Sunday Morning Sermon: Acts 13:16-26 “The Gift of the Promise-Keeping God”

19 Dec

As much as we are prone to forget it, the Christmas season is about Jesus. There are many other things we celebrate at this time of year. We celebrate family and friends and all of God’s good gifts. We celebrate good food and presents and pretty lights. But the real focus of this season is the coming of Jesus, “Veiled in flesh the godhead see, hail the immortal deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King.” This is the heart of our celebration. Christmas is about Jesus.
In a similar way, the Bible is also about Jesus. Yes, there are stories of nations and kingdoms, there are stories of great heroes and villains, of those who did wonders and those who failed miserably. There are great teachings and powerful words, but at the heart of it, the Bible is about Jesus. From the very opening chapters of the Bible people rebelled against their Creator-God. And from the time of that rebellion and even before it, God had planned for a way for that rebellion to be forgiven, for the separation in the relationship between God and humanity to be healed, for the penalty of eternal death to be removed. From the beginning, God planned for One to come who would defeat sin and the grave. And we know of course that His name is Jesus. He is the one to whom the whole Old Testament points, He is the fulfillment of the promises God made to His people so long ago. He is the point not only of the New Testament but also of the Old.
All through the book of Acts, this is one of the central messages, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and that He is the hope of the world. He is the Savior of Jew and Gentile. This is the good news that comes to us at Christmas and it is the main point of the first sermon of Paul we have recorded in the book of Acts, which we are going to look at today. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises.
Now remember what has happened to this point. God has been leading Paul and Barnabus in answer to prayer and they have seen great spiritual victory on their journey so far. And now they are here in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch where they have been well-received and have been invited to speak a word of encouragement to the assembly of Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. What a golden opportunity to share the gospel. And Paul takes full advantage.

Verse 16, So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.

Paul, again acting as the leader, stands up and motions with his hand. To stand up to teach in the synagogue was unusual, teachers normally sat. Then Paul motioned with his hand. This was probably also a way of getting their attention. So as we read this verse, Luke gives us the idea in his account that every eye is fixed on Paul and that he has their undivided attention. Paul understands the weightiness of the things he is about to share. It is good news, but it is also weighty news. There are eternal consequences with this message.
I once saw a video about worship called “Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning.” And I thought, that’s it! Worship is a serious celebration. So this is the ministry we need. Not a dead as a doornail lecture filled with dry, somber seriousness. Not a happy-clappy game show with smoke machines and stand-up comedy. A joyfully serious proclamation about Jesus. This is the ministry we need. This is the ministry Paul is about to deliver.
But what is really interesting here is that when Paul begins to preach, he doesn’t begin with Jesus. He begins with the Old Testament. And when we think about this, we need to remember who Paul is talking to: Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, non-Jewish people who were believers in the true God but were not full converts to Judaism. So Paul is talking to people who know their Bibles. We will see later that he preaches differently to groups that have less familiarity with the Old Testament. So like we said last week, Paul trusts in God’s sovereignty but he has a certain approach or strategy to ministry and this strategy changes based on the background of those with whom he is working.
So it is with us. The core truths of the gospel message do not change, but how we communicate it needs to change based on cultural background, the age of those with whom we are working and other factors. The effectiveness of our sharing of the gospel depends ultimately on God but we do need to think about how we communicate, to make sure we are not putting up unnecessary roadblocks to the gospel. If people are going to stumble, let them stumble over the actual truth of the gospel, not our poor presentation of the gospel.
Now let’s take just a few minutes to look at Paul’s sermon to see how he effectively shared the gospel with the Jews and the God-fearers at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.

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.
Paul doesn’t begin with Adam and Eve or with the father of the Jewish nation, Abraham. He begins with Israel in Egypt. He reflects on the work of God there, first in His choice of Israel and second in His prospering of Israel. Paul is telling these assembled, “Look at how God has blessed you.” He chose you, not because of anything in you but because of His mercy. He led you out of slavery in Egypt and gave you great riches as you left. But much more than blessing them, God also endured them with great patience. Look at verse 18.
18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness.
Yes, it is true that the forty years of wandering in the wilderness was a punishment of Israel for their unbelief. But God was also incredibly merciful to Israel in letting another generation rise up to take the land of Canaan.

19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.
One of the truths we are seeing here early in Paul’s sermon is that when it comes to Israel’s history, God has done it. He conquered the nations of Canaan, He gave the land. God has done it. Really, when you read the Bible carefully, you will begin to see this truth over and over . . . God did it. It was from God. We teach our children to revere Bible heroes and we get them David action figures and Noah’s ark play sets but in the end the story is about God and what He has done to deal with the mess we have made of the world. I believe that the victory of God in salvation and judgment is the central theme of the Bible.
But notice on thing in verse 20 . . . God is not in a hurry.

20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.
Paul reminds his hearers that the unfolding of Israel’s history in Egypt and into the Promised land took a long time. 450 years of suffering and deliverance of hardship and blessing. So, Paul is saying to his hearers, if God would send a Savior at this late hour, we should not think it strange. Paul is reminding them that God has always worked on His own schedule and in each case He has chosen a people and shaped them and blessed them with a great leader, whether Abraham or Joseph or Moses or Joshua.
Now notice here that Paul skips a lot of Israel’s history. He is being selective, not only because his hearers knew the Scriptures but because he is trying to make certain points about Israel’s history which show that it was all pointing to Jesus. First, there was the story of deliverance from slavery and the entry into the Promised Land and now there will be a jump from those great events to the great king David. Paul’s point is to show that God would deliver and He would do it through a King.

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.’
God gave the people a king but he also removed him. Saul’s reign illustrated to the people their folly in asking for a king when God should have been their King. Nevertheless, in His mercy God replaced Saul with David, a man after God’s own heart. Now we all know, and Paul knew too, that David committed serious sins in his life. Yet he ruled with a right heart and he was quick to repent when confronted with his sin. But the real point Paul is making is that One is coming after David, a descendant of David, who will truly be after God’s own heart and will do all His will. This is what the next verse begins to point toward.

23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.
Verse 23 says so much. First, Jesus is the offspring of David. There is a human, historical lineage to the Savior. And that lineage is tied to the great king of Israel David. And it is through the family line that the Savior Jesus comes to Israel. Paul is speaking in the synagogue, so he speaks first of the Savior coming to Israel. Paul is telling us that God has kept the promises He made to Israel all those centuries ago. He has fulfilled His promises to Israel in Jesus and part of that promise was that the coming of Jesus would bless the world.
Notice too, that Paul speaks of Jesus as a Savior in his sermon without ever mentioning what Israel needs to be saved from. I believe he does this because Israel was aware that that they needed saving. There was awareness from their history and from their current standing in the world at that time, that their lives as individuals and as a nation had failed to live up to the great law of God and the great promises they’d been given.
Now I don’t think this means we can always skip the issue of sin and judgment when we preach or share the gospel message. If we are talking with someone who really knows their Bible, maybe we can to some degree, but with most of the people in our culture, who don’t think they have done anything much wrong and who believe they are pretty good people, the message of sin and judgment must be preached. So we just need to keep in mind who Paul is talking to here, a people who were already somewhat broken by their sin and were looking for hope, for a word of encouragement.

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.’
I was puzzled by verses 24 and 25 a little bit as I was looking at this passage this week. Why is John the Baptist mentioned here? And I think it is because Paul wants his hearers to realize that God had not just been preparing for the coming of the Savior in the distant past, but that he had been working even up to the time right before the ministry of Jesus through the ministry of John the Baptist. John the Baptist is the bridge between the Old Testament and the New, the last prophet who points to the great Prophet, Priest and King, the Lord Jesus.

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.

“Joy to the World, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.” But before the earth receives her king, Israel is given an opportunity to receive her King. For Abraham received the promise of a Savior, that He would come through the nation Abraham would found. And so this message comes first to them but its benefits reach the whole world.

And what a message it is. God has kept His promises. The Old Testament was pointing to this day and to this Savior whom Paul was now proclaiming. Now we’re going to stop here for this week and Lord willing look at the rest of Paul’s sermon next week. But before we close, let’s just think about a couple of other insights that are in this passage.
First, this passage teaches us a truth we need to constantly be reminded of: God is true to His promises. He is not true to what He has not promised but in those areas where we can find promises in His Word that are for us, we need to hold them in faith and cling to them with our lives. “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “I will complete the good work I’ve begun in you.” “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will bear much fruit.” “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” “I will not give you more than you can bear but will help you all the way through every trial.” “I will give you an escape from temptation every time, you just need to take it.” There and dozens of other promises of God are everywhere in His Word to encourage us. And we can be encouraged because God keeps His promises.
Second, this passage teaches us that the truth we need to consistently share with others is the truth about Jesus. We need to be pointing people to Jesus, not ourselves, when we share our faith. There is a place for personal testimony, and Paul goes there occasionally, but his overall approach is to preach Christ and so should it be for us. If the core of our message is, Jesus changed my life, most people will say, good for you. Starbucks changed my life. My new ipad changed my life. Living overseas changed my life. We must point instead to the truth about Jesus, to the way He has come as the solution to our big problem of sin and separation from God and death and hell.
Finally we need to rejoice, in this season of all seasons, that God is still at work drawing people to Jesus. Just not too long ago I heard from a friend who for years had been praying for a family member. This person was praying, years and years and then there was a turning to the Lord and baptism and joining a church and growing as a believer. Maybe some of you are there. You’ve kind of been on the fringes for a long time. You know this story, but maybe you believe it’s too good to be true. And I just want to encourage you to look to the Scriptures. Look and see if the Old Testament doesn’t point in one story after another to the coming of Jesus. Read the gospels and meet the Jesus who is there, not the media created Jesus, not the caricature, but the real Jesus. And trust Him. He is good. He loves us. Abundant life is found in Him. Eternal life is found in Him alone. He is here to free you from slavery just as the Lord freed Israel all those centuries ago from the bondage of Egypt.

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