Context: Barnabas, commissioned by the church in Jerusalem, had visited Antioch to see what the gospel had accomplished among the Greeks there. (Acts 11:20-23). Barnabas then went to get Saul [Paul] from Tarsus and took him to Antioch. They stayed with that church for a year and “taught considerable numbers” (Acts 11:24-26). Barnabas and Saul then were sent by the church at Antioch to deliver to Jerusalem a sizable contribution they made for the believers there who were affected by the famine. They fulfilled their mission and returned to Antioch (Acts 12:25). They were listed among the “prophets and teachers” who were there in Antioch. The Holy Spirit revealed in clear words and directions that Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart to a work to which he had called them. In their first stop on Cyprus, they preached the gospel in the synagogues. The proconsul heard of this and asked Saul and Barnabas to come to him and preach this message to him. At the same time, they were confronted by a Jewish false prophet, a magician named Bar-Jesus, also known as Elymas. Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he manifest a spirit of courage and zeal by the Holy Spirit and saw clearly the evil deceit in the heart of Elymas and brought down the judgment of God on him so that he went blind. Sergius Paulus was converted. From there they journeyed to Pisidian Antioch and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.
I. Verses 13-16 – After the Scriptures were read, the synagogue official asked if Barnabas or Paul had anything to say. This event shows Paul’s readiness to preach in an instant. Our knowledge of the gospel and related Scripture truth should be so deeply impressed on our souls and minds, that we can reason at any time with anyone concerning its truth and their eternal interest in it.
A. We learn in Acts 9:20, that immediately after Saul’s conversion “he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” All were amazed at this radical transformation (9:21), and “Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” Paul’s deep training early in his life (Galatians 1:13, 14) now was used by the Spirit for the gospel. He had seen with clarity the Christ-centered focus of the Old Testament (his only Scripture) and that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all the strands of prophecy contained in it. Those who are taught well, when and if converted, advance quickly in spiritual maturity and usefulness.
B. Instruction to Timothy – In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul told Timothy that he must be ready to preach the word at any time. When the hearers were intense in attention and when they were distracted, when they received the word with joy and when they were angered, when there was obvious Spirit-wrought conviction and when the Spirit seemed removed—in all these times he was to press on in preaching. He was to preach with an intent to persuade (convince), he was to confront their sin with a view to repentance (rebuke), he was to point out the path of devotion and righteousness (exhort), and all of this with an enduring dependence on the time and power of the Spirit (longsuffering) and with unfaltering confidence in the power and sole authority of divinely-revealed truth (teaching).
C. Paul’s personal experience manifested this readiness on all occasions. – When he went to Athens, Acts 17:17 says that he “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. In verse 19, the philosophers “brought him to the Areopagus” where Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said…” (22). In Corinth, Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (18:4). In Ephesus, he “went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (19:8).
II. Verses 16-41 – Understand Your content. For effectiveness when called on to bear witness without being given time to prepare, the content of the message should be so definitely established in its order and priorities that an organized and clear presentation can be made ad extempore.
A. Drive to the point – 16-22 – Paul deals with the call and promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the growth of the nation in Israel, to Exodus and the wandering, the conquering of the land and the time of the Judges, and then the kingships of Saul and David. This covered around 1000 years in seven verses. He must show that the Christ event was not an anomaly detached from any observable historical context; at the same time he must move quickly to the crux of his message.
B. The point is Christ – 23-26
- Paul leaped from David, through his descendants, and landed on “a Savior, Jesus.”
- John the Baptist was the last of the pre-messianic prophets, whose calling made him prepare the way and then point out the very man himself. John knew of his personal unworthiness and, at the same time, of the infinite worthiness of the Christ.
- Paul has given continuity to the witness from the call of Abraham (“chose our fathers” 17) until the time of a witness of whom many of his listeners had heard. Paul then identified his core audience as the sons of the one to whom the promise had come and in whose lifetime the promised salvation had been fulfilled (26).
C. Paul showed that God pursues his purpose in the midst of human sin and rebellion – 27, 29.
- The ones who were guardians of the Scripture and to whom the fulfilment of the prophecies should have been evident fulfilled those very Scriptures by condemning Christ (Mark 15:31; John 18:13, 14; 19; 22-24; 28-30; 19:15, 21).
- So determined were they to get rid of Jesus that they were willing to negotiate with the Gentile authority in order to have him executed (28). All the gospel writers record this most egregious negotiation (Matthew 27:11-44; Mark 15: 1-15; Luke 23:1-25; John 18:28-19:22). Only by the most determined kind of irrational skepticism can these historical events be rejected.
- Paul continued with the recitation of these historical events by recording that he was laid in a tomb. Also, he reiterated that this was not a grand failure on the part of Jesus of Nazareth, but these things all were in fulfillment of precisely what had been prophesied – “When they carried out all that was written concerning him” (29).
D. The Gospel is a real historical event – 30, 31. He continues the historical narrative by setting forth in non-spectacular, matter-of-fact language the central events that gave meaning and effectuality to the death of Christ.
- In dying, Jesus had born the iniquities of his people and suffered a reconciling death for their sake (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
- If however, the death had been ineffectual, he would not have risen and all those for whom he intended to die would yet remain in their sins (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
- “But God raised him from the dead, (30),” Paul continued. The death, therefore was clearly received as sufficient payment of the verdict of death for all those who eventually will be found in union with Christ by faith in him alone.
- This resurrection is not merely a myth, an invented story that seeks to infuse hope in an otherwise vain and futile struggle for meaningful resolution to a life of pain and confusion.
- Rather, Jesus appeared in his resurrected body, in person to many persons over many days; These very persons who saw him and knew, therefore, the unvarnished truth, experienced tactile, audible, and visual evidence of the presence of this risen savior. These are the ones who were the witnesses to the people and who would write by inspiration their revealed understanding of these historical events (2 Peter 1:12-21).
E. The Gospel fulfils Scripture promises – 32-37. Now these events are preached as commanded by Jesus after his resurrection and in the terms that he designated (Luke 24:46-49).
- The person of the Savior 33 – from Psalm 2. The eternal Son is sent forth in the decree (Psalm 2:7) who is both wrathful judge and a saving refuge (Psalm 2:12). Paul first identified the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, as one in person with the eternally generated Son of God who eventually will rule nations on the basis of his having fulfilled the covenantal decree concerning himself.
- The resurrection denotes that he has fulfilled all the promises given to David. Those promises that depended on his not undergoing decay could not have been fulfilled by David himself, for he died and underwent decay. The promises, therefore, must be fulfilled by the greater Son of David, the same with the Son of God who is the subject of the Psalm 2 decree.
F. The Gospel Promises forgiveness of sins – 38, 39
- Refuge, therefore, from the consequences of sin now come only through Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. In him alone we may find forgiveness of sins. This fulfills the words of David that he wrote in Psalm 103, “Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction; … For as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:3, 4, 12).
- He has given everything that the Law of Moses required but had no power to grant. The entire sacrificial system and the notice that life would come through our own personal obedience to all things written in the law is now rendered inoperable. Christ has died and Christ has brought in righteousness by his own obedience.
G. Give a warning against unbelief – 40, 41. In the preaching of the gospel, the preacher must warn that the consequence of unbelief is perishing. They must be careful not to scoff at this astounding message being described to them by Paul himself. He had given words of clear historical accuracy, biblically prophesied events, and doctrinally significant implications. Should they scoff, they will be among the perishing.
H. Encourage all signs of interest – 42, 43. When some asked that these things be explained again on the next Sabbath and even followed Paul and Barnabas from the synagogue, the evangelists encouraged them to continue seeking to understand how God’s grace had brought about the blessings of forgiveness and life through the work of Christ – “urging them to continue in the grace of God” (43).
III. Verses 44-46, 50 – Do not be surprised or discouraged by opposition. The great attention being drawn by Paul and Barnabas provoked the Jews to jealousy and made them begin contradicting their message in severe and radical terms. In spite of this opposition, the gospel spread, particularly among the Gentiles. This prompted even greater opposition and a more cleverly devised strategy against the apostles so that Paul and Barnabas were driven out.
A. Paul pointed out the great difficulties that he had experienced in preaching in Thessalonica and that the Christians there had experienced the same thing (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).
B. In 2 Corinthians 11:21-29, Paul described the opposition and suffering that he had endured from men and difficulties in a variety of circumstances even as he pursued the advance of the gospel and the glory of God in his life.
C. Acts 28:23-27 described the response that Paul received when he preached to the Jews who came to his lodging in Rome. He explained to them “concerning Jesus from both the Law and the Prophets, from morning till evening.” When they disagreed among themselves, Paul applied the words of Isaiah 6:9, 10 to them.
D. The dominant propensity of soul – Unbelief is the default response of the soul that is dead in trespasses and sins and hostile to a message of righteousness and judgment. If we absorb into our souls the bearing of Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3, and Romans 3:10-20, opposition to the gospel will not surprise us and the conquering power of grace will be seen in its true strength (Ephesians 1:19, 20; 2:4-6).
IV. Expect Success – verse 48: Success does not lie in our personal powers of persuasion (though they should be employed to the best of our ability). It does not lie in our intellect or even in our vital and sincere godliness. Evangelistic success lies only in the purpose and grace of God. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” This will always be the case; believers will be those on whom God has placed his love before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6).
A. The eternal covenant of redemption in which a people is given to Christ means that, as long as the world stands, more people will believe the gospel (2 Peter 3:9, 15).
B. The death of Christ will not be voided of any of its reward (Isaiah 53:11). His substitutionary death secures their forgiveness and all the gifts by which they will be brought to faith and finally to glory.
C. The power of conversion is given to the preached word by the Spirit of God. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). According to 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6, one’s election is discerned in this life only when one believes wholeheartedly the message of the gospel; this, in turn, happens only when the word preached is accompanied with Holy Spirit power: “Knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance.”