Acts 13:13–52 . . .
“A Heart for God”
Last week, we were told by Luke that the Holy Spirit said to those of the church in Antioch, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." From now on in Acts, Saul is called Paul. Most importantly, Paul's first missionary journey didn't result from a planning session; instead they sailed to Cyprus under the Spirit's initiative, where they and their companion John Mark proclaimed the word of God in Jewish synagogues.
In this week’s passage, Barnabas and Paul sailed to Perga, Pamphylia, where John Mark departed (v. 13). As will be clear in our upcoming study of Acts 15:36–41, Paul didn't appreciate the departure of John Mark here. To some degree he seems to have lost confidence in John Mark as a missionary companion and team member. This ought to reassure us that, as great and godly as these men were, and as great as the work was that they did, they still had problems.
The missionary group is now described as "Paul and his companions." Previously, as recently as last week's 13:7, the group was described as "Barnabas and Saul." From this point on, Paul's leadership and prominence will be evident. They left the island of Cyprus, coming to Perga on the mainland of what is today Turkey.
Paul Preaches Jesus in a Pisidian Antioch Synagogue (13:14–15)
Perga was a coastal, harbor city where the ship from Paphos arrived at the mainland. Antioch in Pisidia was about 135 miles (220 kilometers) inland, to the north. This general region was known as Galatia; later Paul wrote a letter to the Galatian churches that's included in our New Testament library.
Paul's Pisidian Synagogue sermon was timely. A first-century synagogue service followed a general order: (1) Opening prayers were offered; (2) there was a reading from the Law (the first five books of the Old Testament); (3) someone then read from the Prophets; and (4) if there was an educated person present, he'd be invited to speak on subjects related to the readings. The rulers of the synagogue gave Paul the customary invitation and he was more than happy to use the opportunity.
Paul Preaches an Historic Sermon to Many (vv. 16–22)
On a typical Sabbath in an Antioch synagogue, Paul stood up, raised his hand, and invited fellow Israelites, and those Gentiles therein who worshiped God, to hear what he had to tell them. He began to preach his sermon, explaining how God's work in history leads up to Jesus. He addressed his message to both groups: Jews and "near Jews" who were those Gentiles who admired the Jewish religion but hadn't yet made a full commitment to Judaism.
Paul began by reminding listeners of the history of the Jewish people that lasted about 450 years. In his survey of Israel's history, he reminded them of critical historic events: the choosing of the patriarchs, the deliverance from Egypt, the time in the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, the time of judges, and the creation of a monarchy ruled by kings. But all of that, he made clear to them, led up to Jesus. Before focusing on Jesus, we must appreciate his message's mention of and focus on King David.
God's assessment of David's heart is one of the highest praises that anyone has ever received from the Lord. And this commendation isn't reserved exclusively for Israel's beloved king; in fact, Father God longs for every one of his children to have a hearty heart for him.
In v. 22, the Lord esteemed David as "a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do." In other words, the chief characteristic of having a heart for God is having a passion to obey him. Not every act of King David's life was as the Lord would have desired; nevertheless, his pattern was to follow after God. And David also knew what to do when he sinned. His prayer was that the Lord would stretch out any wicked way in him, clean it up, and help him to get back on track so he'd become the kind of person his heavenly Father wanted him to be.
Jesus: Received and Rejected (vv. 23–29)
"From this man's descendants, God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised." So ends Paul's survey of Israel's history, demonstrating that God has a plan for history, and we need to sense our own connection to that plan. To those listeners in that synagogue, and to each of us here today, Jesus is the goal of history! As we are in Jesus, we are in the flow of God's great plan of redemption.
Using the examples of John the Baptist and the Jewish rulers, Paul shows next, in vv. 23–29, how people both received and rejected Jesus. John the Baptist responded to Jesus the right way. He prepared the hearts of others for Jesus; and he saw Jesus as who he really was. John knew that Jesus was the One who was greater than all others. He knew Jesus was more than a teacher; he was the Lord God to whom we must all answer.
Paul went on to state John's well-known declaration: "But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." That statement shows that John knew that Jesus was high above him. In that day, it wasn't uncommon for a great teacher to have disciples follow him, and it was expected that they'd serve the teacher in various ways. This arrangement came to be abused, however, when leading rabbis established certain tasks that were quite demeaning for a teacher to expect of his disciple. It was decided, therefore, that for a teacher to expect his disciple to undo the strap of his sandal was too much; it was too demeaning. Here, John insisted he wasn't worthy enough to do such a demeaning task for Jesus' benefit.
When we read "The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus" (v. 27), we need to be wary of those people who didn't understand the Scriptures appropriately. As a result, they rejected Jesus and delivered him to Pilate to be executed. They rejected him even though they lived in Jerusalem and were Jewish rulers. Thereafter, Jesus was executed and laid in a tomb.
Paul Preaches the Resurrected Jesus (vv. 30–37)
Paul starts v. 30 with two powerful words: "But God." Man had done his best to fight against God — even to kill him — but God was greater than man's sin and rebellion, and Jesus rose from the grave, winning victoriously over sin and death. Here, the fact was simply stated: "But God raised him from the dead." Add to that the evidence from eyewitnesses that had been offered. We shouldn't miss Paul's emphasis on the historic events in his preaching. After all, Christianity isn't simply a philosophy or a set of ethics, though it involves these things. Essentially, Christianity is a proclamation of historic facts concerning what God has done, especially with regard to Christ's resurrection.
We ought to be glad, therefore, when we read what Paul said next in the "good news" portion of his message: "What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us their children by raising up Jesus." Applying the truth of Jesus' resurrection, Paul used Psalm 2:7 to document that Jesus truly is the unique Son of God. He then reminded his listeners of how Christ's resurrection, as cited in Psalm 16:10, proved that Jesus was utterly holy, even while engaged with his work on the cross.
Who Jesus Is and What He Did for Us (vv. 38–41)
Forgiveness and justification are Paul's next two pronouncements. Verse 38's "through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you" is a bold declaration for anyone to make. But it promises us this: Because of who Jesus is and what he did for us, forgiveness is offered to us freely when we sincerely believe in Jesus as Lord. Paul continued his declaration just as boldly when he said, "Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin." Sadly, some refuse to embrace the salvation of Jesus in their hearts. They prefer instead to want a salvation of their own making, to be saved the old-fashioned way: They want to earn it. Thankfully, Jesus asks us to trust and believe in him and we'll be saved. (See Peter and John's own bold declaration of salvation — 4:12 — that we covered in Week 7.)
After his "forgiveness" declaration, Paul immediately preaches "justification" (v. 39). We can never justify ourselves before God; to think so assumes that God grades on a curve, using a measure that bends according to human weakness. Thinking that way would also give us the glory for our own salvation, instead of realizing the truth in Ephesians 2:8–9. Paul assured his listeners, and us his readers, that "Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin." Jesus doesn't stop at forgiving us; he also justifies us. The difference between being "forgiven" and "justified could be boiled down to this, using financial accounting terminology: Forgiveness takes care of our negative sin debit while justification assigns to our "God Account" a positive credit.
Next, Paul alerts those hearing his sermon to "Take care," or "Beware, therefore," or "Take heed," or "Don't take lightly." He warns them — and us — that if we don't embrace the person and work of Jesus with our whole lives, we become despisers who'll perish. In his warning, he quoted a passage from Habakkuk regarding the judgment that came upon Jerusalem: If God judged the Israelites of Habakkuk's day, he'll certainly judge those who refuse and reject the generous offer of forgiveness that's provided as a result of the work of Savior Lord Jesus.
Many Respond to Paul’s Sermon (vv. 42–43)
As Paul and Barnabas left the synagogue, the Jews and the Gentiles responded most positively to Paul's sermon. Many came up to them and invited the two to speak more about forgiveness, justification, and salvation at the next Sabbath gathering. Luke noted interestingly that Paul's sermon had made an even greater impression on the Gentiles present in that synagogue.
Many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas after they left the synagogue. There was a continuing interest in what they'd heard and learned. They walked and talked with them; the two urged the Jews to "continue in the grace of God," which can mean that they'd already begun to trust in his grace. Note: Continuing in grace is as important as beginning in grace; we might think of grace as the "introduction to the Christian life," but God wants grace to remain as the "foundation for our life with Him."
On the Next Sabbath . . . (vv. 44–48)
The scene is easy to picture. On the next Sabbath, the entire city was ready to hear the gospel presented by Paul. He and Barnabas were presenting something new. Yet there wasn't merely the attraction of novelty; there was more notably the power of the word of God. This was the primary power that attracted people, and Luke emphasized it in his account. The dramatic response made the leaders of the synagogue envious, which is inevitable for those who are more concerned about being popular than serving God. When someone else is more popular, they become envious.
Suddenly, Paul's preaching drew opposition, as if he were conducting a debate and his opponents were contradicting him and blaspheming God. The blasphemy mentioned probably had to do with abusive and degrading language directed towards Jesus, whom Paul highlighted in his sermon. They opposed Paul's preaching, primarily because Jesus, through Paul, combined Jews with Gentiles. They couldn't accept the proposition that the Gentiles should be made equal with God's ancient people. Sadly, the religious people who'd waited so long for their Messiah now rejected him.
Paul and Barnabas grew bold: They were zealous for the things of God. They wouldn't let this current challenge go unanswered because they believed the truth about Jesus. The two rebuked those who rejected Jesus, letting the Jews know that it was a privilege that this message should come to them first, albeit a privilege they were now rejecting.
The Gentiles responded to Paul's invitation with enthusiastic belief, learning with joy that God didn't hate Gentiles, but offered them salvation in Jesus. Paul was wise to not spend more time trying to persuade hardened Jewish hearts.
Blessing, Opposition, Expulsion (vv. 49–52)
The good news was being spread through the efforts of Paul and Barnabas, but especially through the lives of these new believers who'd found and begun to follow Jesus. However, with a Christ-centered revival, we often find a second group being revived by the devil. As a result, Jewish opposition was strong enough to force Paul and Barnabas to leave the area. Shaking the dust off their feet, Paul and Barnabas treated the city of Antioch as a God-rejecting Gentile city.
The two carried on their work, going next to Iconium. All too often, rejection and opposition for the sake of the gospel makes us want to give up. But Paul and Barnabas responded with appropriate determination. Being "filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" go together. Thanks to the Spirit, Paul and Barnabas had joy that contradicted their circumstances. Paul is a great example of his own command to constantly "Be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).
- Q. 1 Paul "preached Jesus." Have you ever done that? Perhaps to a group? To an individual?
- Q. 2 If you have, how did it go for you? Were you as convincing as you desired?
- Q. 3 If you haven't yet "preached Jesus" to someone, why not make that effort today?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 13.]
† Watch this "Visual Bible" video clip: Acts 13:1–14:9, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
In Pisidian Antioch
13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak."
16Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20All this took about 450 years.
"After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'
23"From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'
26"Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead, 31and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
32"We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: "'You are my son; today I have become your father.'
34God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.'
35So it is also stated elsewhere: "'You will not let your holy one see decay.'
36"Now when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
38"Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41"'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'"
42As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
48When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
49The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.