March 16, 2014 | Grace Reformed Church
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
We have talked before about the fact that the Christian Faith is an historical Faith. It is based upon the relationship between the believer and an undeniably historical Jesus. You may deny that He is who He says He is. But there is really no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who lived and died. He is an historical figure.
But even before the coming of Jesus, from the beginning, the Faith that is in the one true God has been seen historically in reference to the People of Israel. It is their history that becomes our history when we come to know God in Christ.
With the text before us this morning, we find Paul continuing to preach in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia. Paul has begun his preaching with a recitation of salvation history, beginning with the time in Egypt, where the People of Israel, although enslaved by the Egyptians, had grown from 70 people to become numerous and strong. He continues with the wilderness years and the entry into the land of Canaan. After that God gave them a series of judges, until the prophet Samuel. They asked for a king, and God gave them Saul, and finally David.
There is nothing so far that is anything new. The people there would have been in full accord with this summary, although they may have wondered why there was no mention of Abraham or of Moses or any of the patriarchs.
Paul goes on to report the ascension to the throne of David, a man whom God described as a man after God’s heart, who would do all God’s will. It is of the offspring of David that the promised savior, Jesus, would come. Ah! Here it starts to get interesting. To identify Jesus as the Davidic Savior was quite something else, unexpected.
The witness of John the Baptist is called upon. It is clear that the preaching of John the Baptist was considered to be prophetic and that he was known beyond the borders of Judea. He rejected any Messianic claims for himself, but there were some who thought that he might be the one. But John points to someone else, One who is to come after John.
Paul then becomes personal. His speech becomes direct and immediate. He goes on to say that there is a message which is to these people, the sons of the family of Abraham, and to those who fear God. The message is the message of this salvation. The message is to anyone who fears God, not just the sons of the family of Abraham by the flesh. It is for Gentiles as well as Jews. This is, again, quite unexpected.
Those who lived in Jerusalem, the leaders of the People of Israel and those who were in the Temple week after week, who had heard the sayings of the prophets over and over again, who of all people should have known what the promises were about, showed that they did not understand, in that they fulfilled the prophecies themselves by putting Jesus to death at the hands of Pilate. The innocent betrayed to death on the cross for the sake of the unrighteous.
But God had another plan. God raised Jesus again from the dead and for many days he appeared to those who had come with him from Galilee to Jerusalem who are now his witnesses.
Having laid it all out, Paul lets them have it with the Gospel. I wish we knew what the text was that day. Paul quotes from Psalm 27 and Psalm 16 along with quotes from Isaiah and Habakkuk, but it is not clear what the Law would have been that was read on that day.
But finally, Paul gives them the Gospel. “We bring to you the good news that what God has promised to the Fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children.” To support this view Paul uses the Scriptures noted above.
David, we are told, served God’s purpose in his generation, died and, like his fathers before him, experienced corruption. But Jesus was not subject to corruption. Being the Son of the Living God, He was raised by Almighty God so that He should not experience corruption because it was not God’s purpose that He be subject to corruption, but that He should be raised incorruptible.
Now the main point here seems to be that there is once again a situation in which the expectations of the people, and specifically the religious people of the time and place, were not met. Those who had the most reason to know what the coming of the Messiah should look like didn’t have a clue what they were seeing when Jesus came.
So Paul, teaching and preaching in the synagogue, presents the gospel, supported by the Psalms and the prophets, saying that in Jesus, the incorruptible Son of God, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to all these people, both the people of Israel and the God-fearing gentiles. And with the forgiveness of sins comes freedom, freedom from the curse of the law.
It is the heart of Paul’s preaching here to show the way in which the promises made to David are fulfilled in Jesus. It is striking that this, Paul’s first and last missionary sermon which is reported in any fullness, focuses on this most traditional, Davidic, understanding of the Messiah.
Please note the warning that is given to the scoffers. The scoffers are warned specifically because they will not believe even if they are told. It seems to me that this warning might be quite appropriate to our own day and time. How many people are there in our own experience who have been told about the grace of God in Christ Jesus but who are yet unbelievers because they find the Gospel foolish? Paul says that the Gospel will be foolishness to some and a stone of stumbling to others.
The outcome for the scoffers is to be astonished and to perish. We have no reason to believe that the outcome for those today who hear but do not believe will be any better.
Now look; the fact is that we are told today that there is no one “Truth.” There is no absolute right or wrong. You may have your rather primitive faith in Jesus, but please leave me alone in my contrary opinions. The world is what you make it. Truth is where you find it. In yourself you can find whatever you need. Just let’s all be polite and not let religion intrude.
But Paul will not have it so. Nor should you. Nor can I. Remember that Paul was sent out as a missionary to spread the Good News of Jesus all across the empire. He was under no false impressions as to the validity of other faiths, the impoliteness of other people, or the need for spreading the Truth.
When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me,” Paul believed it to be true. And here we come back around to it again. Paul wants us to know that we religious folk are perhaps somewhat at risk, because we may think we know what it will look like when Jesus comes again. We should know! But will we be able to shake off the blinders that keep us looking for the expected?
There is an old country/gospel song that has a chorus that asks the question “Would you recognize Jesus if you met Him face to face? or would you wonder if He's just another one you could not place? You may not find Him coming in a chariot of the Lord, Jesus could be riding in a "49 Ford.”
With apologies to you all, this is the question for those of us who claim to know Christ, and to know His coming. He came once before in the flesh of the child in Bethlehem and took the course set before Him, doing the Father’s will even to the point of death.
The most religious people didn’t recognize him then, at his birth or at the cross. When He comes again, we know Him and will know Him, I suspect, as we already have a personal relationship with Him such that we will have known Him.
May God grant to each of us the knowledge of His Son, Jesus, that we may walk with Him here and now, and may know Him when he comes. Amen.