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Acts chapter 13 verses 4 to 41

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.

Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time."

And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 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."

Then 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 exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment. "After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 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. 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.' From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Saviour–Jesus–after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 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. '

"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. 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. And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. And we declare to you glad tidings–that promise which was made to the fathers. 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. '

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. '

Therefore He also says in another Psalm:

'You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption. '

"For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you:

'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. '"

Introduction

We see here two parts of a chapter. The first part I am not going to dwell on for too long, the second part deserves time, a lot more time than we can give it. Therefore, you will need to, in your own time, take a long hard look at it and see what else you can discover. As you are aware, we are looking at Acts from the perspective of what the modern church can learn from the original church history. What is it that we have forgotten, or need more emphasis on? We are going to continue in this vein for a further 6 sermons, God Willing, then take some deviations into other Scripture so we do not get too weary and zone out, thinking ‘more of the same’.

Section 1: Paul and the sorcered

First, a quick look at the first section we have read. A couple of points are worthy of highlight. The Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Paul on this missionary journey. They did not go off willy nilly to wherever fancy took them. We do not take off to wherever we think God is taking us, or where we propose God to take us, or even go and ask God’s blessing on what we are doing. We see in this text that the Holy Spirit leads, and unless this is a clear, unambiguous direction, then I ask, what are you doing?

Next, note that John Mark was with them as an assistant. He did not go out on his own; he went out on an apprenticeship with two older men. Barnabas was his cousin, Saul, about to become Paul, was there as well. We need to be aware that the Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Paul, Mark is not included in that statement. We learn that John Mark goes back to Jerusalem only a short way into the trip, and this return was not of the Holy Spirit, he had deserted them as we learn in Acts 15:36 - But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Sin has consequences, and the Holy Spirit led in one direction, John Mark took off in another, probably as life was tough - note the amount of sailing and travelling they did in just these few paragraphs we have read - no cruise ships back then either.

Opposition at Paphos

Next, we need to note where opposition comes from when the men stop in Paphos. The pro-consul wants to hear the gospel. The so-called friend, a Jew, a sorcerer, a false prophet did his best to stop this happening. Within the ranks of God’s chosen people we see time and time again opposition. The chief priests put Jesus to death. The Jews including Paul were the main persecutors of the early church. But the lesson here in this passage is clear - don’t mess with God, don’t oppose Him, teach false and bad doctrine, or your blindness may go from being spiritual blindness to physical blindness. Also note that this did not occur just because the two apostles were mad with him. They were instructed by the Holy Spirit and they followed what the Holy Spirit instructed them:

Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time. "And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

Correction

The Lord will correct those that need correction in His time and His way. This time it was immediate. For example we saw that God struck down Herod immediately with worms (Acts 12:23). Don’t take for granted that life will go on sweet if you oppose God. Note the accusations Paul made against the sorcerer - full of deceit, all fraud, son of the devil, enemy of all righteousness. He also says - will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? Obviously, he had been given time to repent, told to cease. The language here is clear in that it shows Paul asking him why he had not’ stopped perverting the way of the Lord’, then pronounces immediate judgement, though mercy is shown, ‘not seeing the sun for a time’. Here we see Paul standing with a the authority of an apostle, it is he who pronounces judgement - apostles did this, we today are to lay the matter before God and He pronounces judgement maybe later at the judgement seat, or God may still take us now - For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep it says in 1 Corinthians 11:30. We see in this passage the grace of God at work, for back in Deuteronomy a completely different punishment would have been the sorcerer’s lot. In Deuteronomy 5:5 we read:

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.

Death not blindness was the immediate fate back then, a measure of grace exists now.

Paul and his party set sail from Paphos

Though we shall now move forward, there are other aspects of these passages worth contemplating. The Holy Spirit specifically sends Paul and Barnabas, they take John Mark. Did they get ahead of God? It creates a rift later, but that enabled the gospel to go out twice as fast. God has plans, sometimes we never know what they are, sometimes, we see the reason years down the track. I read a comment that Job may have wondered why all what happened to him had happened. It may have brought three men to know God better (the friends of Job), but what else? Anyone who loses a child, or all their children, or all their children and their property as happened in the Philippines recently, can turn to Job, and get comfort from Job’s story. His story of suffering provides comforts to us 3000 years later. God has a purpose for everything that happens, even if we never know what that is. The Jew rejected Christ, the Proconsul - Rome’s man accepted Christ. Paul and Barnabas first go to the synagogue - ensuring God’s command is met, first take the gospel to the Jews, then the Gentiles. The Proconsul was astonished at the teaching and the blinding of the Jew and is saved. How powerful is the Word of God to us? How well do we teach the truth boldly, so that it amazes, and rebuke false doctrine?

Section 2:Paul’s sermon

We then find Paul and Barnabas, minus John Mark in Antioch in Pisidia a town near the coast in southern modern Turkey, but in the mountain range, situated more than 1000 metres above sea level. I mention this, so we can see the two arriving at Port Adelaide say, then walking up mountains a third higher than Mount Lofty to get to their destination. Mission work was never a walk in the park. Here we find an established synagogue and leaders on the Sabbath doing the Jewish custom of reading Scripture. Note that Paul and Barnabas are not down the front (is this why so many of you sit down the back?), are not invited speakers nor leading the service. However, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on." As Jesus did in the temple, stepping forward to read the Scripture, these visitors are asked if they had anything to say. We only know that the reading prior to them being asked to speak was from the Law and the prophets. We do not know what passage it was, but we then see Paul stand and speak, and hear a somewhat similar speech as we heard from Peter earlier on in the book. In fact we have seen a similar contextual message at least three times now, so maybe this is a main point for us today, to take away from this passage, how should one preach the gospel?

A brief history of Israel

Paul provides a thumbnail sketch history of Israel to his present day: The people of Israel were chosen by God, they were brought out of Egypt, they were in the desert 40 years, allotted land, seven nations were destroyed to provide the land, they had judges for 450 years, then came Samuel where God gave them a king, then a second King - David, a man after God’s own heart, then from David came Jesus - same blood line - heralded by John the Baptist, baptising the baptism of repentance, who stated that Jesus was One whose sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose. ' Paul then takes a breath, and directs the comments at the audience - the Jews, sons of Abraham - to you this salvation has come. He states that Jesus died by the hand of those he came to save for they knew him not, but they fulfilled Scripture as this audience would have read, and that Jesus rose from the dead of which there are many witnesses.

Paul uses three portions of Scripture to state that Jesus had to be the line of David, and he was, he would be resurrected, and he was, as compared to David who wasn’t, then the crux of the message: by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses - the gospel, the good news that Jesus saves, something the Law could not do.

He then gives them a warning, also from the Old Testament: '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. ' This comes from Habakkuk 1:5 which follows on from the start of Habakkuk that states: O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, "Violence!" and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.

The prophet - maybe this was the Prophet being read on that day, cries out to the Lord that the law was powerless, and justice does not happen. Paul says to the Jews that Jesus Christ was born to bring justice, and through Him all who come to Him will be justified. Paul then warns them that they cannot dismiss the problem the prophet foresaw, that the Jews would not believe the message. He basically says I give you the message, be aware that the prophet Habakkuk says that you will not believe this message and you will perish. Don’t fall into that trap - you were warned and I now warn you again. Paul also appears to be reminding them of their cry about the Roman’s occupying their land, and these Jews were effectively in exile, moved to Turkey one may surmise, to escape persecution at some stage. Antioch in Pisidia was established at least three hundred years earlier - a few years after the death of Alexander the Great, though rose to prominence as a Roman colony about 50 years or so prior to Paul’s visit.

What do we learn from this?

I think that we must recognise what was being handed to them by Paul - a potted history of Israel. What God promised in the Old Testament was coming true in the present period, now recorded in what we know as the New Testament. I heard a brother say the other day that he rarely takes time out in the Old Testament. Contrast this with Matthew who 60 times reverts to the Old Testament to demonstrate Scripture. One commentator noted over 340 direct quotations of the Old Testament being found in the new, and more than 2000 references that allude to various sections of Old Testament Scripture, including as we see in our passage here, Psalms being quoted, with the next most quoted book in the New Testament being Isaiah.

It is critical to understand why the New Testament says what it does, and where doctrine bases its foundations. God does not change. We know this through Scripture itself. Malachi, a book we are going to look at this year, Lord willing, is emphatic - God Himself states: "For I am the Lord, I do not change (3:6) or we see in Psalm 102 (12) the Psalmist states: But You, O Lord, shall endure forever, and the remembrance of Your name to all generations, or in the New Testament a verse we had emphasised to us the other week: Matthew 5:17-18 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Why is this important? Because we need to understand God, and understanding His immutability is critical in being able to preach the gospel. We need to be aware of why parts of the Old Testament are not applied today - stoning the adulterer for example, yet the verses related to this do not pass away - they are still relevant, we just don’t stone people - there is a difference.

What is immutability?

God is immutable - what does this mean? For a start, it is opposite to what we as humans experience. We are born then we grow physically and mentally. Spiritually we exhort growth and we expect change from sinfulness to Christlikeness. When we don’t see change in people, we exhort and encourage them. God on the other hand, does not grow. He has no need to grow, in wisdom, in knowledge or in any form of understanding at all. If you are like me, you think you can teach God what it is like to be us, and make Him understand out plight, our miseries, what others are doing to us, or saying about us, or who we have to put up with - stuff of course that God never knows about because he sits up there in the sky, and does His own stuff. Wrong! Hebrews 2:18 reminds us that: For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Be aware though, God did not need to learn this through Jesus being on earth; He did it so we cannot cast that accusation at Him. He showed us practically that He knows our troubles and understands all we go through - because it is always trouble we accuse God of not understanding when we fall to sin, mess up, or suffer through death or other mishap in our lives. Yet we find a thousand years before Jesus came to earth the understanding God had of our sufferings and what if meant: You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8).

Understanding the immutability of God is important in this discussion as we read what Paul actually says to the assembly. But first let us look at a couple of Colossians’ 3 verses (9-11):

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Salvation brings change. Our knowledge is transformed by His knowledge - the ancient wisdom that He has always held; try and imagine that! To deviate for a second here, God does not go back to infinity, as that would indicate a beginning. He is, full stop! His knowledge is. Nothing has changed at all. Our renewal in knowledge according to His image is an unimaginable thing. What does it look like? Before we answer this question, let us get this into context. Tozer writes this:

Yet the change is deeper and more basic than any external acts can reveal, for it includes also the reception of life of another and higher quality. The old man, even at his best, possesses only the life of Adam: the new man has the life of God. And this is more than a mere manner of speaking; it is quite literally true. When God infuses eternal life into the spirit of a man, the man becomes a member of a new and higher order of being.

In the working out of His redemptive processes the unchanging God makes full use of change and through a succession of changes arrives at permanence at last. In the Book of Hebrews this is shown most clearly. “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second,“ is a kind of summation of the teaching of that remarkable book. The old covenant, as something provisional, was abolished, and the new and everlasting covenant took its place.

The blood of goats and bulls lost its significance when the blood of the Paschal Lamb was shed. The law, the altar, the priesthood - all were temporary and subject to change; now the eternal law of God is engraven forever on the living, sensitive stuff of which the human soul is composed. The ancient sanctuary is no more, but the new sanctuary is eternal in the heavens and there the Son of God has His eternal priesthood.[1]

Paul preaches the Gospel that shows the progression from Egypt - the World, to Jesus, the promised Saviour. He shows by this that God keeps His Word, through His covenants through this historical timeline, and by doing so, shows that He is immutable, as well as giving us a picture of how we too move from Egypt - where we were in sin, to heaven, when we are glorified, renewed, and made perfect. Tozer goes on to say: God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed. He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer. In all our efforts to find God, to please Him, to commune with Him, we should remember that all change must be on our part. “I am the Lord, I change not.“ We have but to meet His clearly stated terms, bring our lives into accord with His revealed will, and His infinite power will become instantly operative toward us in the manner set forth through the gospel in the Scriptures of truth. Paul shows this well in his short but effective sermon. It changes hearts, though it makes some hearts hard we discover a little later to the point of persecuting Paul and Barnabas. The priests also hardened their hearts when they heard the truth from Jesus himself. We must expect this reaction from some when we too preach the gospel.

So what does it look like - immutability for God, in man?

We find some astonishing words in Paul’s oration. Paul quotes Samuel: I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will do all my will (Acts 13:22). What does this have to do with the immediate discussion on the immutability of God? I find it amazingly so much like God here. Is he joking with us? David, the adulterer, the murderer, the man even his own son did a coup on a ‘man after [God’s] own heart’? Did not David die in the arms of a young virgin, despite having a handful of wives around the palace. A man after God’s own heart, the line into which Jesus was born is what God Himself states! Why would Paul say this? Because the bottom line is that David is surely this: despite him being no better or no worse morally than any of us the clue is in the last bit - ‘who will do all my will’. David did not change his heart against God for even when he strayed he remained faithful, though not always on the pathway God had planned for him; he always repented, always acknowledged God, and wrote hundreds of Psalms that prove this to us. Paul is saying; David provides us a glimpse into God and how we can be, despite our failings. It provides us with the key proof of God’s grace in providing to us the promise of eternal salvation, never lost once gained, despite our best efforts to fail Him. He, and His promises will never change towards us. He says He will keep us and so He will. Try these passages:

And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’ Deuteronomy 31:8

‘…lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Matthew 28:20

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" Hebrews 13:5-6:

‘Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.’ Revelation 3:10

The theme of the never changing face of God is throughout this entire passage - the land He gave the people is still their land, despite the claims Palestinians have today, they will never ever hold onto what they have stolen from Israel. Jerusalem is God’s city and will remain so, even when He brings from a heaven a new model; it won’t have a Arabic quarter, or a Christian quarter, it will be all God’s in the land of His people. We see this when he states ‘He put up with their ways in the wilderness’ (v18), because he promised them their own land, their own nation. He gave them a king even though they had Himself as their God - Israel never had a need of a king. Did God change His mind then? No! Jesus was going to come as the King of Kings, and God just established the throne visibly a few years earlier than He would have had man not rebelled against God. But God knew that this is what would happen, and had it already in His plans, with His chosen Kings - David, then Jesus. God never changes.

This is so important, as even with two thousand years going past still, every promise and every aspect of the Bible is true for us today, either as a lesson, a way of living, a way of worshipping, a way of pastoring a flock, preaching the gospel, growing believers. Israel is part of today’s gospel for the same reason. In putting the two together, knowing that Paul writes in Timothy 3:16 ‘All Scripture is God-breathed.’ And in Romans "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. (3:1-2). Then we too must remember the history of the gospel; that of God caring for Israel, no matter the state of the nation, and ourselves with Jesus providing the step we need to reach heaven through His death, now revealed to us in His Word - the gospel we (must) preach as well.

Other reminders

Paul throws in some other reminders as well - John the Baptist preaching repentance. Why? First salvation comes through repentance, and acceptance of Christ into our lives, and this came first through John the Baptist to fulfil prophecy - God prophesied through Isaiah and Malachi - the latter: ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers’, (this being a complex passage of prophecy), and more easily found in Isaiah (40:3): The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’ and these prophecy continue to provide the various proofs of the immutability of God and the solidness of the gospel, as told attached to the history of Israel - His plan had not changed, we still need repentance, a change of heart has to occur, and then acceptance of our Lord and Saviour.

What do we learn then from this portion of Scripture?

I think we need to take away two points, already strongly made. The first is that when we preach the Gospel, never ever forget the importance of the Old Testament in the total gospel message. We, as an individual believer, and as a church, and as part of the Church, in whatever capacity God has for us, using the gift that God has given us, must be familiar with the Old Testament, to show the plan that God had for salvation begins in Genesis 1, and continues through to the coming of Jesus Christ, into the resurrection, and completes when He judges the world, and splits away with a chasm that cannot be crossed all evil, and takes His own to Himself, to a new heaven and new earth. To understand this beloved listener, means studying both parts of the Bible. May I never hear a brother say again, that he rarely turns to the Old Testament, as brothers and sisters, you are missing out on the key details of God, His plan, His promises, and you will never discover all the attributes of God that make up this amazing being we call Father.

The second point, is that when we preach the gospel, we need to remember the main ingredient here in Paul’s message - grace, forgiveness, mercy, love - from Egypt, to David; from Judges to Kings, from the Wilderness to the land given, it is grace all the way. Sure, there was, and will be consequence for sin, but God writes to us this most precious passage:

‘And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.’ John 10:28-29.

I read the other day that so many people think that they are walking this earthly life holding onto God’s hand.

Dear friends, it has nothing to do with us holding onto God’s hand at all, we are so careless, so much like a two year old, that God needs to hold onto our hands. A different story. He will never let go, even if we let go. Nothing, no one thing can take us from God once we are His. Do we offer the same grace, the same mercy, the same forgiveness, the same love to those around us, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we stack up as a church? That is a lesson we learn from the gospel as preached by Paul in Antioch of Pisidia. We must lose the shiftlessness, wandering, changing the story to suit our own selfish needs. We must shift towards the character of Christ within, and Christ who cloaks us - changeless in our faith, firm in the foundation on which we stand, and steadfast in the gospel that we preach.

There is more though in our passage, so as we head towards to conclusion, let us look at these last couple of lessons and expand on what was said a little earlier.

Spiritual blindness

Spiritual blindness is the next portion, and the evil that come with it. Paul states: 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. They had just been reading the Law and the prophets in the synagogue that Paul and Barnabas was at. He is saying, just like us today, people did not know Christ despite the customs of such places as this, where the prophets are read each Sabbath. To make sure his listeners understood, Paul says: And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him… People of Israel, one may paraphrase, you read the story every week, yet when Jesus came into the world, they did everything, every jot, every tittle found in the prophecy all the way to putting Jesus to death, despite finding no cause for death.

How we can be so spiritually blind? We too read the Scriptures, yet we do everything it says not to do, and fail to see the blessings of obeying God. I have just looked at a portion of Scripture that shows us what this means in the modern church, the splintered church of the 21st century. Psalm 134 tells us: The Lord who made heaven and earth bless you from Zion! Note the first part of this verse - the Lord who made heaven and earth. Why are we here? How did we get here? Where did the car come from that you drove here this morning, the job, the wife, the husband, your children, the roof over your head, the very Scripture on your laps? The Lord who made heaven and earth - every single atom, every single part of heaven and earth - all made by God. We read in 1 Corinthians the corollary of this single verse that means so much - if God is the creator, then who are we, any of us? Chapter 3 (5-10) tells us:

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.

So, if God is the creator, and we are God’s workers, each one of us has a role, how do we crucify Christ as Paul was pointing out to us in our text today. I give you one, but most visible action that has been occurring in the church (note small c) over the centuries.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing– Life forevermore Palm 133.

We have read the Scripture; we do not live in unity. We fail to acknowledge the creator, we fail to recognise that we in ourselves are nothing, God does not need us, yet He gave us a job to do, but without Him we are nothing. Even with Him, God gives the increase. The oil, the Holy Spirit can fill us to overflowing, Living Water can flow from within us, yet it rarely does, for we have forgotten the Scriptures, we are blind to the words of God, we live our lives the way we want to, and despite the warnings, despite an entire Old Testament that shows the collapse and destruction of Israel through their failure to live for God, we do not live united. The irony is that we have the United Church just down the road, plus the Anglicans, the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Edge Church, the Brethren assemblies and so on. We even fight under our own banners, preaching our own gospels, and failing just as the priest of old failed, to read the Scripture, and recognise the Saviour when He came. A bit of a downer really isn’t it. Paul though does something more, he tells us clearly that despite our weakness, our failure, our rebellion against God, God is forever faithful. He does not let go of us, even when we let go of Him. Don’t forget - the covenant of God for the throne of David still stands, for Abraham still stands, for Moses still stands. Salvation comes first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles - it still stands. How?

It comes in the next verse: But God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. And we declare to you glad tidings–that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus.

Here you can see the reason for the history lesson. This is why these men start in the Old Testament with the gospel message, in this case in Egypt and walk the people through Moses, the wilderness, and into Israel. The promise which was made to the fathers, all those who wrote and prophesied in the Old Testament has come to fruition, that is come true - happened! The resurrection shows the people that this man Jesus, was indeed the Messiah the one that they had been waiting for over the past 1000 years or more. Paul also iterates that the resurrection of Jesus was not just some story made up for the disciples to exploit the life of a holy man, no, rather, there were many witnesses, and they can confirm the resurrection. The Old Testament was coming alive in the New, these words of Paul were becoming part of the Scripture, and witnessing to those that read it, God’s longitudinal plan that they can see had happened, which provides the evidence that the rest of prophecy, that is far more (in number) than the coming of Jesus, would also come true - God keeps His word.

Paul then quotes verse 7 of Psalm 2, but it will do us well to quote a little more. ‘"I will declare the decree: the Lord has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.’ First to the Jew, then to the Gentile, that is what we see in verse 8, on top of the mystery of the Son and David. Paul explains that David died and his body rotted away, and now Israel could see how the rest of this verse, as well as Psalm 16 verse 10, was fulfilled in Jesus. As opposed to the decomposition of David as of all bodies buried, Jesus did not see corruption - His body was resurrected, spear and nail wounds all still present. The proof of the pudding as it were, the nail in the body that proves Jesus as Christ - but uncorrupted. First we read about it in the Old Testament, now we see it happened in the New.

Justified through Christ

Paul could then go on to say that this is who they are preaching of - Jesus, the man prophesied about across Scripture, raised from the dead. Salvation had come - Paul states: everyone who believes is justified from all things which could not justified by the law of Moses. Again you can see why he started with Moses. Now the loop is complete, Moses brought the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land and gave them the Law, God drove seven nations from their lands to allocate His chosen people somewhere to live, and now, as prophesied, the one who can bring about justification without further sacrifice, has been raised from the dead, and if believed on, He will set them free from the law of Moses. As our own reminder, we know that salvation through faith in God was known by the Jews as something that would come: we read in Isaiah 1:18 - "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. We can read in Job 19: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself (25-27).

Habakkuk writes: "Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith. (2:4) and in Genesis we find: And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (15:6).

So we see, the audience would know what was being spoken of, as these verses are but a few regarding faith and righteousness, and there are many about the coming Messiah and his foretold death, for example, think Psalm 22.

Paul’s challenge

Paul then does what every brave preacher has to do. He challenges his audience. He throws down the gauntlet to them. He says to them, the prophets and law you have read, and have just been reading. I have just given you a very quick two minute synopsis of the gospel as seen from Genesis to the events of the past little while. I can give you witnesses - eye witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I can tie His life, death and resurrection into Scripture as being the Messiah. Salvation - becoming justified in the sight of God is before you, through faith in Him whom they crucified. Now, people, what are you going to do? ‘Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: '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.' Our final words in our text today.

He is speaking to a principally Jewish audience. He wants to know if they fit Habakkuk’s description of Israel when the Lord comes. Paul says that Habakkuk told them they would not believe, they would not listen to those declaring the truth. Paul says here, this is the truth, are you going to continue the tradition of unbelief? He could have brought them to the end of Habakkuk, and said to them, Habakkuk had faith, he could see past the pain and suffering and sorrow to salvation. For it was Habakkuk that writes: Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls– yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17-18

We too have a role as Christians. We too need to be brave and throw down the gauntlet, challenge the non-believer in their unbelief. It has to be specific. Here Paul is talking to the Jewish audience. Scripture gives us a variety of ways and examples of how to do this. For example, in 1 Peter 3:1-2 it says: Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Conversion through the lived example. Now there is a challenge, you may be mocked, scorned, but through the conduct of Christlikeness, a soul may be won. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 tells us: Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. We need to be willing to appear foolish to the men of this world, and stick with it, unwavering, faithful to the word of God, despite the suffering, the rejection, even persecution that may come from this. There is a brave gauntlet.

Also, we must: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2). It is lovely to have a roster, and preparation time for preaching, but here we see Paul say, “in season and out of season“. We should be able to preach the gospel whether we have ‘prepared’ or not. After all the gospel comes from God about His Son, and we are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, His messenger to us. Maybe that is our challenge that we need to be able to meet. Sure, we are not all preachers, not all teachers, but this instruction is not about giving a sermon, it is about convincing the unbeliever of the joy that comes with Jesus Christ as Saviour to never give up on anyone - that is living the fruit of the spirit - long suffering.

Perhaps the best learning place is within the framework of the church. We read this passage: …be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:18-21) and psalms and hymns come up again in Colossians, with one added difference: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (3:16) This is the ground where one moves from the comfort of being surrounded by others like you, to the world, where, if the Word of Christ dwells in us richly, and we make it part of our lives to have grace towards one another, and be willing to teach and admonish one another, this will ooze from us in this sheltered life into the life outside the comfort zone. We may be considered that weird Christian in number 5, but they at least acknowledge Christ in me.

Conclusion

To conclude, we have seen the rise of Paul, in the work of Christ, to have been given the power to blind a man who was set on mischief, and who was perverting the way of the Lord. We then see Paul preach the gospel, starting with Egypt, moving to the Promised Land, and ending with David, the throne of David, encompassing the Lord Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection, and the justification that comes to us mortals through faith in Him. We see that this is a good pattern for preaching the gospel, and recognise that outside the synagogue we may need a little more explanation but the good news remains the same. We see the fulfilment of prophecy - first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. We see the challenge for ourselves, to preach the gospel, and helping each other in this quest.

We have learned about the immutability of God - He does not change, so we can be satisfied that His Word will stand all the way to the final day, then past that day into the new heaven and new earth, into the next period of time, eternity with our God, and our Saviour. We have learned more about the importance of knowing all of Scripture, that the New Testament is where we find many prophesies of the Old Testament fulfilled, especially those about Christ. The Old Testament points towards Christ, the New Testament shows us how all the world can be saved, that Christ’s death produced an amazing grace that provides justification through faith alone. The New Testament provides interpretation for the Old Testament, and the Old Testament gives a myriad of examples, and the consequences of disobedience to God. We have no excuse. If we hear the Word, fail to believe, we will perish.

We can take from today’s portion of Scripture that there are many layers, from telling the story of the spread of the gospel by the apostles into the known world, through to the subtleties of David’s corruption and Jesus’s incorruptibility explaining passages found in the Psalms and other places about David’s throne. We saw the mention of John the Baptist that should take us immediately to Elijah, to the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, and think about what this means to us today.

Most of all, today I want you to take away the solidness of Scripture as found in how each time we have seen the gospel preached in Acts, the pattern remains the same, and the essence has the same emphasis, the history of God’s people, and the teachings of the prophets, through to Jesus Christ crucified and risen again. God is described in Psalms and other Scripture as a rock, and so we find Him to be so; He is the foundation for everything - which is no surprise as He created all things. He is embedded so deeply in the very essence of His being, that he is immovable, unshakeable and unchangeable. I want you to recognise that God’s Word does not lie, does not scrimp on the truth, and in fact, provides every single sentence we will ever need to live a holy Christlike life, with salvation guaranteed. We have incentive found in the Old Testament and the New. We have the reasons for believing what we do, clearly spelt out. We have the love of God for His people embedded as a single thread from the beginning to the end of Scripture. We have His promise for our eternity as a single thread through Scripture as well. Let us, with the help of the Holy Spirit within, unite in love, in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, supporting one another, admonishing one another, perfecting each other, so we to live the gospel, and by our very life bring others to Christ.

[1] AW Tozer (2010) Knowledge of the Holy, page 67, Authentic Media, UK.

Stephen B Simon (CCC) 12 December 2013
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