A reflection on Acts 13:(13-28) 29-33a & 44-52 for Sunday, October 18, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church.
…When everything was complete that was written about him, they took him from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead. For many days he appeared to those who came with him from Galilee to Jerusalem – who are now his witnesses to the people.
We now bring the good news that what God promised our ancestors he has completed for us – their children – through raising Jesus…
The following sabbath nearly the entire city came together to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds they brimmed with jealousy, contradicted Paul’s words, and cursed. Then Paul and Barnabas boldly replied saying, “It was essential that the word of God be declared to you first. Yet – since you reject it and don’t consider yourselves worthy of eternal life – we now turn to the nations. For so the Lord commanded us:
“I have made you to be a light for the nations – a means of salvation to the very ends of the earth.”
When the people of the nations heard this they became ecstatic – glorifying the word of the Lord – and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. So the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the influential and devout women – along with the leading men of the city – raising up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and driving them from their region.
So they protested – shaking the dust from their feet – and went to Iconium. And the disciples brimmed with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Acts 13:29-33a & 44-52 (Own Translation)
One of the clearest explanations of the gospel that Paul declared precedes the passage above.
We are in Antioch of Pisidia where Paul and Barnabas have found a sabbath-day welcome at the local synagogue. There they proclaim their message. It is distinctly Jewish.
Paul begins by acknowledging their common ancestors and God’s blessing in – and rescue from – Egypt (13:17). He points to the conquest in Canaan and the inheriting of the promised land (13:19-20). Paul reminds them of the judges, prophets, and kings (13:20-21).
Of theses kings, David is singled out, in God’s words, as “…a man in accord with my heart – who will do all I desire.” (13:22). Jesus is expressly linked to this one and named ‘Saviour’ (13:23). This one, John insists, leaves him, “…unworthy to untie the strap of his sandals…” (13:25).
It is a long-winded introduction. It does, however, establish a needed rapport. Paul can now follow this by addressing his listeners as kin – and then imploring all to hear this ‘word of salvation’ (13:26).
And so Paul presents his account of the gospel story.
Notably, Paul lays the blame for the death of Jesus at the feet of the leading residents of Jerusalem who – in their ignorance – handed Jesus over to Pilate and urged him to put him to death. Jesus’ death is a result of a human, religious, power-play.
The Messiah came – and people put him to death.
This is not, however, to suggest that God is uninvolved. God is vitally involved and enters Paul’s narrative at the point of the resurrection: ‘But God raised him from the dead.’ (13:30).
This is a hinge moment – an unexpected God-intervention that changes everything.
Perhaps we do well to pause and remember where Paul is speaking. The synagogue is a Jewish place of worship. The people who lead here are a part of the system that executed Jesus. It is far from clear to them that a God-resurrected Jesus is good news.
Yet Paul goes on to link this God-act – in good Jewish fashion – with the Psalms, David, Isaiah, and – most importantly – with ‘sins forgiven’ (13:38).
I imagine that this link is not the first that Paul’s Jewish hearers would make. They killed the Messiah. God raised the Messiah. Surely they expect revenge.
After all, that is their way. It is our way.
It is not, however, the way of God. Paul’s account of the gospel amounts to an insistence that God is radically unlike us. Revenge is not God’s aim – but restoration of relationship. This is expressed here as the invitation to ‘entrust’ (believe) and be ‘set free from sin’ – something the ‘…command of Moses’ was unable to achieve (13:39).
Somehow God – the creator of all things – is much humbler than we are.
So Paul ends this sabbath speech with a pertinent citation from Habakkuk urging his hearers to ‘believe’ (13:41) – to come back into friendship with God.
In our account, some desire to hear more. Others go out of their way to encourage the two apostles. A week later, the entire city has assembled to hear the ‘word of the Lord’ (13:44).
The resurrection message has deeply connected.
Not, however, with all. ‘Jealousy’ caused thIs second gathering to descend into bitter argument. Paul and Barnabas insist that they have rightly engaged the Jews first. Their leaders have not, however, chosen to entrust themselves to this resurrection-and-forgiveness God.
So with the predominantly gentile city gathered to hear, Paul and Barnabas declare that they are ready to take their message to anyone – anywhere.
The result is ecstasy, faith, and an incited opposition – with all the echoes of the Jerusalem power-play that God overthrew with the resurrection of Jesus.
They have not listened. They have not heard.
And so Paul and Barnabas shake ’the dust from their feet’ and leave for nearby Iconium. This symbolic act links the account here in the second instalment of Luke’s history with Jesus words in the author’s first account. It is a ‘witness against them’ (Luke 9:5).
Persecution has broken out. A new community of Jesus-followers has been established. After only a week, the apostles – who spent an entire year establishing the church Antioch – have left.
Surely they would have treasured more time to share with those who were willing.
Yet, they depart in a faith characterised by ‘joy’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’. Their week has ended in anything but the fashion they must have hoped for.
Sill – they brim with the assurance that God is at work.
How prominent is the resurrection of Jesus in your understanding of the gospel? How – and how closely – do you link this with forgiveness?
Does the mixed reaction of Paul and Barnabas’ hearers encourage you to share the gospel or cause you to be more careful? Does persecution instil fear or faith in you?
When would you flee persecution for the gospel? When would you choose to stay?