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To the End of the Earth (31): Preaching Jesus!

Series: To the End of the Earth

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Feb 4, 2007

Acts 13:13-43

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The Lord's Day Evening

First Presbyterian Church

February 4, 2007

Acts 13:13-52

To the Ends of the Earth
Preaching Jesus!

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now turn with me once again to The Acts of the Apostles…or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” or “The Acts of the Risen and Ascended Lord.” As we have seen, Christ, as it were, is marching from Jerusalem to Samaria to Judea, and now to the ends of the earth. And last week we were following the disciples — Barnabas and Saul and some others…John Mark — as they make their way to the island of Cyprus. And there we saw the conversion of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, and the opposition that they encountered at the hands of Bar-Jesus, or Elymas.

And now as the story moves further afield and we see the gospel making new ground, as it were, on the shores of Eastern Europe — what would today be southern Turkey. And we're going to pick up the reading at chapter 13, at the thirteenth verse — and, contrary to your bulletin, we're going to read all the way to the end of chapter 13. Before we read the passage, let's pray together.

Father, we need You every hour. We need Your blessing, we need Your wisdom, we need the illumination that only the Holy Spirit can provide. Our minds and hearts are so beset by the parameters of the world in which we live that we are often unable to appreciate and understand the Scriptures, even when we read them over and over. And we pray tonight especially for that spirit of illumination: that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

This is God's word:

“Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem. But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, ‘Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.’ And Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand, he said,

‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:
‘The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. And for a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance–all of which took about four hundred and fifty years. And after these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. And then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And after He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’ From the offspring of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ Brethren, sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the word of this salvation is sent out. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.’ And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give You the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. Take heed therefore, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you:

‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.’’

“And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

“And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God. And when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For thus the Lord has commanded us,

‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that You should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’”

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews aroused the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant word.

Now that's a lengthy reading of Scripture. It's actually the first full account (or for that matter, any kind of account) of Paul's preaching. That's the first instance that we have of what it was that Paul actually speaks. They've gone from Paphos on the extreme west of Cyprus. They've gone north to the shores of Asia Minor (what would be today southern Turkey) to the port city of Atalia, and then a few miles inland to a place called Perga, in modern-day Atalia province in Turkey. There are tremendous ruins that you can visit. As someone who goes on a cruise, perhaps in the Mediterranean, you might stop off at Perga. And you can go and visit an amphitheater that seats about 14,000 people, as well as a stadium seating about 12,000. Of course, in modern stadiums…but by those standards, of course, these are fairly small; but in these days a significant stadium, a significant capacity.

And then they travel north to the mountainous region about a hundred miles or so north to Pisidian Antioch–not the Antioch in Syria, where they had originally been sent. From that Antioch in Syria now they are heading north to Pisidian Antioch. Today it's near the Turkish city of Yalvac. Like Syrian Antioch, it had been founded by Lucius I in honor of his father, Antiochus. And it is in this great city…it's a Roman city…it's a city that boasted a settlement of retired military officers and soldiers from Rome. Soldiers would often be conscripted into the military. They would become as Roman citizens, but at the end of their duty they would be given some land to farm and eke out a fairly good existence for the rest of their life, and apparently there was a large contingent of retired Roman soldiers here in Pisidian Antioch.

And so now it looks as though God has been forcing the church away from Jerusalem, and through a series of persecutions forcing them to extend the boundaries of the kingdom, so that now from Cyprus it looks as though they have taken on this responsibility. They have seen it as God's guidance for them. Why had they gone to Pisidian Antioch? We aren't told. We do know that Sergius Paulus, the proconsul in Cyprus, had an extended family in Pisidian Antioch. Maybe he told them to go there and to speak to his family. Maybe he gave them letters of commendation so that when they arrive, the synagogue are aware of the existence of Barnabas and Paul and the others and bid them on the Sabbath Day to give a word of exhortation, as would be the common practice to a visiting rabbi or someone of some standing in the Jewish community, just as Jesus was asked to speak in the synagogue in Nazareth.

Luke is dividing this section into three fairly distinct sections: the proclamation of the Apostle Paul; the application of that which he proclaimed; and then, the response — the various responses — of the people to that which is being proclaimed.

I. Paul proclaims the gospel.

We see in the first place, then, this proclamation, this sermon that Paul preaches on the Sabbath Day in the synagogue on a Saturday, perhaps early in the morning in this great city of Pisidian Antioch. It's interesting, and we’ll draw these comparisons later, but it's interesting to watch the Apostle Paul and to listen to him, and to note how differently he preaches in different places in different contexts. This is a Jewish context; it's a synagogue. People know the Old Testament Scriptures, so the sermon is full of quotations from the Old Testament: the second Psalm, the sixteenth Psalm, the Suffering Servant passages in the prophecy of Isaiah. He quotes from Habakkuk in the first chapter and the fifth verse. He's talking to people who know their Bible. But later, in the next chapter, he’ll be in Lystra and the sermon will be quite different. And again in Athens, on the Acropolis, the sermon will be a different sermon again–different content, different style, different approach. But in all the sermons the focus essentially at the end is the same, because Paul at the end of the day only has one message. It's all about God and God's grace in Jesus Christ. It's a great challenge to effective preaching, and it's a great challenge to effective evangelism to know the context, to know the people that you’re speaking to–their background, what it is that they can understand, and what it is that would fall on deaf ears because of their ignorance.

And amazingly, Luke has already told us of several occasions on which the Apostle Paul has preached in Damascus, in Jerusalem, in Antioch in Syria, in the island of Cyprus — but he hasn't told us yet what exactly Paul was preaching. And it's here, now, in Pisidian Antioch that we get a glimpse of the content of the preaching of the Apostle Paul, and he calls it (in verse 26) “a message of salvation”; and in verse 32, he calls it “good news” — the word evangel, or gospel. This is gospel. This is evangel. This is evangelistic preaching. This is evangelistic testimony. This is what it means to tell the good news. This is what the good news is. This is what the evangel is; this is what the gospel is.

It's fascinating. If we had time to follow this evening the lines of connection between this sermon and Peter's sermon, the one on the Day of Pentecost in chapter 2 and the one that follows it in chapter 3…there are very similar lines of continuity between the sermons. Saul of Tarsus, - of course, even though it was more than a dozen years in the past, Saul of Tarsus was in all likelihood there in Pentecost. He was studying at the rabbinical school under Gamaliel, in Jerusalem. He may well have heard Peter's sermon. It may well have been one of those sermons that lay on his mind throughout that dozen years. I can still recall in vivid detail a sermon that I heard in 1975. I could relate it to you. I've only actually heard it on a cassette one time since then, but I could probably give you a fairly full outline of the sermon. It was preached by Al Martin. It was on the passage we were looking at this morning, John 3: “Ye must be born again.” And it made an indelible effect upon my mind. And I sort of wonder if that had happened to Saul of Tarsus.

Now, there are two particular things to note in Paul's proclamation of the gospel. The first is that Jesus Christ is the climax of biblical history. That's his message: Jesus is the climax of biblical history.

He takes them through the Old Testament history. He brings them back in the time of the patriarchs and talks about the period in Egypt and the exile, and the wilderness wandering to the land of Canaan, and the period of the judges, and Samuel, and the first king — Saul, son of Kish — and down to King David. He takes them through their history. This is their roots! It would be like me trying to tell you a little bit about the history of Mississippi for some reason. I couldn't do it, of course, but you understand. You would immediately begin to connect. I'd probably know more about your hearts than I do, if I knew more about your history. Well, Paul knew their history. He knew the history of the Jews because he was one of them, and his audience was one of them. This is their story! They know their Bibles. They know their Old Testament. And so he does a quick redemptive historical survey of the Old Testament down to David, and then do you note what he does? From David he jumps immediately down into John the Baptist and to Jesus, because the whole of the Old Testament is all about Jesus. God has been at work here, molding and shaping and conforming the history of Israel so that Jesus would be born. Jesus fulfilled biblical prophecy.

That's the gospel: that Jesus of Nazareth, this historical figure who lived and died in Jerusalem, this man was a fulfillment of everything the Old Testament had prophesied. He's interpreting the Old Testament for them. He's giving them a window, he's giving them a template; he's giving them a grid, if you like, on how to understand the Old Testament. And he's saying to them ‘Look: it's all about Jesus.’ It's like those puzzles that you give your children when they are little. You know, I loved them when I was a child! You know, there’d be a drawing, and you’d have to find seven things–one up in a tree, and one on the roof of a house, and one underneath a bush somewhere, and you’d mark them off as you found them. Well, Paul is saying ‘Look! Here's your Old Testament. Find Jesus in the Old Testament, because He's everywhere! It's all about Jesus. It's all about Jesus of Nazareth.’

He quotes from the second Psalm, a messianic Psalm. He quotes from the sixteenth Psalm about His body not seeing corruption–a messianic Psalm. He quotes from the Suffering Servant song of Isaiah…passages that are so familiar to them…and he's saying ‘Look, these are all about Jesus! They’re all about Messiah.’ God had promised them Messiah. Jesus is the climax of biblical history.

But secondly, God raised Him from the dead. God raised Him from the dead. God vindicated His true identity.

He talks about the crucifixion. It was a scandal to the Jews. Because of the way that He had died, it spoke to them of somebody under a curse. And Paul says ‘But God raised Him from the dead. You can't keep this Man down. God vindicated Him so that His identity is true. Every word He spoke is true. Everything about Him is true, because there are witnesses.’ And he does here what he’ll do in Corinth when he writes the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. He speaks about the resurrection, and you remember he says ‘You know, He appeared to this one and that one and others, and some are still alive and they are witnesses. They can testify to you of the veracity, the truthfulness of what it is that I'm saying.’

Fascinating, isn't it? This is Paul's gospel. It's all about Jesus Christ. It's about His life and His death and His resurrection. You see, the gospel is not ‘Let me tell you what I've experienced.’ That's not the gospel. The gospel is not ‘God changed my life.’ That's not the gospel. Wagner changed my life. I tell you, e-mail has changed my life! For the worse! I hate it! Certain prescription drugs have changed my life. (It's a secret…nothing to do with you!) But it changed my life. But it's not the gospel. All kinds of things can change people's lives and turn them upside down for a season, but that's not the gospel. The good news, the message of salvation, it's Jesus! It's Jesus Christ. Paul is obsessed with Christ. He can't speak, he can't think, and not talk about Jesus. The proclamation–this sermon that Paul preaches in Pisidian Antioch.

II. Paul applies the gospel message.

But then Luke moves into a second section. What is the application of this sermon? Where does Paul take this, and what does he want them to do with this information about Jesus–that God is in charge of history, and that God has been promising a Messiah, and that Jesus is that Messiah, who is crucified in Jerusalem and God raised Him from the dead? And you look in verse 38, and he uses that word therefore. And every preacher never tires of saying, “You always need to ask ‘What is the therefore there for?’”

Because he's drawing a conclusion. Those are facts. Those are undeniable facts. Those are statements about what has happened in space and time, and there are witnesses here who can corroborate it. Paul is saying ‘But so what?’ And you see, in verses 38 and 39 he comes to the very kernel of the sermon:

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him [that is, through Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed…”

Now, the word freed is actually the word for justification. It's exactly the same word as Paul uses in Galatians and in Romans for to justify. Justification is through Him.

“Everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed…[you could not be freed…] through the Law of Moses.”

What's he saying?

Here's Application No. 1: that we are not justified by obedience to the Law plus faith in Jesus Christ. We’re not justified in the sight of God, we're not made right in the sight of God by obeying the Law, by obeying the precepts and the commandments of God, and in addition to that having faith in Jesus Christ. No! Because the Law cannot contribute anything to our justification. It can only condemn. That's all the Law can do, is declare you and me guilty in the sight of God. It's by faith alone. It's by faith alone, apart from the works of the Law. That's Paul's gospel. From the very start, that's Paul's gospel, and it will be his gospel to his dying day that we are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

And you notice, too, how he speaks of “everyone who believes” (he says in verse 39). Everyone who believes: Jew and Gentile; all humanity. There's a universal offer being given here that whosoever believes in Jesus Christ, no matter who they are, will know this eternal life.

Do you see what Paul is saying? The greatest thing that you need to know, the greatest thing that you and I need tonight is forgiveness of sins. That's the great thing. That's the great impediment.

It's not a message, you see, about poverty. Was there poverty in Asia Minor? Of course there was. Was there in Pisidian Antioch? Of course there was. But it's not a message about poverty, about health and wealth. It's not a message about emancipation. Was there slavery in Paul's time? Of course there was. But it's not a message about slavery. It's not a message about emancipation. It's not a message about politics. It's not a message about the evil of the Roman Empire. It was first and foremost a message about sin. Our greatest need tonight is the forgiveness of sin. And our greatest joy–our greatest joy tonight is to know and to be able to say ‘I know that my sins are forgiven; no matter how dark they may be, no matter how red they may be — like crimson, even; but in Jesus Christ they are as white as snow.’

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
Let the water and the blood
From Thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure;
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
“Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy Law's demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow;
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save,
And Thou alone.”
“I've tried the broken cisterns, Lord;
But, ah, the waters failed.”

And Paul is saying:

“Now none but Christ can satisfy;
None other name for me.
There's love and life and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.”

And he warns them. He warns them. He cites Habakkuk 1:5 and warns them not to be scoffers. In verse 41–don't be scoffers. Don't scoff at this message. You want to know what the gospel is? It's a very simple message. It's a very simple message: you cannot save yourself.

“Nothing in my hands I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, look to Thee for dress…
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

That's the gospel–that whosoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, that's the gospel. It's not a message of self-help, it's not a message of finding the inner potential within ourselves. It's not a message of ‘help me to live a better life.’ It's about ‘Jesus paid it all.’ He paid it all. He did it all for us. And he warns them, don't be scoffers. Don't fulfill that prophecy of the Old Testament. Don't you be the one who fulfills that prophecy and be a scoffer of the simplicity of the gospel.

I'm amazed in our own time how difficult people make the gospel to be, and Paul is saying here it's very simple. It's very simple. Jesus paid it all.

III. The people respond to the gospel.

And what is the response? And as always, in every circumstance there are always two responses–always. Here tonight and every night…every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday evening…the response is always the same, and there's a two-fold response. There's the response of faith, and there is the response of unbelief. You are either with Christ or you’re against Him. You either say yes to the gospel or you reject it. And you may reject it with all the certainty of a philosopher, but reject it you will.

“Many believed…” Oh, what a beautiful picture this is! And they begged Paul and Barnabas to come back next Sunday and preach it all again! They want to know more. God the Holy Spirit is at work here. Did you see that? God the Holy Spirit is at work here.

And others, you note in verse 45, “…out of jealousy….” One week later–and Luke is using perhaps a little bit of hyperbole here when he says ‘the whole city’…not the whole city could gather in the synagogue!–but he's using a bit of hyperbole, and he wants to tell us just what an extraordinary thing God the Holy Spirit is doing. These crowds are gathered, and the Jews are jealous. And they stir up the the women of some standing, and perhaps their husbands, and some official men in the synagogue–and they persecute Paul and Barnabas, and they drive them out of the city, and they flee to Iconium.

And there are two responses. There is the response of faith, and there is the response of rejection and persecution.

IV. Application for us today.

Now I have four things to say and I’ll be done on the hour. Four quick things, four words of application for us.

Number 1: To those of you who are members of the church, to those of you who…(and I'm following along the same track as the morning sermon…you know we only have one song to sing here, and we sing it together!) You may be a member of this church, and you may know your Bible, and you may know your Catechism, you may know your hymns, but do you understand them? Do you understand what the Bible is all about?

I have a dear friend who's a great and extraordinary teacher, who read the Bible as a child until he knew it almost off by heart, but he didn't understand it. He did not understand the gospel. And I'm saying that it is perfectly possible, as it was possible for Paul in this synagogue in Pisidian Antioch to encounter those who knew their Old Testament Scriptures, but they didn't know God and they did not know the way of salvation. And is that you tonight? Do you know the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ alone?

And, secondly, evangelism. Learn from what Paul is doing here. Paul is speaking to a very decided context. He's speaking to those who know their Bibles, so he's telling them the Bible story, but he's picking up the highlights. Well, learn from that. Learn to take people to Jesus. People want to ask all kinds of extraordinary questions of great complexity, and you need the subtlety of a wise evangelist to answer them according to that which is answerable and point them to Jesus Christ.

And, thirdly, is the reason why you don't evangelize so often or you don't speak about Jesus so often because you fear what happened to Paul and Barnabas? Do you fear rejection? The fear of rejection can paralyze, and we make all kinds of excuses because we're frightened of being rejected.

And do you notice in verse 52 what Luke says? They’d been driven out of the city, and they “…were continually filled with joy…”; not, I think, despite the persecution; but, you know, in a strange way, because of it? Because I think for Paul and Barnabas the persecution was corroboration that they were on the right track. You know if nobody ever opposes you and your testimony about Jesus, there's something wrong, because this world hates Jesus Christ. And there's something reassuring about getting opposition. And I think that's what Paul and Barnabas were sensing here. They were on the right track here, because the ire of unbelief (and behind it, of course, the ire of Satan) has arisen.

And, fourthly (and just in a sentence or two), don't you get the impression here as Luke is telling this story that God is doing something on the pages of history that no one and nothing can stop? Do you get that impression as you read through The Book of Acts? That there's the sovereign hand of God at work in His Spirit?

My dear friends, believers in Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters, we are on the victory side! No matter what the press is saying, no matter what the TV is saying, no matter what the “-isms” of the world are saying, we're on the victory side here. God is in charge. The Lord of glory is in charge, and may we draw that comfort.

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for Your word, and once again we ask that You would write it now upon our hearts and help us to draw those warnings and encouragements; and fill us with a little bit of that joy, by Your Spirit. We pray for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.