May 19, 2008

The God Who Keeps His Promises – Acts 13:13-41

Posted in Evangelism, Gospel, Jesus Christ, Redemptive history at 3:50 pm by Dan Lowe

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.” (π πάντων ν οκ δυνήθητε ν νόμ Μωϋσέως δικαιωθναι, ν τούτ πς πιστεύων δικαιοται).

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!



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