Sunday, July 2, 2017

Acts 13:13- 52 -”Paul’s First Recorded Gospel Sermon”

Note the journey so far: Antioch - Seleucia (Syria) - Salamis & Paphos (Cyprus) - sailed to Perga in Pamphilia (John Mark left here to go back to Jerusalem - see comment in Acts 15: 36 - 41) - Antioch (in Pisidia- 160 km's beyond the mountains from Perga).
Pisidian Antioch (Galatia) 13: 14 – 52: This is where our main focus and interest now lies. Like Antioch in Syria   (today Antakya, now a poor town with a few thousand inhabitants) Antioch in Galatia (today in ruins and close to the village of Yalvac in the Isparta province in southern Turkey) was founded by Seleucus Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Dynasty.[1] He founded nearly 60 cities, and 16 of them were named in honour of his father Antiochus.

Our text   can be divided into three sections:
(i)               Paul’s  Gospel Preaching  13:14-37
(ii)             Application of that which he  preached : 13 :38-41
(iii)           Response to what  he preached  13:42-52

Observe :
  • This is a Jewish context; it's a synagogue, attended by Jews and God-fearing gentiles (13:16, 26, 44, 48).  It was his habit to go to the synagogue (cf. also 13:5) - to the Jews first. 
  •   The liturgy: V. 15after reading from the law and the prophets” – part of the liturgy.  The Synagogue service would have begun with the Shema (Deut.  6: 4ff:" Hear oh Israel, the Lord your God is one God. Love the Lord your God…), some prayers… some Scripture readings, from the law, prophets etc., followed by an   expository sermon, concluding with a blessing. 
  •   Paul and Barnabas were visitors. Perhaps they recognised from his   dress that Paul was a Rabbi - therefore he was invited to bring a word of   encouragement. 
  •   In this context people know the Old Testament Scriptures, so the sermon is full of quotations from the Old Testament:  Psalm 2:7, Psalm 16:10, Isa. 55:3, Hab. 1:5. Paul is preaching to people who are familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. This is very interesting because in Chapter 14, to the pagans at Lystra (14: 8 - 18), and the philosophers at Athens (17:16- 34), the sermon will be different- different content, different style, different approach.  But in all the sermons the final focus is essentially the same:  Jesus Christ and he crucified!
  • Evangelistic preaching demands that we understand our hearers – the context, their background, their ability to understand.

So this is Paul’s first recorded sermon by Luke who undertook to write an orderly account (Lk. 1:3). This is not the first sermon that Paul had preached. We know of occasions where he had preached  in Damascus,  Jerusalem, in Antioch in Syria, on the island of Cyprus, but it is here in  Pisidian Antioch that we get the first insight  into  the content of Paul’s gospel  preaching  - the message of this salvation v. 26 ;  the  good news  ( gospel) in v. 32 .  

The Theme of Paul's Sermon  

"How the God of this people Israel (v. 17) has brought the Saviour – Jesus, to Israel - just as He promised “(v.23).  

The Substance of Paul’s Sermon - 13: 14-37

Paul presents  Jesus  as the climax of biblical history and in facing a Hebrew congregation , a people familiar with the scriptures, it  is  important that he  reasons with them from the  Old Testament scripture.  He begins with  the patriarchs , and speaks about the  time  in Egypt  under Moses , and the Exodus , the period of the Judges, mentioning  the major figure Samuel  who gave Israel their first king , Saul  and then David.  From David he makes a giant leap to John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah … Jesus.  A son of David, it was expected in Israel, was going to be the Messiah…and here He is!   Paul says that Jesus was the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. So, what Paul is doing here is that he is interpreting the Old Testament for them. He's giving them a key to understand their Old Testament history, and he is saying to the, “Look, here He is!”

But it’s not so simple : The  leading  religious  rulers and  men among the Jews did not recognise this Jesus , because they did not understand the utterances of the prophets  which are read every Sabbath. So, they condemned Him (v.27) but even that, says Paul was in fulfilment of the Scriptures (vv. 27b-29). They simply did what was written … what was predicted by the prophets.
But more than that, and here comes the exciting part, God raised Him from the dead! The risen Lord Jesus, unlike His human ancestor David - did not taste death and decay. He arose, and took death and sin and Satan captive. They hold no more terror for those who put their trust in Jesus. (v.30). The Resurrection is the proof and vindication of the fact that Christ is the Messiah. And more than that, He appeared too many who witnesses of this fact (v.31) were. And all this is a fulfilment of the OT Scriptures (vv.  33-37). this is the sum and substance of the gospel of Jesus   the Messiah - His life and His death and His resurrection.

The Application of Paul’s Sermon - 13:38-41

The preaching of the Gospel  leads to  making a choice between life and death, and it all depends on what we will do with Jesus.

1.     LIFE: Justification by faith vv. 38,39
Through this man …
(i)              v. 38! Forgiveness of sins is effectively achieved – once and for all! Jesus is the end of the sacrificial system. Forgiveness in Christ, the Lamb of God is absolute and final.
(ii)            v. 39! Freed from the demands of law – no one kept the law. The word freed is the word for justification.  No one is justified by obedience to the Law plus faith in Jesus Christ. The Law (holy as it is) cannot contribute anything to our justification.  The law (which no one keeps) can only declare us guilty before God.  Jesus secured salvation for us by inviting us to look to Him. He alone can justify us. That is Paul’s gospel.  Notice too, how he speaks of “everyone who believes”   i.e.  Jew and Gentile – the whole world, whoever believes is freed and saved!

2.     DEATH : vv. 40, 41
A warning from the prophets (based on Hab. 1:5).  Those that do not believe the gospel are scoffers, and they will perish!  They will incur the wrath of God. Their sins will be on their own head, and they themselves have to bear the consequences for this.
This leads to the next and last point - the conclusion.

The Consequences of Paul’s Sermon - 13:42 - 52

(i)         Invited to speak further about these things - next Sabbath (v. 42)
(ii)      An amazing response - "almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord" (Note: crowd is not an achievement - it is an opportunity).
(iii)     A mixed response: The word of God will always have that sort of effect in any community!
           ·       The Jews were filled with jealousy- did not appreciate this opportunity (v.45) - caused them to be expelled from their region (v.50) ;
              ·       The gentiles were glad, - and honoured the word of the Lord (v.48).

The overall effect however was this:  "The word of the Lord spread through the whole region." (v.49).Wherever the Word about Jesus   goes it will bear fruit. That is the typical pattern. Those who respond best are usually those who have had few religious privileges. Those who are hardest of hearing are usually those who have heard the Gospel often, but remain unresponsive and even hostile!

And notice the effect on the disciples of Jesus   (v.52). After they were driven out of the city, “they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit…” It wasn’t the persecution that they rejoiced in as much as knowing that the Word of God was producing the right effects. That is what Paul and Barnabas were sensing here.

What is the Ultimate Purpose of Preaching the Gospel?

Why did Paul and Barnabas embark on this so called "First Missionary journey"?  
Why did they travel so far - just to speak to people in Pisidian Antioch?
Why should we be concerned about the spiritual plight of people in far countries?
Why should we go out of our way and speak to some stranger about his/her need for the gospel?

Paul and Barnabas were essentially convinced from the OT Scriptures, and from the Life and Teaching of Jesus that people are lost in their sins and trespasses, and unless they embrace this good news they were going perish.

Those that have been entrusted with the Gospel are responsible to tell the Gospel. We are responsible for this generation. Are you praying and working for the advance of the gospel?   

What on earth are we doing for heaven’s sake?

[1] Seleucid dynasty, which existed from 312 BC to 63 BC, following the death of Alexander the Great

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