A Promise Given & Kept
Sermon Text: Acts 13:13-52
Sermon Theme: God’s faithfulness demands a response from you.
When we come together to worship God, we must do it, not only by prayer and praise, but by the reading and hearing of the word of God. The bare reading of the Scriptures in public assemblies is not enough; they should be expounded, and the people exhorted out of them. This is helping people in doing that which is necessary to make the word profitable, to apply it to themselves. Everything is touched upon in this sermon, which might best prevail with Jews to receive and embrace Christ as the promised Messiah. And every view, however short or faint, of the Lord’s dealings with his church, reminds us of his mercy and long-suffering, and of man’s ingratitude and perverseness. Paul passes from David to the Son of David and shows that this Jesus is his promised Seed; a Savior to do that for them, which the judges of old could not do, to save them from their sins, their worst enemies. When the apostles preached Christ as the Savior, they were so far from concealing his death, that they always preached Christ crucified. Our complete separation from sin, is represented by our being buried with Christ. But he rose again from the dead and saw no corruption: this was the great truth to be preached.
The resurrection of Christ was the great proof of his being the Son of God. It was not possible he should be held by death, because he was the Son of God, and therefore had life in himself, which he could not lay down but with a design to take it again. The sure mercies of David are that everlasting life, of which the resurrection was a sure pledge; and the blessings of redemption in Christ are a certain earnest, even in this world. David was a great blessing to the age wherein he lived. We were not born for ourselves, but there are those living around us, to whom we must study to be serviceable. Yet here is the difference; Christ was to serve all generations. May we look to Him who is declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, that by faith in him we may walk with God and serve our generation according to his will; and when death comes, may we fall asleep in him, with a joyful hope of a blessed resurrection.
Let all that hear the gospel of Christ, know these two things:
- That through this Man, who died and rose again, is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. Your sins, though many and great, may be forgiven, and they may be so without any injury to God’s honor.
- It is by Christ only that those who believe in him, and none else, are justified from all things; from all the guilt and stain of sin, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.
The great concern of convinced sinners is, to be justified, to be acquitted from all their guilt, and accepted as righteous in God’s sight, for if any is left charged upon the sinner, he is undone. By Jesus Christ we obtain a complete justification; for by him a complete atonement was made for sin. We are justified, not only by him as our Judge but by him as the Lord our Righteousness. What the law could not do for us, in that it was weak, the gospel of Christ does. This is the most needful blessing, bringing in every other. The threatenings are warnings; what we are told will come upon impenitent sinners, is designed to awaken us to beware lest it come upon us. It ruins many, that they despise religion. Those that will not wonder and be saved, shall wonder and perish.
The Jews opposed the doctrine the apostles preached; and when they could find no objection, they blasphemed Christ and his gospel. Commonly those who begin with contradicting, end with blaspheming. But when adversaries of Christ’s cause are daring, its advocates should be the bolder. And while many judge themselves unworthy of eternal life, others, who appear less likely, desire to hear more of the glad tidings of salvation. This is according to what was foretold in the Old Testament. What light, what power, what a treasure does this gospel bring with it! How excellent are its truths, its precepts, its promises! Those came to Christ whom the Father drew, and to whom the Spirit made the gospel call effectual, Romans 8:30. As many as were disposed to eternal life, as many as had concern about their eternal state, and aimed to make sure of eternal life, believed in Christ, in whom God has treasured up that life, and who is the only Way to it; and it was the grace of God that wrought it in them. It is good to see honorable women devout; the less they have to do in the world, the more they should do for their own souls, and the souls of others: but it is sad, when, under color of devotion to God, they try to show hatred to Christ. And the more we relish the comforts and encouragements we meet with in the power of godliness, and the fuller our hearts are of them, the better prepared we are to face difficulties in the profession of godliness.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- Men have long wrestled with the question of where history is going. Is there a purpose, goal, or culmination to history? Or is it merely a succession of sunrises and sunsets, a meaningless series of swiftly flowing years leading nowhere? Is history, as the Stoic philosophers of Paul’s day taught and Eastern religions of today teach, an endless series of cycles? Viewing history as purposeless appeals to sinful people, since it grants them freedom to do as they want with no fear of accountability to a divine moral judge. As one of the brothers in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov expressed it, “If there is no God, then everything is permitted.” Such freedom is in reality, however, a crushing burden of despair and hopelessness. For removing God from the picture reduces man to “a chance configuration of atoms in the slipstream of meaningless chance history” [Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City]. But despite such cynicism and despair, history is going somewhere. And every Jew and Gentile proselyte in Paul’s audience knew exactly where: to its culmination in the coming kingdom of Messiah. Man’s fellowship with God, shattered by the Fall, would be restored when Messiah came and delivered men from the bondage of sin. History would ultimately resolve itself in the redeemed being back in full fellowship with God and giving Him glory. Jesus’ incarnation and sacrificial death, His second coming to set up His earthly, millennial reign, and His eternal rule over the new heavens and new earth are the climax of history.
- Do you have any doubts that the Old Testament history and prophecy point to Jesus Christ? Jesus was the Seed of the woman who bruised the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). He was the virgin-born Son whose name was “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). He was the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God of Isaiah 9:6. Micah 5:2 foretold that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and Jesus was (Matthew 2:1). Messiah was to be a descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3), Jacob (Numbers 24:17), and Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), and Jesus was (Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:16; Luke 3:32). He was to be a descendant of David (Jeremiah 23:5), and Jesus was (Matthew 1:1). Psalm 110:4 predicted Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and Jesus was (Hebrews 6:20). Centuries before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, Zechariah 9:9 predicted Messiah would do just that. Psalm 41:9 predicted Judas’s betrayal, and Zechariah 11:12 the exact amount of money he would receive for doing it. For we see in the entire sermon, that the verbs attributed to God are crucial: God chose, God prospered, God led, God endured, God overthrew, and God gave. The basic thrust at the beginning establishes God’s control of history and the unique place of Israel in that history. The fulfillment of those prophecies and dozens more provide overwhelming proof that Jesus was indeed Israel’s prophesied and long-awaited Messiah. Historically, Jesus was the offspring of David. Prophetically, He was the One whom, according to promise, God brought to Israel as a Savior. He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah. In Him God’s promise in the Old Testament was realized.
- What should people do with the information that Jesus and his resurrection fulfilled the messianic promises of the Old Testament? How does one react to this kind of Good News? If you’re going to entrust your soul for eternity to God, it is important to know that He keeps His promises. Most of us have had the experience of being disappointed with God. We trusted Him for something that we thought He had promised, but it did not work out as we had hoped. Whenever that happens, it is we, not God, who were mistaken. We somehow failed to understand or properly apply His promises. But on the matter of our eternal destiny, it is crucial that we properly understand and apply God’s promise of salvation. To be mistaken here would be eternally fatal. The choice with which Paul left his audience is the choice every person faces. Accepting the salvation offered in Jesus Christ brings forgiveness of sin and eternal bliss. Rejecting it brings judgment and eternal damnation. God’s grace and love do not cancel His justice and holy hatred of sin. The sober words of the writer of Hebrews stand for all time as a warning to those who reject the gospel: “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3). As He Himself put it, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). He left us no third alternative.
- Why would we want to proclaim a message that is inherently divisive? There are a number of reasons. Christianity is not just a philosophy or a set of ethics, though it involves these things. Essentially Christianity is a proclamation of facts that concern what God has done. That is why Christianity is not malleable. Sometimes people try to remake Christianity, thinking a new version might be more acceptable to our contemporaries. But this does not work, and the reason it does not work is that whether we like it or not Christianity constantly brings us up against the facts — the truth. Rather than trying to change them, we have to learn first to conform our thinking and conduct to these facts and second to proclaim not our own ideas but these very facts to other people. We know that the gospel is the truth, and that those who do not respond to it in faith will face God’s eternal judgment, but those who believe will be eternally saved. But these are not the main reasons that we should proclaim the gospel. The main reason that we should proclaim the gospel is that God is glorified through it when He saves sinners. Our text shows this when it says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Since God is glorified in the salvation of His elect, He wants us boldly to proclaim the gospel, even though it divides people. The glory of God is to be our supreme aim in everything: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
- Do you consider anything in the gospel message being from man? The gospel is God’s message, not man’s. Luke repeatedly emphasizes this. He refers twice to “the word of God” (Acts 13:44; Acts 13:46); twice to “the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48-49); and, once to “the word of His grace” (Acts 14:3). In other words, the gospel did not originate with religiously clever men thinking up how we can be reconciled with God. All of the world’s religions that originate with man or from Satan involve a system of human works that supposedly will bring us into harmony with God. Whether Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or whatever, all these systems have one thing in common: they bring glory to man because salvation is by human works or merit. But the gospel is altogether different. It wipes out all ground for our boasting. It takes away every human work, and attributes salvation to God alone, who chose us before the foundation of the world, before we ever did any good work, including believing in Him.
- Have the promises under the New Covenant been meet? Are we given the opportunity to receive salvation as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9)? Our responsibility is to exercise faith in Christ, the One who fulfilled the Law on our behalf and brought an end to the Law’s sacrifices through His own sacrificial death. Through the life-giving Holy Spirit who lives in all believers (Romans 8:9-11), we share in the inheritance of Christ and enjoy a permanent, unbroken relationship with God (Hebrews 9:15). For the spiritual promise of eternal salvation and blessing given to Abraham belongs to all those who belong to Christ. They are all heirs according to that promise, which is fulfilled in Christ. This is not a reference to the promises given to Abraham regarding the land (Genesis 12:1; Genesis 13:14-15) but refers to the spiritual blessings that come to all who, being justified by faith just as Abraham was (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3-11), will inherit the spiritual promises given to Abraham. Not all the physical seed of Abraham will receive the promises of salvation (Romans 9:6-11), but many who are not physical seed of Abraham will receive them by coming to God by faith as he did, thereby becoming his spiritual offspring. Those who are children of God are “heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Christ’s inheritance belongs to “all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32), His fellow “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). They are “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13), the promise of inheriting God Himself. “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup” (Psalm 16:5).
- Have you accepted the promises of forgiveness of sin and salvation in Jesus? Has His grace started a new work in you? Have you begun rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord? To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For He says, At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you’; behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Corinthians 6:2). All of this should give us great comfort, especially when things in our world seem to be running out of control. Nothing thwarts God’s sovereign purpose in history! He promised to send the Savior, and He did it in spite of the many failings of His people and the strong opposition of His enemies. Rather, it was “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls” (Romans 9:11). If grace is contingent on anything in us, including our choice of God, it is no longer grace (Romans 11:6). If you think that your standing before God is because of anything in you — your choice of God, your basic goodness, your religious practices — you do not understand the gospel of God’s grace. God’s sovereign grace means that we are saved in spite of, not because of, anything in ourselves. God initiated the process with His promise, He moved all history to accomplish it, and He brings it to individuals who are rebels deserving of His judgment. It is all from His grace to the praise of the glory of His grace!
- Are you one who scoffs at the thought of God’s judgment? For the gospel first confronts sinners with the law and judgment, then the grace of God in Christ. Such a confrontation and exposure of guilt, shame, and doom, along with the offer of salvation by grace, demands a response; it often forces people to rather passionate rejection. It exposes them as the helpless sinners they are and strips them of their self-righteous pretenses and aspirations. And that stripping often infuriates those who reject the message. Like all who go to hell, the unbelieving Jews at Antioch judged themselves unworthy of eternal life by their unbelief. John 3:18 reads, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” People perish because they choose to reject and refuse to believe, and their choice shuts them out of eternal life. Jesus once said to the unbelieving Jews, “You are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:40). Later He said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Damnation is the result of rejection and unbelief, for which each faithless soul is utterly responsible. Even many who profess to know Christ say, “My God is a God of love, not a God of judgment.” But what matters is not how you speculate God to be, but rather, how He has in fact revealed Himself in His Word. The God who keeps His promises is also the God who carries through with His warnings. For all who scoff at Him or ignore Him “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
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