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Study Notes:

Acts 13:13-52

Reacting to the Gospel

Summary:  Paul shares the Gospel, the good news that God has been at work launching a rescue mission for us and while some receive the news with joy, others resist.

How would you explain the gospel?  It’s the foundation of the Christian faith, but what it is?  What is the relationship between God and man and how does Jesus fit in? 

We’ll find some answers this morning as we look at the history of the first missionary effort of the church – we’re following the lives of Paul and Barnabas who have been called by God, confirmed by their church, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to travel around spreading the story of Jesus.  Remember, this was before the Internet, or TV, or radio, if you wanted people to know something, you had to go and tell them or write to them, but it’s kind of hard to write letters to people you don’t know, so going in person to meet them and explain is generally the best bet.

Last week we saw their first stop on the journey – the island of Cypress – the started at one end and made their way to the other sharing the story of Jesus along the way.  They had some opposition, but they also saw God show up in a big way.  Well, now they’re ready to move on to the next place and so we read:

Acts 13:13 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.

You’re going to want to make note of that little detail – John Mark left.  We never learn why, but it didn’t sit well with Paul.  In fact, later Paul and Barnabas will have a massive falling out over whether they should let John Mark travel with them again.  It’s an interesting little reminder that Scripture is honest.  These are real people, with real reactions to the things that happen in real life – and they don’t always look as much like Jesus as we want them too.  But neither do we, right? 

Look, one of the things we’ve seen in Acts is: life is hard, even when you’re doing the things God has called you to do; but God is good.  We’re going to face frustrations and friction, sometimes it will come from external circumstances and people on the outside of our lives, but then sometimes it will come from and happen with the people we’re closest to.  Life is hard, but God is good, and He never leaves us alone – even when someone close to you does.

So, John Mark takes off, but the mission goes on.

14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia,

Now, you need to know that this is not the same Antioch that they left from.  You may have heard of Alexander the Great.  Well, one of his top generals actually gave the name Antioch to sixteen different cities in honor of his father which makes things a little confusing for us, but way to go dad, way to make a good impression on your son.  And if any of you are still looking for a mother’s day gift for mom – you know, you might consider conquering or found a city and naming it in her honor – you know, if you really love her and all…

Anyway, Paul and Barnabas show up at Antioch, not Antioch, 

and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

Think of the synagogue kind of like a local church for Jews.  You have a Jewish community living here in the city and they’ve got their own gathering for worship which Paul and Barnabas attend and, as visitors, they’re given a chance to say something.

16 Then 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 exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. 18 Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.

20 “After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ 23 From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus—

Paul has the chance to address the synagogue and what does he do?  He starts unfolding history for them so he can share the gospel.  He’s speaking to a primarily Jewish audience and he wants them to know that this gospel is nothing new, it is not a sudden event.

God has been steadily unfolding His plan of salvation throughout time. Even when we can’t see it, He is always at work, for our good.  Look at all points Paul makes:

  • God chose Israel and made them great
  • God led them out of Egypt
  • God destroyed seven nations and gave Israel a homeland
  • God gave them judges
  • God gave them Saul when they asked for a king and
  • God removed Saul when he stopped leading in the right direction and then
  • God raised up David to take Saul’s place
  • God testified about David that he was a man after God’s own heart
  • God promised to bring a savior to Israel from David’s descendants and He did.

One of the things we have spoken about time and time again during this COVID crisis is the fact that, according to

Hebrews 13:8 Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Why do we keep saying that? 

It’s to remind us that the God who has been with us in the past is still with us today.  Even. In. This.  Nothing takes God by surprise because He knows everything and sees everything and He is weaving things together for good.  We will go through hard times, things will not always be easy, but when you look back, you can trace the outline of God strategically moving pieces into place.  Life doesn’t always make sense looking out the windshield, but if you look back in the rearview mirror you might find strength, hope, and peace.

Paul points these people back to what God has already done, and it’s a lot.  It’s probably a lot in your life too.  But do you remember?  Do you remember all the great things you’ve seen God do?  The things that seemed incredible in the moment?  The things you couldn’t believe at the time?  But now they’re covered by a layer of dust in your memories and they don’t shine so brightly.  Friends, we need to go back and dust off the memories of what God has done, because He doesn’t change, and He’s working, even in this, to bring about a greater good for us.

Some of you have a lot of time together as family right now, I want to encourage you to take some of that time and tell the stories of the times you saw God show up, the places where you know you’ve seen His fingerprints in your life.  What are your miracles stories?  Do your kids know?  Do your grandkids know?  You’ve got something to tell them about God that they can’t learn anywhere else, because it happened in your life!

And singles, pick up the phone, tell a friend your story, ask them for their best God story.  If you have a picture related to that event or moment or season, put up a post on Instagram and a brief description of what it means to you.  Or jot it down in a journal and remind yourself of the details – what has God done?

Because Paul is trying to explain what God is doing now in light of everything else He has done, how it all led up to Jesus.  And so, continuing to tie what’s happening now to what’s happened in the past, he connects things to John the Baptist, a name most living Jews would have heard, he was like the Billy Graham of his day:

Acts 13:24 after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’

26 “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. 27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him. 28 And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. 29 Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. 30 But God raised Him from the dead. 31 He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people.

Now, you have to know that the Jews of this day were expecting God to send a savior – the word was Messiah in Hebrew, or Christ in Greek, both words mean a deliverer.  The Jews were expecting that.  But in the past God had always sent them a military or political leader – people like Moses who led them out of captivity in Egypt, or kings like Saul and David who drove out invading armies, or Nehemiah who led them out of captivity in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem. 

They weren’t expecting Jesus, a blue-collar tradesman from the country, to show up, announce the kingdom of God was at hand, work incredible miracles and teach amazing things about God and then allow Himself to be arrested, tried, and put to death as a sacrifice.  But again, Paul points back to what God had already said and showed, “We may have missed it guys, but this is what God told us would happen all along.”  He says:

Acts 13:32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. 33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm:

‘​You are My Son,

​​Today I have begotten You.’

34 And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus:

‘​I will give you the sure mercies of David.’

35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm:

‘​You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’

36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption.

Some translations use the better word ‘decay’ here, its root word means to ‘rot thoroughly’ pretty disgusting, but that’s what happens to dead bodies under normal circumstances, right?  But Jesus did not decay.  He didn’t spend that long in the grave. Death had no power over Him, because sin had no power over Him.

And now Paul really gets to the meat of his message – what does all of this mean?  Why did you come all this way to tell us this?

Acts 13:38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Now, notice what Paul is preaching here, notice the whole point of everything he’s saying, it’s all been to get to this: there is forgiveness of sins through the grace of God. This is why he and Barnabas have traveled all this way – this is why he’s endured so much conflict and so many obstacles: to tell people that there is forgiveness of sins through the grace of God.

Friends, this is the PRIMARY thing we need in life.  But most of us don’t see it that way!  We think our primary need is to pay the mortgage, or to get a good job, or to be in good health, or not to have to work so hard or for so long or commute so long.  We think our primary need is to loose a few pounds, or gain a few inches in the right spots, or to settle down with the right man or the right woman.  And as long as God can help us achieve those goals, we are glad to have Him in our lives. 

Most of those things aren’t bad, but they’re not primary.  They’re not the most important thing.  The most important thing is to hear, and receive, the message of forgiveness of sin.  To be saved by God.

Imagine yourself on a commercial fishing boat up in Alaska. You’re out in the Bering Sea hundreds of miles away from shore when a humongous storm comes your way.  Your boat is tossed around like a little ball on the water as wave after wave pounds you, rain pours down on you, and wind rips around you. 

The ship begins taking on water and it is clear that you are not going to be able to ride this one out.  The water is so cold that even if you don’t drown you will freeze to death within minutes.  What do you need?  A life jacket?  A life raft?  Some survival supplies?  Yes, but you’re hundreds of miles from land, in freezing water, the most important thing you need is someone to get you out of there.  And that is where Jesus comes in.

God sees you going down, and He launches a rescue operation.  He is the pilot flying the plane that spots you, the rescue swimmer that grabs hold of you, and the helicopter that flies you safely back to land.  The life jacket, life boat, and survival supplies are all nice, but if you’re left in the storm, sooner or later you’re going to be overwhelmed, they’re not going to be enough.  Your greatest need is for total deliverance, for someone to get you out of there completely, and that comes, only through this man – Jesus.

Paul tells his listeners that God has sent Jesus to rescue them, from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.  There are two things here I want to point out to you: God rescues us from all things, and He does it because the law of Moses, or a system of religious rules couldn’t do it.

So let’s talk about both of those.  First, God saves us from all things, those are two very important words because they include all of our past, present, and future sins. 

You need to know that.  Salvation in Christ means salvation from everything.  There is no purgatory where you have everything that has happened since you were first saved burned off. The death of Jesus is the only thing that can save you, but it entirely saves you – from all your sins past, present, and future.

And, notice Paul says that in Jesus everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Consider the audience here.  Paul is not preaching to a group of thugs, he is in the synagogue, speaking to people who gathered for worship.  He talking to people who lived good, upright, moral lives, who followed religious rules, and he’s telling them, that’s not enough.  No matter how good a swimmer you may be, you are not going to survive on your own hundreds of miles from shore.

So, going back to our rescue analogy – the law of Moses is like a life preserver – it would keep you afloat, but if you’re hundreds of miles from shore, in the midst of a monster storm, it isn’t going to do enough for you in the long run.  That’s what religion is like without Jesus.  Religion can keep you afloat when others are sinking, but it can’t pull you out of the waters; it can’t keep you from eventually starving, drowning, drifting, dying of exposure, or being eaten by sharks.  Don’t mistake staying afloat for actually being saved.

And remember, all of this is meant to be good news – Paul is telling people that God wants to rescue them. 

But, in every disaster there are people who won’t listen to the warnings.  For whatever reason they just stay put. Some are scared and don’t know what to do, others are obstinate and stuck in their ways.  Some just don’t like being told what to do or think they’ll be alright – others might need to evacuate, but not them.

Paul addresses those kind of people as he wraps up his message:

Acts 13:40 Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you:

41 ​‘​Behold, you despisers,

​​Marvel and perish!

​​For I work a work in your days,

​​A work which you will by no means believe,

​​Though one were to declare it to you.’ ”

He tells them what God has done, points out the path of salvation, the rescue that Jesus brings and encourages them to receive the rescue.

42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

Well, apparently word of the divine rescue from sin got around the following week, because…

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.

Which you would think is a good thing, right? But

45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:

‘​I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,

​​That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

How could two groups of people react in such opposite ways to the same message? 

And, how could you see God make an offer of salvation and not only reject it for yourselves, but try to oppose others from hearing it too?  To resist your own rescue and purposefully sabotage the rescue of others?  It’s just proof that something supernatural is involved in our salvation – something we cannot understand. 

Once again, we are left realizing our rescue comes entirely from God – He is the pilot, the hoist operator and the rescue swimmer – He sees our need, comes to us before we even call, and does everything necessary to save us – we just need to make sure we don’t fight Him through the process.

49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Some of the Jews reject the message, rile up the city’s leaders and drive Paul and Barnabas out of the city.  So, the men shake the dust from their feet, and move on to more receptive areas of ministry.  They wave off the rescue and say, no thanks, we’ve got this ourselves and unfortunately, you can’t save people who don’t want to be saved.

Now, Paul would continue praying for the Jews, and he would always try to reach them first in every city that he went to, but when they rejected him, he would move on to anyone else who would listen.

And maybe that is an application point for one of you: if you aren’t getting traction in the ministry you are trying to do, maybe it’s time to move on. 

You can keep praying for the people or person you are trying to serve, but if they aren’t receptive it doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong, or that you aren’t called to that form of ministry, it might just mean they aren’t ready to hear.

But let the rest of understand: Jesus jumped out of that rescue helicopter for you – a pretty crazy thing to do in the middle of a storm – He could have just left us in this mess that we have created, but instead, He jumped in after you. 

Your Father in Heaven loves you and He sent His only Son to save you.  Marvel at that.  Be impressed by that.  Walk in that.  Tell other about that.

And if you are trying to dog-paddle your life through some kind of sin today, trying to get by and stay afloat with the rules and rituals you’ve created as a life jacket – it may feel like you’re staying afloat, but it’s never going to get you out of the water.  Why not just confess your need for salvation and let Him rescue you?

Let’s pray.

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