ACTS13v14to41: PAUL'S MISSIONARY SERMON
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
Paul's sermon, in common with Stephen's defence and Peter's address, is not impressive. It does not engage the attention like, for example, Paul's letters. It is quite hard to see the relevance of some of things he said. We would not rate Paul's sermon very highly today as a gospel address. One of the reasons why Paul's message disappoints is that we only have it in summary. The bare bones of a sermon are usually as dry as dust and indigestible.
So I do not find myself full of enthusiasm as I set out to expound Luke's précis of Paul's sermon. It was preached in the synagogue of Pisidium Antioch by invitation of the synagogue rulers. The congregation consisted of Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. The main points that Paul made were:
(B) The basis of Christianity is the fulfilled promises of God.
Paul deals with the Jewish Exodus from Egypt because that was the fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham. We read in Gen15v18to21: On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates - the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites." After the Israelites spent 450 years in Egypt God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Ex3v24and25. God brought the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land because of the agreement he made with Abraham.
God made other promises - to Eve, Abraham and David. He says to David: "Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever." 2Samv16. This must have seemed something of a hollow promise during the period of Roman rule. Such kings as the Romans allowed could not trace their ancestry back to David. But Paul was able to say: From this man's (David's) descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.v23. It is truly amazing that both Israel and the royal line of David had been preserved through the centuries until the night the angels announced:"Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke2v11. Paul is able to proclaim in triumph: "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. v32.
Christians are sustained by a third great promise made by God the Son: "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John14v3. We may wonder along with the slaves in Egypt and the Jews oppressed by Roman rule, how long, how long? How long before God keeps his promise? Of one thing we can be sure: although the wait be long - the promise will be kept.
We shall meet Thee on Thy way,
We shall see Thee, we shall know Thee,
We shall bless Thee, we shall show Thee
All our hearts could ever say.
What an anthem that will be,
Ringing out our rapture sweet
At Thine own all-glorious feet!
Events are hastening on to that grand and awful climax - the Day of the Lord. The Jews have returned to Palestine; the Gospel has been preached in almost every land; the prophecies are being fulfilled; the time is fast approaching when Jesus will return in glory.
(C) Christianity is centred on Jesus.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus were real events. Paul says, "But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people." v31. Paul knew that Jesus was alive because he appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He is able to write: and last of all he appeared to me also. 1Cor15v8. Paul also realised that the gospel was worthless if it was not based on real events. He is emphatic about this in his letter to the Corinthians: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1Cor15v17.
Christianity recognises the unique status of Jesus as the Saviour God promised. Paul in his sermon seeks to establish the status of Jesus with his hearers. He appeals to:
(a) The testimony of John the Baptist.
It is a fact that for 2000 years every Christian teacher and preacher, however talented and influential, would acknowledge their unworthiness to untie the sandals of Jesus. He stands supreme - unrivalled in the devotion that he excites and the satisfaction that he gives. We do not sing hymns to Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Billy Graham or Mother Teresa - only to Jesus amongst men.
(b) The testimony of Scripture.
(c) God's authentication.
The year Tommy Bamber and I helped to entertain a party of Japanese visitors to England we went to Westminster Abbey. After strolling around that fine historic building we each lit a candle and sat for a few minutes in silent meditation. My friend Tommy looked at me and said, "If this was what Christianity consisted of, I would be a Christian." Well of course it isn't. Christians believe in Jesus. They submit to his authority and follow him.
(D) The three central doctrines of Christianity.
Three great and essential Christian doctrines are mentioned in Acts13:
When Paul wrote to Timothy he said: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1Tim1v15. Jesus can save sinners because he offered himself as a sacrifice for sin on our behalf. This is implicit in Jesus' words to his disciples at the Last Supper. He took the flagon of wine and after he had given thanks for it said, "This is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Mt26v27. The outpoured blood symbolises the sacrifice Jesus made upon the cross. God accepted that atoning sacrifice. He accepted that the price of my sin and your sin had been paid. God showed that he was satisfied with the sacrifice Jesus made by raising him from the dead. This allows Jesus to implement a new agreement with us. All those who believe in him will be forgiven their sins and given eternal life.
(b) Secondly Paul affirms that through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. v39.
If we believe on Jesus our status changes. Our sins are forgiven and we are justified or put right with God. God adopts us into his family and we become his sons and daughters - joint heirs with Christ
By the blood of the lamb;
Jesus Christ has done it all for me.
There is a very famous passage in John Wesley's journal that describes the change that comes from believing:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before 9, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
At the conclusion of the meeting the company sang a hymn composed by Charles Wesley:
Believe, and all your guilt's forgiven;
Only believe - and yours is heaven.
(c) Thirdly Luke tells us in v48: All who were appointed for eternal life believed. Those that believe are appointed for eternal life. Those that believe and follow Jesus, who display their love for the Master by obeying him, win the prize of life eternal.
(E) The inclusiveness of Christianity.
In the course of his sermon Paul says: "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. v26. In other words he says to his congregation, "The message of salvation is for all of you." He reinforces this statement by asserting, "Through him (Jesus) everyone who believes is justified." v39.
The Christian can say to the gravest of sinners, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John3v16. I know of a devout Christian, brought up in a Calvinistic church, who fears that she is not among God's elect. Her only consolation is the 'whosoever believeth in him' of John3v16. That is what she clings to - the 'whosoever'.
The wonderful thing about the ministry of Wesley and Whitfield is that they took the gospel to people that no-one else bothered to take it too. Whitfield, standing on Hanham Mount preaching to Bristol coalminers, saw the white gutters made by their tears down their black cheeks.
(F) The gospels warning note.
Paul proclaimed the good news that at last men and women could be saved from their sin and accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ. However this great sermon concludes with a warning from Hab1v5:
If anyone refuses to believe in Jesus and enter into a trusting relationship with him they will perish. This is not because God is vindictive! If a person rejects Jesus now they will reject him when he returns in glory. The individual who has no time for Jesus in this life will have no time for him on his return. There were boys and girls who did not like me when I taught them. When I meet these boys and girls after 25 or 30 years at a school reunion their attitude has not miraculously changed - they still do not like me and want nothing to do with me. I just have to walk away. Jesus will walk away from those for whom he can do nothing more and their existence will be terminated as God dismisses them from his memory. See Article on 'Life After Death'.