Sermon on Acts 13:38-49
Text: “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take 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.’”
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When 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.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
46 Then 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. 47 For 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.’”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
It’s kind of funny how the same announcement can have different effects on the hearers. Take, for example, when the announcement is made that school is cancelled due to weather. If you are a school age child, you are filled with excitement. It means that you don’t have to go to school. You can play all day and not have to worry about any homework. On the other hand, if you are a parent, you might not find such excitement in that announcement. It means that you have to find something for the children to do all day. They will be inside, filled with energy that needs to be burned off. The announcement that brings joy to one can bring anxiety to the other. As we study God’s Word this morning, we are going to examine two very different reactions to a proclamation. These two reactions are still in evidence today. GOD’S PROCLAMATION OF FORGIVENESS is 1. Rejected By Some and 2. Is Received With Joy By Others.
Paul and Barnabas were on what would be the first of Paul’s missionary journeys. They came to the city of Antioch in central Turkey. Paul and Barnabas went to the local synagogue. As was the custom, if there was a visiting teacher, they would be invited to address those who were there. Paul spoke to the group. He took them through the Old Testament and then talked about Jesus. The things that Paul said interested many in the group and they asked him to speak further on the next Sabbath. It’s interesting to note that there were many who could not wait until that time. It says in verse 43, “When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas.” They needed to hear more about what Paul had told them in the synagogue. When the next Sabbath came, we are told, “Almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” (Verse 44) It was a standing room only crowd that gathered that day. Everyone wanted to hear more. Paul’s message is summarized in verses 38&39, “My friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” Paul proclaimed the message that forgiveness came through Jesus Christ.
There were two very different reactions to this proclamation. It says in verse 45, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.” There were some who were jealous. They began to speak badly about Paul and what he was saying. It was not so much that the Jews were jealous of Paul’s popularity, as if they wished they could draw as big of a crowd that Paul did. Rather, they were jealous for what they thought was God’s honor. They believed that Paul was wrong to say that no one could be justified by the law of Moses, but only by Christ. They thought that this dishonored God as the giver of the law. They were going to push back at Paul for what they thought was false teaching. They were sincere in their beliefs. However, their beliefs were wrong. In holding on to their wrong beliefs, they were rejected the clear proclamation of forgiveness of sins won by Christ.
The same thing continues to happen today. There are very well-intentioned people who refuse to believe the message of forgiveness through Christ. One of the reasons that they do so is that this way sounds too easy. ‘Everyone knows that if you get something, you have to do something to earn it.’ As a result, they spend their lives trying to make up for all the sins that they commit. They think that, if they do enough, God will be happy with them and let them into heaven. Others reject the idea because, to them, it doesn’t make sense. How can one person, who lived thousands of years ago, pay for all of the sins of the world? They have trouble believing that Jesus was God, seeing him only as a good man, who showed us all how to get along better in the world. They have trouble accepting a resurrection, so they come up with ideas that Jesus really didn’t die. He merely fainted on the cross and the coolness of the tomb revived him. They twist and turn the words of the Bible until they make sense to them. Another way that the idea of forgiveness through Jesus is rejected is rejecting the entire notion that there is sin. There is no absolute right and wrong. What is right for you at that moment is good. If there is no sin, there is no need for forgiveness.
While all of these ways might seem reasonable and held onto with all sincerity, the end result is always the same. It says in Proverbs 16:25, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” All of these ways will only lead to an eternity of separation from God. Even though the people who hold to these ideas may be ever so sincere about them, they will never spend their eternity with God. Wishing sin away or trying to make up for it will always lead to death. This is always the case when people reject the forgiveness that God offers to them.
There was another reaction to the message of forgiveness that Paul proclaimed. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Verse 48) They rejoiced when they hear the news about what Jesus had done to rescue the world from its sins. They were filled with joy that salvation was for all people. Remember that those who heard Paul’s message that second Sabbath were not just Jews. There were those Gentiles who had converted to Judaism and there were Gentiles who just had heard about what Paul had said throughout the week and wanted to hear more. For them, the proclamation of forgiveness brought them great joy.
By God’s grace, we, too, have heard that beautiful proclamation of the forgiveness that Jesus won for us. We cannot thank God enough for the news that Jesus came to be our Savior. We know that we could never do enough to make up for all of the sins that we commit. We would have endlessly been trying to keep God’s laws and endlessly failing. This would have left us in the depths of despair. All we would know, all that we could see would be our failures. However, Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. We don’t have to despair over our imperfect lives, because Jesus was perfect for us. We don’t have to despair over our sins, because Jesus paid for every single one of them on the cross. His resurrection assures us that all has been done for our salvation. For this reason, we have every reason to rejoice. In addition, we rejoice that this message was shared with us. Jesus’ saving work was for all people, including you and me. We don’t have to wonder if we have been excluded for some reason or another. The proclamation of forgiveness is meant for all people. We rejoice to know that we have been forgiven.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to hear the last verse of our text, “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” (Verse 49) After all, when you hear good news, you can’t wait to tell someone else. My dear friends, you and I have also been privileged to hear the good news of forgiveness. Is there any better news that we can share with someone else? Paul makes this remark in verse 47, quoting from Isaiah 49, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” When we are brought to faith, we become lights for the darkened world around us. As we live out our faith, people will notice. They may not say anything right away, but they see how we live our lives. Who knows what circumstances in their lives might lead them to ask you for help or advice? If you just blended in with the rest, why would they come to you? However, as we live as Christians, we may be the place that they go for that help. What a wonderful opportunity that God has given you to tell them about what he has done for them. You can tell them about God, who loves them and proved it by sending his Son to be their Savior. We rejoice to hear about our forgiveness and we pray that God would help us to share that joy with those around us.
It would be a wonderful thing, if everyone that we told about Jesus immediately received that message with the joy that we feel in our hearts. The truth is that there will be those who will reject it. They may say bad things to us and about us. For that reason, we may, at times, be hesitant to tell others about the forgiveness that comes through Jesus. However, it may be our joy to be the person that God used to tell another about what God has done for them. Could there be any greater joy in knowing that another person has been brought to faith and will spend their eternity in heaven? Though it might take some time before that person is brought to faith, God has given us the joy of proclaiming forgiveness to that person. We thank God for having proclaimed forgiveness to us. We pray that this proclamation would be shared far and wide, and that many would rejoice in the peace that comes from knowing that sins are forgiven. May God bless this proclamation of forgiveness. Amen.
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