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“Gospel Observations”

Acts 13:13-52
Bob DeGray
January 16, 2005

Key Sentence

When you share the Gospel well, the response will be joy or opposition.


I. The Gospel is grounded in history (13-25)
II. The Gospel is focused on Jesus (26-37)
III. The Gospel offers forgiveness and righteousness (38-41)
IV. The Gospel is rejected with opposition (42-
V. The Gospel is received with joy


        Last week we said that watching Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey was a bit like a coach watching game films, learning the strengths, weaknesses, typical plays and tell tale line-ups of the opposing team. This week we’ll continue that metaphor, but instead of the opposition, we’re going to look at one of the greatest teams we’ve ever fielded and observe what they did and how it was effective. We’re still looking at game film. The team we’re studying is Paul and Barnabas, and Acts 13:13-52 is the away game at Pisidian Antioch. The lesson of this film for our own lives is that when you share the Gospel well, the response will be joy or opposition.

I. The Gospel is grounded in history (13-25)

        The first of five things we’re going to see about their Gospel message is that it is grounded in history. Acts 13:13-25 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 synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak." 16Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, 19he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave 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. He 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 think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'

        Paul and Barnabas, along with John Mark, traveled from the island of Cyprus to Turkey, landing at the port of Pamphylia. There John Mark left to return to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t say why, though Acts 15 tells us this was definitely a desertion. Something about the trip was too much for this young man. So he left, and Paul and Barnabas continued inland to the great Roman city of Pisidian Antioch. Here Paul went into the Jewish synagogue, as we’ve already seen was his habit, and the synagogue ruler, perhaps recognizing him as a rabbi, invited him to teach.

        Paul noted that this congregation consisted of both Jewish people and Gentile god-fearers, those who had studied Jewish monotheism and chosen it over their pagan beliefs. Addressing this audience, Paul begins to teach from Jewish history the foundation of the promises fulfilled in Christ. As he does so he attributes all that has happened to God. Listen to the subjects and verbs in these sentences. Verse 17: “The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, 19he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance.” God is actively at work in history carrying out his plan for his people, even when his people don’t cooperate.

        In verses 20 to 22 Paul quickly sketches the history of the judges and king Saul in order to reach David, of whom God said 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' David was the whole-hearted king - not sinless, but soft-hearted toward God, trusting God. Thus many of God’s greatest promises were made to and through David. In sharing Jesus with this audience, Paul will emphasize these promises. For example, there was the promise that from David’s line would come a king who would reign eternally and with righteousness. The Jewish people had been waiting anxiously for centuries for this promise to be fulfilled. Now, Paul says, it has been. Verse 23 “From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.” Paul identifies Jesus by name as the Messiah, and gives him the title ‘Savior’.

        Finally, Paul grounds the Gospel in more recent history. Verse 24: “Before 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 think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'” John’s reputation as a prophet and preacher had became widespread among the Jews. But Paul is quick to point out that John saw himself as the one who pointed to Jesus. By the way, this is just one of many places Paul shows knowledge of the words of the Gospels and the events of Jesus’ life. Critics who say that Paul didn’t have this knowledge haven’t read the book of Acts or Paul’s letters very carefully.

        So Paul has grounded his Gospel presentation in history, the fulfillment of what God had promised. And even today we should root the Gospel in the history of what God has done. In the United States fifty years ago you could assume the people you shared with knew something about the Bible’s story. But that’s not true now, and never has been in many cultures. New Tribes Mission recognized this years ago in their work with tribal peoples and created a series called ‘Firm Foundations’. Their website says “New Tribes, from description in the bookstore at

        This unique 50_lesson Bible study follows God s progressive pattern of revealing His character and His plan of redemption within the context of history. The lessons begin in Genesis and progress through the life of Christ.” This kind of study has been effective with people from very different cultural backgrounds.

II. The Gospel is focused on Jesus (26-37)

        But even if we don’t take somebody all the way back to Genesis, we should at least emphasize that God was at work preparing the world for the coming of Jesus through centuries of prophecy and promises. This leads to the next emphasis, a focus on Jesus. Acts 13:26-37 “Brothers, 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 tree 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 fathers 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.' 34The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: " 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' 35So it is stated elsewhere: " 'You will not let your Holy One see decay.' 36"For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. 37But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

        Paul gives an account of Jesus, focusing on his death and resurrection. He points out to these Jewish listeners that Jesus was sent to Israel, but they didn’t recognize him. Nonetheless, in putting him to death, they fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah. Paul may be thinking specifically of Isaiah 53, about the suffering servant. So Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate and buried. Verse 30, one of the shortest in Acts, is central to the preaching of the Gospel: ‘But God raised him from the dead.” This is the central miracle of the faith. Jesus died, but he rose. And it’s not a fantasy or a hallucination or a myth: after he rose he appeared in bodily form to people who had known him best, who then who became eye-witnesses of his resurrection.

        This testimony is good news. Paul’s word is euangellizo, from which we get ‘evangelism’ and ‘evangelical’. We are ‘evangelical’ because we believe the Good News about Jesus, and we evangelize because people need to hear the Good News. And Paul grounds this Good News in Scripture. He starts with Psalm 2, verse 7: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Psalm 2 is about the messiah, the anointed one whom God sets above all the kings of the earth. God’s own voice says, in this Psalm, that the anointed one is his Son. And Paul tells us that this Son receives what God had promised in Isaiah 55: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' God did not forget his promise that one of David’s descendants would reign forever, and he achieves this, Psalm 16:10, by promising that ‘you will not let your Holy One see decay'. David died and was buried and rotted like any other corpse, but the son of David whom God resurrected did not.

        These texts focus on the promise of an eternal, resurrected king. Later in his life Paul will tell the Corinthians “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you . . . . For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” Paul’s message never changes. It is ‘Christ crucified, Christ buried, Christ risen, Christ seen’ and all ‘according to the Scriptures.

        The Gospel is rooted in history, rooted in Scripture, focused on Christ, and our sharing needs to be too. Anytime you get a Gospel that wanders away from Christ, from the Scriptural truth of his death and the verified fact of his resurrection, you no longer have a Gospel. That’s why books like Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and Who Moved the Stone, and The Case for Christ are important - they show the reality of the resurrection. The Gospel has to be based on the historical fact of God’s promises to his people and God’s resurrection of Jesus, or it is not Good News.

III. The Gospel offers forgiveness and righteousness (38-41)

        The third thing we observe in Paul’s message is that the Gospel offers forgiveness and righteousness. Acts 13:38-41 "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by 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.'"

        This is the heart of the Gospel: “through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” It wouldn’t be good news if words like these were not included. The gospel is God’s answer to our most significant needs, those brought about by sin. Sin is our disobedience, our rebellion against God’s ways and commands. Since God’s ways are good and right, to rebel against them results in hurt and pain and evil, for us and for others and toward God. Sin is the cause of the world’s evils: the obvious ones like murder and poverty are the direct consequence of human acts, but even the subtle ones like natural disasters are consequences God has allowed in dealing justly and compassionately with a rebellious world. Ultimately sin requires God’s judgment. At the last day God will ratify the choice of all who have lived far from him and give the natural consequence of that choice - death and eternal misery.

        The Good News is that in Jesus sin is dealt with and forgiven. By his death he did away with sin. He became sin and was himself separated from God so that we would no longer be guilty of sin or doomed to that separation. His death, the shedding of his blood, substituted for ours. On the night before that death he offered a cup of wine as a symbol, and said “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” No wonder Paul preaches ‘Christ, and him crucified.’ Only through Jesus can the forgiveness of sins be proclaimed to you.

        I want you to notice an important implication for sharing the Gospel in our culture: the need for forgiveness implies a recognition of sin. A person who doesn’t recognize that any of their words or actions can be labeled ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’ will not recognize how good the good news of forgiveness really is. Thirty years ago the famous psychologist Karl Menninger wrote a book called Whatever Became of Sin in which he argued that sin is a hopeful category because it holds out the possibility of forgiveness and correction. But our culture, according to Charles Colson, has a therapeutic mind-set: nothing is sin, everything is syndrome. I’m not guilty, I’m dysfunctional, I’m a victim. But without sin the Gospel offer of forgiveness is not Good News. I have to see my sin as the root of my struggles if I am to welcome the offer of forgiveness. Our Gospel must include the recognition of sin.

        In the very next phrase Paul says the same thing in a way which dispels the most common human alternative to God’s way of salvation. “Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” Human people are always looking for ways to earn God’s favor, God’s forgiveness and justification. Paul calls this ‘salvation by works’ and teaches that such an approach to salvation is a dead end. No one can succeed in keeping God’s standards in their own strength, and no one can do works now to atone for past sins.

        Yet the existence of God’s standards, revealed in the law of Moses or written on the heart, compels people to work to try to meet them and to make up past failures. People want to justify themselves, to do works which cause them to be seen by God as righteous. But only in Jesus is such righteousness found. Only in Jesus can you be declared righteous from all the guilt and stain of sin, which was revealed but not fixed by the law of Moses. By the way, you ought to recognize something here. These people, to whom Paul is talking - these are the Galatians. In not too many months Paul is going to have to write a letter to the believers in this province to re-emphasize this very truth. “Who has bewitched you, foolish Galatians!” he will say, “don’t you know that no one is justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ?” That was his first message, and it became the focal point of his ministry.

        Justification by faith alone is a hard pill for naturally self righteous people to swallow. Ask almost any four year old, even one brought up in the church, ‘how do you get to heaven?’ and he or she will say ‘by being good.’ It’s human nature to think that if we just meet God’s standard, we’ll be rewarded. And in an un-fallen world, that would be the case. But fallen human nature thinks some system can be devised to satisfy God after we’ve already rebelled. Conscience drives us to do something about our sin; self interest leads us to devise systems where the something is called adequate. But it never is. Paul says “Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” - or any other way. It is a faith system, not a works system. We’re made right with God when we choose to trust only in Jesus and in what he has done. No other way.

IV. The Gospel is rejected with opposition (42-52)

        How do people respond to a Gospel that is grounded in history, focused on Christ, and offers forgiveness and righteousness in Christ alone? On the one hand, the Gospel is rejected with opposition. On the other hand, by some it is received with joy. Let me highlight those responses in the rest of the chapter. Acts 13:42-52 As 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 and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 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 Jews 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 from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

        The good news can be rejected with antagonism or accepted with joy. There is hardly any middle ground. People you know, either personally or in the media who say they have an objective view of Christianity are lying. They are either for the Good News about Jesus or opposing it. Here the Jewish leaders are filled with jealousy and begin to talk abusively against what Paul has said, verse 45. The jealously comes from the fact that nearly the whole city of Pisidian Antioch has gathered to hear Paul’s good news. Later, when Paul’s message continued to make headway, they stirred up others - some of the leading men of the city and sympathetic Gentile women of high standing - to persecute Paul and Barnabas and expel them. This persecution may have included physical violence, as Paul later writes to Timothy about suffering in Antioch. And this pattern, in which many in the Jewish dispersion reject the message of salvation being brought to them and respond to it with antagonism will be characteristic of these chapters of Acts.

V. The Gospel is received with joy (42-52)

        So Paul and Barnabas take the message to the Gentiles. Paul says he’s been commissioned with the same task Scripture appoints to the Messiah: to be a light to the Gentiles, and to bring the message of salvation in Jesus to the ends of the earth. And when that message is received rather than rejected the result is enthusiasm and joy. The very first day there were those who wanted to continue hearing this Good News, and apparently some of them did believe, because Paul and Barnabas encouraged them to continue in the grace of God - to live by grace as well as being saved by it.

        When the Gentiles heard that this message was for them as well, Luke tells us they were glad, they honored the word of the Lord and that all who were appointed to eternal life believed. Notice that on the one hand they were chosen by God to have faith, but on the other hand they made a choice to believe. This is the pattern of Scripture - it is never ashamed to put God’s sovereignty, by which he chooses who will be saved and man’s responsibility by which he chooses to trust, side by side.

        Finally, after the word of the Lord had spread further, persecution broke out. And yet Luke records, remarkably, that those who had become believers, disciples, were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. These two things go hand in hand: The Spirit is at work in their lives, and the result of the work is joy. In all the many accounts of God’s work and of revival that I have read over the years, this joy, and even joy in the face of persecution is one of the most common characteristics. Whether you read about the Great Awakening in America or the Welsh revival of the 1900's or revivals on college campuses in the last twenty years, a constant theme is that a right relationship with God brings joy. And the joy itself is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. In his letter to these same Galatians Paul will remind them that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.

        So what have we seen? We’ve watched the home team share the Gospel, and score, and we’ve observed a few things. I’m not asking you to remember much - just a few things to improve your play: (1) ground the Gospel in history. It is not fantasy nor man’s imagination; (2) Focus the Gospel is focused on Christ; his death on the cross and his resurrection; (3) Offer forgiveness and righteousness. All who will put their faith in Jesus are rescued from sin and from separation; (4) Expect some to reject this Good News respond with antagonism; but (5) expect others to receive the Good News with joy. We’re in this game, folks. If a 300 lb dunce linebacker can learn to do a better job from watching game films, so can we.