GETTING THE MESSAGE/God’s special favor toward Israel
This passage highlights for us another stop in Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul and his companions left Cyprus and traveled to Asia Minor, the location of modern day Turkey. They traveled inland and arrived at Antioch in Pisidia, where Paul was asked to speak in the synagogue. I want to draw your attention to several aspects of Paul’s message.
First, it is full of Scripture. He gives a summary of God’s special favor toward Israel in the Old Testament. In doing so he brings out the redemptive favors of God, all of which pointed to the coming of Christ into the world.
Paul depicts Scripture as an organic whole, gradually unfolding the redemptive promise of God until its complete disclosure in Jesus’ death and resurrection. To say Scripture is God-breathed is not an irrational statement. Paul points to God fulfilling the prophets and his purposes in the coming of Jesus.
When Jesus began his ministry, he quoted words that Isaiah had written around 800 years before: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed: to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1).
Isaiah was writing of the work of salvation the Messiah would accomplish. When Jesus finished reading this, he sat down and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In Paul’s sermon, he quotes the Old Testament to explain Christ’s death, his redemptive accomplishments, and his resurrection. He uses Scripture, as Jesus did, to unveil God’s salvation.
God moved the prophets to write of Christ so we could see plainly that salvation is from him and that Jesus is more than a prophet. He is the eternal Son of God, God’s final word to sinful humanity; he is not just a messenger, but the message. And we need to listen because he came to save sinners.
Another element of Paul’s sermon is to bring out the patience of God with sinners. Israel’s persistent response toward the amazing favor of God was rebellion and unbelief. God shows in the nation of Israel the sinfulness of sin in mankind. Their rebellion against God culminates in calling for Jesus’ death: “And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed” (Acts 13:28).
Israel needed a sin-pardoning God, and so do you and I. Christ came to save sinners. That is the message. If God didn’t bear long with sinners and pardon many and repeated offenses, we would have no hope. You can look at yourself and rightly say I am a standing example of God’s patience with sinners.
Another aspect of Paul’s sermon is to emphasize what a treasure the gospel is. He says, “We bring you good news” (Acts 13:32). This is the same “glad tidings” the angels pronounced to the shepherds when Christ the Lord was born (Luke 2).
Paul says of Christ: “Let it be known to you therefore brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed from the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).
In Christ, God’s justice and mercy are reconciled. God freely forgives sinners because Christ has taken the judgment they rightly deserve. God can forgive the worst sin without relinquishing in the least his abhorrence of that sin. This is how great a treasure the gospel is, how great a treasure Christ is.
But forgiveness is not automatic. It is required you believe, that you have faith in Christ. And that means coming to be washed clean by him; entrusting your body and soul unto him. It is not a deleterious thing to be cleansed and embraced by the Son of God, nor to receive a rich welcome into the kingdom of God. It is the gift of life. And God delights to give it.
Paul closes his sermon with a warning. He quotes the prophet Habakkuk, who warned Israel of impending judgment (Acts 13:41). His point is you can’t avert the judgment of God because you don’t believe it or don’t like it. It is coming. What you can do is make provision for it by calling upon Christ.