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PAUL’S MESSAGE IN PISIDIAN ANTIOCH

Acts 13:13-13:52
Key Verse: 13:39

Paul’s mission on the Cyprus was rescuing one soul, the proconsul, from the evil one. Paul fought with the evil spirit in the sorcerer and protected the proconsul’s faith in the teaching about the Lord. One person’s faith in Jesus is the victory over the power of Satan. Today’s passage is Paul’s message in Pisidian Antioch. This is an extremely important message because it is the only full-length report of a sermon by Paul that is written. This message expounds the core of the gospel excellently in the context of the concise history of Israel. May God reveal this message to us.

First, justified by faith (13-43). Look at verses13. “From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.” What a discouraging situation! John was their helper but left them, quitting the mission, although we do not know the clear reason at this point. Yet, Paul and Barnabas moved on. From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. Pisidian Antioch stood on a plateau about 3,600 feet (1100m) above sea-level. To get to it, Paul and Barnabas had to cross the Taurus range of mountains by one of the hardest roads in Asia Minor, a road which was also notorious for robbers and brigands. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. We remember Jesus often entered into synagogues and taught (Lk 4:15,16). At that time synagogues were used as the place where devout men could come and speak to the people. What happened to Paul and Barnabas as they sat down in the synagogue? Look at verse 15. “After the reading from the Law and Prophets, the synagogue rulers send word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” Paul seemed to be waiting for this opportunity to speak. So as soon as Paul heard of this offer, he stood up and motioned with his hand and began his speech.

Let’s expound his message. He said, “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took place about 450 years.” This account covers Israel’s history from Genesis, (particularly God choosing Abraham), to Joshua. The four hundred years of their stay in Egypt seemed to be only the time of suffering as slaves and so useless and fruitless time. As slave people they had no idea about how to prosper. But according to Paul God made them, the people he chose, prosper. With mighty power he led them out of that country. That was Exodus of 600,000 people and their families done overnight, being liberated from the hand of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. That was God’s mighty power. In the desert their complaining and impatience and unbelief reached a level no human being would endure but God endured them for forty years because he loved them and had a purpose for them. Then he gave them victory over the Canaanites countries and, in 10 years, let them occupy the land as their inheritance. All this took place about 450 years. In this history of Israel God was the subject, leading the history according to his purpose, despite their weaknesses and shortcomings and terrible sins.

“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” The time of Judges, whenever they were oppressed and suffered greatly under the neighbouring countries and cried out to God, God sent a judge to save them. Yet, it was the time of chaos like anarchy, everyone doing as he saw fit. God raised kings through Samuel the prophet. The first king was Saul. Removing Saul was a painful story. Humanly speaking, Saul seemed to be a good king. But he was self-seeking and disobedient. He was not the right person to carry out God’s purpose. David was the right one because he was a man after God’s own heart, although he also showed human sinfulness. While Saul was self-glory seeking and people-pleaser, David was God’s glory seeking and God-pleaser, doing everything God wanted him to do.

Look at verse 23. “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.” This is the focal point of the history of Israel. God would not send the Saviour out of nowhere. God prepared the nation Israel and David for the purpose of sending the Saviour Jesus. Also, God would not send the Saviour all of a sudden. He gave his people for a long time the promise concerning the Saviour whom the Law and the Prophets testify to.

Now just before speaking about the Saviour Jesus, Paul had to say about John the Baptist. Look at verses 24-25. “Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’” John came as the forerunner of the Saviour Jesus. He preached repentance and baptism. He was so powerful and influential that the people of Israel thought he was the Christ. His popularity was sky high. But at that time John said unambiguously, “I am not that one. No.” According to Jesus John was the greatest man among all those born of women. However, John knew who he was before God and said that he was not worthy even to untie the sandals of the Saviour Jesus. John was a true servant of God, and thus prepared the way for the Lord. All those who do not have this kind of attitude, however great they are in human eyes, are false and mislead people.

Now what does Paul say about the Saviour Jesus? Look at verses 26-31. “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.” The point of Paul’s message concerning the Saviour Jesus is his death and resurrection like that of Peter’s. Evil men killed Jesus unjustly by hanging him on a tree. Yet, it was the fulfillment of the words of the prophets. All they did to him on the cross was what was written about him in the Scriptures. In other words God was making something wonderful, unheard-of in human history, out of extreme evilness of human beings. He was making the way of salvation for sinful mankind. When God raised him from the dead, it was completed. The message of salvation is Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so Jesus is the Saviour. This is the culmination of the history of Israel and also that of the history of mankind. Ever since the Saviour has been prepared through the completion of the required work for God’s salvation, the work of witnessing is to be needed. So Paul said, “They are now his witnesses to our people.”

Then Paul said in verse 32, “We tell you the good news”, meaning, “Not only they but also we tell the good news as his witnesses.” Then what is the good news Paul tells. Look at verses 32b and 33a. “What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” It is again Jesus’ death and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s promise. Especially, he puts emphasis on God’s raising up Jesus. For without Jesus’ being raised up, his death would have been like that of an ordinary men. God’s raising Jesus confirms that his death was an act of God according his salvation plan. Jesus’ resurrection is extremely important. So Paul supports the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection by making three quotations from the Old Testament. Look at verse 33b. “As it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have become your Father’ (2:7).” We are reminded of Romans 1:4, “Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection.” His resurrection was the proof of his Son-ship. And in verse 34, “The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David’ (Isa 55:3).” The holy and sure blessings are related to the resurrection of Jesus. Without resurrection, nothing can be a blessing in a true sense. In verse 35, “So it is stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your Holy One see decay’ (Ps 16:10).” This part of Psalm 16 is David’s prophecy about the resurrection of the Christ, not himself. Peter also quoted this Psalm with more verses (Ac 2:2528) and said, “Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ” (2:31). Paul explains this in verses 36,37. “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” We thank and praise God for raising Jesus from the dead. We believe this. On this Christianity stands firm and so is the faith of each Christian.

Then what is the conclusion of Paul’s message? Look at verses 38,39. “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” “justified” or “justification” is one of the most important words in the Bible. This is a legal term. If one is justified in the legal court, the person is not to be sentenced and has no part with any punishment. “Justified” means declared “not guilty.” But in truth no human being is justified before the holy and righteous God, for all are sinners before him. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All religions can be like the law of Moses, encouraging people to keep laws and rules and do good so as to be righteous and justified before God. But Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared to be righteous in his sight by observing the law.” And according to Isaiah 64:6, all human righteous acts are like filthy rags before God. Then what an amazing grace it is that through Jesus everyone who believes is justified. It is because Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law by dying on the cross for our sins. This is the marvelous way of justification, and the only way of justification. And it is through faith in him. There is a hymn song, “Rock of Ages”. The 2nd verse goes, “Could my tears for-ever flow, Could my zeal no languor (tiredness) know, These for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou a-lone. In my hand no price I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling.” This justification is priceless, for it cost the life of the Son of God. Yet, it is free, freely given through faith in him. And justification and forgiveness of sins go together. Peter had said to Cornelius and his household, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:43). And justification means salvation. Peter also had said before Sanherin, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (4:12). Whoever believes is justified and forgiven and saved. It is through faith in him. This is the unchanging gospel, the good news, however time and generation change. This is the timeless message of salvation. It is all because of him, who died in our place and rose again from the dead.

There are two responses to the message of salvation, believing or scoffing. Those who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection are truly blessed. They receive forgiveness of sins through justification and they are saved. But there is a warning that those who scoff will perish. Look at verses 40,41. “Take care (Beware) that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if someone told you’ (Hab 1:5).”

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. May we put our uncompromising and unshaken faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection and be assured of God’s grace of justification through him and continue in this grace of God.

Second, appointed for eternal life (44-52). On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. What a great work of God! But this work of God was obstructed. Look at verse 45. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” This was none other than the work of Satan and Satan’s threatening. How did Paul and Barnabas respond at this? They were not threatened and cowered. No, they became bold and said, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” Paul and Barnabas wanted them to know what a loss it was when they rejected the word of God. And when they rejected the word of God, they were demoting themselves as ones not worthy of eternal life. It seemed to be a discoursing situation. However, Paul and Barnabas found a clear direction for themselves based on the words of the Scriptures in Isaiah 49:6, ““For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” This is God’s shepherd heart for the salvation of the world.

Look at verse 48. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” The Gentiles were different from the Jews who rejected the word of God. The Gentiles honoured the word of the Lord, although they did not have much knowledge of the Scriptures. After writing that the Gentiles were glad and honoured the word of the Lord, the author Luke commented, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” No one knows who are appointed for eternal life. Nobody can say, “You are not appointed for eternal life.” Luke was sure that those who honoured the word of God and believed were those who were appointed for eternal life. Also, no one can be proud of his or her faith. Those who believe should know that it is God’s one-sided grace and continue in this grace humbling themselves before the word of God. Also, we should know that there are those who are appointed for eternal life and should find them one by one.

When the Gentile honoured the word of the Lord, the word of the Lord spread through the whole region. Then the Jews became more evil. They incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. At this, again Paul and Barnabas were not discouraged or compromised. They showed their clear attitude. They shook the dust from their feet in protest against them, as an action to show the Jews that it was a great loss to them, and they went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. At the time of persecution, the disciples became clearer and stood firm in joy and the filling of the Spirit.

We thank and praise God for his amazing plan of salvation for mankind that would be completed through his Son Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thank God for his grace that whoever believes is justified through faith in him. May we keep this precious faith in this faithless world and live by it and continue in this grace of God.

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