PAULS ADDRESS IN THE SYNAGOGUE AT PISIDIAN ANTIOCH (Acts 13.14-43)
Paul and his companions in Gods service were on what has come to be known as the First Missionary Journey. They had gone out with the hearty commendation of the assembly in Syrian Antioch. This marks a significant forward movement towards the evangelisation of Gentiles. It would be important to establish the principle that Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ were accepted in Christ on the same grounds and lived their Christian lives on the same plane as each other.
Now in Pisidian Antioch, in Asia Minor, Paul and his fellow-workers went to the Jewish synagogue as they normally had been doing in each new centre which they reached. It appears that there were a significant number of God-fearers in the congregation. These were Gentiles who had come to believe in the one true God and associated themselves with the Jewish community. Seeing Paul and his friends as fellow-worshippers, the synagogue rulers invited them courteously, at an appropriate point in the service, to give "a word of exhortation" if they wished to do so.
We notice that when Paul reached the heart of the message which he preached in response to the invitation, he gave a "word of salvation". Both Jews and Gentiles were faced with the issue of Christ as the source of salvation for all mankind, irrespective of race or creed. The death of Christ has clarified the human condition as under sin, whether they are Jews or not. This is the issue which must be faced by each person. Paul begins with an outline of Jewish background history.
The Old Testament Historical Background
In this opening section Paul shows the nature of Gods dealings with Israel in the Old Testament. God found them slaves in Egypt. It was His power that freed them. It was His provision that sustained them in the wilderness journey to Canaan. It was likewise His power that subdued seven tribes in Canaan and gave Israel the land. Again, it was His power and grace that raised up "judges" to deliver them when their waywardness led to their coming under the control of their enemies. They demanded a king, and God gave them Saul. God rid them of Saul when he failed and raised up David as their king, a man after Gods own heart, the prototype of true kingly character. David was accepted by Jews as the ancestor of Messiah, in accordance with prophetic promises.
The Messiah Has Come
Paul uses the reference to David to introduce Jesus as Davids Son (v.23). We notice how Paul says that the coming of Jesus is the fulfilment of Gods promise. He is the promised "Saviour" for Israel. This is the second use of this term "Saviour" with reference to Christ in the addresses in Acts.
The first occurrence is in Peters address (5.31): "Him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins". Paul establishes here (v.24) that Jesus was properly introduced by the forerunner, John the Baptist, who preached "repentance to all the people of Israel". Paul then appeals to the two groups of hearers; firstly Abrahams sons, and secondly the God-fearers.
The Messiah Has Been Rejected
Paul declares a paradox. Despite His credentials, the Jerusalem Jews and their leaders have rejected Jesus. These people did not recognise Jesus as the fulfilment of Gods promises, for they failed to understand the Scriptures, which were read every week in the synagogue and which foretold His coming. Yet in their failure to understand the Scriptures they "fulfilled them in condemning him". Although they had failed to find a legal accusation which could be substantiated, they insisted that Pilate execute Jesus. So they "fulfilled all that was written of him". He was taken down from "the tree" an echo of Peters expression in Acts 5.30 (RV): "whom ye slew, hanging him on a tree". So He bore the curse of a broken law. He was buried; we notice the frequent insistence of this proof that He was truly dead. Can there be hope for a people who have, in blindness to the central promises of God to them, despised and rejected their Messiah and declared Him to be accursed?
But God Raised Him
Here Paul uses the golden key statement of all apostolic gospel preaching to Israel: "But God raised him". We notice that, in contrast to people who passed judgment without due process, the Christian preachers give the evidence of witnesses to support their contention that Jesus was alive again. The law required two or three witnesses; the apostles cited many witnesses, in numerous situations, over a period of weeks, testifying that they had seen Him alive after He rose from the dead.
The Message Applied to the Hearers
The foundation for Pauls appeal to his audience has been laid. Now, in v.32, "we declare unto you glad tidings". Gods promise to the fathers has been fulfilled in that He has raised Jesus, as Psalm 2 declares. The sure mercies of God promised through David in Isaiah 55 are thus assured. The "Holy One" in whom the promises are made good has not seen corruption, in accordance with Psalm 16. Davids assurance in Psalm 16 cannot ultimately refer to himself, though he was Israels King after Gods own heart, for David died, remained dead, and saw corruption. So the Messianic promises are seen to be fulfilled in Jesus. His death and resurrection declare that there is forgiveness, even for people who were properly condemned by Gods law which they professed to follow.
Paul has established, step by step, the Scriptural and logical basis for his claim that even the most privileged people depend on Gods power and grace for forgiveness. Israel has not merited Gods favour. Yet God has used their supreme act of rebellion, against Him and against His Christ, as the occasion for a manifestation of His grace and power to forgive. The triumphant Christ must first be the suffering Christ of Isaiah 53: "We esteemed him not But he was wounded for our transgressions...He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (vv.3,5,11,12).
God has manifestly been at work in all that has been seen in the coming, and life, and death and resurrection of Jesus. He who rejects Jesus refuses Gods work of grace in salvation; and this is a most grave situation. In view of this it is not difficult to sense the weight of the focal verse (vv.38-39): "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses". The facts and the logic bring the message home to the specific audience.
To be continued.