As we continue today with another parallel passage that talks about the union of Jew and Gentile in the new temple, the living stones structure of the church, we look at Acts chapter 13 and at a story on Paul’s first missionary journey. Traveling with him, among others, was Barnabas.
They were in Antioch of Pisidia, not to be confused with the Antioch of Syria — the third largest city in the Roman Empire — from which they were sent out on this journey. There were multiple places named Antioch, sort of like there are multiple Williamsports in America; and just as the good W-port is in Maryland, not PA, the good Antioch was in Syria, not Pisidia … but I digress.
As was the custom of Paul, the first place to go on a missionary journey was the local synagogue. The Law and Prophets (the Hebrew Scriptures) were divided into regular sections of weekly readings, so that over a period of time the entire “Old Testament” was read. After the reading, someone would stand to deliver a sort of sermon or teaching that gave an expanded meaning of those texts. A visiting Rabbi or some Jewish person of repute might be asked to do just this.
You may recall this happening with Jesus in Nazareth (Luke 4), when being called upon to read and comment on an Isaiah passage that was messianic, he said it was fulfilled in their hearing by him being there. Even worse than some of my sermons, it did not go over well with the congregation.
And so Paul is asked to comment here in Pisidia, and I would LOVE to know the passages read that day and how pertinent they were to the sermon that follows — having been sovereignly ordained by God for this occasion.
So here is the set-up and the sermon … it is a great message — drawing upon eyewitness testimony, experiential testimony, and most importantly an argument from the Scriptures that spoke of the sovereign plan of God over the ages of time and history …
Acts 13:13 – From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”
16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.
“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for 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.’[Ps. 2:7]
34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’[Isaiah 55:3]
35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’[Ps. 16:10]
36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41 “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’[Hab. 1:5]”
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’[Isaiah 49:6]”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
What a marvelous work of grace is the gospel of Christ. It is that which took God’s plan beyond a man (Abraham) and his family and nation, to being the message of reconciliation with God for all peoples. This was a seminal moment for Paul and his ministry. He was not confused that indeed the gospel message was for all, but these events affirmed it like none before. God was doing a great new work, and Paul was to be at the forefront of it.
As living stones in this temple of truth we call the church, we are in our generation at the forefront of this message. We often forget the past and fail to appreciate the history of all that brought this message of grace down to us through the corridors of time and history. And we too often also fail to see the great opportunity this message has in our day to do a more expansive work of grace and reconciliation in our own culture and community.
Let us not fail to grasp the initiatives before us to be expansive with the gospel of reconciliation of man and God, and man to man.