In verse 14 we read that Paul and Barnabas travelled to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath Day they went into the synagogue to join the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in their weekly service of worship. After the reading of God’s word, the synagogue rulers invited them to address the congregation and to preach the sermon that Sabbath Day. And so, Paul stood up and began to speak. In his sermon — and this is really only a summary of what he said — but in his sermon he referred first of all to how God chose their forefathers to be his own special people. He referred to their captivity in Egypt. Then to the wilderness years. Then to their entry into the Promised Land. Then the time of the Judges and of Samuel. Then the reign of Saul. Then the reign of David. And then, in verse 23, Paul brought the lesson right up to date by announcing to the people that from David’s descendants, God has now brought the promised Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers killed him. But God raised him from the dead. And then Paul links together three verses from the Old Testament which promised the resurrection of King David’s Greater Son and the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life that we would receive through him.
In other words, Paul is saying to these Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles in the Jewish synagogue that the very Scriptures they read every week in their service of worship in the synagogue announce the very things that Paul had come to tell them about Jesus Christ. God’s promises to his people in the Old Testament gave been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
Verses 38 to 43
We finished last week at verse 37. In verses 38 to 43 we see how Paul pressed the message home to the congregation and warned them not to miss out on the salvation which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. So, first of all, in verse 38 he tells the congregation about the forgiveness of sins which comes through Jesus Christ. And then he elaborates on this a little more in verse 39 where he tells the people that through him — through Jesus Christ — everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.
You’ll remember that we learned from our church’s Shorter Catechism what justification means. What is justification?
Justification is an act of God’s free grace in which he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ alone, which is credited to us and received by faith alone.
Justification is something God does. God pardons our sins. When God justifies us, all our sins are forgiven by God. He no longer holds them against us, but he removes them from us as far as the east is from the west he casts them into the depths of the ocean he covers them up and blots them out and remembers them no more. God forgives us.
But there’s more. Not only does he pardon all our sins, but he also accepts us as righteous in his sight. Not only does he forgive our sins, but he also regards us as having obeyed every one of his commandments in full. He pardons all that we have done wrong, and he regards us as having done everything right.
And he accepts us a righteous in his sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ which is credited to us. The Lord Jesus did everything right. He was perfectly obedient to his Father in heaven. And when God justifies us, Christ’s perfect obedience, his righteousness, is now regarded as belonging to us. He shares it with us.
And how do we receive it from him? We receive it by faith. By faith we cling to Christ, and what belongs to him — his perfect obedience — is now regarded as ours.
That’s what our Catechism says about justification. And our Catechism says it because that’s what Paul says. Look again at verses 38 and 39. First of all, he refers to the forgiveness of our sins in verse 38. And then, in verse 39, he refers to how everyone who believes is justified. Christ’s righteousness is regarded as ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
Notice the scope of the promise. The promise of forgiveness and justification isn’t for the Jews only. It’s for everyone who believes. Notice how we receive the promised justification. We receive it through faith in Christ and not by trying to obey the law of Moses. We’re justified by faith and not by works. And notice how comprehensive the promise is. Through faith we are justified from everything. Christ died to pay for all our sins. All of them. The biggest sins have been paid for. The littlest sins have been paid for. And the robe of righteousness which the Lord Jesus gives us to wear covers over every one of our sins and shortcomings so that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sins but he sees the perfect obedience of Christ our Saviour.
And, of course, Paul is talking here to Jews and to God-fearing Gentiles. In the synagogue they would hear a reading every week from the law. Every week they were reminded of their sins. Every week the law said to them: Do this. And every week they would remember how they had failed to do what God had commanded. But now Paul is announcing to them that through faith in Jesus Christ all their sins will be forgiven and God will now regard them as having done everything required by the law of Moses. So, instead of leaving the synagogue, feeling miserable because of their sins and wondering how they will ever manage to please God, they can leave with joy in their hearts and praise on their lips because Jesus Christ has done all things necessary to give them a lasting peace with God.
That’s the promise. Then comes the warning. Do you see that in verses 40 and 41? Paul says to them: Take care. Take care that what the OT prophets said won’t happen to you. And what did the prophets say might happen to them? Paul quotes from Habbakuk to represent what all the prophets warned. And they warned that the scoffers who did not accept what God was doing would perish. And Paul is applying that to the congregation in Antioch. He’s saying to them: God has done this remarkable thing — he raised his Son from the dead. And he has announced the forgiveness of sins through faith in his name. Now, take care! Don’t scoff. Don’t say this is nonsense. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or else you will perish.
In verses 42 and 43 we have their reaction. And what a reaction! As Paul and Barnabas were leaving, the people invited them to come back the following Sabbath Day to say more about these things. But many of them couldn’t wait another week. They followed Paul and Barnabas to find out more and Paul and Barnabas talked to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. Does this mean they had already become believers? It’s not clear. Perhaps it only means that already God has shown kindness to them by sending them a preacher and by awakening them to their need. Now, Paul is urging them: Make sure you keep going and don’t stop until you have the assurance of sins forgiven which comes to all who repent and believe.
And notice, as well, who it was who followed them. Who was it? The Jews and the devout converts to Judaism. These devout converts had left paganism behind and they had become devout, serious, committed followers of the Jewish faith. Perhaps they had already been circumcised and they now lived according to all the OT rules and regulations. They had become convinced that that was the way to serve God in the world. But now Luke is showing us that even these serious, committed, converts to Judaism were becoming convinced that what Paul and Barnabas were telling them about the Lord Jesus was better by far than anything they had heard before in the Jewish synagogue. What Paul was telling them about the Lord Jesus was the fulfilment of everything they had read before in the OT Scriptures. They had been converted once to Judaism. Now they needed to be converted again, but this time to faith in Christ.
Verses 44 to 52
In verses 44 to 52 we see that some of the early signs of fruit in Antioch turned sour. Look at verse 44. It looked so hopeful. A week later Paul and Barnabas are back in the synagogue. And the whole city has gathered there to hear the word of the Lord. Fantastic! But oh dear. Verse 45: When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. And they began to speak against what Paul was saying. And look at Paul and Barnabas’s response in verse 46. He says that it was right for them to preach to the Jews first. The Jews were, of course, God’s people to whom all the promises had been made. It was right to give them the first chance to hear about the promised Saviour. But since they have rejected the word of God, and have therefore demonstrated that they don’t want the eternal life that God is offering them, then Paul and Barnabas are going to turn now to the Gentiles.
And then they apply Isaiah 49:6 to themselves. God has made them — Paul and Barnabas — a light for the Gentiles so that they might bring the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. There you are, Paul is saying. In the book of Isaiah God said this would happen. He said that one day he would raise up preachers to bring the good news to the Gentiles.
And look at verse 48. The Gentiles in the congregation are delighted to hear that God had promised that he would extend the offer of salvation to the whole world. And so they were glad about this. And they honoured what? What does it say? Does it say they honoured God? Well, I’m sure they did honour God. But that’s not what Luke says. He says they honoured the word of the Lord. Paul wrote the same thing in 2 Thessalonians 3 where he asked the Thessalonians to pray that the word will spread rapidly from place to place and be honoured, just as it was with you. And how do we honour the word of the Lord? By accepting it as the word of God and regarding it as true. By believing its promises and by taking seriously its warnings. By seeking to obey its commandments and by giving thanks to God for it. That’s how we honour God’s word.
And then look at verse 48. Here we’re reminded that our salvation begins with God and ends with God. First of all, it begins with God, because Luke refers to all those appointed to God for salvation. In other words, God wanted to give us salvation and so he chose us. He said: I want him. I want her. I want them to receive salvation and to be with me for ever and ever. He chose us. Our salvation begins with God.
And our salvation ends with God, because we read that all those who were appointed for salvation believed. And we know that God is the one who enables us to repent and to believe and he enables us to keep believing throughout our lives.
Now do you see the implications this has for our own outreach? We ought to do as Paul and Barnabas did and to make known the news that Jesus Christ died and rose again and that through him there is forgiveness for all who believe. That’s what we’re to do. And we should do it as clearly and as simply as possible so that the people we speak to should be left with no doubt about what Christ has done for sinners and what they need to do in order to receive the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life. We need to tell them clearly and simply.
But whether they believe or not is not in our hands. It’s in God’s hands. If God has not appointed them to eternal life, then they will not believe no matter what we do or say. But if God has appointed them, then he — God — will enable them to believe.
And what a relief it is to know that all we need to do is to make the gospel known by telling people what the Scriptures say. And then we leave the results in the hands of the Lord.
In verse 49 we read that the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews wouldn’t give up. They stirred up opposition to Paul and Barnabas who ended up being expelled from the area. So Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet as a sign that they wanted nothing more to do with these unbelieving people and they moved on to Iconium.
But what did they leave behind? Look at verse 52: Disciples. A group of believers, now filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Joy because of the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life through Jesus Christ. And with the Holy Spirit to sanctify them and to enable them to persevere as believers.
What happened in Antioch? The word got out that if you came to the synagogue on the Sabbath you could hear the word of God. And everyone came. And Paul preached. And those appointed by God for eternal life believed while others didn’t. Well, let’s continue to pray that the word would get out, among our friends and neighbours, and among the people of this district, that if you come to Immanuel on Sunday you can hear the word of God. And let’s pray that people will come. And let’s pray for God to bless the preaching of his word. And let’s pray that God will enable those who hear to believe.