My threefold layout of the passage which followed thematic lines–it is difficult to do verse-by-verse exposition of two chapters in only 45 minutes–was this: The Church that Sends; The Gospel that Saves; and the Saints who Suffer. Below is the first of three installments of my exposition of Acts 13:13-41. In it Paul lays out with clarity and rigorous attention to the OT, the gospel of Jesus Christ. His message is strikingly biblical-theological, and it is a model of preaching excellence. May we, as students of the word, study its form and content and learn how to better share the gospel.
Paul’s sermon in Acts 13:13-41 is one of many recorded by Luke in his narrative (cf. Acts 14, 17, 20). It is like Peter’s sermons in the way that it employs OT Scripture and provides Christocentric interpretations; it is like Stephen’s in Acts 7 as it covers so much OT history, but in its own right it is very Pauline, espousing themes and theology found later in his epistles.
It is important to realize that this sermon in Acts contains the contents of the gospel to which Paul refers in Galatians 1. In his excoriating letter, he contrasts “his” gospel with the gospel(s) that are being erroneously advocated by false teachers. Since Acts 13 records the gospel which Paul preached to the Galatians, it is vital to follow his train of thought and his Christocentric exposition to understand Paul’s reasoning in his subsequent letter to the Galatians. In Acts, Luke gives us a full report of Paul’s gospel, drawing our attention to the highpoints of his message and allowing us to make the intratextual connections necessary to perceive the Pauline gospel. So with that said, lets consider Paul’s gospel message.
Waiting for the Scripture to be read (v. 15a) and the invitation to be given (v. 15b), Paul, in verse 16, stands to explain the text read in light of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 24:27, 44-46). From his opening line, it is clear that he addresses a mixed audience of Jews and Gentile God-fearers, “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.”
Gaining his audience’s attention, Paul starts in Genesis with a reference to YHWH’s gracious selection of Abraham and his kin from the nations, “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers”. Calling the patriarch from idolatry, the God of Israel’s covenantal love is immediately highlighted. Contrary to modernist religious teachers who say that spirituality and religion are sociological and psychological constructs, God revealed himself to Abraham in history and chose him to be the father of his blessed people. To Abraham and those united to him, he promised a land, untold blessings, a heritage, and his own personal presence in their midst (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 15:4-7; 17:1-8). The history of Israel chronicles the working out of these covenantal promises.
This Abrahamic beginning implies with it the reality of creation ex nihilo. For the God who called Abraham is the same God who created the heavens and the earth. This is apparent in the narrative of Genesis, where chapters 1-11, which speak about the origin of humanity, are linked via Abraham with chapters 12-50, which initiate God’s plan of redemptive history. Likewise, Paul’s preaching in Acts 14 and 17 explicitly refers to the God of Israel as the God who created all things. He says of YHWH in Lystra that he is the “living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (14:16). Clearly, God is the unique Maker of all creation. Thus Paul’s gospel message is founded in creation. He does not demean the corporeal and physical nature of our world. Instead, he roots the origin of creation in the divine design of YHWH, the God of Israel.
This, in and of itself, is good news. God created a bountiful world, one designed to provide pleasures and provisions for all God’s creatures. And though the world, as we know it, contains horrors that undulate with beauty, it was not always that way (cf. Gen 1-2), nor will it always be that way (cf. Rev. 21-22). Taking creation (and its fall) into account, the gospel is not opposed to the inhabitable world. Rather, through redemption, it goes to show how all creation is being renewed and directed on a course towards new creation. For as we will see, the message of the gospel which begins with creation in the Garden of Eden, will culminate in the new creation’s garden-city, the New Jerusalem.
(More to follow…)
Sola Deo Gloria, dss