“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.”
Family… it’s often a love/hate relationship. Do you ever struggle with your family? I think we all do. We love them, we fight with them, sometimes we say we hate them, and then we realize we still love them, again and again. I grew up with three other brothers, four boys, no girls. Mom didn’t count, and she didn’t have a chance. She lived in a boys world. One thing I know about brothers. We can fight with each other, and then turn right around and defend one another. I can pick on my brother, but you had better not. Paul had a similar relationship with his brothers, the sons of the family of Abraham. He loved them, he fought with them, he struggled with them, but he wanted them to hear the truth. I want you to hear the truth, too…
While I didn’t quote Paul’s entire sermon/speech from Acts 13 above, I would encourage you to take a moment to go read it, here. Paul and Barnabas left the island of Cyprus and sailed north to the port city of Perga in Pamphylia. From there, they made their way north to the main city of that region, Antioch of Pisidia. Paul immediately made his way to the local synagogue on the Sabbath, and joined the local Jews in worship. While at the synagogue, Paul is invited to address the group. Take a moment to notice the contrast between Paul’s address in the synagogue and Stephen’s address to the Sanhedrin Council and High Priest (see Acts 7). I don’t know whether Paul consciously chose to follow Stephen’s pattern, but there are certainly some striking similarities.
Paul begins by citing Israel’s history and then begins to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews. He even quotes several prophecies and then addresses the common Jewish misunderstanding regarding them. Notice that in Acts 13:36-37, after Paul has quoted Psalm 16:10, he clarifies what appears to have been a common Jewish interpretation by noting that King David is not the fulfillment of this promise since David died and his body did experience corruption. He uses this promise as a way of introducing the resurrection of Jesus and the many living eyewitnesses of that event who can testify to its truth.
Just for a minute, take a look at a few of these promises:
The sin that was introduced into the world by the serpent in the garden, will be resolved by a child of Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
A few generations later, God gives more specifics to Abraham. This child that will break the curse will come through Abraham’s lineage: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3 ESV)
Three generations later, God gives more details. The child He has promised to resolve this issue will come through Abraham’s grandson, Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10 ESV)
Several hundred years later, God declares to King David that the promised redeemer will come from his house: “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. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Samuel 7:12-14 ESV see also: cf. Psalm 89:35-36; 132:11)
After years of waiting and wondering, God provides more details through the prophet Isaiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)
Finally, the prophet Micah tells us where the is son would be born and from whence He came: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2 ESV)
I know you didn’t come for a history lesson, but be patient with me a moment longer. Paul wanted his audience to understand that the things he was telling them wasn’t some new, radically crazy idea. Well it was, it was new “to them” but it was precisely what God had been promising from the opening verses of Genesis but what most of them had completely overlooked and missed. This wasn’t a new story, it was an ancient story. In fact, as Micah stated it, it was from “of old, from ancient days.” This wasn’t a NEW plan, it was THE plan all along. This WAS the story of the Old Testament and IS the story of the New – Jesus is the fulfillment of ALL of God’s promises. He is the promised redeemer of Israel and of the nations.
The problem is that many still misunderstand or misstate this message, today. We try and make the message about our ability to be good, perform the right rituals, or live by the right rules. When we do this, we’ve relegated Jesus to the level of being irrelevant and unnecessary. If you think the way to God is through obedience then you need to go back and read the story all over again. Don’t misunderstand me, obedience will come into play but not yet. Grace and forgiveness are not about obedience, they are all about disobedience and failure. Still not sure? Listen to Paul’s words to those in the Synagogue at Antioch:
“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.” (Acts 13:38-39 ESV)
Did you catch that? Jesus doesn’t forgive us because we deserve it, He is willing to forgive us because we failed, we SINNED! Paul then says, if you are willing to “believe” that Jesus is capable and willing to do this, then you are set free from the very things the law of Moses could not free you from. Later, Paul would put this very concept into his letter to the Romans:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4 ESV)
While those verses are loaded with very, very deep and rich theology let me give you a brief summary even while I encourage you to go spend some time steeping yourselves in that deep, rich knowledge of God. Summary: If you are willing to admit your sin, believe that Jesus is God’s Son and lived a life of absolute righteousness, willingly died on the cross for your sin and mine, and was physically resurrected as Lord and Savior for all men, confess your faith in Him then He will break the hold that sin has upon you and set you free.
This is where obedience comes back into the equation. You’re not offered forgiveness because of your moral goodness and obedience, that would be logically incoherent. If you’re morally good, you don’t need to be forgiven. You are offered forgiveness when you recognize and confess your sin, your moral failure and you place your faith in the sinless life, substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of Jesus. Your faith is based on the incredible love of God and Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit empowers our obedience. Finally, our love of God because of His love for us moves us towards absolute obedience.
I want you to notice that I intentionally used the word “towards” because while absolute obedience is our goal, it is not our present reality. To be honest, I think this is where many folks struggle. We know we are called to holiness, we proclaim that we are called to holiness, but we struggle with how far short of that calling we tend to fall. Truthfully, EVERYONE struggles with how far short of that call to holiness many Christians tend to fall. That’s an area where we need to be more honest and open with others, we are still a work in progress. We still need grace… and so do they.
Which leads me to my final observation regarding this story.
Paul proclaims this truth to the Jews in Antioch, and most of them reject it. He tells them: “Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: “‘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.'” (Acts 13:40-41 ESV)
Some wanted to hear more, but the Jews were moved to jealousy and resisted Paul: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 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.” (Acts 13:44-46 ESV)
So, let me ask you a question. Is God doing a work in our days and all around you, all while you refuse to believe in Him? Do you simply scoff at what God has done and is doing? Are you able to look at a work of art and see the handiwork of the artist, but look at your neighbor and refuse to see the handiwork of God? Are you resisting the work of God’s Spirit in your heart? Remember, God isn’t waiting for you to get things squared away and turned around. He has already taken the lead by sending Jesus to love you, die for you, and offer you forgiveness. Not because you deserve it, but precisely because you don’t. Will you trust Him, today?
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