Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is from my series through the book of Acts.
“A History Lesson”
November 25, 2007
Growing up Baptist, as I did, I regularly came into contact with men who were traveling evangelists, men not as well-known as Billy Graham, but who had committed their lives to preaching revival services and evangelistic meetings in one town after another. As a young preacher, I found it hard not to envy traveling evangelists. They’d come in, preach their best sermons, and then leave—and then go and do the same thing over and over again. They didn’t have to deal with any messes they’d make; their best messages, honed to a fine finish by continued use, generally are better than those of the pastor who composes a fresh message from scratch every week. The only glimpse I get of this kind of life is when I get called to speak in another church, and then I can call on my trusty sermon file and deliver a message previously preached, choose from my “greatest hits” file, if you will—ahem—and preach away. Paul had the same advantage; he went from town to town preaching in synagogues, and could repeat a message over and over again. Then again, Paul didn’t generally get a nice honorarium for his trouble; sometimes, he got beat up and put in prison, or shipwrecked, or starved, or… Hmmm…we’ll call it even!
Today’s message is a sermon about a sermon, the first sermon we have of Paul’s that’s recorded in the Bible. And as is characteristic of other sermons in the book of Acts, it entails a lesson from history to demonstrate God’s working in salvation; many NT sermons followed a similar script, recounting God’s dealings in history with His people Israel, and then a tie-in to His greatest work in sending His own Son to die on the cross. Someone has said that “Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.” And if history is what the Bible proclaims it to be—the outworking of the plan of a sovereign God—then be sure of this: history matters!
Acts shows how the gospel fits into the broader picture of God’s acts in history. Julius Scott said that this books rests on “the basic assumption that God works out salvation within a special history that is also a part of general world history…Luke is intent to present the Jesus-event not as just another event in God’s special saving history, but as the event in that history.” And thus we consider Paul’s sermon, a history lesson pointing to Christ. Notice
I. The Setting of the Sermon
We know from Galatians 4 that Paul first preached the gospel in the area of Galatia because of some illness; one commentator suggests that he had possibly contracted malaria during his time in low-lying territory; perhaps! We do know that the family of Sergius Paulus, of whom we learned last week, was one of the wealthiest business families in the city of Antioch, and since he’d become a convert to Christ, it’s likely that he had suggested to Paul that Antioch be his next port-of-call, and done some things to smooth the way for Paul and Barnabas to go there.
A couple of brief items of note here: one, we don’t know why there is no talk of preaching the gospel in Perga; maybe, if he had malaria, Paul wasn’t up to it. Two, we’re told that John (Mark) left them and went home. We don’t know all the reasons: was he homesick? Was the travel too rigorous? Was he unhappy that Paul had begun to upstage his cousin Barnabas? Some suggest that John Mark disagreed with the direct nature of Paul’s speaking with Gentiles, and was afraid of how this might play in the church at Jerusalem. We don’t know, but we do know that Paul considered his leaving to be a sign of weakness, so much so that eventually Paul would split with Barnabas over the issue of including John Mark again on a subsequent missionary journey.
At any rate, with some questions unanswered, we learn that Paul and Barnabas go to Antioch. Isn’t that where they left from? But the mystery is easy to solve; just like there is a “Greenville” in every state, seemingly, so this is another city by the name of Antioch; it’s Antioch near the region of Pisidia, or “Pisidian Antioch”. Antioch was the most important city of southern Galatia, a cosmopolitan city with people from many different regions, including a sizeable Jewish population. And as we said last week, Paul demonstrates a pattern here that was almost always his: he would begin preaching the gospel in the Jewish synagogues, taking the gospel “to the Jew first”. There would be both Jews, who’d understand the context of the gospel, and God-fearing Gentiles, who’d have connections with other Gentiles, in attendance. Once he’d established this connection, Paul would feel free to branch out with the message and go directly to Gentiles. Since Jews and Gentiles stood on equal footing before God, they could be appealed to directly.