June 9, 2008
You might never know the impact you are having on the kingdom of God through your efforts to share the gospel with others.
Follow the link below and listen to audio clip and hear an amazing story about the impact which God can bring about through one faithful man willing to share the gospel with others.
You can find it here http://www.reformationtheology.com/2008/06/sowing_seeds_for_christ.php
May 26, 2008
Dr. John MacArthur urges us to pray for the lost in a convicting article you can find here http://www.sfpulpit.com/2008/05/26/praying-for-the-lost/#more-1303
Read it… and pray for the lost.
The following is a sermon preached Sunday morning at Maranatha Baptist Church on May 25, 2008.
Acts 13:42-52 (ESV) – 42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
What we have recorded for us here in the book of Acts is the results of Paul’s preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.
As was typical for Paul, he began his ministry in Pisidian Antioch by preaching in the synagogue before an audience of Jews and Gentile God-fearers. “God-fearers” were Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel, but had not fully converted to Judaism. They were permitted to attend the synagogue, but were not allowed to participate in the worship of God. They were allowed simply to observe, because they were outsiders to the people of God.
After the typical prayers and Scripture readings, Paul was asked by the rulers of the synagogue if he had a word of exhortation for the people (Acts 13:15.) Of course, Paul never turned down an opportunity to preach. So he stood up before the people and delivered a sermon to them (Acts 13:16-41), after which the synagogue service let out.
As they left the synagogue, people began begging Paul and Barnabas to speak to them about “these things” again next Sabbath.
What are “these things”? This is a reference to the sermon Paul had just preached. Let me sum it up for you…
Paul began by recounting the history of the Israel. Really, he was recounting the work of God on behalf of Israel and, by doing so, he described the character of God.
1) God is sovereign over all things… including the call of His people to Himself. God chose the patriarchs… Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… and called them to Himself (Acts 13:17.)
2) God is just. He judged the inhabitants of the land of Canaan for their wickedness (Acts 13:19.) He will not let sin go unpunished.
3) Yet at the same time, God is patient. He put up with the Israelites in the wilderness (Acts 13:18.) Despite their complaining and sin… God was longsuffering with them.
4) God leads His people…providing protection and guidance for those who are His (Acts 13:20-22.)
5) He is a God of salvation… a God who delivers His people with a mighty, uplifted arm (Acts 13:17.)
6) He is a God who makes promises… He made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and David (Acts 13:23.)
And Paul makes it very clear that all these promises are fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 13:23-39.)
1) He is the Son of God.
2) The promised Messiah… the Savior and King which God had promised long beforehand to the patriarchs and David.
3) He lived a righteous life on our behalf, fulfilling all righteousness, so that His people could be declared righteous in the sight of God and enter into eternal life with Him.
4) He died for our sins upon the cross. He was cursed by God and punished for our sake so that we might be forgiven.
5) He was buried in a tomb…
6) But God raised Him from the dead on the third day, clearly demonstrating for all the world to see that Jesus is His only begotten Son… the Messiah… and Savior of sinful men and women.
This was the heart of the message Paul preached and he called all of his hearers to respond to the message by trusting in Jesus Christ, because through Him, God offers the forgiveness of sins and justification (i.e. being declared righteous) (Acts 13:38-39.).
Paul warned his hearers to take these things very seriously…
Acts 13:40-41 (ESV) – 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: 41 “ ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’ ”
He warns them not to scoff. Don’t be astounded. Don’t be amazed by this. Don’t think this is too good to be true. Don’t cast this message aside. Because if you do… you will perish…and face eternal judgment.
This is an amazing message… the most amazing message ever preached… and the most important message ever preached. It is a message which demands a response.
This is the same gospel message we preach today. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the only living and true God. He is the eternal God… the unchanging God… and His message of salvation is the same today as in the days of Paul.
We are all sinful. That is true of every one of us without exception. All have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.)
And God’s justice demands a punishment. He is patient with us, but He cannot allow sin to go unpunished (Ex 34:6-7.) And that punishment is death and hell for eternity (Rom 6:23.) .
God in His justice must punish sin, but God in His grace has made a way for sinful men and women to be delivered from the judgment to come. There must be a punishment for sin, so God provided a substitute for us… Jesus Christ… who lived and died and rose again in our place so that we might have eternal life through Him.
This is the only message of salvation. There is no other. And this the message which Paul proclaimed. And it is the message which we proclaim today.
This is a powerful message (Rom 1:16)… and it is a message which produces a response.
Here in Acts 13:42-52, we see three common responses produced by the proclamation of the gospel
First of all, notice that some took him seriously and wanted to hear more…“As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42.)
This message was astounding and some begged to hear more the next week.
But also notice that some of them were impatient. They weren’t willing to wait until the next week. They followed Paul and Barnabas, who told them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43.)
It is interesting that they were told “to continue” (προσμένω (pronounced prosmeno.)) In order to “continue” in the grace of God, a person must first enter into the experience of the grace of God. This implies that some of these people who followed them had already become Christians. They were believing in Jesus Christ and Paul and Barnabas urge them to hold fast to their Savior. No wonder they wanted to hear more. We’ll see more about them in a minute. But they weren’t the only ones who wanted to hear more.
Notice that the next week… “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44.) Most scholars agree that there is a little bit of hyperbole here. Pisidian Antioch was a very large city. It is highly unlikely that every person in the city showed up the next week. Many of the people in the city would have been completely uninterested in hearing about a message preached in a Jewish synagogue, since most of the city was not interested whatsoever in the God of the Jews. But there is no question that a large crowd turned out to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say.
Now really think about this for a moment… how did these people know to come to the synagogue on this particular Sabbath? It is doubtful that Paul and Barnabas… merely two men… could have gathered this large a crowd by themselves. They didn’t have email or television advertising. How did all these people know to show up in this place on the Sabbath to hear more about the gospel?
This turn out must have been the work of those who had been converted and those who wanted to hear more of this message. They must have talked with others throughout the week about these two men and the message they came preaching the week before. They must have invited others to come and hear the message of the gospel.
And people came…a whole lot of people came. It was much like a 1st century Billy Graham crusade. Christians went out and invited everyone they knew to come and hear the proclamation of the gospel. And many came, because they wanted to hear more about the gospel.
This is the first response we see here to the preaching of the gospel… some people wanted to hear more. But that wasn’t true of everyone, because some rejected the message of the gospel.
When Paul began speaking to this massive crowd, the Jews began contradicting everything he said. They argued with him and attempted to refute his message by speaking against him.
But this wasn’t all. They were also “reviling Him.” The word translated “revile” is the Greek word βλασφημέω (pronounced blasphemeo) and it typically means “to blaspheme.” Now the ESV renders it that they were “reviling him”, meaning Paul, but the pronoun “him” doesn’t occur in the Greek. The NASB gets it right here, they were simply “blaspheming.” Now this could mean that they were blaspheming Paul, but it seems more likely that they were blaspheming God.
There is an important point to be made here. To reject the gospel is blasphemy. Jesus Christ is the Son of God… the Messiah… who suffered and died for our sins and rose again the third day according to the Scripture. He is the greatest expression of the glory of God in human history (Heb 1:3.) To reject the gospel is to reject Jesus Christ… to deny that He is Who God says He is. And that is blasphemy…
They were doing exactly what Paul warned them against in verse 41, they were scoffing at the gospel.
Why? Notice that it wasn’t for theological reasons. It wasn’t because of their study of Scripture. It was because they were jealous. And not just a little jealous… they were filled with the jealousy.
Why were they jealous?
We aren’t told for sure, but it is not hard to guess. Paul and Barnabas were getting all their attention. People were listening to them and believing the message that they were preaching. This weakened their role in the lives of Jews and Gentile God-fearers.
The same thing happened in Jerusalem back in Acts 5. As the apostles were preaching this same message in Jerusalem, multitudes of men and women were being saved. And the religious leaders in Jerusalem didn’t like it, because they were jealous of the popularity of the apostles (Acts 5:17.) And they did all they could to stop the preaching of the gospel.
How did Paul and Barnabas respond to this rising opposition?)
They didn’t cower. They didn’t shut up. They spoke out all the more boldly and this is what they said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you…”
What does Paul mean by this? We find the answer in the next verse. Notice the word “for” (γὰρ.) This tells us that what follows is the ground of this statement.
Why was it necessary that the Word of God be spoken first to the Jews? Because “the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’.”
Notice that the Lord has commanded “us.” Who is the “us”? Not just Paul and Barnabas, but the Jews. This is made clear by the passage from which Paul is quoting.
Paul is quoting here from the Second Servant Song in Isaiah 49:5-6…
Isaiah 49:5-6 (ESV) – 5 And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
This is speaking of the Servant of the Lord, who is identified in Luke 2:32 as Jesus. Notice what He will do. He will reconcile the Jewish people to God. But that isn’t all. In fact, that is “too light a thing” for Him to do. It isn’t big enough. His ministry will be much bigger than this. He will not only bring salvation to the Jews, but He will also be a light to the nations, meaning the Gentiles. He will bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
As I said, Luke 2:32 makes it clear that this is referring to Jesus in His role as the Servant of the Lord, but if we go back just 2 verses to Isaiah 49:3, then we see that the Servant of the Lord is identified as Israel.
So what is the point of all this? Jesus came to reconcile sinful Jewish men and women to God through His life, death and resurrection. But that isn’t all. That would be too small a thing for Him to do. He would also reconcile the Gentiles to God and He would do so through reconciled Jews (see F.F. Bruce, NICNT, 265-267.)
Paul and Barnabas went first to those who were to fulfill this role… the Jews… but…they thrust the gospel aside and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.
Notice very carefully what Paul says here. They are responsible for rejecting the gospel. They thrust it aside and, by doing so, they are passing judgment on themselves. They are making a decision which declares them to be unworthy of eternal life.
Scripture is clear that this is our natural state. Apart from the work of God, every human being will reject Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel. That is because we are thoroughly and completely contaminated by sin…
Romans 3:10-11 (ESV) – 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.
No one seeks for God. No one. Even though God’s attributes and power are clearly seen in creation, we willfully choose to suppress the knowledge of God and worship things in creation rather than God, our Creator (Rom 1:20-23.)
This describes all human beings in our natural state. We are innately sinful and idolatrous and we willfully choose not to seek after God. And in doing so, we judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life with God.
This is what we see going on here… the natural rejection of the gospel by sinful men and women.
Since the Jews rejected this message and the ministry which was rightfully theirs, Paul and Barnabas, taking on the ministry of the Servant of the Lord, they turn to the Gentiles. They turn to those who are receptive to the gospel. They become a light to the nations, proclaiming to them the gospel, so that they might be saved.
This leads to the third response to the gospel here in the text… some receive the gospel and are saved. “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord…” (Acts 13:48.)
We should remember that the Gentiles were excluded from the people of God and the worship of God. Even those who were God-fearers were not really part of the people of God. They were outsiders… strangers and aliens to the promise of God (Eph 2:11-12.) But now they are welcome to come to God through Jesus Christ and enjoy the full privileges of being His people.
No wonder they rejoiced and gloried in the gospel.
We are told here that they “believed.” Whereas many of the Jews rejected the gospel, scoffing at the Messiah and blaspheming God, these Gentiles believed.
Doesn’t this contradict what I just said about human beings being innately sinful and not seeking after God?
What makes the difference between these believing Gentiles and the unbelieving Jews?
These Gentiles who believed were “appointed to eternal life.” The word translated “appointed” is τάσσω (pronounced tassō) and it means to be “ordained” or to be “destined” for something. It is a perfect passive participle in the Greek, which means that it was something which happened in the past but has continuing results (perfect tense.) Also, it is something which was done to them (passive verb.) In other words, they didn’t appoint themselves. In other words, sometime in the past, they were appointed or destined by someone to eternal life.
Who appointed them to believe and receive eternal life? God did…
Compare this to Ephesians 1:3-6…
Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV) – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
It is only because God in His sovereignty chooses some for salvation that anyone is saved. He chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world and, at the right time, through the hearing of the gospel, He causes His people to be born again (I Pet 1:23, James 1:18), granting us repentance (Acts 11:18) and faith (Eph 2:8), so that we can be saved.
This sovereign choice of God makes all the difference in the world…and all the difference in eternity. It determines who will accept the message of the gospel and be saved.
Some people will say this is unfair. After all, if God appoints some to believe and be saved and not others, than isn’t He playing favorites?
That is God’s prerogative if He so desires. He is the Potter and we are the clay and He can do as He sees fit with His people (Rom 9:19-23.)
But this question is ultimately missing the point. This question seems to picture God standing at the gates of heaven and pushing away those who are seeking to enter into His presence. That is not the case at all. There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who understand. There is none who seek after God (Rom 3:10-11.) We are all naturally running away from God as fast as we can. Naturally, we all choose to reject the gospel and be damned to hell forever. If left to ourselves, we would all judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life. But God graciously reaches out and seizes hold of some, drawing them to Himself and granting us eternal salvation (Jn 6:44.) If God didn’t do this… then no one would be saved…
God isn’t unfair. God is gracious.
If God treated us fairly, then all would be damned to hell. But God is gracious and saves some… those whom He has appointed to salvation according to His own sovereign will.
This is cause for rejoicing and those who are converted will rejoice and glory in the gospel… not just to themselves… but before the watching eyes of the world.
That is what we see going on here… “The Word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region” (Acts 13:49.)
Who was doing the spreading of the gospel? Those who believed and were saved.
A great thing is happening here. The gospel is going forth boldly and powerfully. But it seems like this only served to throw more fuel on the fire of the Jew’s jealousy, for they stirred up the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city against Paul and Barnabas. These were important Gentiles in the city. Most commentators believe that the women described here were Gentile God-fearers and the men were their husbands. These men were leaders in this region. They are powerful men and they began to persecute Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of the area.
As a result, Paul and Barnabas traveled down the road to Iconium to continue their ministry there. But as they leave, they shook the dust off their feet. This was a symbolic way of saying this city was unclean and bound for destruction. In fact, it is a way of saying that this city is so unclean that they didn’t even want the dust from the city’s streets to cling to their shoes.
We don’t know if these new Christians in Pisidia Antioch were persecuted after Paul and Barnabas left. But their teachers were thrust away from them. Yet God did not leave them as orphans. They were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit dwelt within them, filling them with joy even in the midst of persecution.
What do we learn from this passage?
There are three common responses when the gospel is preached:
1) Some will reject the message…
2) Some will want to hear more…
3) And some will be saved…
God is the One who determines how people respond to the gospel. Only those who are appointed by God to believe in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life will be saved.
This leads us to an important question. If God has already in eternity past appointed those who will be saved, then why do we share the gospel?
The simple answer is because God has commanded us to (Matt 28:18-20.) But we also preach the gospel, because God works through means to call sinners to salvation. He works through the proclamation of the gospel to call those who are His to Himself.
This is a privilege which God has given to His people, that we might take part in the saving work of Jesus Christ through proclaiming the gospel. Bringing salvation to the nations is His ministry… He is the Servant of the Lord… but through our relationship with Him, we are the means by which He brings light to the very ends of the earth.
Are you a Christian?
Then be a light to the world. Preach the gospel.
It won’t be easy. You will be persecuted. You probably won’t get run out of town… you might… but probably not… but you will likely be mocked and scorned.
Don’t let that stop you. Speak out boldly about Jesus… no matter what occurs…
If you are not a Christian then I would warn you… don’t scoff at the gospel…
To reject the gospel is to blaspheme God… And there is no salvation for those who those who reject Jesus Christ.
May 19, 2008
The following is a sermon preached at Maranatha Baptist Church in the morning service on May 18, 2008:
What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Liberal theologians will tell us that the gospel is doing good works. It is giving a cup of cold water to a little one in need.
Is this the gospel? No. This is an outworking of the gospel in the life of the believer, but it is not in and of itself the gospel.
Liberation theology… which is popular in certain developing countries and among certain minority groups in our culture… teaches that the gospel is a message of liberation from oppression. Jesus came to liberate the downcast and oppressed. In many ways, Jesus is seen as a political Savior for those who are mistreated and abused.
Again, this is an outworking of the gospel. God is no respecter of persons. All men and women are equal in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28), but this is not the gospel.
I often hear people today say that the gospel is the change which Jesus has brought about in their life. They “surrendered all” to Him and He fixed their life. He healed their family… removed their addictions… gave them happiness and success.
Again, this is a result of the gospel in the life of the Christian, but it is not the gospel itself.
What is the gospel?
The gospel is the objective action of God within human history to bring salvation to sinful men and women through the work of Jesus Christ… who lived that we might be righteous before God… who died to forgive our sins… and who rose again that we might have victory over sin and death.
The gospel is literally “good news.” It is an announcement that God has done something to save sinful people like us. The gospel is the good news of what God has done… outside of us… for us.
The apostle Paul makes this point very clearly in his sermon at Pisidian Antioch, found in Acts 13:13-41, where he preaches the gospel… which he calls “this message of salvation”… to a group of unbelievers. (I would recommend reading this passage of Scripture before continuing. I will be referring specifically to the text as translated by the English Standard Version.)
This sermon takes place during Paul and Barnabas’ 1st missionary journey. They have finished a successful preaching tour across Cyprus, which resulted in the conversion of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (see Acts 13:1-13.) Now they have sailed the city of Perga on the mainland of Asia Minor, before traveling north to the city of Pisidian Antioch, in the region of Phrygia / Galatia.
It was at this time that John Mark left Barnabas and Saul and returned to Jerusalem. Luke (the author of Acts) does not provide us with many details, but it is clear that Paul considered Mark leaving as an act of desertion (Acts 15:38.) We will deal with this in greater detail when we come to Acts 15:36-41.
In the city of Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas followed their typical model of ministry and began by going to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue. A typical 1st century synagogue service would include a reciting of the Shema and the Sh’moneh esrei (“The Eighteen Benedictions”… formal Jewish prayers which recounted the history of Israel and petitioned God to fulfill His promise to send the Messiah), a reading from the Law (i.e. the Pentateuch) and a reading from the Prophets, followed by a word of exhortation (much like a modern sermon) from any qualified male in attendance (New Bible Dictionary, “Synagogue.”)
After the reading of the Law and Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue asked if Paul or Barnabas had a word of exhortation for the people.
Paul’s sermon can be divided into three basic points:
1) Recounting the history of Israel and the promises of God – Acts 13:16-25
2) Explained how these promises have been fulfilled in Jesus – Acts 13:26-37
3) Call to respond to this message of salvation – Acts 13:38-41
Paul begins by walking through the history of Israel, but he is doing more than giving them a history lesson. H is using the history of Israel as a means of showing them the work of God in human history on behalf of His people…
1) God chose the fathers (meaning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.)
God, in His sovereign grace, had chosen the patriarchs and called them to Himself and made explicit promises to them.
A good summary of these promises is found in Genesis 22:17-18…
Genesis 22:17-18 (ESV) – 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
In this passage, God is promising Abraham that He will give him many descendants and they will be victorious over their enemies. Also, through Abraham’s offspring would come a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
The history of Israel is a description of how God has fulfilled these promises…
2) God made Israel a great nation while they were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
He caused them to multiply greatly and blessed them immensely, even though they were strangers and aliens in the land of Egypt. The Egyptians, however, grew jealous and oppressed the Israelites.
3) God led them out of bondage with an uplifted arm.
This is a reference to the Exodus, when God demonstrated His power and absolute superiority over the false gods of the Egyptians through bring plague after plague upon the Egyptians, even striking down their firstborn and destroying their army at the Red Sea.
God delivered Israel with a mighty display of His power, yet the people rebelled against Him.
4) Paul says that God had to “put up” with them in the wilderness.
They complained about their circumstances. They failed to trust in the God who had delivered them. They fell into immorality and idolatry. Yet God was longsuffering with them. Finally, He disciplined this first generation. They all died in the wilderness, but He fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs by bringing the next generation into the land of promise.
5) God destroyed seven nations and gave the Israelites the land of Canaan as an inheritance.
Scripture tells us that God destroyed the nations in Canaan because of their wickedness (Deut 9:4-5.)
God destroyed the Canaanites and gave their land to the Israelites as an inheritance. This is a display of God’s grace. They did not earn the land… no one earns their inheritance… it was given to them freely by the God in order to fulfill His promises.
6) After God delivered them into the land of promise, He gave them leaders to guide them and deliver them.
God gave them judges and kings, culminating in David, a man after God’s own heart, a man who would do the will of God.
This doesn’t mean that David was perfect, but He was a man who knew God and sought to honor Him.
God made additional promises to David, just as He had the patriarchs before Him. These promises are recorded for us in II Samuel 7…
2 Samuel 7:8-14a (ESV) – 8 Now, therefore, thus you (i.e. the prophet Nathan) shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, 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. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son…”
Notice the repetition of the word “I” in this passage. Who is doing the work? God is. God made promises that He would act on behalf of David and His people. He promised a place of safety and peace for His people and He promised that David’s descendant would build a house for God’s name.
In part this was fulfilled through Solomon when he built the temple in Jerusalem. But that temple did not endure forever. The implication of this promise is that the kingdom established by this descendant and the house He built for God would remain forever. Therefore, it cannot be ultimately fulfilled in Solomon. This is a reference to Jesus Christ, the descendant of David, who would build an eternal house for God… an eternal temple made up of living stones… of Christians… founded upon the proclamation of the apostles and prophets… with Jesus Christ Himself as the Chief Cornerstone (Eph 2:19-22, I Pet 2:4-5.)
God promised David, just like He had promised the patriarchs, that He would take action on His behalf, and Paul announces to all those present that these promises have been fulfilled in Jesus.
7) “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as He promised” (Acts 13:23.)
Paul is pointing to Jesus as the fulfillment of all these promises and he is not alone in seeing things this way. John the Baptist, whom, for the most part, the Israelites believed was indeed a prophet of God (Lk 20:1-8) agreed with Paul’s assessment. He called the people of Israel to repent and turn to God because the Messiah was coming… a Messiah so great and exalted, that John… even though he was God’s anointed prophet… would not be worthy to even untie his shoe laces.
Notice the emphasis on God in this text. This is critical. God is the subject of at least 11 verbs in this paragraph. God is the One who is doing things. God is the One who making promises and fulfilling promises.
In this brief summary of the history of Israel, Paul has quite systematically described for us the character and work of God:
1) God is sovereign in whom He chooses as His people…
2) God is gracious and merciful in blessing those who have nothing to give Him in return…
3) God is patient in putting up with us in our sin…
4) He is just in wiping out those who reject Him (i.e. the Canaanites, the 1st generation of Israelites in the wilderness and Saul)…
5) He is present and active in leading and guiding His people…
6) God is a God who is powerful in providing salvation for His people…
Paul describes God as a God who makes promises and fulfills them.
Notice that all of these works of God and all these promises converge in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the good news that God has taken action in human history and all this action finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. All of human history points to Him… either forward to Him in terms of promise… or back to Him in terms of what He has done.
In the first part of his sermon, Paul has pointed out the promises which God made in the past, but now he begins pointing back to the completed work of Jesus Christ.
“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation” (Acts 13:26.)
What is “the message of this salvation”? It is the gospel and Paul says that the gospel is “to us.”
Notice that this message of salvation is not just to Jews. It is to “sons of the family of Abraham” (i.e. ethnic Jews) and to “those among you who fear God” (i.e. Gentile God-fearers.) This message of salvation is for Jew and Gentile alike. God is no Respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35.)
What is this message of salvation? Paul explains it in 4 parts…
1) Jesus died…
The people of Jerusalem and the Jewish religious leaders didn’t recognize their Messiah when He came to them. Despite the fact that they heard the Old Testament read every week in the synagogue, they didn’t recognize God’s chosen Savior when He came. They rejected Him and even though they could find nothing wrong in Him, they hated Him and persuaded Pilate to put to Him death.
Paul is very specific. They hung Him on a tree. This is very significant, because every devout Jew knew what that meant. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says that any man hung on a tree is a criminal who is cursed by God.
Jesus had done no wrong. He had never sinned. He always did what was right in the sight of the Father. Yet in His death… He was cursed by God.
Paul is explicitly clear here that this was not an accident. This was not a failure on Jesus’ part. This was all part of God’s plan. It was all according to God’s definite plan and foreknowledge that Jesus be put to death upon the cross (Acts 2:22-23, 4:27-28.) Paul emphasizes this by stating that the people of Jerusalem and the religious leaders “fulfilled them”… meaning that they fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures.
The death of Jesus was part of God’s plan. It was pre-figured in the Old Testament sacrificial system… for example, in the Passover, where a spotless lamb would die in the place of sinful men and women.
It was explicitly foretold 700 years in advance in passages like Isaiah 53…
Isaiah 53:4-11 (ESV) – 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
They killed Him, then in Paul’s second point…
2) He was buried in a tomb.
Those who deny the resurrection will sometimes claim that Jesus did not die on the cross, but that He merely passed out, was taken down from the cross and healed naturally from His wounds (i.e. the “Swoon Theory.”)
But Paul makes it clear that this was not the case. He didn’t just pass out on the cross. He died and was buried in a tomb, just as had been prophesied by Isaiah (Is 53:9.) He was dead and no one expected Him to come back.
3) But God raised Him from the dead…
In verse 33… Paul says that this is proof that Jesus is the Son of God. He quotes from Psalm 2 and applies this to Jesus, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.”
This is not a reference to the birth of Jesus or the incarnation. This speaks of the unique relationship which Jesus has with the Father. He alone is the only begotten Son of God and the resurrection proves this.
This is elaborated further in verses 35-37 when Paul says that because Jesus is God’s Holy One… the only begotten Son of God… and God would not let Him see corruption. He contrasts Jesus with David. David was anointed by God, but he was not God’s “Holy One.” He died and decomposed in the grave. But not Jesus. He never saw decay, because God raised Him from the dead.
Paul makes it clear that this is not a cleverly devised myth or fairy tale, because…
4) Jesus was seen by His followers after the resurrection…
In I Corinthians 15… Paul gives a long list of those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord Jesus…
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV) – 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
There were hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. This was a confirmed fact. God raised Jesus from the dead.
This is the gospel. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. This is “the message of this salvation.”
God has fulfilled His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David in Jesus… whom He raised from the dead. As a result of this, verse 34 tells us that God “will give you (plural) the holy and sure blessings of David.”
Paul is quoting from Isaiah 55:3, where God promises to apply the everlasting covenant which He made with David “to you” (plural), meaning to all His people.
What is the eternal covenant or blessings which He promised to David?
We saw this earlier in the promise made to David in II Samuel 7. God will give His people a place of peace and security in His kingdom under the rule of His King… the Messiah.
This promise is said to be “holy”, meaning it is for God’s purposes and for God’s glory. It is also said to be “sure.” It is steadfast… absolutely trustworthy… because God has raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection is proof that God will indeed fulfill His promises of salvation to His people forevermore.
This is good news… but Paul insists that is not enough to simply know this information. One must respond to this message of salvation.
Acts 13:38-41 (ESV) – 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: 41 “ ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’ ”
Paul promises two things here to those who respond to this good news…
First… in Jesus there is forgiveness of sins…
Scripture is abundantly clear that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.) This is true of all human beings. No matter who we are, we are all sinners. None of us love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Matt 22:37.) None of us consistently love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves (Matt 22:39.) We have all slandered others. We have told lies. We have had lustful thoughts. We are all sinners.
God is a holy and just God, therefore He must punish sin. And the consequence for sin is death (Rom 6:23.) This refers not only to physical death, but also to spiritual death, which is being separated from God for all eternity and suffering forever in torment for our sin.
This is what we all deserve. But God has provided a means of forgiveness for us in Jesus Christ.
Jesus died for a purpose. He died for our sins. He bore the punishment we deserve when He was cursed by God on the cross. Through faith in Him, the slate is wiped clean and our sins are pardoned in full. They are gone forever.
But this is just the beginning of the blessings which are ours in Christ Jesus. Through Him we are “freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
I really don’t like this translation and the NASB isn’t any better. But the NKJV translates this verse more literally… “…by Him everyone who believes is justified (δικαιόω, pronounced dikaioo) from all things from which you could not be justified (δικαιόω, pronounced dikaioo) by the law of Moses.” (ἀπὸ πάντων ὧν οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε ἐν νόμῳ Μωϋσέως δικαιωθῆναι, ἐν τούτῳ πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων δικαιοῦται).
In Jesus, God offers us more than just the forgiveness of sins, He offers us justification. To be justified means to be declared righteous by God. You see, to enter into God’s presence, it is not enough that we are forgiven for sin. Being forgiven means we don’t deserve judgment, but it does not mean that we deserve the blessing of entering into God’s presence. The only way to enter into His presence is to be right and just in every way.
This requires perfection. Not just the lack of sin, but the perfect accomplishment of all that is right in God’s sight. No one has this in and of ourselves. Only Jesus is perfectly righteous. Jesus died to save us from our sin, but He also lived a sinless and perfect life so that He could freely give His righteousness to us.
Paul emphasizes here that the Law of Moses can’t save anyone. No one can keep the Law… no one can be “good enough”… the Law was given to show us our need of a Savior (Rom 3:20.)
But God has done what we could never do. That is Paul’s whole point in this entire sermon. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary to save us from our sin.
All that is demanded of us is faith. Forgiveness and justification and all the other gifts and blessings that are ours in Christ are received through believing in Jesus (verse 39.)
Believing in Jesus means that, first of all, we must know the gospel message. We must know who Jesus is and what He has done.
But knowing the facts is not enough to save us. We must actively trust in Him. We must accept the fact that we are sinners and that nothing we do can get us to God. We must admit that we are sinners and turn from our sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone to save us.
Notice that Paul is again very explicit that God is no respecter of persons. “Everyone who believes” in Jesus is forgiven and justified. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done, there is forgiveness and justification to be found in Jesus.
No one can be good enough to get to God on their own.
Paul’s hearers couldn’t. They could go to the synagogue on the Sabbath and do their best to keep the Mosaic Law and they would still fall short.
We are no different. No one can forgive themselves. No one can make themselves righteous in the sight of God. We must trust in God who has fulfilled His promise in Jesus Christ to provide a Savior… or we will perish in judgment forever.
This is nothing to take lightly. This is of the utmost importance. In verse 41, Paul warns them not to scoff at this. He warns them not to be amazed and think this is too good to be true. Those who scoff at the gospel will perish. They will face the judgment of God forever and ever for their sin. Only those who trust in Jesus Christ will be saved.
Not everyone took him seriously this day. There were many who scoffed at the message. But some believed and were saved. Their sins were forgiven, they were declared righteous in the sight of God and they received the holy and sure blessings of David.
How about you?
What is your response to the gospel?
Do you scoff at the gospel message?
You should realize that, when you scoff at the gospel, you are really scoffing at God and His Son, Jesus Christ. And there is no salvation for those who scoff at the God of salvation.
Do you know what the gospel is?
The gospel is the objective action of God within human history to bring salvation to sinful men and women through the work of Jesus Christ… who lived that we might be righteous before God… who died to forgive our sins… and who rose again that we might have victory over sin and death.
The gospel is more than a philosophy of religion.
The gospel is more than a way of life.
The gospel is more than the change which God has produced in us.
No… the gospel is the good news that God in Christ Jesus has done something to save us from our sin.
Suggestions for Application:
1) Know the gospel. Recognize that all events in human history either point forward in promise to Jesus or look back to the work which He has done to save sinners.
2) Believe the gospel. The gospel is more than just facts. It is a message which demands a response. Don’t take it lightly. Don’t scoff at it. Repent of your sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone to save you from the judgment to come.
3) Preach the gospel. Follow Paul’s example and proclaim the good news of what Jesus has done wherever God might send you. Announce this good news to the world and may many be saved!
May 17, 2008
It is popular today to argue that there cannot be only one way to God. However, Scripture says otherwise. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6.)
There is a great post by Justin Taylor on this topic over at the New Attitude website (you can find it here http://newattitude.org/articles/one_more_way_to_god_than_i_deserve .) Be sure to watch the 7-minute video clip of R.C. Sproul discussing this topic at the end…
Solus Christus (“Christ alone”)!!!
May 12, 2008
Following is a manuscript of the sermon preached at Maranatha Baptist Church on Sunday morning, May 11, 2008:
We live in an increasingly “spiritual” culture. Everywhere we look… people are talking about “being spiritual”… whatever that means. This week I read an article about spirituality (I can’t remember where… sorry!) in which a woman described herself as “very spiritual.” When asked how she expresses her spirituality, she said that she runs 5 miles a day and recycles.
Is this “being spiritual”?
There are a lot of people out there claiming to be spiritual and there are a lot of people trying to tell us how to be spiritual and many of their teachings are diametrically opposed to Scripture. Everywhere we look today, we see false teachers who are doing their best to turn people away from the truth of God as described in the Bible.
Everywhere we look there are prophets of secular humanism. This is the worldview which rests on Darwinism and modern social-psychology. Some of its basic tenets are:
1) Human beings are not created… we evolved.
2) There is no God… we are an accident of nature…
3) If there is a “god” at all… it is nature, since we sprang forth spontaneously and randomly from nature. Hence the almost religious adherence to environmentalism today.
4) People are basically good…and we are getting better… after all, that is what evolution is all about. We are improving. We are becoming better… stronger… faster… smarter…
5) Since there is no God, there is no absolute right and wrong. Therefore, we can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong…
6) There is no afterlife since human beings are nothing more than a cosmic accident. Therefore you should live for the moment. Go for the gusto! Be all that you can be! Just do it! Get all you can while you can, because, in the end, he who dies with the most toys wins.
As popular as this worldview is, it seems to be fading somewhat, because if you follow it through to its natural conclusion, then life is pretty meaningless. Therefore we see more and more people seeking their understanding of ultimate truth elsewhere.
Many people are finding their meaning in life in new age spirituality. We have seen an incredible rise in the popularity of new age spirituality since the 1960’s. Technically this is a worldview called Monism or Pantheism, both of which encapsulate the idea that all is one. Everything in the universe is connected to everything else. There is one infinite source of energy in the universe and everything is bound up in it. A popular description of this worldview is summarized by the Jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars movies when he says, “(The force is) an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.“
It is amazing how popular this belief is today. Everyone from the Dalai Lama to the Yin/Yang wearing teenager down the street holds to this worldview… often inconsistently… but they are espousing it nonetheless.
Perhaps the most vocal advocate of this recently has been Oprah Winfrey. If you haven’t already heard, she has now started her own weekly classes on spirituality where she appears alongside Eckhart Tolle, teaching through his book, “A New Earth.” You can view these courses online and many, many people are. The teaching advocated in these classes is really nothing new. It is simply the same old new age spirituality.
Here are a few of Oprah’s explicit beliefs:
1) She explicitly denies the biblical understanding of God and Jesus Christ.
2) She rejects the notion that there is only one way to God.
3) She denies the biblical understanding of sin.
(Note: You can read an excellent review of these courses from a biblical worldview by Don Whitney at The Center for Biblical Spirituality website. It can be found here http://www.biblicalspirituality.org/newearth.html .)
Make no mistake about it; Oprah has a lot of converts. In a November 2005 poll conducted by Beliefnet.com… 33 percent of 6,600 respondents said that Oprah has had “a more profound impact” on their spiritual lives than their pastors. (Cited by Mark Driscoll in a post entitled “Is Oprah a Cult Leader.” You can find the whole post here http://theresurgence.com/md_blog_2006-05-26_is_oprah_a_cult_leader .)
This is real. False teachers are everywhere. Whether it is the syncretistic blending of secular humanism and new age spirituality that we find in “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne (i.e. tap into the energy of the universe to draw to yourself everything you want in the here and now) or the reinvention of the historical Jesus in “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown, false teachers are everywhere.
We see numerous warnings against false teachers in Scripture:
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV) – 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
1 John 4:1 (ESV) – 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 Peter 2:1-2 (ESV) – 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
Matthew 7:15-16 (ESV) – 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
False teachers abound in the world in which we live. And we should not kid ourselves; these false teachers are not harmless. They are leading people by the hand into the pits of hell. They are actively opposing the work which God has given us to do in proclaiming to the gospel to sinners.
How does this affect our efforts at evangelism?
In Acts 13:1-12, we see how Paul and Barnabas dealt with false teachers…
Acts 13:1-12 (ESV) – 1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
There are three aspects of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas here which I think are important…
1) They engaged in an empowered ministry…
2) They engaged in an evangelistic ministry…
3) They engaged in an exposing ministry…
One of the most striking aspects of this passage is the centrality of the Holy Spirit in everything which is taking place. Beginning in verse 2, we see that:
1) It is the Holy Spirit Who begins this mission. He communicates with the church leaders in Antioch and directs them to begin this missionary work.
2) The Holy Spirit appoints Barnabas and Saul to this ministry. Notice that they are to be set apart “to Me”. They are to be set apart to the Holy Spirit to do His work of spreading the gospel throughout the earth.
In verse 4, Paul and Barnabas are sent out by the Holy Spirit and the implication is that He led them from Antioch… to Seleucia… to Cyprus and the port-city of Salamis. This is where their missionary efforts began in earnest.
All of this is guided by the Holy Spirit. He is leading them. He is guiding them. It is His ministry and He is working through them to accomplish it.
The overarching theme of the book of Acts seems to be the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through the Church of Jesus Christ. In Acts 1:1, Luke says, “In my first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…” The implication is that Jesus started something that is not yet finished.
Now I want to be clear about something. Jesus’ work in providing salvation for His people is absolutely complete. When He died on the cross, He cried out, “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30)… and it is finished. There is nothing left to be done in order to save us from our sins. Jesus lived a righteous life on our behalf to merit eternal life for us. Jesus died on the cross, suffering the punishment for our sins once for all. The work of salvation is complete.
But the work of announcing this good news is not. Jesus began to preach the gospel, but His earthly ministry never took Him beyond the boundaries of Palestine. His work is being continued today by His Spirit, through His people.
We would do well to remember this. As we go out to share the gospel… whether it is on the other side of the world or the other side of the street… we are taking part in His work. We must rely upon the Holy Spirit to apply the finished work of Christ to lost sinners through the hearing of the gospel message. And when some are saved… we must give Him all the credit and glory.
Paul and Barnabas were engaged in an empowered ministry of evangelism…“When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews…”
This was Paul’s normal procedure when he came into a new city. We will see it over and over again in the book of Acts. He would typically go into the synagogue and take advantage of the opportunity which was often granted to him to preach the gospel to his Jewish brethren.
What was the message that they preached? We aren’t told the details of their preaching in this passage, but an analysis of Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts tells us that they were all pretty much the same. Paul’s preaching always centered on the same basic elements:
1) When he spoke to Jews… he would begin with the Old Testament. He would talk about God and remind his hearers of the great God who created all things, particularly how God had “created” Israel. Then he would remind them of the promises from long past that God would send a Messiah… a Savior and King… to save sinful men and women from sin.
2) Then he would talk about Jesus and point out how He is the fulfillment of these Old Testament promises. He would typically emphasize Jesus’ sinless life (active obedience) and His substitutionary death on behalf of sinners (passive obedience.)
3) Then he would call men and women to respond to this message in repentance and faith in order to be saved from the wrath of God to come.
This is the message of the gospel and this was the message that Paul always preached (I Cor 2:2.) There is no doubt that this is the message Paul and Barnabas preached in Cyprus, from Salamis all across the island until they reached the capital city of Paphos.
What were the results of this preaching? Were a lot of people saved? Were they laughed out of town? We can’t know for sure, but it seems that they must have made quite a splash on the island of Cyprus (no pun intended), because they drew the attention of the proconsul of the island, a man named Sergius Paulus. That is no small feat. He was a very important man. He was the governor of the entire region. Despite the fact that there were only three of them (Paul, Barnabas and John Mark), they managed to draw the attention of the most important political figure on the island. He had heard something of the message they were preaching and he wanted to hear more. So he summons them to appear before him so that he can learn more about this good news they are proclaiming.
It is important for us to note that their ministry was founded upon the preaching of the gospel. In a moment, we will see them dealing with the opposition of false teachers, but their ministry was not primarily a ministry of pointing out error. Foundationally, their ministry was built upon preaching the gospel.
The same should be said of us. The proclamation of the gospel is the foundation upon which we build our ministries. The gospel alone is “of first importance” (I Cor 15:3) in the Christian life and ministry. Every one of us, whoever we are, is called to proclaim the gospel and trust in the power of God in the gospel to save sinners. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom 1:16.) We must believe this… and build our lives and ministries upon that which is powerful to save us and those we minister to.
The gospel is powerful and when it is preached, we should expect that there will be a response, for there always is. Some people will be saved… some will want to hear more… but there will be some who oppose the message of the gospel. That is what we in verses 6-12, as Paul and Barnabas engage in a ministry of exposing false teachers.
Not only did their preaching of the gospel bring them to attention of the proconsul, but it also caused them to pop up on the radar screen of a man named Bar-Jesus.
This man Bar-Jesus… or Elymas as he is called in verse 8… is a very interesting individual:
1) We are told that he was a magician or sorcerer. Literally he was a μάγος which was originally a term used to refer to Persian fire priests. They were men who engaged in astrology and necromancy… speaking with the dead… in order to gain special knowledge or power (Ben Witherington, “The Acts of the Apostles”, 396.) He was explicitly pagan in his spirituality.
2) But at the same time… he is called a Jewish false prophet. A prophet is one who receives direct revelation from God. But notice that he is specifically a “Jewish” false prophet. This does more than tell us his ethnicity. It tells us the type of false prophet he was. He was a “Jewish” false prophet, meaning that he claimed to have direct revelation from the God of the Jews.
What we see here is a man involved in a very syncretistic form of religion. Syncretism is a blending together of different elements from differing religions or worldviews. What we have here is a little bit of Persian spirituality and a little bit of Jewish religion…all rolled into one.
We see this all around us today. People take a little of this and a little of that and mash it all together and call “my spirituality”…
Let me give you a couple of examples…
1) We see this in people who call themselves Christians and affirm the Bible has truth in it, but find their preferred expression of spirituality through Eastern spiritual practices like transcendental meditation.
2) We see this in people like Oprah… who will quote Jesus as a good teacher… but deny that He is the unique and eternal Son of God. This is hard to reconcile with the biblical account of Jesus. Jesus stated quite clearly that He is the unique and only Son of God. He stated “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father, but by Me” (Jn 14:6.) If He was wrong about this… that He is the only way to God… then how can He be a good teacher? He was either insane… or a liar… both of which disqualify Him as a good teacher. You can’t have it both ways…
This is syncretism… a blending together of differing religious views… and that is exactly what this man Bar-Jesus was doing. He is a Jewish false prophet who engages in the practices of Persian fire priests. He studies the stars and communicates with the dead and, apparently, he claimed to communicate with the living and true God of the Jews as well. All this is rolled into one.
He must have been fairly successful and popular, because here we see that he was “with the proconsul.” This probably means that he was an advisor to governor. He was a man of some importance.
But Paul and Barnabas are a threat to him. His spirituality and theirs are mutually exclusive. So he was actively opposing them. Specifically we are told that he was attempting “to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” The word translated “turn away” is διαστρέφω (pronounced diastrepho in the Greek) and it means to distort or to pervert something (BDAG, διαστρέφω.) He was doing all that he could to continuously distort the thinking of the proconsul so that he would not accept the message of the gospel. He was twisting the proconsul this way and that so that he would not come to a knowledge of the truth.
Paul talks about these kind of men in II Timothy 3, where, first, he describes the nature of the world (i.e. people are lovers of self… lovers of money… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God), then he describes the character of those who lead these people astray…
2 Timothy 3:6-9 (ESV) – 6 For among them (i.e. worldly people) are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
Here Paul is speaking of men like Bar-Jesus. They creep in unsuspecting and take advantage of those who are weak-willed and weak in their understanding and doctrine. They are constantly teaching these unsuspecting people their forms of spirituality, but it is a spirituality which never leads them to the truth. In fact, the Greek implies that those who imbibe too much of this teaching will never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
These false teachers are like Jannes and Jambres, which are the traditional names given to the priests in Egypt who opposed Moses. If you remember the Exodus account, the Egyptian priests were able to imitate some of miracles which God performed through Moses (Exodus 7-8.) These false teachers are like them. They seem powerful and knowledgeable, but they are corrupted in mind and disqualified in regards to the faith. And Paul says that they will not get far…
This man, Bar-Jesus, like Jannes and Jambres and the false teachers described here, was trying to twist and distort the proconsul’s understanding of truth so that he would never come to a knowledge of the gospel.
But the Holy Spirit has other plans. Remember this is His mission. He is the One who began it and He is the One who has appointed these messengers. And here we see that He is the One who empowers His messengers to overcome false teachers.
Paul opposes this false teacher boldly and it is very instructive to see how he does it here…
1) Notice that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” He is guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit in this. It is the will of the Holy Spirit to engage this false teacher.
Christians are often accused of being judgmental if they point out the error of false teachers. However, here we see that it is the will of God for Paul to point out this false teacher. Paul is exposing this false teacher under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2) He publically identifies this man as a false teacher… “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”
Paul doesn’t pull any punches here. He “calls it like it is.” Bar-Jesus “an enemy of all righteousness”… a personal opponent (ἐχθρός) of all that is right. He is full of all deceit and villainy. Notice that he is not just misguided. He isn’t a sheep being led astray. No. He is a false shepherd, full of all deceit and villainy. Ultimately… he is a son of the devil. His name means something like “son of the God of salvation”, but, in actuality, he is a son of the devil.
In the end, Bar-Jesus is not the opponent they are facing here. The devil is. The devil is the one behind this false teacher and ultimately he is behind all false teaching (I Tim 4:1-2.) Bar-Jesus is just the human instrument which the devil is using to oppose the spread of the gospel.
3) The third thing Paul does is point out specifically what this false teacher is doing wrong… he is “making crooked the straight paths of the Lord.”
Paul seems to be referring to Isaiah 40:3 (ESV) – 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. In the gospel accounts (Mk 1:2-5), we see that this was fulfilled in the person and ministry of John the Baptist, who announced the coming of the Messiah and called men and women to repent and turn to God in preparation for the Messiah.
Bar-Jesus is doing the opposite of what John the Baptist did. Rather than preparing the way for the gospel, he is making crooked the straight ways of the Lord. He was putting as many obstacles in the path of the gospel as he could. He was obscuring the truth. He was twisting the truth and the minds of his hearers so that they would not believe.
4) Fourth… Paul calls him to repent…“…Will you not stop making crooked the straight ways of the Lord?”
Paul calls him to stop this wickedness and turn away from this sin (The same thing can be seen when Peter confronted the magician Simon in Samaria. He pointed out his sinfulness and called him to repent (Acts 8:22-23.))
5) Fifthly… Paul tells him of judgment to come…
He will be blinded by God for his sin. This may seem a little harsh to some, but in Deuteronomy 13, the punishment for being a false prophet is death by stoning. In many ways, Bar-Jesus is getting off easy. Also notice that Paul says he will be blinded “for a time.” This might imply that this blindness will be only temporary. God is being gracious with Bar-Jesus by not requiring his life of him immediately. But if he would not repent, there would be an even greater punishment to come…
Revelation 21:8 (ESV) – 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
The hand of God was against Bar-Jesus and this opposition to the gospel is crushed.
In II Timothy 3:9, speaking about false teachers, Paul said, “…they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.” The folly of Bar-Jesus was made plain to all… perhaps most of all to the proconsul, Sergius Paulus.
“Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” Don’t miss what is said here. The judgment of God upon Bar-Jesus had an effect on the proconsul… but he was also amazed by the “teaching / doctrine (διδαχή) of the Lord.” It was through both the proclamation of the gospel and the exposing of this false teacher that God sovereignly drew this man to Himself in salvation. In this case, the result of preaching the gospel and refuting the heresy of false teachers is that people were saved.
There are false teachers all around us today; men and women seeking “to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord.”
What do we do about this?
We have a good model presented for us here…
1) First and foremost… we keep proclaiming the truth. There is no greater antidote to falsehood than the truth. As Christians, we must be gospel people, committed to proclaiming the gospel constantly… to ourselves… to our families… to our friends… and to all those around us. We must know the truth of the gospel and proclaim the truth of the gospel. The gospel must be the bedrock upon which our lives and ministries are built. The gospel alone is of ”first importance” (I Cor 15:3.)
2) But we must also refute the false teaching which we encounter in life. If you are sharing the gospel with others, then you will run into these false teachings. Whether it is secular humanism, new age spirituality, false interpretations of Scripture or distorted accounts of the historical Jesus. If you are engaging the lost and sinful world in which we live, then you will encounter the fruit of false teachers.
Pastors/elders are explicitly commanded to refute it (Titus 1:9-11, I Tim 4:1-6), so don’t be mad at your pastor when he when points out false teachers. Be mad at him if he doesn’t…
But what about everyone else? Do all Christians have an obligation to point out false teachers and teaching?
On some level, it is necessary for each and every one of us to refute false teachers if we are to fulfill the Great Commission to “teach them to observe all things whatsoever (Christ) has commanded us” (Matt 28:19-20.)
What do you say to your coworker who asks you what you think about Oprah’s new classes on spirituality? Do you point her out for what she is… a false teacher? Isn’t that what Paul did?
What do you say when someone points you to a book like “The Secret” or “The DaVinci Code”? Do you identify how those authors are wrong? Isn’t that what we see Paul doing here?
I’m not wise enough to come up with a strategy on my own… none of us are. Scripture is inspired by God so that we may be “equipped for every good work” (II Tim 3:16-17.) We must rely on God’s method of exposing false teachers:
1) Recognize false teachers and teaching…
2) Identify it for what it is…
3) Point out how it is wrong…
4) Call people to repent and trust in Jesus Christ…
5) Warn them of the judgment to come.
Take the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy to heart and apply them in your own life and ministry… whatever that might be…
2 Timothy 4:3-5 (ESV) – 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
May 6, 2008
Tim Challies has posted an excellent discussion on our tendency to think of sin as simply what we do rather than the fruit of what we are (i.e. sinners.) Here is an excerpt:
“I have met countless people who consider themselves Christians and who admit to sin in their lives and feel guilt and remorse for individual sins, but who seem unable or unwilling to admit the incontrovertible fact that their hearts are in rebellion against God. The Bible tells us in plain terms that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. And I don’t think we can overstate what a fundamental difference this is! We do not need to seek forgiveness merely for the sins we commit, but for our fundamentally evil and rebellious hearts—hearts that, in their natural state, hate God and are fully and completely and gleefully and willingly opposed to Him.” (read the whole thing here http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/sin-what-we-do-or-what-we-are.php )
We must remember the following about ourselves…
Genesis 6:5 (ESV) – 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) – 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Psalm 53:1-3 (ESV) – 1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. 2 God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
Romans 8:7-8 (ESV) – 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) – 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
It is only when we remember how sinful we are in essence that we can truly appreciate the grace of God in Christ Jesus!
Solus Christus! (Christ Alone!)
April 30, 2008
Many of you may have already read this brief sermon which most attribute to Charles Spurgeon (the authorship is sometimes debated) but in case you haven’t…
Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.
From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.
My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if He had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him.
Then again, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers .., for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.
Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the church to the world? Ye are the salt” (Matt. 5:13), not the sugar candy—something the world will spit out not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22) He was in awful earnestness.
Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear him say, “Run after these people Peter and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick Peter, we must get the people somehow.” Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.
In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of this gospel of amusement! Their message is, “Come out, keep out, keep clean out!” Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.
After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the church had a prayer meeting but they did not pray, “Lord grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.” If they ceased not from preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). That is the only difference! Lord, clear the church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment has been God’s link in the chain of the conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.
April 18, 2008
Pulpit Magazine recently posted a two part series on evangelizing our children which is quite helpful.
According to these articles, parents must take care to avoid the following pitfalls in evangelizing their children:
1. Oversimplifying the Gospel of Christ
2. Coercing a Profession of Faith
3. Assuming the Reality of Regeneration
4. Assuring the Child of Salvation
5. Rushing the Ordinance of Baptism
Following are a list of foundational keys to evangelizing our children:
1. Setting a Consistent Example of Godliness
2. Proclaiming the Complete Gospel of Christ
3. Understanding the Biblical Evidences of Salvation
4. Encouraging Possible Signs of Conversion
5. Trusting the Absolute Sovereignty of God
You can find the full articles here (part 1 at http://www.sfpulpit.com/2008/04/15/evangelizing-your-children-part-1/ and part 2 at http://www.sfpulpit.com/2008/04/16/evangelizing-your-children-part-2/ )
You might also want to listen to or download John Piper’s message entitled “The Gospel for 11-year-olds Plus.” You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByDate/2007/2160_The_Gospel_for_11YearOlds_Plus/ .
April 15, 2008
It is not uncommon to hear people say that Calvinism negatively impacts evangelism. Bob Hayton has posted a brief but informative article on how this is not true. He also provides a link to a sermon by John Piper which speaks in regards to this issue. Check it out… you can find it here http://fundyreformed.wordpress.com/
To God be the glory!!!