19. The Gospel and the Gentiles (Acts 13:14-52)Related Media
14 Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of exhortation for the people, speak it.”
16 So Paul stood up, gestured with his hand and said, “Men of Israel, and you Gentiles who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay as foreigners in the country of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, [Deuteronomy 7:1] he gave his people their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about four hundred fifty years. After this he gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing him, God raised up David their king. He testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do.’ 23 From the descendants of this man God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised. 24 Before Jesus arrived, John had proclaimed a baptism for repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 But while John was completing his mission, he said repeatedly, ‘What do you think I am? I am not he. But look, one is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet!’
26 Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, and they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath by condemning him. 28 Though they found no basis for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had accomplished everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’ [Psalm 2:7] 34 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ [Isaiah 55:3] 35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ [Psalm 16:10] 36 For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 37 but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. 38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you. 40 Watch out, then, that what is spoken about by the prophets does not happen to you: 41 ‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish! For I am doing a work in your days, a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you.’” [Habakkuk 1:5]
42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people were urging them to speak about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and were persuading them to continue in the grace of God.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him.
46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” [Isaiah 49:6; see also Luke 2:29-32; Luke 4]
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed.
49 So the word of the Lord was spreading through the entire region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high social standing and the prominent men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their region. 51 So after they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, they went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.1
This past week, the headlines informed us of the discovery of a 1700-year-old document called the “Gospel of Judas.” This “gospel” was written by a member of a Gnostic cult known as the Cainites. This group sought to represent Cain, the original bad boy of the Bible (not counting his father, Adam), as a true hero rather than as a villain. (They insisted that he showed real courage when he opposed God.) Why would it surprise us that a member of this group (already branded as heretics in their day) would write a document alleging that Judas (the most prominent “bad boy” of the New Testament) was really a hero as well? Judas, they would have us believe, had more insight and understanding of our Lord’s mission than all the rest, and therefore he betrayed our Lord at His request, knowing that he (Judas) would be “crucified” (figuratively speaking, of course) as a villain for centuries. But in the end, he would be rewarded by the Lord.
For many people, and all too many “scholars,” this will prompt endless hours of study, discussion, and debate. For those who are already predisposed to doubt the Word of God, it will be another excuse to call the canonical (biblical) gospels into question and cause some gullible people to reconsider the authenticity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank God that on this Palm Sunday we are privileged to have the inspired Word of God in our hands. Specifically, we are studying the second volume of a masterful, historical work, divinely inspired, carefully penned, and based on eye-witness testimonies. Together these two volumes (the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts) give us a history of the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the time of our Lord’s birth to the spread of the gospel throughout the known world of New Testament times.
Today we have come to the 13th chapter of the Book of Acts and to the first recorded sermon of the Apostle Paul. It is the Sabbath, and so we find Paul in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, proclaiming the good news of salvation by faith in the shed blood of the risen Christ. In contrast to “the Gospel of Judas,” which allegedly calls into question the sum total of the biblical gospel, the “gospel according to Paul” does just the opposite. The gospel Paul (and all the other apostles) proclaimed was the consummation of all that the Old Testament promised and anticipated. Paul presented the gospel in such a way that it connected all the dots, reaching the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s only provision for the forgiveness of our sins. In his sermon, which indicts the people of Jerusalem and their leaders for the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus, Judas is never mentioned. Judas is no sacrificial lamb, on which the guilt of all mankind can be laid; that is the task that only the sinless Lord Jesus could fulfill. We are all guilty of rejecting Jesus as God’s promised Messiah.
The message that Paul preaches is so compelling that no one in our text is able to dispute his facts, or his theology.3 There is no debate on this particular Sabbath, or on the next, when the entire city comes to hear what Paul has to say about Jesus and Judaism. The rejection of Jesus and of Paul’s gospel is far less sophisticated and intellectual than that, as we shall soon see.
As we approach this lesson, let us do so with joyful and grateful hearts, knowing that we have the sure and faithful Word of God as our text, a Word which is not shaken by newly revealed heresies. And let us look to the Spirit of God to quicken our hearts and minds to respond to the truth as we should.
In our last lesson, we studied the first 13 verses of Acts 13. There we noted how the Holy Spirit designated Barnabas and Saul as missionaries to be sent out with the gospel to the Gentiles. Luke then tells of their ministry on the island of Cyprus. He chooses to focus on one segment of their ministry at Paphos, a leading city on the western end of Cyprus. There they encountered Elymas the Jewish false prophet and magician, also known as Bar-Jesus. Elymas had somehow attached himself to Sergius Paulus, the proconsul residing in Paphos. When the proconsul wanted to speak with Barnabas and Saul to hear more of their message, Elymas did everything he could to hinder this man from coming to faith. Filled with the Spirit, Paul took the lead in condemning the resistance of Elymas, punctuating this with a curse of blindness. Witnessing the authority with which Paul proclaimed the gospel, the proconsul gave heed to the gospel message and came to faith.
Passing by Perga
13 Then Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14 Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message [literally “a word”] of exhortation for the people, speak it” (Acts 13:13-15).
“Paul and his companions” sailed north to Asia Minor, arriving at Perga in Pamphylia. It was here that John Mark left them and returned home to Jerusalem, something which Paul interpreted as desertion or abandoning his post.4 John Mark’s actions here will result in a strong disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, resulting in the split-up of their team, thus forming two teams (Acts 15:36-41). It would appear that there was no significant preaching here in Perga, but instead the gospel was proclaimed on their return through Perga (Acts 14:25).
From Perga, the missionaries traveled on to Pisidian Antioch. This is not the “Antioch” of Syria, where the first missionary journey began, but the “Antioch” of Asia Minor, some 350 miles or so northwest of Syrian Antioch. On the Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue. This became Paul’s normal pattern for introducing the gospel in a town or city (see Acts 17:1-2). It was also the practice of our Lord:
Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23).
Then Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness (Matthew 9:35; see also 12:1; 13:54).
The synagogues were an ideal place to commence their ministry when Paul and Barnabas arrived at a new city. If there was a synagogue in the city, they would go there on the Sabbath and preach the gospel. Here, one would find Jews and Gentile proselytes or God-fearers, who were at least somewhat devout in their pursuit of Judaism. Paul consistently followed the practice of going to “the Jew first, and then to the Gentiles” with the gospel (see, for example, Acts 3:26; 19:8-10; Romans 1:16; 2:9).
The synagogues provided an ideal forum for preaching the gospel. Luke provides us with the most information about the synagogues and how they functioned (Luke 4:16-30; Acts 13:14-16). From Luke 4:16-30, we see that there was the reading of some portions of the Old Testament Scriptures (on this occasion, it included Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus was free to expound on that text, which He did, revealing that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In our text in Acts, we learn that there was a reading from the Law and the Prophets. There were synagogue officials present who were in charge of the meeting, but they granted the opportunity for men (including visitors) to speak. It was in response to this invitation that Paul spoke at Pisidian Antioch.
Luke does not tell us what the Scripture reading was on this occasion. It would not surprise me if, in the providence of God, the texts were directly related to the message Paul was about to preach. While we do not know the texts that were read, we do know that when Paul preached, he reviewed a good deal of Old Testament history, referring to a number of Old Testament texts in support of his conclusion.
From Abraham to Jesus
16 So Paul stood up, gestured with his hand and said, “Men of Israel, and you Gentiles who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay as foreigners in the country of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan,5 he gave his people their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about four hundred fifty years. After this he gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing him, God raised up David their king. He testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do.’ 23 From the descendants of this man God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised. 24 Before Jesus arrived, John had proclaimed a baptism for repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 But while John was completing his mission, he said repeatedly, ‘What do you think I am? I am not he. But look, one is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet!’ (Acts 13:16-25)
(1) Paul’s message is quite brief. Some have suggested that Paul’s message was much longer than this and that Luke has provided us with a kind of “Readers Digest” abridgement of that message. This is certainly possible, and it no doubt this is true of some other messages in the New Testament, such as Peter’s message at Pentecost in Acts 2. But I’m not so sure that Paul’s message in the synagogue was much longer than what Luke has recorded. First of all, Paul and Barnabas were newcomers, virtual strangers to the synagogue leaders and people of Pisidian Antioch. While opportunity might be granted to speak at great length later on, this message was to be “a word of exhortation.”6 I seriously doubt that they were surrendering the meeting to a complete stranger for a lengthy message.7
(2) Second, this message was addressed to Jews and Gentiles alike. We should note from verse 16 that Paul clearly addressed his words to both Jews (“men of Israel”) and Gentiles (“you Gentiles who fear God”). This will again be the case in verse 26:
“Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us” (Acts 13:26).
(3) Paul’s message assumes a familiarity with the Old Testament. We should further note that whether Jew or Gentile, those addressed were familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. (They should be, since portions of the Law and the Prophets were read each Sabbath in the synagogue.) Paul’s message is one that is adapted to his audience. When Paul speaks to pure pagans, he must approach them differently because of their ignorance of the Scriptures (see Acts 17:16-31).
(4) Paul moves through Old Testament history at a very rapid pace. Paul surveys Old Testament history at a very rapid pace. He covers the 450 years from the call of Abraham to Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land in 3 verses (Acts 13:17-19). He does not go into any detail in any part of his Old Testament survey. He will go into greater detail when he comes to New Testament history. Let us take note of all that Paul covers in his rapid sprint through the Old Testament.
A Sprint through the Old Testament and then to the New
Paul begins with the call of Abraham and the patriarchs and with Israel’s sojourn in Egypt where they became a great nation (Acts 13:17a). He then briefly mentions their exodus from Egypt (Acts 13:17b). He covers the 40-year sojourn in the wilderness in 1 verse (Acts 13:18), and then in another verse, summarizes Israel’s possession of the Promised Land (Acts 13:19). The period of the judges is covered in half of one short verse (Acts 13:20b).
Paul is a bit more leisurely (a whole 2½ verses!) when he comes to the time of Samuel and Israel’s first kings (Acts 13:20b-22). When the people asked for (okay, demanded) a king, God gave them Saul, who reigned 40 years and then was replaced by David, a man after God’s heart. From David, Paul leaps forward hundreds of years to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is David’s offspring (and thus He is often called the Son of David).8
One must ask why Paul would skip so many years of Old Testament history in order to leap forward in time to the coming of Jesus. There are several reasons, I suspect. First, Paul did not have a great deal of time to present this “word of exhortation.” Second, this was history his audience already knew. Third, Paul will soon show that the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of Jesus and the major events of His life and ministry. Fourth, after the time of David, things went rapidly downhill until the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Fifth, Jesus was the legitimate “Son of David,” the promised Messiah. Jesus truly took up where David left off and went far beyond anything David could have ever done. David was a mere man, and a sinner at that. Jesus was the God-man, who was without sin. Jesus was that One who would sit on the throne of his father David forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12-14a).
Paul gives more emphasis to Jesus than to anything or anyone else in our text, and rightly so. He begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. John not only proclaimed a baptism of repentance, he also publicly denied that he was the Messiah. Instead, he designated Jesus as God’s Messiah,9 insisting that he was not even worthy to untie the sandals of our Lord (Acts 13:25).
Jesus Is the Promised Messiah
26 Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, and they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath by condemning him. 28 Though they found no basis for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had accomplished everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’10 34 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’11 35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’12 36 For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 37 but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay (Acts 13:26-37).
Once again Paul makes it clear (to his audience and to us) that he is addressing his message to Jews and Gentiles alike when he speaks concerning the salvation that has been sent (Acts 13:26). It is somewhat puzzling to note that verse 27 begins with the word “for.” How does verse 27 serve to demonstrate the fact that salvation has been sent? It seems to me that the argument goes something like this: “We know that salvation has been sent to us because when Jesus did come and present Himself as the Messiah, the Jews in Jerusalem, along with their rulers, did not recognize Him. Thus, in rejecting Him, they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read in the synagogue each Sabbath. They demanded the death of Jesus, although there were no legal grounds for doing so. And when they had put Him to death they buried Him. But God reversed the death of Jesus by raising Him from the dead. The risen Messiah then appeared to His apostles, and they continue to testify to the fact that He is alive. The fact that these things have happened is proof that salvation has indeed come to the people of Israel, and the Gentiles as well.”
Remember that Paul and Barnabas are now in Asia Minor, and not in Jerusalem. These folks were not there in Jerusalem crying, “Crucify! Crucify!” (Luke 23:21) That is why Paul distances the rejection of Jesus by those in Jerusalem from his audience, removed hundreds of miles from Jerusalem. But now they are given the same message, and thus they are being confronted with their own decision regarding Jesus, but Paul’s gospel presentation is not yet complete.
In rejecting Jesus, the people of Jerusalem and their rulers unwittingly fulfilled the words of the Old Testament prophets. Thus, this came as no shock to God, but was only the fulfillment of His purposes. They not only rejected Jesus as their Messiah, they demanded that He be put to death, even though there was no legal basis for doing so. And when Pilate gave in to their demands and crucified Jesus, they buried Him in a tomb.
That would seem to be the end of it, but it was not. Verse 30 begins with the words, “But God. . . .” Although the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus and had Him put to death, God raised Him from the dead. This is no idle claim; Jesus appeared alive to His disciples for many days, and they in turn have testified to His resurrection (Acts 15:31). What the apostles proclaimed to others, Paul and Barnabas are proclaiming to those gathered in this synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. God’s promise of a coming Messiah – One who will reign forever on the throne of David – has been fulfilled by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
We should recall that our Lord Jesus staked His entire earthly mission on His ability to rise from the dead:
18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken (John 2:18-22).
38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:38-40).
The resurrection of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies:
The king says, “I will announce the Lord’s decree.
He said to me: ‘You are my son!
This very day I have become your father! (Psalm 2:7; cited in Acts 15:33)
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David” (Isaiah 55:3, NASB, cited in Acts 15:34).
You will not abandon me to Sheol;
you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit (Psalm 16:10, cited in Acts 15:35).
The first text cited – Psalm 2:7 – speaks of the divine designation of Jesus as the Messiah, the King who will sit on the throne of his father David to rule over all creation. The second text – Isaiah 55:3 – may not appear to be directly relevant. Notice however that there is a promise being made to one of David’s descendants. This is an everlasting covenant, according to the mercies shown to David. How could such a covenant ever be fulfilled for a dead man? This text implies that the Son of David will live, and thus it implies the resurrection.
The third text is a familiar one to Paul’s audience, who knew the Old Testament. It is also familiar to Luke’s readers, who should recall that a larger portion of this text was cited in Acts 2:
24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says about him,
‘I saw the Lord always in front of me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced;
my body also will live in hope,
27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades,
nor permit your Holy One to experience decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of joy with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it (Acts 2:24-32).
Notice how similar Peter’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus is to that of Paul. It is obvious to Peter and Paul, as it should be to anyone, that David was not speaking of himself, but of another – his descendant, Jesus the Messiah. The synagogue rulers received far more than they asked for. They asked for a “word of exhortation” (verse 15, emphasis mine). What they received was a “word of salvation” (Acts 13:26, emphasis mine):
“Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word13 of this salvation has been sent” (Acts 13:26, NKJV, emphasis mine).
Paul’s Conclusion and Application
38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you. 40 Watch out, then, that what is spoken about by the prophets does not happen to you: 41 ‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish! For I am doing a work in your days, a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you’” (Acts 13:38-41)
Here, Peter brings his “word of exhortation” to its conclusion. Salvation has come, just as God (through His prophets) had promised. That salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ, through His life, death and resurrection. Now comes the difficult part, for some: this salvation comes through Jesus for all men, apart from law-works. The Law of Moses could not save, as Israel’s history has proven. The Law’s task was to point men to Jesus, the coming Messiah, just as Paul has demonstrated. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus, and not by keeping the Law. And because it is by grace (not by law-keeping), it is available to all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. This “word of salvation” is offered to all those to whom Paul is speaking.
Paul’s conclusion is the good news of the offer of salvation by faith in Jesus, the Messiah. But there is also a word of warning. The prophets had not only foretold the coming of Messiah; they had also warned that He would be rejected by His own people. Luke selects a verse from Habakkuk which sounds a warning to the people of Jerusalem:
1 The following is the message which God revealed to Habakkuk the prophet: 2 How long, Lord, must I cry for help? But you do not listen! I call out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene! 3 Why do you force me to witness injustice? Why do you put up with wrongdoing? Destruction and violence confront me; conflict is present and one must endure strife. 4 For this reason the law lacks power, and justice is never carried out. Indeed, the wicked intimidate the innocent. For this reason justice is perverted. 5 “Look at the nations and pay attention! You will be shocked and amazed! For I will do something in your lifetime that you will not believe even though you are forewarned. 6 Look, I am about to empower the Babylonians, that ruthless and greedy nation. They sweep across the surface of the earth, seizing dwelling places that do not belong to them. 7 They are frightening and terrifying; they decide for themselves what is right (Habakkuk 1:1-7, emphasis mine).
I have included more of the context of Habakkuk’s warning that is sounded in verse 5 (the verse Paul cites in Acts 13:41). In Habakkuk’s day, the people of Jerusalem had become insensitive to sin, and likewise insensitive to the warnings of God’s impending wrath. Jerusalem was soon to fall at the hand of the Babylonians. Jerusalem would soon be completely destroyed. The same thing was soon to happen to Jerusalem once again, at the hands of the Romans. Paul warned his audience that they dare not reject this “word of salvation,” for it was also a “word of judgment.” His message was a double-edged sword. To believe in Jesus was to obtain the forgiveness of sins (something the Law was incapable of doing). To reject Jesus was to invite and experience divine judgment.
42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people were urging them to speak about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and were persuading them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him. 46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed. 49 So the word of the Lord was spreading through the entire region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high social standing and the prominent men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their region. 51 So after they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, they went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:42-52).
No “invitation” is given here. I think it is because Paul has given a very brief introductory overview of the gospel. He does not want anyone to make a hasty decision. It was not his place as a visitor to dominate the synagogue proceedings, but only to bring a “word of exhortation.” Nearly everyone seemed to want to hear more, and so he was urged to return the following Sabbath and speak further of these matters. A good number of these folks did not seem to need further convincing. They followed Paul and Barnabas, who continued to speak to them, encouraging them to continue in the grace of God.
Word of Paul’s preaching spread throughout the entire city (now that the gospel was for all men, whether Jew or Gentile). When the next Sabbath arrived, it seemed as though the whole city had turned out to hear Paul for themselves. It was the presence of these crowds that angered the Jews. Up to this time, no doubt, the synagogue meeting had been dominated by Jews, with a smattering of Gentile God-fearers attending. Now the Jews were in the minority. (It must have been exasperating to come to the synagogue that Sabbath only to find some Gentile sitting in “my pew.”)
The Jews were filled with jealousy when they saw the crowds. They were not interested in hearing what Paul and Barnabas had to say. They wanted nothing to do with a gospel that invited hordes of unclean Gentiles into the Kingdom of God without first becoming Jewish proselytes. And so the Jews became hecklers that day, who (like Elymas at the beginning of this chapter) sought to prevent the Gentiles from coming to the faith they had rejected. (They didn’t want Jesus as Messiah, but neither did they want these Gentiles trusting in Him either.)
Paul and Barnabas were not intimidated by their opposition. Instead, they boldly spoke out, proclaiming that it was necessary to first preach the good news to the Jews, but now that they had rejected this “word of salvation,” the gospel would be preached to the Gentiles. Ironically, the precedent they cited for this was found in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. Let us look at the verse Paul has quoted in its context:
5 So now the Lord says, the one who formed me from birth to be his servant – he did this to restore Jacob to himself, so that Israel might be gathered to him; and I will be honored in the Lord’s sight, for my God is my source of strength – 6 he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant, to reestablish the tribes of Jacob, and restore the remnant of Israel? I will make you a light to the nations, so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.” 7 This is what the Lord, the protector of Israel, their Holy One, says to the one who is despised and rejected by nations, a servant of rulers: “Kings will see and rise in respect, princes will bow down, because of the faithful Lord, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you” (Isaiah 49:5-7, emphasis mine).
This prophecy concerns Jesus, the Messiah. He was “formed from birth to be God’s servant” (at the incarnation). He came to restore Jacob (Israel – the Jews) to Himself. He was honored in the Lord’s sight. Not only will the Lord Jesus restore Israel to Himself; He will also be a “light to the Gentiles,” bringing many of them into the kingdom through faith in Himself as the Messiah. The apostles, as servants of The One True Servant, continue to proclaim this Light to the Gentiles. In this way, salvation will encompass not only Israel, but the whole world (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:46-47). This is completely consistent with our Lord’s words to those gathered at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) and with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
The Gentiles were ecstatic when they heard these words. They began to rejoice and to praise the Word of the Lord. Luke’s next words have also been the source of great joy to many (but consternation to some):
“. . . and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48b).
It is difficult to avoid the clear meaning of this statement or its implications: salvation is under control – God’s control. Look at what Luke has to say later on in the Book of Acts:
A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman, listened to us. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying (Acts 16:14, emphasis mine).
Lest we think this only to be Luke’s viewpoint, we should remember the words of our Lord:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come” (John 6:65; see also John 8:43; 10:26).
The point of Luke’s statement linking the salvation of many Gentiles with the sovereign work of God in saving lost sinners is that the salvation of Gentiles was not the result of any greater desire for God, or for salvation,14 but was the result of a God who sovereignly chose to seek and to save Gentiles.
One of the prominent themes of the Book of Acts is the sovereignty of God, not only in the salvation of men, but also in the spread of the gospel. The missionary movement which was commanded in Acts 1:8 was first commenced in Acts 8:1. This was not due to the missionary zeal of the apostles, or even of the Jerusalem church. It was due to the persecution on account of Stephen’s death that scattered the church. Those few unnamed individuals who proclaimed Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 11:20) were the exception. And even the missionary movement that commenced in Acts 13:1-4 was initiated by the Holy Spirit, who instructed the church to set apart Barnabas and Saul for missionary activity.
Notice that while the salvation of many Gentiles is, to some degree, the result of the missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas,15 Luke emphasizes the role of the Word of God and the working of God’s Spirit in the hearts of men. The gospel is not referred to as “the gospel” in these verses, but three times is referred to as “the Word of God” (see Acts 13:5, 7, 46) and twice as “the Word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44, 48).
It was the success of God’s Word that disturbed the Jews, who then in turn incited the God-fearing women of high society and the prominent men of the city (Acts 13:50) to stir up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, so that they were expelled from that region. Unshaken by this rejection, the two shook the dust from their feet and went on to Iconium. The disciples they left behind were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. The opposition did not intimidate these new believers, whose joy was in the Lord, and in whom the Spirit of God now dwelt.
We have now come to the end of the first recorded sermon of the Apostle Paul. It is undoubtedly typical of the sermons he delivered in the Jewish synagogues of the cities he visited. This sermon therefore is precedent setting in several ways. It sets the precedent for how Paul proclaims the gospel in cities where a synagogue can be found. It sets the precedent for the message that Paul consistently preached to his Jewish brethren (and for the Gentile God-fearers who also went to the synagogue). It establishes the biblical precedent of taking the gospel first to the Jews, and then (after they reject the gospel) to the Gentiles.16
Our text records the message Paul preached, and not a message preached by Barnabas. Luke makes it clear that Paul is now the leader of this missionary team (see Acts 13:9-13). But while Paul’s leadership is clear to the reader, Luke makes no effort to glorify Paul or to glamorize his gifts or ministry. We are not told how good Paul was at his preaching. What we are told is that the salvation of those at Pisidian Antioch (and by inference, everywhere else) was, in the end, the work of God. Six times in Acts 13 Luke has called attention to the “Word of God” (or, the “Word of the Lord”).17 In verse 48, Luke indicates that those who believed were those “who had been appointed for eternal life.” As the Holy Spirit’s ministry is prominent in the Book of Acts, I believe it would be safe to say that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are given the greater credit for the evangelism of the lost.
This is not to minimize the essential role which men play in preaching the gospel, for it is Paul himself who has written,
12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news” (Romans 10:12-15).
The sovereignty of God in the salvation of men should not be misinterpreted in such a way as to discourage our participation in the proclamation of the gospel. How encouraging it is to go forth with the gospel knowing that God has already chosen some who will believe, and that His Spirit convicts and converts men. We know that evangelism is not the result of human devices or clever manipulation, but it is the manifestation of God’s power:
For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment – 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned (John 16:7-11).18
There are several excellent sermons in the Book of Acts, and each has its own contribution to make. Let us take a moment to consider the unique contribution of this sermon (besides the fact that it is Paul’s first recorded sermon). In Acts 2, we have Peter’s great sermon at Pentecost. There he answers the question, “What do these things [the supernatural and spectacular phenomena associated with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost] mean?” His emphasis is on the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and of the judgment that is soon to come. He connects this Old Testament theme of judgment with the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus by those in his audience. He demonstrates that Jesus has risen from the dead, and he urges these Jews to repent and be baptized in order to avoid the coming wrath of God on this unbelieving generation. In many ways, Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 is an expansion on this same theme, but with more emphasis on the promised blessings that will come to those who trust in Jesus by faith.
Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 is a scorching review of Israel’s history, with an emphasis on the fact that Israel has persistently rebelled against God and against His appointed leaders. Stephen makes no appeal for his own life, and neither does he appeal to those in the Sanhedrin to repent and believe. Their day of judgment is now rapidly coming. This is a message of condemnation, boldly driven home by a man who is about to die at the hands of his audience.
Paul’s sermon in Acts 13 also contains a review of Israel’s history, but it is intended to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant (the promise God made to David that his Son, his descendant, would forever rule on his throne). He indicts the Jews of Jerusalem and their leaders for rejecting Jesus, and for demanding His death, in spite of His innocence. Paul presents his case in such a way as to call his audience to take sides, either with the Jews who rejected Jesus, or with Jesus the Messiah.
This sermon shows that when all the “dots” of the Old Testament are connected, they point to Jesus. The emphasis here is upon the sovereign grace of God, by which both Jews and Gentiles can be saved, apart from works. It is the offer of justification by faith. In Jesus, one can obtain the forgiveness of sins, something that the Law could never do.
Paul knows nothing of the pluralism of our day. He does not present the gospel as one of many different ways to God. He does not present the gospel as something to think about from time to time. He presents the gospel as a matter of the greatest urgency, and as a decision that one must consciously make. Those who hear the gospel as Paul preaches it have only two options: (a) believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah and obtain the forgiveness of sins, or (b) reject Jesus and suffer the penalty of God’s eternal wrath. When Paul preached the gospel, he used both the “stick” (warning of judgment to come) and the “carrot” (the offer of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life). His was not a “toothless” gospel, “gummed” in hypocrisy. It was a bold confrontation which emphasized the monumental decision one must make between heaven or hell, between grace and law, between faith and works. Any honest declaration of the gospel should include both of these elements, for those who reject Jesus will suffer the eternal consequences of hell.
Finally, I wish to speak for a moment about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is Palm Sunday. Next Sunday will be Resurrection Sunday, the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the core of Paul’s message here (as in Peter’s messages in Acts 2 and 3) is the central truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Every Sunday we celebrate communion at the Lord’s Table. There, in the partaking of the bread, we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord. In the birth of Jesus, undiminished deity took on sinless humanity. This qualified Him (and only Him!) to die in our place, and to bear the wrath of God which should have fallen on us. In taking the cup, we celebrate the death of our Lord when He bore the penalty for our sins by dying in our place.
This celebration would be meaningless apart from our Lord’s resurrection. The resurrection demonstrates God’s approval and acceptance of the sacrifice of His Son, and our Lord. I am reminded of one of my favorite Old Testament statements:
“Tell him the one who puts on his battle gear should not boast like one who is taking it off” (1 Kings 20:11).
We say it a little bit differently:
“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.”
When we celebrate the Lord’s Table (communion), we do it knowing that the Lord has, so to speak, taken His armor off. On the cross, Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished!”19, and so it is! The battle has been won, and Jesus is the Victor. We are eternally safe in His keeping. Those who reject Him will endure eternal punishment.
I must ask you this, my friend: Where do you stand with Jesus? Are you with Him or against Him? Have you forsaken all your efforts to win God’s favor, casting yourself on the work of Jesus alone for your salvation? Or are you still striving to please Him by your efforts? Are you seeking to gain eternal life by your good works? You cannot remain neutral. The Old Testament and New Testament writers all agree that Jesus is the promised “Son of David.” Will you trust in Him today?
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 19 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 9, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 Compare Stephen’s powerful preaching in Acts 6:8-10.
4 See Acts 15:38.
5 See Deuteronomy 7:1.
6 As indicated in the text of verse 15, the original text would more literally be translated “a word of exhortation.” This is the way the majority of translations render the expression.
7 Further supporting the “short message” view is the fact that many of those present asked (begged) Paul to return the next week to teach them further. Paul did not give them as much as they desired, and they wanted more. Also, we see that Paul continued to work with those who embraced his teaching, outside the synagogue (Acts 13:43).
8 See, for example, Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 21:9.
9 Much as the prophet Samuel designated Saul and then David as God’s chosen king.
10 Psalm 2:7.
11 Isaiah 55:3.
12 Psalm 16:10.
13 In both Acts 13:15 and 13:26, many translations, including the NET Bible, render the Greek word logos “message.” I prefer the much more common translation for this word – “word.”
14 Note Paul’s words in Romans 9:30: “What shall we say then? – that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, . . .”
15 See Romans 10:14-15.
16 When Paul preaches to the Jews in the synagogues, he also speaks to Gentiles as well, offering both salvation by faith alone, in Jesus alone. But when the Jews reject the gospel and resist Paul’s preaching, he moves on to the Gentiles, as we see in our text (Acts 13:45-48).
17 See Acts 13:5, 7, 44, 46, 48, 49.
18 See also 1 Corinthians 2:10-13.
19 John 19:30.
Related Topics: Evangelism