Acts 13:13-25 (NIV)
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.”
Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years.
“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
Paul and company had gone through the major towns of Cyprus, and now were directed to Galatia, a region of central Asia Minor (Modern Turkey) north of Cyprus. Once they hit the mainland, John Mark decided that he wanted to go back to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t record the reason for John’s change of mind, but Paul was unimpressed with it. Later, when Barnabas wanted to bring John along on another mission trip, Paul refused, resulting in a conflict that was so strong that the pair decided to go their own ways (Acts 15:36-41).
As was his custom, Paul began in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia. He didn’t ask to speak, but word of his presence got to the leaders of the synagogue, and they sent word to ask him if he had a message of encouragement for the people. If so, he was offered an opportunity to speak.
Paul began his message with a recap of the history of the Jewish nation. In a few well-chosen sentences, he covered the whole history from Abraham through Jesus, a period of around two thousand years. He hit the following high points:
- God’s choosing of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to be his people.
- The sojourn in Egypt and the exodus enabled by God’s power.
- The forty years spent in the wilderness, including a not-so-veiled reference to the Israelites’ continuous rebelliousness.
- The conquest of the Promised Land.
- The period of the judges, ending with Samuel.
- The choosing of King Saul, followed by the choosing of King David and the establishment of his dynasty.
- The revelation of Jesus as the Son of David (the Messiah) and the Savior.
- A brief flashback to the ministry and prophecy of John the Baptist, as well as his prophecy that Jesus, the Messiah, would follow him.
All this was to lay a solid foundation for the good news that was to follow. The emphasis throughout is God’s work to deliver, preserve, and guide His people through the centuries in order to fulfill his promise to send them Jesus, the great Deliverer, the Messiah.
Father, Paul knew the history of his people well. It would have been very easy for him to let himself get wrapped around the axle, enmeshed in a thousand little details. But he was going somewhere with this recital and never lost sight of his goal in its delivery. The people gathered in the Synagogue, both Jews and God-fearers (verse 16) needed to understand that Jesus was not just some guy who had come forward with a claim to be the Messiah, but that He had sprung from the same roots as they had, that He meshed perfectly into the own history, and that He had fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah. He was clearly the Messiah that the people had been waiting for. Lord, help us, whenever we share the gospel ourselves, to remember Paul and the simplicity, directness and relevance of his presentation. Amen.
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