Thrusting Aside the Word of God

March 6, 2009

(This sermon on Acts 13:13-52 was preached February 22, 2009. The audio is available here.)

What is the Bible? What do you think of it? How do you approach it?

Many want nothing to do with it. They might respond to such questions by saying, “The Bible – that’s old and out of date. It’s not relevant for today. If I’m going to read something hundreds of pages long, I want it to be fresh, new, written for this time period, and informed by all the recent advances in knowledge. Why should I spend time looking at that old book?”

Others might see historical or sociological value in the Bible: “Oh, yes, the Bible is an interesting record of a number of the spiritual encounters of great men and (a very few) great women. Perhaps some of those encounters have a basis in a supernatural being intervening in this world. In addition, the Bible has been esteemed by millions of people over the years; it has had a major influence on this country’s history and literature. Indeed, we can’t understand the US today without understanding the Bible. So, yes, I read it, I have studied it – as history, as an important core document of several religious traditions.”

Yet others might say more: They value the Bible for personal spiritual benefits: “Yes, the Bible has had a profound influence on me. Jesus is an amazing figure, as are Moses, Elijah, Daniel, David, and others. Jesus surely was a great teacher who was closely in touch with God. He is my example; I try to live like him. There is much we must learn from the Bible. But today, we can’t even know what the Bible originally said. The church may well have massaged the text to make it say what it wanted. And, in any event, the Bible is a pre-scientific account of origins and human psychology. We’ve learned so many things that make the Bible’s worldview archaic and obsolete. So, yes, it’s very interesting, impressive, and helpful – but today we must pick and choose what topics, what passages still make sense.”

Do those attitudes sound familiar to you? Do you yourself agree with one of them?

Consider the difference between those three attitudes toward the Bible and the psalmist’s attitude, expressed in Psalm 119:169-174:

Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
give me understanding according to your word!
Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.
Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.

The psalmist knows that God has revealed Himself in His Word. He submits to that Word, and longs for God to help him understand and apply it. He praises God for what he learns through the Word. He delights in the Word, for it tells him of God’s way of salvation.

The Bible claims to be God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. The infinitely powerful, infinitely good, infinitely wise God is so far beyond us that we could never possibly figure him out on our own. But He has chosen to communicate to us who He is. And He is wise enough to communicate all we need to know in this book, despite the limits of human language and the challenges of explaining His infinite qualities.

If the Bible is truly what it claims to be – the one and only written revelation of God to man, breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16) – then we had better pay attention to it. As Peter writes,

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. . . .  19 And we have something [even] more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16, 19)

Peter says we are in darkness. But God has given us a lamp. That lamp, the Word, is our light, shining, showing us the truth. We can walk in darkness and ignore it; we can pretend that it’s not really a light exposing truth, instead it’s just, say, a movie projector displaying falsehood – but whatever we pretend, it is the true light. We must pay attention to it. Only God’s Word is able to make us wise unto salvation.

That’s the Bible’s claim. I don’t know where you are this morning. But if your attitude toward God’s Word is more similar to one of those first three than to the psalmist’s, I want to say two things:

First: I’m delighted you’re here. God intends His Word to be sung, to be prayed, to be read aloud together, and to be preached or heralded. Please listen. Pay attention. I pray that God would display Himself to you in His Word.

Second: I encourage you: Try approaching the Bible with a submissive attitude. Say something like, “God, if You are there: I want to be a truth seeker. I do not want to turn my back on the only light that shines in the darkness of this world. So if this is really Your Word, show Yourself to me in it. Give me understanding according to Your Word.”

We have been making our way through the book of Acts on Sunday mornings. Today we are in chapter 13. As we saw last week, the church in Antioch – in what is now Syria – has sent Barnabas and the Apostle Paul out on the first missionary journey. They have preached in the island of Cyprus, where even the proconsul, the Roman governor of the island, believed, despite Satan’s opposition.

Today’ we’ll look at chapter 13, from the thirteenth verse to the end of the chapter. Paul and Barnabas travel to what is now Turkey. This passage includes the longest sermon by Paul recorded in Acts, though even that is undoubtedly a brief summary of what he said. But the major theme of this sermon and the surrounding chapter is the Word of God.

So I pray that as we consider this part of God’s Word, He might establish us that much more firmly in His Word, deepening our understanding of its centrality in our lives, so that we might pay attention to it, as to a lamp in a dark place.

There are six themes in this section, all related to God’s Word:

God’s Word in History
God’s Word Incarnate
God’s Word in Prophecy
God’s Word Offered
God’s Word Rejected
God’s Word Accepted

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. Acts 13:13-14a

Paul and Barnabas leave Cyprus, and sail to the port of Perga in the coastal region of Pamphylia. John Mark – the author of the Gospel of Mark – deserts Paul and Barnabas here (we’ll learn more about that in chapter 15). The apostles then make the difficult journey from the coast up into the mountainous region of Pisidia, as they travel to one of its most important cities, Antioch (Note that there were many Antiochs in those days – this Antioch in present day Turkey is obviously a different Antioch from the city in present day Syria, where Paul and Barnabas started).

And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” Acts 13:14b-15

The apostles decide to visit the synagogue, to speak first to the Jews. This will become Paul’s normal method of operation whenever entering a city with a synagogue. He will speak first to those who share the foundational assumptions of Old Testament teaching.

There is a significant Jewish community here and in many Roman cities. But the synagogues also included a number of proselytes – Gentile converts to Judaism – and “God-fearers”, those Gentiles who have an interest in learning about the Hebrew Scriptures, but have not yet fully embraced its tenets.

God’s Word in History

In the first part of his sermon, Paul – like Stephen in chapter 7 –  recounts some of the history of the people of Israel. But he tells this history in an interesting way. Listen carefully. Who is the subject of almost every verb?

16  So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. And after that 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 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Acts 13:16-23

In this passage, God is subject of almost every verb. He acts, and accomplishes His purposes; He is in control.

  • Verse 17: GOD chose our fathers; GOD made the people great; GOD led them out;
  • Verse 18: GOD put up with them;
  • Verse 19: GOD destroyed the seven nations; GOD gave them the land;
  • Verse 20: GOD gave them judges;
  • Verse 21: God gave them Saul after they asked for a king;
  • Verse 22: GOD removed him, and GOD raised up David; GOD testified that David was a man after His own heart, who would do His will;
  • Verse 23: GOD has brought from his offspring Jesus, the Savior whom HE promised.

The history of the people of Israel is the history of GOD acting powerfully to accomplish His purposes. And His purposes culminate in the long-promised offspring of David, Jesus Himself.

Paul now puts John the Baptist at the end of this history section:

24 Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ Acts 13:24-25

It’s interesting that Paul seems to assume that these Jews in Antioch know all about John the Baptist. He’s recognized as a prophet – the first prophet in centuries.

Remember that Jesus Himself said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). Yet Paul notes that this well-known, great man considered himself NOTHING compared to Jesus.

God’s work in the Jewish people over the centuries, as recorded in the written Word of God, culminates in the coming of the Incarnate Word of God – Jesus Himself.

God’s Word Incarnate

Paul has already mentioned the coming of Jesus as the promised offspring of David in verse 23. Note that Jesus is promised in two senses: First, God promised David his offspring would reign forever. Second, ALL the promises of God to His people – including the promise of the land as an inheritance, and the promise that they will be His people and He will be their God – depend on the work of His Messiah.

Verses 27-31 elaborate on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and show how He fulfilled the promises. Once again, ask yourself as you hear: Who is in control?

For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. Acts 13:27-31

Note: Those in Jerusalem read the prophets in the Scriptures every week – but were blind. They were deaf. They claimed to be waiting for the Messiah – and the One promised in the Word stood right in front of them, and they didn’t recognize Him. But though they were blind and deaf to the Scriptures, they fulfilled those very Scriptures by condemning and executing Jesus (verses 27, 29)! Do you see? Even what God’s enemies did was in God’s plan.

Now God acts decisively: God raises Him from the dead – and raises Him in such a way that many, many people witness His resurrection body (verse 30).

God’s Word is faithful. God’s Word is reliable. God’s word is mighty. What God said would happen, happened – even through the actions of those blind to His Word.

He is in control. And all His promises are fulfilled in Jesus

God’s Word in Prophecy

In verses 32 – 33a, Paul summarizes and drives home what he has said so far. I don’t think the ESV captures the preacher’s intensity here, so let me read my own translation:

“We preach to you this Good News: The promise to the fathers has come! That is, God has fulfilled this promise to their children – to us! – by raising Jesus!” Acts 13:32-33a

This is the joyous news – what Luke earlier called the news of great joy for all peoples. Jesus is the point of all prophecy! All promises are now fulfilled! Jesus is risen!

Paul knows this conception of the Jewish Messiah is different from what most expected. Jesus is not an earthly king, and He did not overthrow Rome. These Jews surely didn’t expect their Messiah to be killed.

So Paul here shows the Old Testament justification for Jesus being the Son of God:

As also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ 34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Acts 13:33b-37

This part of Paul’s sermon is quite similar to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. In verse 33, he quotes Psalm 2 to show that the Messiah must be the Son of God. He then quotes Isaiah 55 to show that the blessings promised to David come through the Messiah. Verse 35 then quotes Psalm 16 to detail those blessings – including the blessing that the Messiah’s body would not molder in the grave. This promise could not possibly have been for David himself, for his body did molder in the grave. Only Jesus, risen from the dead, can fulfill this psalm. And, note carefully: He had to DIE to fulfill that prophecy! No one’s body sees this type of corruption before death. Thus, the Messiah must die.

But there is no tragedy in this death. He died. His body was in the grave. But God raised Him! He lives! He is still mighty – mightier than He would have been as a reigning earthly monarch.

So Paul shows once again that God’s Word is faithful. Jesus was killed according to God’s Word. Jesus was raised from the dead according to God’s Word.

God’s Word Offered

Paul begins the offer of God’s Word back in verse 26, before telling us of Jesus’ life:

“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.

The offer continues in verses 38-39: This is now Paul’s point of exhortation. Let me once again depart from the ESV in an attempt to capture the preacher’s passion:

Therefore, this must be known to you, brothers! Through THIS RISEN ONE forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you! BY THIS RISEN ONE, everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could never justify you! Acts 13:38-39

All these Jews of the dispersion would try to go to Jerusalem at some point and offer the required sacrifices at the temple; they would try to participate in some of the annual feasts, such as Passover, and the Day of Atonement. They would perform all these pictures of being made right with God.

But those sacrifices never satisfied God’s requirements. They were all pictures of the coming, single sacrifice that would pay the penalty for all the sins of all who believed in Jesus. As the author of the book of Hebrews states, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

In order to be justified before God – in order for God to declare you righteous – you must believe in the Risen One! THIS is the one and only way to forgiveness of sins.

So Paul says: “Come to Him! Believe! Trust Him! You know the Old Testament. You know that God created mankind for His glory, but we have all rejected Him. You know we deserve His just punishment. Jesus’ death on the cross is the only sacrifice that pays that just penalty. And the benefits of His death are YOURS – if you believe in the RISEN ONE. Then God declares you righteous before Him – He credits you with Jesus’ perfect life. So believe!”

This is the Word of God. This is the point of the entire Bible.

How do Paul’s listeners respond? In two very different ways:

God’s Word Rejected – in accordance with God’s Word

Paul ends his sermon by warning them that God’s Word tells us that many will reject this free offer of forgiveness:

Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: 41 “‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.'” Acts 13:40

He says, “Don’t be like these scoffers! Accept this free offer! There’s nothing you must do! There’s nothing you must perform! Just believe! Trust! Turn! Don’t be a stubborn fool and reject the Word of God!”

But despite his pleas, many do exactly that.

There seems to be a very positive response to this first sermon, and the people beg Paul to tell them more the next Sabbath. So word gets out, and a huge crowd, almost the entire city, shows up the next week. But this sparks jealousy:

But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. Acts 13:45

Note: These people do not have a genuine intellectual problem with what Paul is saying. Instead, they are jealous. They argue to try to sow confusion and to discredit Paul; they are not seeking after truth. (This is a common tactic today – frequently people will pose their issue with the Gospel as an intellectual problem, when in reality the issue is with their heart). So these folks are saying something like, “Paul is misinterpreting Psalm 16 and Psalm 2. They don’t really mean what he says.”

Paul was well able to argue from Scripture, as he shows in his epistles. He could have done that here. But since these opponents are just arguing as a diversion, just grasping at any possible way to turn Paul’s listeners away from the Word of God, he rebukes them directly.

And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. Acts 13:46

Hear this: They thrust aside the Word of God. They judge themselves unworthy of eternal life. These are harsh statements. Yet they are true.

Do you see what God has done for them? Throughout the history of the people of Israel, God showed He was working towards sending His Messiah. He sent prophets and psalmists to proclaim what that Messiah would do. Then He sent Jesus Himself, God’s Word in the flesh, who fulfilled every prophecy. Now He offers them His Word of forgiveness: “Believe and have a relationship with Me!” If they will only believe, they will be His people, and He will be their God.

All this is offered to them freely! There is nothing they must do, no duty they must perform.

And in response, they quibble and say, “That’s not what Psalm 2 means.”

Do you see how that is thrusting aside the Word of God? Do you see how that statement is an implicit judgment on themselves that they are unworthy of eternal life?

Let me tell you a true story to illustrate this point. A young woman is serving overseas as missionary. She gets to know a young man, also a missionary. They spend time together, and get to know each other – but neither says anything about feelings for the other. His term comes to an end; he returns home, 8,000 miles away.

Then one day she returns to her apartment to find it full of flowers. Through a recording, he tells her he loves her dearly. Then, much to her surprise, there he is, in the apartment with her! He falls to his knees before her, and asks, “Will you marry me?”

Imagine that she had responded to all that by saying, “That word “love” – What does it really mean? And anyway, how do I know you’re really sincere?”

To speak in that way would be to pronounce judgment on herself; she would be unworthy of marriage to a man who would fly 8,000 miles and arrange every detail to display his unbounded love for her.

My friends, that is what these folks in Antioch have done. God has graciously orchestrated all of history in order to bring a people to Himself. They hear the offer; they hear of His grace. And rather than being overwhelmed, they quibble.

Don’t do the same. Don’t quibble with the Gospel. Don’t quibble with the Word of God.

What God has done for you is far more costly, and required far more arrangements, that what the man in the story did for his beloved. So be overwhelmed by the enormity of what God has done! Take even a glimpse at God’s orchestrating all history to offer you, His enemy, an eternity of joy with Him. Look at His Word – and embrace it. Don’t thrust Him aside.

In Antioch, the Jews eventually kick Paul and Barnabas out of the city – probably with whips and beatings.

But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. Acts 13:50

They persecute the very apostles who preached to them God’s love, and offered them His free grace. That’s tragic.

But note: This rejection of God’s Word is in God’s Word! God’s Word is fulfilled – even through the tragedy of their rejection of it.

God’s Word Accepted – in accordance with God’s Word

But not all reject God’s grace. Look back at verse 43, right after Paul’s sermon:

And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. Acts 13:43

And at end of verse 46, Paul and Barn explain that they are turning to the Gentiles:

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:47-48

Many reject God – according to God’s Word. But many accept God – according to God’s Word.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 49 to show that Jesus was a light for ALL nations, not only for Jews, and to show that God would glorify Himself by bringing those from EVERY tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

And so the Gentiles rejoice! They’re not second-class citizens. God loves THEM. God sent Jesus for THEM. THEY TOO can have eternal life.

Note: Most of the Jews in Antioch thrust aside the Word of God. But many of the Gentiles glorify the Word of God. They praise God. And they joyfully accept God’s promise, God’s work.

These Gentiles fulfill God’s Word in two ways: Not only do they fulfill the prophecy that salvation would reach to ends of the earth, but they also fulfill God’s word of decree: Those appointed to eternal life believe.

Friends: God is really sovereign. And man is really responsible.

Do you see how this passage presents both of those truths? Those who thrust aside the Word of God do what they most want to do – and condemn themselves in the process. Those who believe the Word do what THEY most want to do – and then find that God was at work already in their hearts, bringing them to Himself. So they acknowledge that apart from God’s mercy and grace, they never would have believed.

Finally, note the reaction of Paul, Barnabas, and the new believers to the persecution:

But [Paul and Barnabas] shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:51-52

The word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. Acts 13:49

Nothing can take away the joy of these new believers. Paul and Barn are gone – but they know Jesus! They have eternal life! God is their God! They are His people!

Paul and Barnabas state through their actions, “You have rejected the Word of God. We have fulfilled our obligation. Your blood is on your own heads.”

There is no note of sorrow at their expulsion from the city. There is more to do. There are more people who need to hear the Good News.

God’s Word then spreads like wildfire, from the mouths of Paul and Barnabas as well as the mouths of the new believers – all to the glory of God.

Conclusion

So where are you?

Do you accept God’s Word? Or do you thrust it aside?

God’s Word is our light.

God breathed out this book so that YOU could know Him, so that YOU could love Him, so that YOU might have forgiveness of sins through the risen One.

Don’t thrust aside the Word of God!

Learn it. Lean on it. Love it.

This is God’s Revelation of Himself, God’s offer to you of Himself.

  • This and nothing else tells us who God is.
  • This and nothing else tells us who we are.
  • This and nothing else tells us the way to joy.
  • This and nothing else tells us the way to life.

Acknowledge your temptations to thrust God’s Word aside,

  • To ignore it,
  • To let it sit on the shelf,
  • To set yourself up as judge over it.

Submit to God’s Word – and it will come alive for you.

Beg God for understanding according to His Word – and He will answer.

Believe God’s Word – and so believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

He is risen! He reigns! And you can be with Him for all eternity.

Believe His Word – Believe the Gospel – and so treasure Him above all.

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