Last week we left Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark on the island of Cyprus at Paphos, the capital city. They had covered the island of Cyprus preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was the beginning of what has come to be known as his first missionary journey, which will last approximately two years, from A.D.47 to 49.
On the island of Cyprus Paul presented the Gospel to the Gentile governor, Sergius Paulus, and he believed. Paul also demonstrated for the first time his gift of apostleship in his dealings with the Jewish false prophet, Bar-Jesus.
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. (Acts 13:13 NASB)
Notice the shift from "Barnabas and Saul," which has been used previously in this book in referring to these two men, to the phrase "Paul and his companions." That marks the beginning of the apostleship of Paul.
Setting sail from Paphos, Paul and his companions travel about 160 miles to the Bay of Attalia on the south central Asia Minor coast. They evidently bypass the port city of Attalia (14:25) and proceed eight miles up the Cestrus River and on to Perga, five miles from the river.
"John left them and returned to Jerusalem"--there is much speculation as to why Mark left them, because Luke doesn't tell us. We will see later in chapter 15 that Paul regarded this as Mark's "desertion," and thus it indicates a failure on his part (Acts 15:38).
But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. (Acts 13:14 NASB)
I want you to notice the phrase, "But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch"--this is easy to skip over, but it is packed with information. Pisidian Antioch is in modern Turkey. It was about 100 miles inland, at 3,600 feet elevation. To get there, Paul and Barnabas had to cross the Taurus range of mountains by one of the hardest and most difficult roads in Asia Minor, a road which as well as being tough was also notorious for its robbers and brutal tribesmen who stole and slaughtered everything that came through there. They eventually arrived on a lake-filled plateau.
"Pisidian Antioch"--this is not the Antioch in Syria, which they left to go to Cyprus. This is another Antioch in the region of Pisidia, which was part of the ancient Roman province of Galatia. So when you read Paul's letter to the Galatians, you are reading a letter written to the Christians in these cities that were reached on this first missionary journey; these cities were Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
Antioch sat astride the Via Sebaste, the Roman road from Ephesus to the Euphrates. Such a location and history meant that the population was a diverse mixture of Phrygian, Greek, Jewish, and Roman.
Why didn't Paul preach in Perga? Why does it say he just departed from Perga and went to Antioch? Paul later wrote to the Galatians that he had preached the Gospel to them at first because of a weakness of the flesh:
but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; (Galatians 4:13 NASB)
This seems to indicate that Paul was not in good health when he ministered in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. He may not have preached there because he was very sick. There is scholarly debate about this verse, but the best guess is that Paul probably contracted malaria or some other significant illness.
Early tradition suggested that Paul suffered from blinding headaches, and that might suggest that he was the victim of the recurring malaria fever which haunted the low coastal strip of Asia Minor. One traveler informs us that the headache characteristic of this malaria was like a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead.
Whatever it was, he did not preach there. He was a very sick man, but yet he pursued an unbelievable journey to Antioch. The man had fortitude and determination and courage like few other people. Paul may have been referring to this trip when he wrote:
I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; (2 Corinthians 11:26 NASB)
This is incredible! The man is very sick, and yet he presses on in this dangerous, difficult journey to Antioch. This is a determined man.
Let me ask you: What does it take to deter you from fulfilling your calling to be a light to those in darkness? Are you willing to suffer to proclaim the truth?
Once they had arrived, they waited for the Sabbath day and went into the synagogue and sat down.
Synagogue Worship: The New Testament provides us with two texts which describe in some detail the practice of the synagogue in the days of our Lord and His apostles. Both are found in Luke's writings. The first is in Luke 4:16-30, which is the account of our Lord's ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of His public ministry. The second is found here, in our text.
The synagogue service would commence with the recitation of the Shema(Deuteronomy 6:4-5), followed by synagogue prayers, which might include "the eighteen benedictions" and a blessing. There would also be a reading from the Law, which followed a pattern covering the whole Law in three years; followed by a reading from the prophets, often selected by the visiting speaker (although not in this case); and a message could then be delivered by someone invited to speak by the synagogue ruler.
In the Hellenistic and Roman periods Asia Minor had a substantial Jewish population. A massive influx of a Jewish population into Asia Minor took place at the end of the third century B.C. when Antiochus III settled two thousand Jewish families from Mesopotamia and Babylonia in Lydia and Phrygia.
In the days of Paul, synagogues were a kind of "Jewish island" in the midst of a sea of Gentiles. For those Jews scattered abroad living in some heathen Gentile city, the synagogue gave them the opportunity to retain their identity by gathering together with other like-minded Jews to study the Scriptures and, to some degree, to worship.
Why did Paul go first to the synagogues? Paul went to the synagogue because it was a ready-made audience. Where else would you find a crowd of people interested in the Hebrew Scriptures? Paul also went to the synagogue to fulfill the pattern of Jew first, and also because of the love he had for the Jews (Romans 9:2-4).
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." (Acts 13:15 NASB)
Paul was a disciple of the renowned rabbi, Gamaliel, and was most likely dressed in order to reveal that he was a Pharisee. As distinguished visitors, they were approached with an invitation to give a word of exhortation.
We don't see Paul here politicking to try to get the opportunity to speak. He just sits there, and he waits, and the Spirit of God says, "Leader, have the Pharisee from Tarsus speak":
And Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand, he said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: (Acts 13:16 NASB)
This is the first recorded sermon which Paul preached. It is also the only full sermon recorded by Luke of a message delivered by Paul in a synagogue on this first missionary campaign.
It's very much like Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost. It's also like Stephen's sermon on the day of his martyrdom, except that Paul's speech is positive and friendly. All of these men of God begin with the history of Israel and how God was at work.
"Men of Israel" would be Jews, and "You who fear God" would be God-fearers. God-fearers were Gentiles who had become proselytes, so he's including both in his opening remarks:
"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. 18 "And for a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. 19 "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. (Acts 13:17-19 NASB)
Paul's sermon centers on God and His sovereignty over all of history, especially the history of salvation. God began the process by choosing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was not their choice of God, but God's choice of them, that is significant. Then, God
made the people great during their stay in Egypt. God led them out of Egypt with an uplifted arm (emphasizing God's power). God "bore them in His arms as a nursing-father" in the wilderness for 40 years. This is a textual variant of one Greek letter that changes the meaning from, "He put up with them in the wilderness" to "God carried them in His arms as a nurse in the wilderness." Deuteronomy 1:31 LXX may be seen as supporting the latter.
Paul mentions that God destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan (Deut. 7:1). Israel didn't conquer the land by her own strength. "Seven nations" expresses a completeness of nations in terms of divine action. God distributed their land as an inheritance. The 450 years refers to the 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the 40 years
in the wilderness, and ten years of conquering most of Canaan.
In this section of his speech the emphasis is on God's provision of deliverers leading up eventually to His ideal king, who is the pattern of the One Who has now come:
"And after these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 "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. 22 "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.' (Acts 13:20-22 NASB)
He starts with facts that every Jew would have known and agreed with: God chose the patriarchs; He delivered their descendants from Egypt; He gave them the land of Canaan; and He chose David as their king. In all of this rehearsal of Israel's history, Paul's words are almost verbatim from the Hebrew Scriptures.
And He raised up David...a man after My heart, who will do all My will. What does He mean here by "a man after My heart"? Some say that a man after God's own heart is a man"Who will do all My will." Did David do "all" of God's will? No, he didn't. I can't prove what this means, but I think it has to do with David's willingness to forgive. David, like his God, was very forgiving.
Up through verse 22, every head in the synagogue was nodding in agreement with Paul. Then Paul skips over the next one thousand years of Jewish history and comes directly to the story of Jesus. Those years were a time of captivity and defeat, a time of the break-up of the kingdom of Israel. There was no prophet, no king, no priest in the land. The Jews were conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans in turn. But Paul passes over all that history, preferring instead to come right to his main point: Following all of this darkness and despair, God brought forth His Son, Jesus. It is He who would fulfill all the promises made to David and the sons of Israel:
"From the offspring of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, 24 after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 "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.' 26 "Brethren, sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the word of this salvation is sent out. 27 "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. 28 "And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. 29 "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. 30 "But God raised Him from the dead; 31 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. (Acts 13:24-31 NASB)
Notice the word promise in verse 23. God said, "From the offspring of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus." Who is "this man" referring to? It is David. God made a promise to David:
"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13 NASB)
God keeps His promises:
"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19 NASB)
God always keeps His word, and He has promised a Savior through the line of David:
"For thus says the LORD, 'David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; (Jeremiah 33:17 NASB)
In other words, when the Messiah comes, it'll be through David. Truly, God keeps His promises.
"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." (Acts 13:29 NASB)
The word here translated "carried out" is from the Greek word teleo, the NKJV translates this "fulfilled." This is an important word, it indicates there was a prophecy fulfilled. In verse 33, "God has fulfilled this promise." Who did God make all these promises to? Israel. If you remember back to when we started studying the book of Acts I said that I think that this book is about the "Redemption of Israel." God had promised His people Israel that He would redeem them:
Zion will be redeemed with justice, And her repentant ones with righteousness. (Isaiah 1:27 NASB)
God made theses promises with Israel, and they are fulfilled in the Church, because the Church is the New Israel.
Paul shows that the Jews' rejection and killing of Jesus did not in any way thwart God's plan, but rather fulfilled it in exact accordance with Scripture. "They carried out all that was written." Here he echoes both Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23) and the prayer of the early church (Acts 4:27-28), which show that the crucifixion of Jesus only fulfilled what God's hand and God's purpose predestined to occur.
The cross was planned by God; as was the betrayal by Judas, the complicity of the high priest, and the role played by the Roman government. These things did not happen by chance. They were part of a grand design. God both FOREKNEW and also PREDETERMINED this plan.
Don't miss the implications of this! It means that God's plan includes the sinful acts of men. That does not mean that God is a sinner. He is absolutely righteous. Neither does it alleviate men from their responsibility in sinning. Men are responsible for both their actions and their attitudes. But those attitudes and actions are not outside of the realm of God's plan. It is important for you to know this for several reasons: Unless this is true, the doctrine of divine sovereignty cannot stand. If God is only in control of some things, He is not absolutely in control. But God IS in control of all things. This includes all things that come into your life. And therefore, He can guarantee that the promises He makes on your behalf will be fulfilled. When we come to realize God's sovereignty, we will also come to a higher view of God.
The Bible teaches that the sovereignty of God is absolute, irresistible, and infinite. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; so that whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed from eternity.
Paul goes on to say:
"And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 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.' 34 "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.' 35 "Therefore He also says in another Psalm, 'THOU WILT NOT ALLOW THY HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.' 36 "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; 37 but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. (Acts 13:20-37 NASB)
Notice here that what Paul is preaching is the "good news of the promise made to the fathers"--what he is preaching is nothing new, it is all found in the Hebrew Scriptures. First he cites Psalm 2, then he cites Isaiah 55:3, "I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David." The "you" is plural, pointing to God's people, but the holy and sure promises were mediated to them through David's promised descendant, the Messiah. A dead Messiah could not fulfill the promised blessing to David, to have one of his descendants sit on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:16). Only a perpetually living Messiah could do that. Then, as Peter did at Pentecost, Paul cites Psalm 16:10, showing that it could not have applied to David, who died and did undergo decay, but rather applied to David's descendant, the Messiah.
Thus, Paul's argument so far is that God had given His promise to send a Savior to His chosen people, Israel. He had kept that promise by sending Jesus, the son of David, in fulfillment of the prophecies given hundreds of years before:
"Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. 40 "Take heed therefore, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: 41 '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.'" (Acts 13:38-41 NASB)
Paul uses the word "justified" twice here, which became the center of his gospel. Unfortunately, the NASB diminishes its impact because it uses the term "freed" where Paul said "justified." What Paul really says is, "Every one that believes is justified from everything from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." The Greek word used here is dikaioo; it refers to more than our sins being taken away through forgiveness. It refers to God declaring us righteous in His sight through the merits of Jesus Christ. We stand before Him just as if we had never sinned, because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us through faith. This is the first occasion that we have recorded of Paul's using that great word which is so frequent in the book of Romans, "justification by faith."
How is this justification and forgiveness achieved? Through His cross. We have nothing to do; He has done all. What, then, do we have to do to be saved? The answer is, "Believe the Gospel." This is the same message that Peter preached. Salvation does not come as a work that we do, but as a response which will come from our hearts through the working of the Holy Spirit within us as we learn what He has done for us. No man there chose whether he would believe. Some believed and responded because they were given life by God.
If you think that your standing before God is because of anything in you--your choice of God, your basic goodness, your religious practices--you do not understand the Gospel of God's grace. God's sovereign grace means that we are saved in spite of, not because of, anything in ourselves.
What about those who did not respond. Paul issues a stern warning. He tells them to remember the words of Habakkuk the prophet:
"Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- You would not believe if you were told. (Habakkuk 1:5 NASB)
The context of Habakkuk's words was the approach of invaders. Habakkuk warned Judah of the impending judgment that God would bring on them through the Babylonians because of their unrepentant hearts. The implication is: Just as God surely carried out that judgment, so He will bring destruction on you if you scoff at His gracious promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Let me wrap this up. What I want you to see here is that this text is utterly saturated with God. Sixteen times Paul presses home the truth that God is the central Actor in history. Verse 17: It is God who chose Israel; God made these people great during their stay in Egypt. God led them out of Egypt with an uplifted arm.
Verse 18: God carried Israel in the wilderness like a father carries a child. Verse 19: It was God who destroyed the seven nations in the land of Canaan. It was the people who fought the battles, they swung the sword, but Paul wants to stress the pervasive hand of God in all human triumphs. Verse 19: It was God who gave Israel the land of Canaan as an inheritance. Verse 20: it was God who gave them judges. Verse 21: It was God who gave to Israel her first king, Saul. Verse 22: It was God who removed Saul; God raised up David, the son of Jesse. Verse 23: It was God who brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus; the verse says at the end, God did it "as He promised." Verse 27: Paul tells us that even those who did not know God, nevertheless, did what God planned and prophesied. Verse 29: Paul tells us that what was happening in the arrest and trial and death of Jesus was not mainly the work of man. It was God's plan laid out in Scripture. Verse 30: It is God who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul's point is that God has been at work from the beginning and was at work in the death and resurrection, and is at work now in sending the message of this salvation.
Is this the way you tell stories about what happened? When you tell somebody about the past, do you say, "God did this and God did that and God did that and God did that, etc."? Do you say that God did virtually everything? Not really. I don't say, "Yesterday God lead me to cut the grass." Paul chose to preach this way. He consciously chose to narrate history this way. He was making a statement.
It is God's world. He made it. He owns it and everyone in it. He works in it. He is guiding it to His appointed goals. Everything without exception, everything has to do with God and gets its main meaning from God.
Jonathan McCormack was 17 years old when he died in his sleep last Sunday. In his home-school year book he wrote this: "My name is Jonathan McCormack, and I have been home schooled all of my life...Home schooling is definitely an advantage, because I have been able to see that God is important in all areas of life, and most of all how to have a Christian world view."
People, everything has to do with God. History, as we usually read it, is a study of the deeds and influence of men, but not this history. You will notice that this history centers on God. This is great news to those who trust Him.
Before we end today look at:
And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. (Acts 13:42 NASB)
What happened here is the same thing that happens to me every Sunday. Those present wanted to hear more. As they departed they begged him to please come back and speak to them again on the following Sabbath.
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