We noted the last time that the end of chapter 12 is really the end of the first half of the book of Acts. Chapters 1 to 12 focus on Jerusalem and on the Apostle Peter. But from chapter 13 on, the focus is on the Apostle Paul and his mission to the Gentiles. And Paul isn’t sent out from Jerusalem. He’s sent out from Antioch.
Last week we read how Paul and Barnabas were set apart by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the church to preach the good news and to plant churches. Along with John Mark, they sailed to Cyprus and, in Salamis first of all, they went into the Jewish synagogue to proclaim the word of God. Then they travelled across the island to Paphos where the sorcerer and false prophet, Bar-Jesus or Elymas, tried to oppose them, but was struck blind. And the Roman Governor, Sergius Paulus, believed the good news. And so we saw once again how the Lord Jesus, from his throne in heaven, was defeating his enemies and he was building his church.
In verse 13 we read how Paul and his companions — and by putting Paul’s name first it implies that he is now the leader — Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos on the island of Cyprus to Perga in Pamphylia which is on the south coast of modern day Turkey. There, John Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem.
In fact, the word translated ‘left’ by the NIV can also mean ‘betrayed’ or ‘abandoned’. And in chapter 5, as we’ll see when we get there, the fact that John Mark left them there becomes a point of friction between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark back, but Paul thought that would be unwise because he had deserted them once before. And in fact, they disagreed so sharply, that Paul and Barnabas parted company. But, for now, Paul and Barnabas remained together, while John Mark left them.
Verses 14 to 16
Luke doesn’t tell us anything else about Perga. He simply tells us that they moved on from Perga to Antioch. This, of course, isn’t the Antioch from where they had set out. Lots of cities were called Antioch in those days and this one was known as Pisidian Antioch or Antioch in Pisidia. Pisidia was part of the region called Galatia and Antioch was about 100 miles from Perga. So they’ve travelled a fair distance. And what did they do when they arrived? Well, on the Sabbath Day they went into the Jewish synagogue and they sat down with everyone else for the weekly service. The synagogue service, at that time, included prayers and readings from the Law and the Prophets. In other words, from the Old Testament Scriptures. Then, if there was someone present who was able to do so, that person would be invited to expound or to explain the scripture readings. Then, the congregation was dismissed with the saying of the Aaronic Blessing. In other words, it was a lot like our own Sunday service of worship.
According to verse 15, after the reading of the Scriptures, the rulers of the synagogue invited Paul and Barnabas to provide the exposition that Sabbath. Paul accepted the invitation and stood up and he began to preach to them. As he did so, he addressed two groups of people: In the congregation there were ‘Men (and women) of Israel’. That was one group. Then there were also ‘Gentiles who worship God’. Now, there were always Gentiles who had heard about all the things the Lord had done for his people and who believed that the Lord is the one, true God. Such Gentiles attached themselves to the Jews and worshipped with them. And both groups of people were present that day in the synagogue when Paul spoke to them. And so he began to preach and Luke has provided us with a summary of what he said to them.
Verses 17 to 22
And in verses 17 to 22 he outlines briefly the history of God’s people. So, in verse 17 he refers to how God chose their forefathers (and he’s probably thinking of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob) and he made them into a great nation during their stay in Egypt. Now, by saying that God chose them we’re reminded of God’s kindness to them. They didn’t choose him; he chose them. And he didn’t choose them because they were any better than the other nations. He chose them because he is gracious and compassionate and he simply set his love on them and chose them for himself. And he committed himself to them, to protect them and to provide for them and to bring them into the Promised Land. God chose them. Then note that their time in Egypt is described as a ‘stay’ because it was only a temporary home for them and it was never intended to be a permanent move. And so, when the time was right, God led them out of that country by his mighty power.
Then in verse 18 Paul summarised how God endured their conduct for 40 years in the wilderness. And we know what he meant. For 40 years, they moaned and complained and they were unfaithful and they kept sinning against the Lord in one way or another. But God was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and he put up with their sins.
And then, verse 19, he helped them to destroy the nations who were living in the land of Canaan at that time. He’s thinking of the book of Joshua now. And God brought his people into the Promised Land.
And all of this — their time in Egypt, the time in the wilderness, the time it took them to take over the Promised Land — all of this took about 450 years, according to verse 20. And after that time, God gave them the Judges to lead them. And after the Judges, he gave them Samuel, the prophet to teach them. And when they eventually asked for a king, God gave them Saul who ruled over them for 40 years. And then, verse 22, whenever Saul was removed as king, God raised up David to be their king. And David was described as being a man after God’s own heart who would do all of God’s will. In other words, David’s heart — his plans and purposes and inclinations — matched God’s heart.
So, in only a few verses, Paul was able to summarise most of the history of God’s people. And, of course, his congregation, would have known all this and they were probably nodding along to it all. But what Paul wanted to do next was to show them that the things God had promised them in the past about sending them a great King to save them have now been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The Scriptures, which they read every Sabbath, were about the Lord Jesus.
Verses 23 to 37
So, verse 23: Paul announced to them that from David’s descendants, God has brought to Israel the Saviour as he promised. Where had God promised this? Well, back in 2 Samuel 7 God had promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne for ever. He promised the same thing in Psalm 89:29. And in Isaiah 11, which we read a few Sundays ago, God described the perfect king who would come from David’s family and who would rule with righteousness. And, of course, there are other places as well where God promised that he would raise up a descendent of David who would rule over his people for ever. And here, in verse 23, Paul is telling the people in that synagogue that the promised Saviour has come. And his name is Jesus.
Verse 24, before the Lord Jesus came, John the Baptiser was sent to prepare the way for his coming. He commanded the people to repent and to be baptised as a sign that they wanted God to wash away the guilt of their sins. And why did they need to repent? It was because God’s promised King was coming.
And so, look at verse 25. John was always crystal clear: I’m not the one you’re waiting for. But he’s coming. The promised Saviour is coming.
And then in verse 26 we can almost imagine Paul looking his congregation in the eye because he wants to apply this message to them so that they understand that this message is for them. And again he addresses both groups: The Jews who are the children of Abraham; and the God-fearing Gentiles among them. To us — and Paul includes himself — to us has come this message of salvation. It’s a message of salvation by which we’re delivered from the power and penalty of our sins through Jesus Christ the Saviour, God’s promised King.
And how has this salvation been accomplished? That’s what the next verses are about. Verse 27: The people of Jerusalem and their rulers didn’t recognise the Lord Jesus. They saw him and the things he did, but they did not realise that he really is the Son of God and our Saviour. Furthermore, they didn’t understand what the Old Testament said about him even though the Scriptures were read every Sabbath Day in the synagogue. And wasn’t that the Lord’s complaint during his time on earth? He said that the people searched the Scriptures, but they didn’t understand that the Scriptures were all about him. They studied their Bibles very carefully, but they missed the main thing.
However, even though they didn’t recognise him when they saw him, or understand the Scriptures which were about him, nevertheless they actually fulfilled what the Old Testament said would happen to him.
What did Paul mean? Well, the Old Testament speaks about the suffering of the Saviour. Think back to Genesis 3:15: The coming Savour would crush the Devil, but his own heel would be bruised in the process. Or think of Isaiah 53 and what it says about the suffering servant, wounded for our transgressions. Throughout the Old Testament, God announced that the coming Saviour would suffer. And so, the people of Jerusalem and their rulers fulfilled the Old Testament promises about a suffering Saviour when they condemn the Lord Jesus to die. Verse 28: Though the Lord Jesus had done nothing wrong, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And then, in verse 29, Paul once again makes the point that all that happened to the Lord Jesus was the fulfilment of the Old Testament Scriptures. They carried out all that was written about him in the Old Testament. So, think, for instance, of Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet —
I can count all my bones —
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
Every Sabbath Day they read such things in the synagogue and Paul wanted to convince them that these things have now been fulfilled.
Paul went on with his sermon. After the Lord was crucified, they took him down from the tree — and by calling the cross a ‘tree’ Paul is referring to that verse in Deuteronomy 21 where God pronounced a curse on anyone who was hung on a tree — they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But, verse 30, God raised him from the dead. And for many days afterwards, he was seen by various people who are became witnesses to the fact that Jesus died, but rose again. And now Paul has come to the people of that city to announce to them this good news that what was promised to their forefathers has now been fulfilled.
And to round things off and to support what he’s been saying, Paul quotes three times from the Old Testament. First of all, from Psalm 2 where it speaks of the enthronement of the king of Israel. And what it says in Psalm 2 about the earthly king pointed forward to the resurrection of God the Son and his enthronement in heaven.
Then, secondly, he quoted from Isaiah 55 where God promised to give his people the blessings of David. And that points forward to how God blesses us through King David’s even greater Son by giving us forgiveness and eternal life.
And then, thirdly, he quotes from Psalm 16 where God promised that his Holy One will not see corruption. And Paul goes on to explain that God couldn’t be referring to David because David died and was buried and afterwards his body decayed in the grave. But the Lord Jesus rose from the dead so that his body did not decay at all. Psalm 16 is referring to the Lord Jesus.
I must finish there. But Paul will go on to declare that through Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sins. All of God’s promises of forgiveness in the Old Testament are fulfilled finally by the Lord Jesus. And we’ll see next time that after Paul’s sermon was over, the people begged him to come back the following Sabbath Day and tell them more.
What are the lessons for us? First of all, it’s a reminder that the Old Testament is all about the Lord Jesus. Paul was trying to convince this Jewish audience that the suffering and death and resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus for us and for our salvation was announced throughout the Old Testament. So, we must look for Jesus every time we read the Old Testament.
Secondly, when we have the opportunity to speak to unbelievers about what we believe, we should make sure that we do what Paul did and tell them about Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again. Paul started by talking about the history of Israel. He mentioned the Exodus. The entrance to the Promised Land. The Judges. Samuel. Saul. David. But he didn’t take long to get to the main point which is that Jesus Christ died for us and rose again. That’s the message we’re to proclaim to others. And it’s the message we’re to proclaim to one another whenever we meet together on Sundays. And it’s by hearing that message and by believing it that sinners are saved.