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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2016-07-17

Text: Acts 13:13-52

I would like you to imagine a very different kind of worship service from what we have here: A service where the gospel is marketed in the same way that all businesses today market their products. Everything has to be user-friendly and appealing to you. Anything that may disrupt your lifestyle or leave you feeling disatisfied is left out, like telling you about your sins and of God’s judgment. Instead, you are given a candy-coated gospel. You are promised blessings from God that leave you feeling entirely comfortable in pursuing materialism and self-love.

The sermon is reduced to just 20 minutes and is filled mostly with inspiring stories and heart-warming anecdotes. More time is given to musical presentations with sensational sound and lighting effects, and testimonies that are given by well-known celebrities. And we make sure that you keep coming back every Sunday by promising something new and exciting each week, like a fun pack or a magic show. Then church attendance increases tremendously until the sanctuary becomes much too small for the crowd and a new one is built that can hold up to 10,000 people.

Is this your idea of the way to have an impactful ministry? Many people actually think so. Many today believe that a clear consistent preaching of God’s Word is not good enough. They say that somethingmore than needed if we want to make a significant impact on people’s lives. But this trend betrays a great lack of confidence in the Word. One of the greatest needs of our present time then is the need to restore full confidence in God’s Word to accomplish God’s work. God Himself has said, “So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11).

One passage of Scripture that demonstrates this well is Acts 13:14-52, which we read a while ago. It contains Paul’s first and longest sermon that is recorded in the book of Acts. You may notice that no publicity was given to it before it was preached, and yet it produced tremendous results. So how did it happen?

During their first missionary journey in AD 44, Paul and Barnabas came to a city in Asia Minor called Antioch. This was different from the Antioch they had been sent from by the church which was in Syria. To distinguish it from that Antioch, this one is referred to as Pisidian Antioch. Because of its strategic location, it was colonized by many successive groups of people resulting in a very large population that included Greeks, Jews and Phrygians. The Romans colonised it in the first century and made it the capital of southern Galatia.

About 90 years ago archaeologists discovered the remains of a first century synagogue beneath the ruins of a Byzantine church. It is believed that this was the actual synagogue where Paul preached the sermon that is recorded in Acts chapter 13. Since Paul and Barnabas were Jews, they were welcomed to the Sabbath day worship which took place here. The synagogue service included the reading of the scriptures and after that it was customary for visiting Jews to be asked to speak.

We see this in Acts 13:15 – “And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” Paul then took the opportunity to preach the Word. There are three things about the Word that we will see in today’s sermon: 1) The Wonders of the Word that are highlighted in Paul’s preaching; 2) The Impact of the Word upon those who heard him, and 3) The Application of the Word for us from this passage. We shall begin by looking at…

1. The Wonders of the Word

The first wonder of the Word is its objective foundation. It rests on God’s participation in history. Paul made this point as he began to preach his sermon at Antioch. He gave a summary of Israel’s history beginning in v.17,18 – “The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought He them out of it.  And about the time of forty years suffered He their manners in the wilderness…”

These two verses cover about 500 years of history from Genesis chapter 12 to the end of Deuteronomy – How God chose Abraham and made his descendants grow into nationhood in Egypt, brought them out in a great exodus when the Egyptians enslaved them, and then patiently led them to the Promised Land. Then in the next four verses Paul summarised the transformation of Israel from a loose federation of twelve tribes in Canaan to a powerful kingdom under King David. This covers another 500 years of history that is recorded in the books of Joshua, Judges and 1 & 2 Samuel.

I want you to observe that God is the subject of almost all the verbs in this summary. In these six verses God is the One who chose… exalted… brought out… suffered… destroyed… divided… gave… raised up… and said. This shows that God revealed Himself through His active participation in history. When history is used as the vehicle for declaring truths about God, all these truths became objective and verified. They do not belong to the subjective realm of human philosophy, speculation or opinion.

They are also not like the religious beliefs of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans which are based on myths and legends. In the Word which God has given to us we see how He has worked in the lives of real people who lived in real places, in real time! For instance, in v.17 we see the land of Egypt being mentioned. The ancient history and geography of Egypt are well-documented from thousands of ancient records and artefacts, and every detail about Egypt recorded in the Bible fits precisely with them.

Then, in v.22, David is mentioned as king of Israel – “…He raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also He gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after Mine own heart, which shall fulfil all My will.” In 1993, a basalt stone was discovered at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It was dated 9th century BC and it had the words ‘Melek Yisrael’ and ‘Beiyth David’ inscribed on it in old Aramaic script. These mean ‘king of Israel’ and ‘house of David’ respectively, and they prove the real existence of King David in history. And so David is not a myth or a legend but a real person who lived in Israel 3,000 years ago. There are many evidences like this that are linked to the Bible. If you would like to know more about them, you can join the ERBL course on the Pentateuch which began last Friday morning.

The main application here however, is to ensure that your faith in God is based on objective verifiable facts and not on subjective stories. myths and legends. The only way to do this is to make God’s written Word the only grounds for all your beliefs. This is the only reliable source of truth from God because it rests on a firm foundation: God’s participation in human history.

That is the first wonder of the Word. We go on now to the next wonder, which is its amazing fulfilment. It records how God’s promises were fulfilled in Christ even to the smallest detail. This is the point that Paul made as he continued his preaching in vv.23-37. In v.23 he mentions Jesus as being the fulfilment of God’s promise – “Of [David’s] seed hath God according to His promise raised unto Israel aSaviourJesus.” You may ask, ‘Where in the Bible is this promise of God found?’ It is spelled out clearly in Jeremiah 23:5,6 – “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely…”

By the time Paul spoke to the people in Antioch, 16 years had passed since Jesus ascended up to heaven. But reports about Him and the things He did would have spread far and wide by then. This explains why Paul did not elaborate much about Him in this sermon – the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus were well-known among the Jews at that time.

John the Baptist was also well-known to the Jews. Thus, they understood what Paul said about him in vv.24-25 – “When John had first preached before His coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not He. But, behold, there cometh One after me, whose shoes of His feet I am not worthy to loose.”

John the Baptist fulfilled an important role: Preparing the people for the arrival of the Messiah. His role had been prophesied about 700 years earlier in Isaiah 40:3 – “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Besides this, the prophet Isaiah had foretold many other things about the Messiah. For instance, His virgin birth was foretold in Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

The preaching ministry of Christ was foretold in Isaiah 61:1-2 – “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me; because the LORD hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD…”

The Jews’ rejection of Christ was foretold in Isaiah 8:14 – “And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

The most important event that the prophets foretold about Christ was His suffering and death for sinners. This is found in Isaiah 53:4-6 – “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

All these are only a few of the messianic prophecies which Jesus fulfilled. Many more are recorded in the rest of the Old Testament and they add up to more than 350 messianic prophecies. Jesus Himself said John 5:39, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” Since the Scriptures were read as part of the worship in every synagogue on every Sabbath day, all Jews who lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus would have known about these prophecies. And yet when Christ came they hated Him, rejected Him, condemned Him and even crucified Him for their own selfish ends. By doing this, they unwittingly fulfilled these very prophecies!

This tragic situation is highlighted in vv.27-29 – “For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him. And though they found no cause of death in Him, yet desired they Pilate that He should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre.”

The same thing can also happen to us if we are not careful. We come to church regularly, we read a portion of Scripture and we hear the Word preached to us Sunday after Sunday. But how seriously do we take it? What impact does it have on our life? Do we really know the Lord Jesus and honour Him in our thoughts, words and deeds? Or do we live in a way that makes others condemn Him? Let us not fall into the same error as the Jews. Having only a head knowledge of Him is not good enough. The Word of Christ must dwell in us richly until our lives reflect His glory! We need to show the world by our words and life that Jesus is truly a Living Saviour who has resurrected from the dead!

This is what Paul went on to speak about in his sermon, because it is the climax of God’s promise. He began to speak about the resurrection of Jesus in v.30 and continued until v.37. He even quoted three verses – Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10 – as prophecies about Christ’s resurrection. Why did he do all this? Because it is the very heart of the Gospel of salvation. Just listen to what he says in vv.32,33:“And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again…” This is the greatest evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. His resurrection has settled once and for all His identity as the Son of God who came to save us from sin.

This brings us now to the third wonder of the Word that Paul spoke about in his sermon: Its great salvation. The Word reveals God’s plan to save all men through Christ. Let us look at vv.38,39 where themain thrust of Paul’s sermon is found – “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

Here the problem that needed to be solved is identified: It is the sins we commit. The Law of Moses  could not save anyone from sin. It only shows that all have sinned. The more we try to keep the Law which God had given through Moses, the more aware we become of our failure to keep it. Then we realise how sinful we really are and that our only hope is for God to forgive us of all our sins. But how can a God who is perfectly just and holy forgive us? There is only one possible way – through the death of Jesus for us.

This is the Good News that Paul had been leading all his hearers to. First, he had identified Jesus as the Saviour in v.23. Then in v.26 he referred to the message which God sends to them as ‘the word ofsalvation’. In v.32 he calls it ‘glad tidings’ which means ‘good news’.  And now right here in v.38, he tells them what the good news is – It is the forgiveness of sins which comes through believing in Jesus alone. As v.39 says, “And by Him all that believe are justified from all things.”

Please take note of the word ‘all’ that is used twice here. It really brings out the fullness of God’s salvation. The first ‘all’ refers to all people without distinction – whether young or old, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile – all who put their trust in Jesus will have their sins forgiven. The second ‘all’ in this verse refers to all sins without distinction – whether sins of commission or sins of omission, whether past, present or future sins – all sins are forgiven, all are washed away in the blood of Jesus!

What a great salvation is revealed here in God’s Word! But the question which each one of us has to answer is this: Have your sins been forgiven? Have you truly believed in Jesus alone for salvation, or are you still trusting in your own ability to keep God’s laws to save you? If you haven’t believed in Jesus yet, I urge you not to delay any longer. This is because the Word of God has come to you, and you have just seen its Wonders -  its objective foundation, its amazing fulfilment, and its great salvation. A Wonderful Word like that certainly requires a good response from you.

2. The Impact of the Word

And the impact of the Word on your life depends on how you respond to it. This is what we will consider now. Please look at what Paul said in vv.40-41 – “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.”

Here a strong warning is given to everyone in the synagogue about the judgment they will face if they despise the Word they had just heard. Six centuries earlier, the prophet Habakkuk had given this warning to the Jews when God was about to bring judgment on them for despising His Word (Habakkuk 1:5). At that time the armies of Babylon were about to come on a rampage of destruction, and commit the worst atrocities on them. Habakkuk’s prophecy was fulfilled in 586 BC, and the Jews never forgot that painful judgment.

And now Paul tells the Jews at Antioch that if they despise the Good News of salvation, God will work a work of judgment on them instead of salvation. And when it comes, they will fully regret what they had done. The sad thing is that many who heard this warning did not take it seriously, as we see in vv.45-46 – “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”

By rejecting the Word, they brought judgment upon themselves, and thus they would have no one but themselves to blame when it comes. What judgment did they bring on themselves? Well, since they were unworthy of everlasting life, where would they end up? It must be everlasting death! This judgment is obviously much worse than the one which was wrought by the Babylonians, since it will be an endless judgment in the fires of Hell.

Everyone today also needs to be warned that they will face this awful judgment because of their sins. If you do not want to prove yourself unworthy of eternal life, do not reject the Gospel message. According to v.45, the Jews at Antioch rejected the message because of envy. When they saw the multitudes coming to hear the Gospel, they could not stand the idea that all the Gentiles may now receive God’s grace and mercy so freely. It was basically their own selfish pride which made them reject and oppose God’s Word.

Pride is also the main reason why many people today reject the Gospel. Many refuse to admit that they are sinners because of pride. Many would say that the Gospel is just a crutch for the weak, and so they don’t need it. Many refuse to believe because they want to live their lives their own way and for themselves alone. If only they can see what impact this will have on them in eternity, they will realise how foolish it is to reject the Word and how wise it is to love it.

Thankfully, there was a good response to the Word from some people in that synagogue. This can be seen in vv.42-44 – “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.”

This shows how love for the Word makes people desire more and more of it. The Gentiles urged Paul to return next week so that they could hear him preach again. Many others followed after Paul and Barnabas probably to ask questions and to learn more about the Gospel. And as they told others about the Word they had heard, the synagogue was packed to overflowing with people after only one week. And even after persecution had left them without the presence of Paul and Barnabas, we are told in v.52 that  “the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.” What a great impact the Word had made on them!

What is most striking about this impact is that it came from a clear exposition of God’s Word alone. There were no miracles performed, no impressive costly campaigns, and no manipulation of emotions at all. The impact came purely from the power which God has invested in His Word. If we want to see a similar impact happening today, we must have full confidence in God’s Word to accomplish God’s work – whether it is to save the lost here in Singapore or overseas in missions. And we must all be ready to apply the Word in every situation. This brings us now to the final part of this sermon where we learn about…

3. The Application of the Word

There are three applications that I would like to highlight. The first one is to be ready to proclaim the Word widely. Look at v.47 – “For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.”

The Lord has commanded us to witness for Christ unto the ends of the earth. This command was given by Christ in Acts 1:8 – “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: andye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” It is also given in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19,20 – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

And as we share the Gospel with people, we have the assurance that some of them will believe in Christ. The reason for this is found in v.48,49 – “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.” Since God has already ordained some to eternal life, there are bound to be positive responses wherever the Gospel is given. Our responsibility is simply to sow the Gospel seed as widely as we can. The results are left to God’s unseen working in the hearts of people. God will cause His Word to take root and bear fruit in their lives. He will give the increase so that His Word will continue to be proclaimed widely.

The second application of the Word is to be willing to suffer for it. Persecution and rejection are to be expected. This can be seen in v.50 – “But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.” We thank God that we do not face this kind of opposition here, but such things do happen. Some years ago a church in a neighbouring country was forced to move out of its premises after some people in the neighbourhood came in and disrupted its worship service. Thankfully, the church moved to another location and is presently doing very well. So let us be ready to proclaim the Word widely, and be willing to suffer for it.

Now we come to the third and final application of the Word, which is to be diligent in obeying it. This is seen in v.51 – “But they shook off the dust of their feet against them...” Perhaps you may have wondered why Paul and Barnabas would shake the dust off their feet, probably in full view of all the Jews and magistrates who expelled them out of the city. They were not at all reacting in a cheeky or impudent manner like little kids would do.

They were merely following the instructions which the Lord Jesus had given to His disciples when He sent them out in Matthew 10:14 – “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. This act is meant to make the people realise that rejecting the Word ultimately brings God’s rejection of them. Hopefully, this symbolic act would cause some of them to change later on.

John Bunyan (1628-1688) was an English preacher and writer of many books, including the Christian classic, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Spurgeon said that reading anything John Bunyan wrote is almost like reading the Bible itself. But in his youth Bunyan was the most foul-mouthed blasphemer in Bedford, his hometown. He was notorious for his terrible cursing, swearing and lying. He was a ringleader of youths in all kinds of vice and ungodliness.

But after he was saved, Bunyan repented of his sinful ways and his speech gradually changed to become wholesome and edifying to those who heard him. Soon he was even able to preach the Word and bring many sinners to Christ! How did this change happen? Spurgeon described it like this: “He read the Bible till his very soul was saturated with Scripture… Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.”

May the Word make a similar impact on our life, and may we all be challenged to keep giving it to others, so that the full impact of the Word may also be seen in their lives!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25