Sermon for Sunday Evening, February 19th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 13:13-52 ESV] 13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ 26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ 34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 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.'” 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.
The travels of Paul and Barnabas now continue as they leave Cyprus and head back to Asia Minor, coming to Antioch in Pisidia.
This is a separate Antioch from where their missionary journey began. They began in what is called Syrian Antioch and now they are in Pisidian Antioch. Pisidia is a region in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey. The reason there are multiple cities of the same name is that they are named after the father of one of the generals of Alexander the Great. So, just as there are multiple cities named Alexandria after Alexander, there are multiple cities named Antioch after a fella called Antiokhos.
And we are finding a trend, a practice of Paul’s, to go to the synagogue in each place that he travels. Just as he went to the synagogues on Cyprus, so now he goes to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.
This time Paul is invited to speak by the rulers of the synagogue, to give words of encouragement to the people.
And boy does he ever have some words of encouragement. He has the Gospel.
He addresses people who know there is one God, saying, “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.” These are the Jews and the god-fearing gentile converts.
And then, like Stephen and Peter whose speeches are recorded previously in the Book of Acts, Paul recounts important points of Jewish history, culminating in Jesus Christ.
– the stay in Egypt. That is the 430 years that Israel was in Egypt.
– the Exodus, simply saying “with uplifted arm he led them out of it.”
– the forty years wandering in the wilderness
– the conquest of Canaan
– the beginning of rulers and kings over the people of Israel.
From there, from King David, Paul turns to the promised Messiah. He is saying to his audience, you believe all of this because you believe the Old Testament. Now hear about the messiah who has come, the Savior Jesus.
As Paul gets to Jesus he also gets to John the Baptist, who is a link between the prophets of Old and Jesus. He is the one “crying out in the wilderness” saying “Make straight the path of the Lord.” John harkens the coming of Jesus saying “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
From Jesus, Paul then speaks of the “message of salvation.” The Christ Jesus was killed but rose again as God promised to the fathers.
Paul quotes three Old Testament passages.
“You are my Son, Today I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7)
“I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” (Isaiah 55:3)
“You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10)
So his argument is a combination of historical events and Biblical promises. Some of the history is Biblical history, other is history that occurred in their midst, in their own time Jesus lived and died and lived again. And they are “witnesses” of that.
His argument is simply. And the hearers are beckoned to put the pieces together:
1: Certain things about a messiah were promised.
2: Those certain things apply to Jesus.
3; Therefore, Jesus is the messiah.
So the message of Salvation is in regards to Jesus. Paul says “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 by the law of Moses.”
This is the great Gospel message. Freedom and forgiveness of sins.
And perhaps the greatest words in that verse are those to little ones “by him.”
“BY HIM everyone who believes is freed.”
Belief is a sign of being of Christ. But it is not belief that frees you, it is Christ himself. BY HIM you are freed.
Paul ends his speech with a warning against unbelief, a warning against scoffers. He quotes Habakkuk 1:5 “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.”
So what then is the reaction of the audience? In so many places Paul is run out of town. And here eventually he again is run out of town. But this audience is intrigued, as they should be. They “begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath.” And some even followed Paul and Barnabas wanting to hear more.
This desire for the Word of God is what we should pray that we have. Let us look forward to every opportunity to hear more. More about Jesus, I want to know!
The next Sabbath, it says, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. And I wonder WHO didn’t show up? Maybe it will just the ill and infirm who were unable to make it. Everyone else wants to see (and hear) what is going on.
And people would have come out from all corners to the synagogue. I think of the preacher George Whitfield who would draw crowds of the thousands, often out-of-door, as he went from place to place. The Gospel is a message to be heard. And we have the Gospel is every true Church of Jesus Christ. Isn’t it sad then that so few come out to hear the word of God? Perhaps more would come if some big name speaker was present. But whether it is the most well-known preacher or a seminary intern, they still preach the word of God. The people of Pisidian Antioch were not there to hear Paul or Barnabas, they were there to hear the Gospel, the message of Paul and Barnabas. So let us be intrigued and interested in by the Gospel, by the Word of God and not anything or anyone else.
As to current affairs, we have what some are calling the “Asbury Revival.” You’ve possibly heard of it in the news. The opinions regarding the revival, it seems to me, are nothing new. In the time of the Great Awakening, that time of Jonathan Edwards, there were many also in favor of the revivals and many others warning of excesses. Well, we have in our day people flocking to Asbury Seminary to join in on what is going on there. That they hear the Word of God and not the Word of Man is my prayer. And I pray that they would repent and turn to the Lord. Like in Pisidian Antioch, no doubt some are showing up in Asbury because of the fanfare not because of the Gospel. History will write much about these days.
As for Paul in Pisidia, now on that second Sabbath a show-down occurs. Some of the Jews saw the crowds and were jealous and began to contradict Paul. Here then Paul says, if you (Jews) won’t listen, we’ll take the message to the Gentiles.
This idea has been developing and indeed present for some time, but now comes into greater light. Paul quotes from the Old Testament speaking of Christ being a light to the Gentiles.
The Jews didn’t like this and drove them out of town.
But before that could happen the Gentiles began rejoicing and glorifying God. This is why the disciples were filled with joy; because God’s plan to bring in the Gentiles was occurring within their midst.
And the Gentiles, no doubt were rejoicing because of knowing the salvation of God. But there is something specific to mention about that salvation. Many of these “God-fearers” felt like outsiders. They were not Jews, and they could not follow the law well, and they probably weren’t too happy about the idea of circumcision. But now they hear of the Gospel of God’s grace; that they need not fulfill all of the Old Testament laws for salvation, but trust in Jesus Christ who did fulfill all things.
Now in this section we read that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” To use that theological word, here it is speaking of predestination. Of the people in that place, those who God had appointed to eternal life believed, and in all places those who God appoints to eternal life shall believe. Belief is a product of God’s work in us to bring his people to eternal life. That is, eternal life is not a product of our believing, but our believing a product of God who gives us eternal life. This can be tricky, but is important to get in the right order, so that we do not boast but in Christ.
Though the disciples are joyful, they also shake off the dust from their feet when leave the place. It is said that the Jews did this when they left Gentile cities, indicating that the people they were leaving behind were unbelievers. Now the disciples do this to the Jews, the very people who used to shake the dust of their feet to the Gentiles. This tells us that is the Jews who do not believe. They have rejected Christ. This practice of the disciples is exactly what Jesus told them to do in Matthew 10:14 – [Mat 10:14 ESV] 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
This shows the impending judgment on those who reject Christ. So we see this theme throughout the Scriptures: the separating of the wheat from the chaff. As the Gospel goes forth some believe and some reject the message. In either case, the plan of God is being fulfilled. This is why the disciples can be joyful even though only some of the people believed. You might then they’d be sad that NOT ALL believed, but that is not the case. They trust God and see His work being fulfilled in their midst.
And they’re called to keep moving. It doesn’t say that exactly anywhere, but if Paul is going to be the apostle to the Gentiles he has a lot of ground to cover. They’ve got a couple more stops to make on this journey, and Paul has at least 2 more missionary journey’s ahead and then his final journey to Rome. At least the final journey we have written material about.
Well, what can we say in summary of our passage?
Let’s note the way in which the Gospel spreads. It is through the preaching of the Gospel and through persuasive arguments. It is not by the sword, neither by force of man or threat of government. That would happen in later history as whole nations would “Christianize” when their leader said so. Those conversions would be mixed in success, but they did at least give opportunity for the people to hear the word. And it was ultimately that necessary preaching that was required, and not edict, which brought about Christians and Christianizing of a land.
And finally, let us have joy in the Gospel. The disciples had joy. The gentiles rejoiced. Let us forever find our joy and peace in the Word of God. This I pray in Jesus name amen.