Paul’s Word of Encouragement

Read Acts 13:13-52

Have you ever had something start off by going so well and then suddenly everything was awful? Maybe you’re like me and you’ve got some incredibly awkward first date stories. Perhaps you received a promotion or got a new job and after a couple of weeks you just felt overwhelmed. You could have set out on a road trip with your awesome playlist ready to go and then your vehicle started breaking down. Situations will arise where good times turn to bad times because we live in a broken world that is frequently reminding us of the fact that disappointment is real. In the passage for this week, Acts 13:13-52, we see a situation that was going incredibly well suddenly crash and burn. Paul and Barnabas have found their way to Antioch in Pisidia where the gospel is received with open arms. Suddenly they are cast away because of the opposition of several key leaders.

In verse 15 we see that those within the synagogue finished reading the Old Testament and asked if anyone had any words of encouragement they would like to share. Paul, since he never backs down from an opportunity to share the gospel, stands up and continues to quote from the Old Testament. How was his handling of the Old Testament a word of encouragement though? Paul’s handling of the Old Testament pointed people to Jesus. There have been two other specific occasions to this point in Acts where other believers (Peter in Acts 2 and Stephen in Acts 7) preached the gospel by retelling the Old Testament story and connecting it with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Given the fact that these other sermons have been previously covered in our study on Acts, this blog will be devoted to the conclusion of Paul’s sermon (13:36-52) which is unique when compared to the others.

The first thing we see as Paul brings his sermon to a conclusion is the legacy of the believer. We find this in verses 36-37 when Paul says, “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, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.”

How do you summarize a person’s life once it has ended? Normally a life summary is connected to the individual’s accomplishments or the things that shape their identity. “Here lies ____: Loving parent, faithful friend, advocate of justice, lover of Jesus, Area 51 raider.” Consider Paul’s summary of David’s life. David came from humble beginnings and yet he defeated a Philistine giant when the rest of Israel’s army were cowards, making him a war hero while he was still very young. David was capable of killing animals with his bare hands that had the ability to rip his face off. He eventually became the greatest king in the history of Israel, but what does Paul say about him? David served the purpose of God in his own generation. How would you like for that phrase to be on your tombstone? The key distinction behind this life summary is that God was not a part of David’s story, but rather David was a part of God’s story. The focal point of this life was not the individual, but the God of this individual. Even in Paul’s brief summary of David’s life, the emphasis was the work of God.

David’s life was a connecting point that Paul had with the people. He used this to launch into the gospel. David died, but Jesus lives. This distinction leads to the second point of emphasis found in the conclusion of this sermon. Paul speaks of the salvation of the believer. In verses 38-39, Paul says, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”

Peter and Stephen both communicated this concept in their sermons as well. However, Paul’s communication of the believer’s salvation is what makes his sermon so encouraging. I love church history. One of the most encouraging and motivating things a believer can do, in my opinion, is to look at the lives of those who have run the race before us. This is what Paul did with David, but the study would have been worthless if Jesus was still dead. Think about it, any church history study would leave us feeling inadequate and unqualified if it wasn’t accompanied by the grace of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, that transformed St. Augustine, emboldened Martin Luther, redeemed George Whitefield, and empowered Charles Spurgeon is the same Spirit at work in you. Do you really believe that? Jesus lives and because of this, those who believe in Him can be saved. Paul tells us that this salvation is not only available to us, but he summarizes it in three ways in verses 38-39: 1) Forgiveness, 2) By Jesus (exclusive), and 3) Freedom.

Many books have been written on each of these different aspects of salvation. They are so deep that we can’t even begin to scratch the surface here. The fact of the matter is that the God who created you and sustains you also knows you. He knows all of you. No stone is left unturned in your heart. However, if you are in Christ, be confident that your darkest secrets and your greatest failures are fully known by God and yet they are completely covered by the blood of Jesus. We do not have to live in isolation in this world or out of a fear of being figured out. We are free to be honest that we fall short of the glory of God because Scripture testifies that we all do. Pretending that we don’t fall short is calling Scripture a liar and declaring that Jesus was unnecessary. Whenever we discover a deeper level to our brokenness, we can often be surprised, but God is not. He knows it all. He did not save us in ignorance. He saved us in love.

Of course, a positive reception of the gospel is rarely met with encouragement and joy from those who do not believe it. We see in the book of Acts that when the gospel begins to flourish, the response from the unbelieving community is often indifference, at least, and, at worst, hostility and persecution. In this particular instance, there was an initial openness from the people towards this message. Those within the synagogue wanted more of it. They invited Paul and Barnabas back to share again the next week (v. 42). Luke records that when others inquired further about their teaching, Paul and Barnabas “urged them to continue in the grace of God” (v. 43). (One important side note to consider: The grace of God is not simply a one time gift that gives us eternal security for the rest of our lives. It is so much more. It is the fuel which drives the Christian life. It is a daily gift from God through which we live, grow, and persevere.) Paul and Barnabas shared their message with the people and the people turned around and shared it with others. Verses 42-44 are a prime example of what happens when those within the gathering take their message with them into their daily lives. They invited everyone within their city to come and hear this word of encouragement. And the people came!

When almost the whole city showed up to the synagogue the next week, jealousy ensued. The Jews who were not open to the message began to openly contradict them in order to lead the people astray. How do you respond if you’re Paul or Barnabas? Would you be mad? We see an instance here where they responded in just anger. Luke writes in verse 46, “And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.’” They basically told them that they (the opposing Jews) are turning their back on God and that they will shun Jews for the rest of their ministry. This doesn’t mean that Paul and Barnabas wouldn’t share the gospel with them if the opportunity arose, but that from this point forward, their focus was going to be on taking the gospel to the Gentiles. The remaining few verses inform us that the Word of God was spreading throughout the region and a political persecution was enforced which pushed them out of the area. However, Paul and Barnabas went forward filled with joy because of the hope and encouragement that they rested in. Can you do that? Can you endure persecution with joy? Can you move forward, leaving the disappointment and difficulty behind you, not knowing what lies ahead, with confidence and a smile because of the hope you have in your Jesus?