, therefore.
In Acts 13: 13-52 it is written that the Christian Faith centers in a Person: Jesus Christ. It is not SOMETHING. It is SOMEONE. Two events during His earthly life are decisive. Two testimonies of the two events. Two promises were received in Jesus. Two reactions as regards Christ. That is the Apostle’s sermon.
1. Jesus is in the center: It is immediately clear: Paul’s entire sermon is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is the center/heart of the Christian Faith: everything hinges upon the Man of Nazareth. Who He was, why He came to earth and what He came to do. And His significant claims regarding Himself: that He – as a carpenter’s son – is the Son of God! That He is the only way, truth, and life. That no one comes to the Father but through Him. Move Him out of the focus and you sit with an adulteration.
That – incidentally – is exactly what theological liberalism (progressive thinking) always does: They try to make changes regarding what the Scriptures teach about Jesus, and in the end, they are left with an idol and without Jesus!
1. Two testimonies: (verses 16-25) > Who would believe such enormous claims, without reliable eyewitnesses? No wonder that Paul put such emphasis on the witnesses. There are two.
The first: the apostles, who lived with Jesus and saw Him after His resurrection.
The second is the OT-Scriptures – the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures that were the Bible of Paul’s Jewish listeners.
Next to the eyewitness testimonies of the Apostles is the OT the most powerful witness of Jesus.
That is why Paul simply lifts out the key events of the OT – with which to say: “Look, I, Paul, did not design the Christian Faith. It is not a new religion that I have thought out. It is the fulfillment of the OT – your Bible”.
And then he reminds them of the key events: how by grace God took the initiative to gather for Himself a nation. How He chose them. How He delivered them from slavery in Egypt and led them to the promised land. How He endured their conduct in the desert for 40 years, after which He brought them into Canaan.
There was nothing remarkable about Israel, but God made a promise and kept it, and fulfilled it. And eventually, Jesus came forth out of the descendants of King David. All the prophets prophesied that it would be so – also the last great prophet, John the Baptist.
That is what they had to understand: That the Man of Nazareth is the great descendant of David! What a shock to the Jews! They nodded their heads at everything Paul said. But where does Jesus now suddenly fit in? Did He not die as a criminal? And yet the 2 witnesses (apostles and OT) had the power to convince them.
How can one stress the importance of this matter enough? The only way to powerfully grow spiritually is to fill yourself with the Bible, which is a compilation of both testimonies (OT and Apostles/NT). Do not follow me as a reliable witness! Do not follow any person. Do not follow your favorite YouTube preacher. Nothing is more authoritative and powerful than the witness of the OT and the Apostles. Feed on that and you will be strong and filled with assurance.
1. Two vital/decisive events: (verses 26-37) > Paul passes over everything that Jesus did and said (His miracles and teaching) and highlights only 2 events: His death on the cross and His resurrection.
Those are exactly the two issues that offend the most. He is talking to a very skeptical audience, why does he not rather emphasize the positive things that make Jesus more attractive? For example, His miracles and fantastic teaching? Nothing spoils the Christian Faith more than the dreadful crucifixion! It is offensive. And His resurrection: no – what right-thinking person would accept such a thing? One does not talk about such things when one wants to capture someone’s attention!
But Paul knows better: He knows that Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection is the power of God to salvation. That it is the essence of everything. Therefore he does not spare his listeners. He does not care that he might give offense and is laughed at. Indeed, he says to them: “it is us Jews who did not recognize Jesus and had Him killed! But by doing that, we unknowingly fulfilled the words of the OT! But God raised Him from the dead. And for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him, and are now His witnesses. That is the Good News (Gospel message) that I bring to you: God fulfilled ALL His promises in the OT by raising Jesus.” Psalm 2, Psalm 16, Isaiah 55.
1. Two promises: (verses 38-39) > Why are the death on the cross and the resurrection so decisive? God promised that in/through the death on the cross and the resurrection we shall receive two blessings: forgiveness of sin and justification.
When you realize how bankrupt you truly are without forgiveness and justification, and you place your trust in Jesus’s death and resurrection, you immediately receive forgiveness and justification!
Why particularly forgiveness and justification? Those are the most important blessings a sinner can receive AND they are the two blessings that no non-Christian religion/philosophy can offer people. They are the two things a person needs the most, and exactly that is not available from any non-Christian religion! How ironical.
And yet we need it desperately to know for sure: “I, a sinner, is standing 100% justified before a Holy God”. You cannot achieve that by trying to keep the Law. Many people think so: “I must just try to live according to God’s standards”. The problem is that nobody can do that because we are steeped in sin. Either we must pretend that we are better than what we are or we must lower God’s standard. That can not. That must not.
Paul brings the Good News: Because in Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus took the place of sinners before God, and you can now put your faith in Him and then hear how His words of promise (in the Scriptures) gives you 100% assurance that you are completely acquitted before His holy throne. You are forgiven and washed of sin.
And all of that fills your life when you react in the right way when you hear the Gospel message. Paul’s listeners showed two contrary reactions. There are only two possible reactions. The Gospel message cuts like a knife.
1. Two reactions: (verses 40 and further) > One can hear the urgency in Paul’s sermon, not so? He does not only teach, he is an evangelist. To him, it is absolutely important how his listeners react. He appeals to the heart. No one must remain neutral and just agree to everything.
As it always turns out, lots of people opposed Paul’s preaching. Particularly Jews who were jealous, perhaps because of racial tension since there were so many non-Jews present.
So severe was the opposition that Paul tells them: “Since you do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles“. The point is: that was the one reaction to the Gospel message: rejection.
And on the other hand, many came to faith and repentance. Not because they are inherently better than the other, but because they were appointed for eternal life (v 48). By grace they were chosen, that is why they could choose. See Joh 15:16. Also 2 Tim 2:10.
It is significant: it is the unbelievers’ fault that they are lost, but it is thanks to God’s election-grace that the believers are saved. It sounds like a paradox (contradictory), is it not? Yet it is the clear teaching of the Scriptures.
It is one’s fault that you are lost, God is not to blame. But, it is because God chose you that you become a believer and are saved. Not because you are so good.
That is why those among us who have the assurance of salvation, should with deeply humble gratitude worship the Lord’s election grace.
But those who unrepentantly persist in unbelief must hear the call: Immediately turn to God! The testimony of the OT and the Apostles bear out all the facts. Believe it and turn back and receive full forgiveness from the Lord’s hand.
Translated by Marthie Wilson