Acts 13b


Acts 13: Part Two-God’s Justice

As we pick up the story of Barnabas and Paul on this missionary trip to Cyprus we see a pattern that will mark Paul’s ministry. “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the Word of God in the Jewish Synagogues. John( Mark) was with them also.” Acts 13:5.  Paul would always go to the Synagogue first to proclaim the Gospel to his fellow Jews.

Barnabas and Paul travel through the whole island of Cyprus until they come to Paphos. Here they will encounter adversity. We must realize when we strive to present the Gospel, we will encounter the attacks of the enemy. Teaching and preaching to mostly believers in a church does not concern the enemy that much. However witnessing to a lost world or trying to bring a message of faith in the halls of government will bring adversity. For we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with spiritual wickedness in high places. Here is a man who is a sorcerer and false prophet who is an attendant of the Roman Proconsul, Sergius Paulus. This man is serving as some type of advisor to the proconsul. The enemy is always eager to influence men of power. The devil will place his followers in positions of influence- that is why Paul says we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with spiritual wickedness.

Once you realize there is no neutral ground, for the Lord said you are either with me or against me, then you realize the halls of power in every country, including ours, are filled with men and women who are not for the Lord or His agenda. These people will advise and influence those in positions of power not to listen to the message of faith. These enemies will disguise their opposition to the message of faith by deeming it ‘ policitally incorrect.’  

Paul is filled with the Spirit so he recognizes this man for what he is- a child of the devil. Paul says he is an enemy of everything that is right. That he is full of deceit and trickery. Here is a man who would keep the proconsul in spiritual darkness, but Paul blinds the man temporarily. This blinding of Bar-Jesus, the sorcerer, is done we are told by the hand of the Lord.  The combination of this miracle and the teaching about the Lord, results in the conversion of the Paulus, the Proconsul.  Having accomplished this, from Paphos, Paul and Barnabas sail to Perga in Pamphlylia, where John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem. 

Although only a mention here, we later know Paul was displeased with John Mark’s desertion and it resulted in a split up of the very successful missionary team of Paul and Barnabas. Later there would be reconciliation- but we must take note of the wiles of the enemy. Paul recognized the outright attack of the sorcerer but missed the more subtle internal attack within their small group.  Do not think because you have defeated or turned back the enemy in one area, he will not come at you in another. 

Upon arriving after a difficult  journey over seas and rough terrain Paul and Barnabas arrive in Pisidian Antioch. Again as was his custom, Paul attends the synagogue on Sabbath and is invited to speak to those gathered. The audience consists of Jews and Gentiles who fear and worship God.

Paul’s sermon is not his first sermon obviously. But it is the first sermon we have recorded for us in greater detail.  We will note how similar his approach to preaching is to Stephen’s preaching and the sermon Paul heard that day Stephen was stoned.

Like all good preaching and preachers- this preaching is Scriptural, Bible-based teaching. Why are we told not to add to the Word of God or take away from it? Because if we do, we dilute its power. Let the Word of God go forth and it will not return void. It is powerful and alive and the Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation for all who believe.

Paul will attract their attention just as Stephen did with: the history of God and Israel, the fulfillment of prophecy and the only way to have one’s sins forgiven which is through Jesus Christ who justifies everyone who believes in Him. The Law of Moses cannot justify one- never was its intention or purpose. The Law of Moses was to expose our sinfulness and our inability to overcome the power of sin. 

The age-old question voiced in that ancient book of Job is – ‘how can a sinful man be right before a Holy God? How can he be made clean and acceptable?  For centuries the Pharisees had built a religious system based on legalism by externally conforming to the law. This is how you would be right with God- by keeping the law. A form of self-righteousness coming from works of the flesh. From the very beginning of his teaching Jesus refuted this system saying, ‘you have heard that it was said..’ ‘but I say unto you…’  His teaching angered the Pharisees but gave hope to all those who labored in vain to keep these endless list of laws and interpretations of the Pharisees. Those who heard Jesus teach- said of him- He teaches with authority.

So here we are 2000 years later and I wonder have we turned into the Pharisees and our actions are like those of the nation of Israel who took such pride in being God’s people and having the privileges they enjoyed.?

We read in Amos- “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria.”( Amos 6)  Are we at ease and feel safe because of our location? Do we as Christians believe God will not allow us to be defeated? Is the USA becoming complacent again after being shocked on 911? At WJBC are we at ease- because we live in the Bible Belt , near Union University and with a century old tradition?

What about the order of our services and what we have come to expect as normal and routine? Are we not going through rituals like Israel did in the temple ? God said: “ I hate your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.” ( Amos 5). Why did God say that? Because they had substituted ritual for a relationship. 

And God said you do not grieve over sin. We are at ease, going through a routine, not wanting to rock the boat- maintain status quo- disregard certain sin. 

Paul begins his sermon with his focus on God’s action  on behalf of the nation of Israel .It is always God’s action on Israel’s behalf. It is only His faithfulness to keep His word that has kept Israel from passing into obscurity. It is nothing Israel or the Jews have done- it is all of God.  One thing we note as he recites the well known story of God and Israel is it always God in control. God is in control of History- and for Him it is all history for He sees the end from the beginning.

As Paul begins to recite the familiar notice the emphasis:  God chose our fathers; God made the people great in Egypt; God led them out of the country and bondage; God endured their conduct for forty years in the desert; God overthrew seven nations in Canaan; God gave them their land as their inheritance; God gave them their judges and their kings. ( Has not God done the same for us in this country? Did He not lead our forefathers to come here to establish a country where we could worship God in spirit and in truth? Has he not made us and America the wealthiest and freest nation on earth ? Has He not given us this land as an inheritance? Has He not given us victories in wars over other nations? And now we, His people, who are called by His name, has He not had to endure our conduct?)Then God brought to Israel the Savior Jesus as He promised. Paul reminds them John the Baptist, a true prophet recognized Jesus as the Messiah.

Paul continues-‘… it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.(vs.26) Then Paul hits them between their theologically crossed eyes-“ The people of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.”  Once again we see the sovereignty of God and the free will of men opposing the very sovereignty of God work together to accomplish the will of God as was done at Calvary. 

The question is – how did these men who read and studied the Scriptures and prophecy not recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and thus miss the first coming of the Messiah?  Paul gives us the first reason in this verse. They did not ‘recognize Jesus.’ They were blinded by their prejudices. They looked at Jesus as the son of a carpenter from Nazareth. He had no money, no formal schooling, there were questions surrounding his birth and most of all- he was not one of them. The second reason they missed this opportunity to recognize the Messiah was they did not understand Scripture.  The reading of the Scriptures, the Torah and prophets and Psalms that was read every Sabbath was part of a religious rite. A performance repeated over and over like their prayers – words read and repeated as part of a ritual without any thought regarding what they meant.  It was like the Lord’s Prayer we said before every football game in the locker room. It was part of a ritual- part of an almost superstition we always repeated. We did not think about those words and what they meant. Such was the case with the Scriptures they read.  Remember what Jesus did in His Resurrection ministry?  “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” ( Luke 24)

Paul takes them through the crucifixion and resurrection and the fact that Jesus was seen by many witnesses. Then in verse 32  Paul presents the Gospel: “ We tell you the good news. What God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your Father.”

Then Paul quotes the prophecy from Psalms 16 that the Holy One’s body would never see decay.  Remember when Lazarus was restored to life after 4 days in the grave?  He came out in grave clothes. When the Lord Jesus was resurrected, he left behind the grave clothes. For unlike Lazarus who would die and decay, just like David who had died and decayed, the Lord Jesus would have no need of grave clothes for he would never die again- he would never see decay.

Then Paul hits them with a stunning truth. A blow to the very heart of what these Jews held sacred- the Law of Moses.  “ Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is  JUSTIFED from everything you could NOT be justified from by the law of Moses. “

Here in lies the truth and the answer to the question asked in the ancient book of Job. How shall a man be right before Holy God? We cannot fully appreciate the shock that rippled through the crowd when Paul made this statement. First of all- the Jews had been taught for generation after generation by the Pharisees that the way to God was through obeying and keeping the Ten Commandments. Trying to be good enough to be accepted by God. Jesus told them their holiness must exceed the holiness of the Pharisees – they must be perfect as God is perfect.  Now Paul comes to tell them they will NEVER  make it by keeping the law. The Law of God is what condemns them. Paul has introduced them to the only way a man or woman can be right before God. Paul was introducing them to God’s Justice.

But God had devised a Way. In fact Jesus told us- he was the Way, the Truth and the Life. In John 8- he said if you know the Truth, you will be set free. And then four verses later , Jesus substitutes his name for the truth, when He states “ If the Son( The Way, the Truth and the Life) sets you free, you are free indeed.” In John 17, Jesus says: “ Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Jesus came on a mission sent by the Father. He came into the world , not to condemn the world but that through Him the world might be saved.  He came to seek and save the lost.

Let us make sure we understand, as much as is possible, this wonderful act of justification. The law was never given as a way to be saved by keeping the law, but actually was intended to expose our sinfulness and sins. In doing so God was revealing our need for a power greater than us to save us from our sins and ourselves. We all disobey God’s law. We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

In Deuteronomy 27:26 it could not be made any clearer: “ Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of the law by carrying them out.” No one has ever been able to keep the law except Jesus, the only one qualified to redeem us.  Paul using this verse from Deuteronomy states in Galatians 3: “ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous shall live by faith. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He( Lord Jesus) redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” ( Galatians 3:10-14)

If we look back to Abraham on the mount with Isaac we will see the prophetic truth when Abraham answers Isaac’s question- where is the lamb?  Abraham said God Himself would provide a lamb for the sacrifice.  For centuries, from the tabernacle in the wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews brought lambs without flaw for sacrifice- for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. It was a picture of the Lamb, God would provide for a sacrifice.  Then when the Lord Jesus came, Immanuel, God with us, God in flesh, John the Baptist recognized Him, having it revealed to him by God. And the day after the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his two young disciples, John and Andrew and said: Behold the LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.  The lamb Abraham spoke of in Genesis had arrived.  The Lamb God had provided to take away the sin of the world.

He was qualified to take away our sin because He alone had kept the law. He did not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it- every jot and tittle.  So it is through grace that God blesses us. It is through faith we receive the blessing. But we must understand that justification is not just having one’s sins forgiven. Justification means having your sins forgiven in a way that God’s honor and integrity and holiness are preserved by it.

Justice must be served. Sin must be punished. Death is the punishment. He could not let us go unpunished. In spite of His great love and mercy- He would not be Holy God if justice was not carried out. Punishment had to be administered. Payment rendered.

God found the perfect way. Jesus was the Way. He was the lamb without fault or blemish. The sacrifice upon which God could lay the guilt of our lives on his own Son. He punished His own Son- He who knew no sin became sin for us. In doing so, God’s character was not defiled- he did not dismiss our sins- He punished them. He did for us what we could not ever do for ourselves.

Therefore there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. He paid it all!  Now those of us who are saved- we believe this with all our hearts. But to our amazement there are those today and those we know- who do not accept this, just as it was on this day Paul preached to the crowd in Pisidian Antioch.

Do you see what Paul has done in this sermon?  He started out by showing them God is the One who is reaching out to mankind. He is not willing that any should perish but all would come to repentance. It is God who revealed our sin. It is God who revealed His plan of salvation. It is God who has made Himself known to all mankind through creation. And it is God who has written His law in the hearts of mankind, their conscience bearing witness. It is God who sent His Only Son to die for us on a cross at Calvary. It is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lamb , Abraham said God would provide.

In Romans 3, Paul states “ There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one seeks God.” Then in Romans 3:21-Paul writes:  “ But now a righteousness from God apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

In these verses we learn God provides a righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.  Justice is served. We are not only declared Not Guilty- we are declared righteous in His Sight by faith in Jesus Christ and his finished work, in His Blood.

“He(Lord Jesus) is a propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” ( I John2:2)

God’s holiness demands punishment (justice) for man’s sins. God therefore out of love (John 3:16) sent His Son to make a substitutionary atonement for the believer’s sin. In this way the Father’s wrath is satisfied; His wrath against the Christian’s sins has been turned away and directed toward Christ. It was at Calvary where God’s Justice was carried out. It was on His Son, our substitute, it was carried out. That is why the Lord Jesus cried out- My God, My God why have you forsaken me?!” God had forsaken Him for our sakes.

Sin and death came through the sin of one man- Adam. Through one man sin entered and condemned all mankind, therefore through the obedience of one man- Jesus Christ  all who believe will be made righteous.  Justification. God’s justice combines the forgiveness of sins and the gift of righteousness. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain- He washed it white as snow. GOD’S JUSTICE !

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14