13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,
“‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.’
34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’
35 Therefore he says also in another psalm,
“‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’
36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:
41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’” – Acts 13:13-41 ESV
Here we have Luke’s record of the initial leg of Paul and Barnabas’ first of three missionary journeys. And we will see that it combines the divine will of God working through the lives of men. In verse four of this chapter, Paul and Barnabas are sent out by the leadership of the church in Antioch of Syria, but under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Their first stop was the island of Cyprus, where they ran into a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. It just so happened that this man, who was also a sorcerer or magician, had a close relationship with the Roman governor, a man named Sergius Paulus. The seemingly chance encounter Paul and Barnabas had with Bar-Jesus led to this man’s blinding and the Roman governor’s salvation. It had been a divine appointment all along. And now, as Paul and Barnabas leave Cyprus, we are told by Luke that they made their way to Pisidian Antioch, located in Asia Minor, in what is now modern-day Turkey. But what prompted them to go to this seemingly remote location? It is clear, from Luke’s perspective, that they were being directed by the Holy Spirit, but there is no indication from the text that Paul and Barnabas received a direct order from the Spirit to focus their efforts on this particular city. Recent scholarship has shown that the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, whom Paul and Barnabas had helped lead to Christ, had connections in Pisidian Antioch. His family owned a large estate there. So, it would seem that he encouraged the two men to carry the good news of Jesus to his family members who lived in Pisidian Antioch. What this reveals is how God orchestrates events, even our relational encounters, in such a way, that He moves, unseen, guiding and directing our steps. When Paul and Barnabas had set out for Cyprus, they had no idea they would meet the Roman governor and see him come to faith in Christ. And they most likely had no hard and fast plans to place Pisidian Antioch on their missionary itinerary. But upon meeting Sergius Paulus and hearing of his concern for the spiritual well-being of his distant family members, Paul and Barnabas made it a priority to go and share the gospel there.
Upon their arrival, they made their way on the Sabbath to the local synagogue, as was becoming their custom. Their arrival had not gone unnoticed, because when the traditional reading of the Scriptures was complete, they were asked to say a few words to the congregation. It seems a bit odd that Paul and Barnabas were given the privilege of addressing the crowd gathered in the synagogue. If news had reached Pisidian Antioch of all that had happened on Cyprus, and the ministry Paul had had among the Gentiles in Antioch in Syria, the Jews in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch would most likely not have welcomed these two men as they did. But given the chance to speak, Paul took full advantage of it. And he presented a sermon that had a very familiar ring to it, echoing what Peter had said in Acts 2 and the message Stephen delivered in Acts 7. Paul started his message by addressing his audience. “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen” (Acts 13:16 ESV). This would have included native Jews and Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. Then, he proceeded to give them a history lesson. He started by recalling God’s establishment of Israel as a great nation while they were living in the land of Egypt. He reminded them of God’s miraculous deliverance and the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness that their ancestors endured. But eventually, they arrived at the land promised to Abraham, and conquered the nations that lived there. And 450 years later, God gave them a series of judges, then their first king, a man named Saul. He was followed by the great king, David, a man after God’s own heart. And then, Paul gets to the real point of his message. “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised” (Acts 13:23 ESV). His goal all along had been to get to the topic of Jesus, the son of David and the Savior of the world. Paul wastes no time, but cuts to the chase, telling his audience “to us has been sent the message of this salvation” (Acts 13:26 ESV). But the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judea had refused to accept the very one who had brought them salvation. They had failed to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Even His suffering and death had been predicted and, without even knowing it, the religious leaders in Jerusalem had helped fulfill those prophecies by having Jesus put to death. And Paul makes it clear that “though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed” (Acts 13:28 ESV). But God raised Him from the dead.
At this point, Paul had them. They were either incensed or totally intrigued by what he had to say. Because of their distance from Jerusalem and the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, this may have been the first time many of them had heard this news. But as Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, they would have known about the Messiah and would have found the words of Paul, if nothing else, fascinating. And Paul let them know why he and Barnabas were there: “…we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33 ESV).
Paul wanted them to understand that the Scriptures they revered and read each and every Sabbath day in the synagogue, spoke of Jesus. He used the psalms of David to show them that these passages were prophetic, speaking of the coming Messiah. Jesus, because He died and was raised back to life, did not undergo any decay. His body was spared the normal and natural effects of death. This was not true of King David, who had written, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 13:35 ESV). David had not been speaking of himself, but of one to come. And Paul let them know, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus had been that one. He had come. He did die. But He was raised back to life. And Paul and Barnabas were witnesses of that reality. And the truly good news was that “through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight—something the law of Moses could never do” (Acts 13:38-39 NLT). There’s the crux of Paul’s message: Justification. How are sinful men made right with a holy God? Not by keeping the law. That was an impossible task. It always ended in failure, because the law was always and only intended to show man his sin. Paul would later write a letter to the people living in this part of the world, telling them, “Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). And one day, he would also write to the believers in Rome, telling them, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT).
Paul offered these devout Jews and God-fearing Gentiles an opportunity to be made right with God, through faith in Jesus Christ. But he warned them to not repeat the sins of their ancestors, who had scoffed at the words of God. Quoting from the book of Habakuk, Paul repeated the words God had spoken to the people in Habakuk’s day. “I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you” (Acts 13:41 ESV). Paul warned his audience to not treat God’s words with disbelief. He wanted them to understand that God was doing a work in their day. He had sent His Son, Jesus, to die for the sins of mankind, so that the penalty for sin could be paid for and the consequences of death eliminated once and for all. But they must believe. They must trust that what Paul was saying was true and that Jesus was the promised Messiah and Savior of the world.
God was doing a work among them, but they ran the risk of missing it if they refused to see it for what it was: God’s plan of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of His very own son and their Messiah.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.