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Monday, September 2, 2013

A Light to the Nations


Bible Readings:
Isaiah 49:6b - “I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
 Acts 13:16-41 -
16 Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:
17 "The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it.
18 "For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness.
19 "When He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance -all of which took about four hundred and fifty years.
20 "After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.
21 "Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.
22 "After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, 'I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY HEART, who will do all My will.'
23 "From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus,
24 after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
25 "And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.'
26 "Brethren, sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.
27 "For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him.
28 "And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed.
29 "When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.
30 "But God raised Him from the dead;
31 and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.
32 "And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers,
33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'YOU ARE MY SON ; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.'
34 "As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: 'I WILL GIVE YOU THE HOLY and SURE blessings OF DAVID.'
35 "Therefore He also says in another Psalm, 'YOU WILL NOT ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.'
36 "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay;
37 but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.
38 "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,
39 and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
40 "Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you:
41 'BEHOLD, YOU SCOFFERS, AND MARVEL, AND PERISH; FOR I AM ACCOMPLISHING A WORK IN YOUR DAYS, A WORK WHICH YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU.' "
[NASB]

******
Before Acts 13, the disciples had commissioned Saul to go from the Promised Land to the dispersed Jews and Gentiles because whenever he spoke to Jews in Israel, the Jewish leaders agitated the crowds to hurt or arrest Saul. In Damascus and Jerusalem, the believers of Jesus secretly helped Saul to escape their cities. In Chapter 13, Paul traveled from Antioch of Syria, to Cyprus, and on to Galatia, to a town called Antioch of Pisidia, present day Turkey. Antioch of Pisidia was founded in around 2 AD and made a Roman city around 25 AD. Several of the members of the imperial household had served as magistrates there. This city was mostly Hellenistic, but the Romans had transplanted many Jews there for economic and political reasons. These are the people to whom Paul and Barnabas spoke. 

The city was not a temple city, but had enough Jews in it to call for a synagogue where the Jews and Gentile believers in Yahweh met for the reading of the Law (the first 5 books of our Bible written by Moses) and the Prophets. (Acts 13:15) The leaders of the synagogue heard of Paul when his name was Saul. They recognized his educational and rabbinical training. Saul’s presence in their synagogue honored them so they asked him to speak. Paul addressed them, “Men of Israel and you who fear God: listen.” Paul understood to whom he spoke, Jews as well as Gentiles. He knew how to speak to these God-reverencers. Paul motioned with his hand as many speakers do to quiet the crowd. He began with a command to listen – hear what I say and consider it. Paul was going to take them on a journey of the memory. 

He tells all the listeners, but appears to be speaking to the non-Jews. He said, “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers.” (vs. 17) God chose the Israelites to be His children. The Israelites did nothing to earn it, but God chose them on whom to show His lovingkindness and mercy. This God brought them out of Egypt, directed them through the wilderness, and gave them the Promised Land of which He has promised to Abraham. God gave them judges to guide them and gave them a King through Saul when they asked. Because King David was a “man after God’s own heart” (vs. 22), God promised that from his seed, a son would come who would set up God’s kingdom forever. (Acts 13:23; see 1 Chronicles 17:12, 22:10; 2 Samuel 7:13-14, 16; Isaiah 9:7, 49:6) Up to this point, Paul preached to them what the Jews knew. This had been a history lesson for them from the Law, Prophets, and historical chronicles. The Jews knew the prophets had foretold that a Savior would come from the line of David. Paul next began to weave the Old Testament (Law and Prophets) with what he understood to be true concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  

Paul wove the Messiah who promised from the line of David to Jesus. He “proved” to the God-believers of Pisidian Antioch just as he did to the God-believers in Damascus, how Jesus was the promised Messiah from the line of David. In Acts 9:22, Luke said, “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” [NASB] This “proving” means knitting together. The Jews in Damascus were shocked because Saul, the persecutor of believers in Jesus, not only was preaching as a believer in Jesus, but he was proving with great prowess and persuasion that this man they recognized as Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Savior sent from Yahweh. Saul/Paul knitted the Scriptures the Jews had to the prophecies’ fulfillment by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Galilee. This is the same proving Paul taught in Pisidian Antioch. He drew in the believers of Yahweh in Pisidian Antioch with the reminder of God who had been with them in history and in the prophecies about the coming Messiah. Paul wove the God they acknowledged  with the current times. He knit in their minds their old history with Yahweh with the new present reality of Jesus as God’s Son. The Messiah of the Old Testament is the same Messiah of the New Testament, Jesus Christ. The Jews did not have to give up their history. They just had to add the rest of the story, the fulfillment of the prophecies. 

Paul continued with the rest of the story explaining how Jesus is the Messiah sent by God. Paul said in verse 23, “God has brought to Israel as Savior.” [NASB] Paul continued by showing how John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism by repentance to all the people of Israel. (vs. 24) He stated that John said he was not the Messiah and he was not worthy to tie the sandals of Him. Paul drew his sermon to a head by saying, “Brethren, sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.” (vs. 26) This message of deliverance from our judgment has been sent. “Hear and attend,” he is telling everyone. The leaders in Jerusalem and in the synagogue who taught and studied Scriptures and should have known that Jesus was the Messiah are the ones who persecuted Him and put Him to death as the prophecies foretold. God fulfilled the prophecies through the Jews. (vs. 29) God raised Jesus from the dead. (vs. 30) He appeared with His disciples and it was these disciples who witnessed His resurrection. These disciples testify to His resurrection, to His life, works, and words. God fulfilled His promise in that He raised Jesus from the grave back to life. (vs. 33) 

Paul expounded on how the listeners could accept as certain that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. He gave proof from Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Paul said God fulfilled the promise to David that David’s seed would not end and his kingdom would reign forever. God fulfilled the prophecy that the Messiah would not see decay, would not decompose as stated in Psalm 16:10. Paul said that David, who was a man after God’s heart, had not experienced this. David’s body was laid to rest at his death and it decayed. The promised seed of David, Jesus, would not decay. God fulfilled that promise, too.  

Paul, from verse 38, spoke these things to them and showed them proof that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He brought his sermon to a climax. He said, “Therefore.” This means, since Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises, hear and acknowledge this   Through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38b-39 [NASB]) Before the coming of Jesus, you had to live up to the Law that Moses gave you and offer regular sacrifices to God for your sins. Those sacrifices were never enough to wipe your name off the guilty judgment list. Now, through God’s sacrificing of His Son, who is Jesus, you can have forgiveness for every one of your sins for now and forever. The sacrifice of Jesus was the perfect sacrifice and no other sacrifice will ever be needed again if you trust He is the Son of God. The Law of Moses was not perfect to remove your sins and errors forever, only for that one moment in time. Jesus has made permanent forgiveness available to you if you will acknowledge and trust Him. 

Paul included all his hearers in this message. He included hearers and readers for all of time in it. He said, “Through Him everyone who believes…” The Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ is not just for the Jews, as so many thought. It was for Jew and Gentile. It was for all people. The God of the Israel through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, included all people as children of God. We, each of us, are created in His image and made to be in a relationship with God from the beginning of creation. (See Genesis 1:27) Isaiah 49:6 states that the salvation provided through Jesus is for all the nations so that it may reach to the ends of the earth. Peter attested in 2 Peter 3:9, that God does not want any to perish but that all would come to repentance. John stated in John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” [NASB] Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” This Gospel of Jesus Christ, this good news, is for all people, Jew and Greek (non-Jew), slave and free, man and woman. (Galatians 3:28) We are all made one people in Jesus Christ. We are all forgiven by God through belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We are all given eternal life through Jesus Christ. 
Paul concluded his sermon with a warning. “Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you.” After this remembrance of who God has been for them and telling and convincing them of who Jesus was, Paul included a warning in case anyone considered dismissing what he said. His warning came from the Prophets, the people whom the Jews esteemed. This prophecy came from Habakkuk. Habakkuk 1:5 states, Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days - You would not believe if you were told.” Paul reminded them that this prophecy was not God speaking only in that time, but it was applicable at all times. God was being more explicit than that though. Paul said this prophecy was for their time as well. God was doing something then. God was proclaiming who Jesus really was. It was so astonishing and wonderful, you might be inclined to not believe, but do not disbelieve. Believe! Observe; this Gospel is true and wonderful.
This is the first recorded sermon by Paul. He had been a staunch Jew who persecuted Jesus’ followers. He came to trust in Jesus after his encounter with Him on the road to Damascus. Paul learned the Law and Prophets by memory. Yet, Jesus broke into his reality and explained who He is, the Son of God, the awaited Messiah. Paul spent a long time with God after his first visit to Damascus. During that time, God “proved” to him who Jesus was. He “proved” that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah. God knit together the Law and Prophets with the fact of Jesus Christ being His promised Messiah. After proving this, Paul journeyed with Christ through the rest of his life. He spent his life telling every person he met that Jesus is the Son of God. Paul said, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” (vv. 38-39)  

This same message is true now. Jesus is the Son of God. Through Him, you can have forgiveness of your sins when you believe He is the Son of God “who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29 [NASB]) Through Jesus, you can have eternal life with God in heaven. Trust Jesus is God’s Son and your sins are forgiven. Jesus is our salvation. Jesus is the Savior for the entire world not just for some, but for everyone.