1. Last time we read about the conditions of the religious mission on the island of Cyprus. Sergius Paulus, regional governor for Rome, was converted on the island of Cyprus. That means that this island was the first region governed by a Christian. Because of the governor's conversion at least an immediate peace was secured for the young church of Cyprus and the way for the gospel was broadly opened. After that, they set out from Cyprus and progressed in their travels to the next unpreached lands. They crossed over from Paphos to the southern coast of Asia Minor by ship. From the harbor there they progressed on the land route and came to Perga. From there they went over the mountains of Psidia and headed further inland. They went on one road straight to Antioch. (It has the same name, but it is a different town from the Antioch of Syria that appeared previously.)
2. At Antioch there was a community of Jewish residents and worship was held in the synagogue on the Sabbaths. As we saw in the island of Cyprus so here as well they took the opportunity to give out the word of God mainly in the Sabbath worship services. In today's passage, we have recorded the manner in which the opportunity to preach was given and what he had preached. They went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and took a seat. Just like always the worship service went on. First, they began with a confession of faith called the Shema which begins with "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is only one Lord," (Deuteronomy 6:4) and continued with the recitation of prayers. After that, the book of the law (the five books of Moses, which are from Genesis to Deuteronomy) and the prophets were read aloud. Then, the elder of the synagogue sent for a person and urged Paul's group to give a word of exhortation. In the worship service of the synagogue anyone of the Jewish men was permitted to give an exposition after they had read it aloud. In particular, Paul and Barnabbas seemed to be rabbis in the middle of a journey.
3. That's the situation on how they got an opportunity to preach the word of God to the people assembled together. The contents of [their message] is recorded in verses sixteen and forward. It has a clear organization and is divided into three parts. At the beginning of each part a call to attention is directed to the audience. The first section goes from verse sixteen to verse twenty-five. The second section goes from verse twenty-six to verse thirty-six. The last goes from verse thirty-eight to verse forty-one. I would like us to follow these sections, outline their contents and think about what this means for us.
In The History Of Salvation
4. The first section begins with the words, "O men of Israel and o God-fearing men, please listen," (verse sixteen). When it says "men of Israel" that refers to persons who were either born Jews or persons who became Jews by converting and receiving circumcision. When it says "God-fearing men" that refers to Gentiles who although they kept the Sabbath, they had never received circumcision. Here then Paul is calling out to both types of persons.
5. Then first of all he begins by talking about the history of the people of God which begins with Abraham. "This God of the Israelites called out our forefathers and while the people were living in the land of Egypt he made them mighty and lead them out of there with an arm that he had raised high," (verse seventeen). He began like this and he spoke eloquently on the history of Israel. When he came to verse twenty-two the settlement in Canaan after the Egyptian exodus, the period of the judges, the formation of the monarchy, and the enthronement of David were preached. Anyone who was a Jew would have known [what he was preaching] up to this point.
6. However, was this something really important to the audience in attendance there? In particular, other than for the Jews, was there significance in it for the Gentiles [who were called] "the God-fearers?" To go further on it, since many of the people who read the Book Of Acts were Gentile Christians, would this sermon of Paul have meaning for those who were not Jewish? Furthermore, after nearly two thousand years will this really have any meaning for us "Gentile Christians?" [It may not seem so.]
7. Nevertheless, we must give careful thought to this [passage]. As Paul related [events] up to David, he jumped over in one sweep a millennium's worth of history and then referred to matters about Jesus because it was this person who Paul had ultimately been communicating to them about in his speech. "According to his promises God sent the savior Jesus to Israel from the line of David," (verse twenty-three). "The savior came." "Jesus of Nazareth indeed was that very savior." He was wanting to communicate those two points. But, Paul spoke by placing the events of the savior Jesus Christ in the history of God's people. He was preaching that as a matter of common knowledge.
8. In this world separated from God, bereft of eternal life, and under the control of sin and death, God called Abraham the source of blessing (Genesis 12:2) and formed Israel from his posterity through the decisive events of the Exodus from Egypt. What began from then was the history of God's people and was the history of God's salvation and deliverance. He was telling how God guided the history of that great salvation and how he gave to us Jesus Christ in the midst of that salvific history.
9. Jesus Christ, the church in his salvation, and we too are in this great plan of salvation. This is an important acknowledgment for us. We say that because we are liable to think of matters of salvation as only the events that have to do with our individual brief lives and because in matters pertaining to faith we only think as far as "the frame of mind" or an attitude which we can either keep or dispose of [at will]. But, that is wrong. The fact is our worshipping together like this includes us as well in the history of this splendorous salvation [and is more than just our own personal attitude of mind]. It is a definite fact that we are included in the history of this great people of God which is moving towards a completion.
10. Then, in what particular sense is our having been included or our being included important? The text speaks on this next because it will make clear what kind of person Christ is.
The Cross And The Resurrection
11. Paul stated that God sent a savior from the line of David. He made clear that Jesus indeed was that very savior. In addition, he made reference to John the Baptizer in verses twenty-four and following. The movement of the baptism of John was widely known probably even in Asia Minor and this same movement might have spread into this area. At any rate, everyone knew about John. Paul stated that this John preached about the one who "is coming after me" or in other words he was testifying of the true savior.
12. But, when they had heard of this one named Jesus even a little, they would definitely not have been able to simply submit to this point. That's because doubts of whether the one crucified and killed was the savior would naturally have arisen. Why did the messiah have to be killed? And worse, he died affixed to a tree as a man cursed of God. Was the messiah to be like that? They felt of course there was a failure which had taken place.
13. However, Paul preaches right on [this] event that looked only like a failure. "O brothers, you men of the line of Abraham and those who fear God among you, this message of salvation was sent to us," (verse twenty-six). The vocabulary word "message" means "event" at the same time in both Hebrew and Greek. The message of salvation means the event of Jesus Christ. It means the event of the cross which was only a failure. He calls this the message of salvation.
14. Paul says in verse twenty-seven, "Those who live in Jerusalem and their leaders brought this message to fulfillment by not recognizing Jesus and not understanding the message of the prophets read each Sabbath day, and by condemning Jesus in sin." The important thing here was that they brought to pass that message (that is, the message of the prophets). He says the following in verse twenty-nine as well: "Thus, after everything that was written concerning Jesus was fulfilled..." The people were thinking that if he was the messiah he would not have been crucified and killed on the cross. However, Paul said exactly the opposite. Because he was the messiah he was killed. What the prophets said came to pass. That's what Paul was preaching.
15. The words of the prophets were not quoted in this [passage]. Perhaps in the actual sermon of Paul the words of the prophets which had come to fulfillment might have been preached. I think it will suffice for us just to refer to Isaiah chapter fifty-three on this point.
16. "We are a flock of sheep
We have erred from the way and gone off in different directions.
All of these sins of ours
The Lord laid [them] on him."
17. Israel as a nation was brought to judgment and devastation. The event of the Babylonian captivity was nothing other than the judgment of God. Was it because human sin had gotten too awful deep that God closed out the history of salvation with a judgment? No, it wasn't. God still kept his people alive and gave them life in this world. But, how did God use his people and further the history of salvation? Was it by their re-seeking the keeping of the law of Moses? No, it wasn't, rather it was by his forgiving them of their sin. That is what is recorded in this book of the prophets. The hope was never in God's people themselves, the hope was not in humanity. It was only possible to recover a relationship with God through the gracious gift of the forgiveness of sin which came from one direction which was from God. God devised the forgiving of peoples' sins by loading them on one man. The one man who shouldered this load indeed was none other than the messiah of the passion.* This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
18. Furthermore, God showed by the resurrection of the messiah that redemption based on this suffering messiah was perfect. It was also the victory of God over human sin. Then Paul preaches about the witnesses to that resurrection and he preaches on the evidence of the scriptures to the resurrection. On that he ultimately makes [his] appeal to the people. That is the third section. And truly here as well it is the pivot point of his preaching.
All Who Believe Are Justified
19. "Therefore, o brothers, I want you to know [this]. Forgiveness of sin through this One has been made known to you. Also, even though you are not justified by the law of Moses, everyone who believes will be justified by him," (verses thirty-eight and thirty-nine).
20. The appeal here is to "the brothers." There was no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile. Furthermore, it says, "everyone who believes is justified by him." Why [does it say] "everyone who believes"? Because sin was completely borne by Christ and forgiveness of sin was revealed to [Jew and Gentile]. Since a person is saved based on forgiveness of sin and the people of God come to be through the forgiveness of sin, the distinction between a Jew regulated by the law of Moses and a Gentile doesn't have significance any more. What is it that has significance then? It is only whether or not one believes in the forgiveness of God based on the redemption of Christ. It is whether or not one believes in Christ as savior and places oneself in the history of God's people. The reason we Gentiles are made into worshippers of God like this lies at that point. If we are to be in the history of God's people, it will be based purely on the grace of God's forgiveness. We believe and participate only in his grace.
21. Therefore, the truth of this grace produces at the same time a sharp warning. Paul continued and spoke as follows as he quoted Habakkuk chapter one and verse five.
22. "So, be on guard so that what was spoken in the book of the prophets does not take place. 'See, o you who make light of [the prophets], take warning. Die in destruction. I will perform in your times one thing: Even if people explain it in detail you will not believe it possible,'" (verse forty-one).
23. Even though the sun has been shinning because they refused the light and kept the door shut, only darkness lies there [with them]. Since they made themselves to be righteous and made light of and rejected the grace of God's forgiveness, there would be no forgiveness there now. They ended up getting themselves condemned to destruction. Paul says [in effect] "take warning so that these type of things do not take place."
24. Even after the meeting ended many Jews and converts who worshipped God came up to Paul and Barnabbas. The two of them spoke with them and exhorted them to continue living under the grace of God. It's possible to say that even after Barnabbas was sent to the Antioch church, what they encouraged them was "to hold a firm resolve and not be separated from the Lord." (11:23) Since they were justified by the grace of God and were added to the people of God by the grace of God's forgiveness, the important point was that they continue to live under the grace of God. Even more than temporary but big experiences and impressions, the important thing was [their] continuation until they come to the day of the end. One should make sure one does not separate from the Lord.
*Passion is a theological and technical term for the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.