Salvation in the Prophesied Messiah
Topic: Topical Passage: Acts 13:13-41
This morning I want to preach a sermon based on a sermon the Apostle Paul preached about who Jesus is and what he did for us on the cross. The events of Acts 13 take place in 46–47 A.D. It’s been almost 15 years since Jesus died and rose again, and the church has been working to get established in Israel in the regions north of Israel. Now it’s time to begin spreading to gospel to the nations as Jesus commanded them to do.
Paul and Barnabas are ministering in Antioch, and God calls them to begin taking the gospel to new regions, and they obey God and launch out on their first missionary journey. They began on the island of Cyprus, where God blessed, and then they sailed Perga and began the 100-mile trek through the Taurus Mountains to the city of Antioch in Pisidia.
Antioch was the leading city of Southern Galatia, and Paul probably targeted this city because it had a large, Jewish population, so there were many people there who had a foundation in the Scriptures and were waiting for God’s promised Messiah. Paul sought out this Jewish community by going to the synagogue on the Sabbath (vv. 13–15).
Following the typical pattern of a synagogue meeting, they read a section from the Law and a section from the Prophets, and then they invited a teacher to speak. Since Paul was trained as a Pharisee, the “rulers of the synagogue” invited him to give the address.
I imagine that Paul was chomping at the bit to speak because he had good news for these Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. He had come to tell them that the Messiah Israel had been waiting for 1,000 years to come had finally arrived, and he brought salvation through his death and resurrection.
Verses 16–41 record an abridged version of Paul’s sermon. Paul argues three truths. First, we know that Jesus is the promised Messiah because he fulfilled many prophecies. Second, Jesus provided salvation through his death and resurrection again, just as God prophesied that he would do. Third, we must recognize the character and work of Christ and respond in faith.
The first section of Paul’s sermon is vv. 16–25 where he teaches that…
God promised Israel a Savior (vv. 16–25).
Verses 17–21 give a quick overview of roughly 450 years of Israelite history.
The point of this overview is to remind Paul’s Jewish audience that…
God was continuously merciful to Israel (vv. 17–21).
In these verses Paul emphasizes God’s many demonstrations of grace to Israel. God “chose our fathers and exalted the people,” and he “bought them out” of Egypt. Then God “put up with their ways in the wilderness” despite Israel’s constant rebellion. He “destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan” and gave the land to Israel. He “gave them judges,” the greatest of these being “Samuel the prophet.” And God “gave them Saul” when they asked for a king.
God had been good to Israel, and all of us here today could also look back at multitudes of ways that God has been good to us. We enjoy innumerable blessings that we often fail to recognize. We have many reasons to be thankful.
But then Paul parks on the greatest expression of grace and mercy God had ever promised Israel. Verses 22–23 note that…
God’s ultimate act of mercy was the promise of Messiah (vv. 22–23).
Verse 22 notes that God made David king over Israel, and he was a different sort of man, who had a tender and affectionate heart for God. And God uniquely set his love on David.
And God especially demonstrated his love for David by making a covenant with him, which every Jew in Paul’s audience would have known well. In 2 Samuel 7:12–16 God promised David that someday he would raise up the Messiah from David’s descendants. And God promised that he would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
And v. 23 tells us very clearly what Israel was looking for in their Messiah. They were looking for a “Savior.” Savior is an important word in Paul’s sermon. It simply means deliverer. Israel was looking for someone who would deliver them from political bondage, but they especially needed someone who would deliver them from sin’s bondage and the judgment sin brings. And they knew that someday, God would raise up a Savior from David’s line.
And Paul announces to these Jews who were far, far away from Jerusalem and hadn’t heard of Jesus that God had sent this Messiah.
Jesus is the Savior God promised (vv. 23–25).
To really appreciate v. 23, you have to put yourselves in the shoes of the Jews sitting in Antioch. It had been over 1,000 years since God gave David that promise. The Jews whole faith centered around the hope that Messiah was coming. And Paul tells them that that he has come! This was the news they were waiting for.
But Paul knew they would be skeptical. They needed proof, and so he takes them to the ministry of John the Baptist. John had been very popular among the Jews. In fact later in Acts 19 Paul will come across a group of John’s disciples in Ephesus who knew little if anything of Jesus.
The same was probably true of these Jews in Antioch. They believed that John the Baptist was a prophet of God, but they didn’t know about Jesus. Therefore, Paul cites John’s words to tell them that John was very clear about the purpose of his ministry. God sent him to declare, “Behold, there comes…” Of course, John was talking about Jesus. He was saying that Jesus is the Messiah God had promised.
And so I think it is important that we recognize that Paul didn’t just tell these Jews at Antioch to trust him or to search for some feeling in their hearts that Jesus is Messiah. Rather, Paul carefully set Jesus within the historical and prophetic framework of Israel’s theology. And Paul will continue to emphasize these realities in the remainder of the sermon. The proof that Jesus is Messiah is in fact that he fulfilled prophecy after prophecy.
Maybe there is someone here today who has always just viewed the Gospels as a nice story. There may have been a man named Jesus, but most of what the Bible says about him is just a myth or a fable. Or maybe you have always just looked at Jesus and Christianity as a feeling or a coping mechanism to help you get through life.
But Paul is very clear, as is the rest of the NT, that our faith is based on historically verifiable events backed up by 1,500 years of prophecy. Do you realize that much of what is in our history books is based on far less verifiable evidence than the story of the Bible? The reason people doubt the Scriptures is not because of a lack of evidence; it is because they don’t want to believe in divine, miraculous events. We aren’t celebrating a fable today. Jesus is God, and he really died and rose again. And Paul will continue prove these facts in the remainder of the sermon.
And so Paul begins by noting that God promised Israel a Savior. He follows in vv. 26–37 by arguing that…
Jesus is the promised Savior (vv. 26–37).
Again this is a sermon, so you can feel the appeal in v. 26. Paul looks his audience in the eye, and again he appeals to them to recognize that God has sent salvation, or deliverance, in the person of Jesus.
Jesus provided salvation first by the fact that…
Jesus died for sin as God had prophesied (vv. 27–29).
In v. 27, Paul argues that the people in Israel should have recognized Jesus for who he was. Jesus performed miracle after miracle. He healed the sick, and he raised the dead. He did so many things that in John 3:2 Nicodemus acknowledges that no reasonable person could deny, “God is (was) with him.”
And v. 27 adds that they should have seen how Jesus fulfilled prophecy after prophecy. Jesus was from the line of David, he was born in Bethlehem, he was preceded by John the Baptist, and on and on we could go. But despite all the evidence right in front of these people, Paul says that they “did not know him.” They refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the Savior.
And it wasn’t just that they didn’t believe Jesus’ claims, they hated him. And v. 28 goes on to say that they aggressively campaigned before Pilate to have Jesus put to death. Paul emphasizes that there were no legal grounds for crucifying Jesus. Pilate saw this. He saw that the trumped up charges against Jesus were absurd. Jesus was entirely innocent in going to his death.
But the irony in all of this is that those who hated Christ became unknowing participants in the purpose of God and the fulfillment of prophecy. Some 700 years earlier God had prophesied in Isaiah 53:2–3 that Messiah would come in humility and be “despised and rejected.” Isaiah 53:7 prophesied, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”
But Pilate consented to Jesus death, and the Romans beat and mocked Jesus as a common criminal, and then they led him out to be crucified. Again, Isaiah 53:5 prophesied, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah said that Messiah would suffer, and that he would do so for our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment for my sin and yours so that we would never have to face the wrath of God. And folks we must not miss this fact today. We are not merely celebrating a great act of heroism and love. No, Jesus suffered for me. He took the punishment I deserve when he died on the cross.
Of course, all of this was very hard for the Jews to swallow. They were so consumed by what the prophets said about the Messiah’s coming political power that they couldn’t imagine him suffering in such humility. But they should have seen it. Verse 29 again emphasizes that all of Jesus’ suffering was clearly predicted in the OT. Therefore, Paul can boldly claim that Jesus “fulfilled all that was written concerning him.” He dealt fully and finally with sin, and John 19:30 states, he then cried from the cross, “‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
Then v. 29 notes that they took him down from the “tree.” Paul intentionally calls it a tree and not a cross because Deuteronomy 21:23 said that any dead body hanging on a tree was cursed of God. Jesus became a curse for us. And then they laid Jesus in a tomb, indicating that he was truly dead.
And so Paul declares to these Jews that Jesus really is the Savior God promised. He fulfilled all sorts of prophecies, and he died under the curse of God to bear the punishment for sin. But if that were the end of the story, Jesus would not be Messiah because he would have left so many prophecies unfulfilled. But it’s not the end of the story.
Verses 30–37 declare that…
Jesus rose again as God had said (vv. 30–37).
Again you can feel the preacher’s passion in v. 30. They put Jesus in the tomb, “but God raised…” As we sang earlier, “death could not hold him.” And v. 31 follows by emphasizing that this isn’t just a great story. There were many witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus appeared multiple times to multiple people over the course of 40 days. First Corinthians 15:6 notes that at one point 500 people saw Jesus. This was no hoax.
And then Paul follows in vv. 32–37 by again driving home to his Jewish audience that Jesus resurrection was exactly what God had consistently prophesied throughout the OT.
In v. 33 he cites a prophecy from Psalm 2:7. Psalm 2:7 is rich in theological significance, but Paul is concerned in this context to make one particular point. God had said that Messiah would be exalted and declared to be the Son.
It’s not that he became the Son, because he has always been the Son. Rather, God said that he would exalt the Son, and Psalm 2 says he will do so before he defeated his enemies on earth, which Jesus will do when he comes again. And Paul says that through his resurrection from the dead, this prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus was declared to be the Son by his victory over death.
And then Paul turns his attention to demonstrating that the OT prophesied Jesus’ resurrection. It is significant in v. 34 when it notes that Jesus rose again “no more to return to corruption.” God resurrected other dead people in Bible, such as Lazarus. But all of them eventually died again, and their bodies decayed or were “corrupted.” But not Jesus. Jesus is the only person who has ever been resurrected to never again die.
Paul then quotes from a prophecy from Isaiah 55:3. This verse is in a context that describes the everlasting, prosperous kingdom that God will someday give to his Messiah. Of course, this kingdom is still coming. But someday, Jesus will establish a righteous, perfect kingdom on earth. And this is the part of the prophecies about Messiah that the Jews all focused on.
But earlier, I cited several prophecies just 2 chapters earlier in Isaiah 53 that said Messiah would suffer and die. So how do you reconcile the fact that Messiah will die with the fact that he will have an eternal kingdom? The Jews hadn’t considered that one. The clear implication is that Messiah must rise from the dead, and it is through his resurrection that he would bring all of “the sure mercies of David.” Folks, it is because Jesus rose again that we have forgiveness and the hope that someday Jesus will make all things right! We have great hope because of the resurrection.
Then in vv. 35–37 Paul presents the linchpin in his argument. He quotes from Psalm 16:10. David wrote Psalm 16, and the Jews had always assumed that the entire psalm was about David. But in vv. 36–37 Paul argues that David could not be talking about himself; he must be speaking prophetically of the coming Messiah.
In v. 36 Paul notes the obvious. David died, he was buried, and his body “saw corruption” or it decayed. This was a verifiable fact. The Jews of Paul’s day knew exactly where David’s grave was. Therefore, David could not have been speaking about himself in Psalm 16:10. He must have been talking about the Messiah who would die but who would not be allowed to rot in the grave. But v. 37 declares, “not Jesus.” Jesus body was not allowed to rot in the grave because God raised him from the dead!
And Paul is about to nail us on the implications of all this, but before we get there, I want to drive home the point of vv. 26–37 that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He lived a perfect life, and just as God prophesied, he died as a substitute for sin, and he rose again in victory. And his tomb is empty!
And this makes Christianity different from every other religion in the world. Our Savior lives, and our faith is not based on some subjective feeling or euphoric experience of God, like most religions. It’s not even based on the prophetic claims of a single prophet. No, our faith is based on thousands of years of historical, miraculous works and the testimony of numerous prophets and apostles. And ultimately it is based in the historically verifiable death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Easter story really happened, which brings us to ourselves. What does all this mean for us? Verses 38–41 answer…
We must respond to Jesus’ offer of salvation (vv. 38–41).
In these four verses, Paul looks his audience in the eye, and he pleads with them to respond to Christ.
In vv. 38–39 he describes…
The Offer of Salvation (vv. 38–39):
First, Paul says that because Jesus died and rose again, he offers “forgiveness of sins.” Of course, the assumption is that we all need forgiveness because we are all sinners. We have broken God’s law, and the Scriptures are clear that a just God cannot simply overlook our sins. They must be punished. This is why Jesus went to the cross. He didn’t suffer and die for his sins because v. 28 said he was innocent. Rather, he suffered my punishment.
And now he offers me forgiveness. Jesus’ blood is able to wash away my sin so that I don’t ever have to face the judgment I rightly deserve. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift.
And then v. 39 adds a second blessing of Jesus death and resurrection and that is justification. This is a legal term. Think of a judge declaring a defendant “not guilty” or “righteous.” In other places, Paul makes clear that to be justified is to be declared by God “righteous” because he imputes to us the perfect righteousness of his Son. Therefore, when God looks at me, he no longer sees my sin; he only sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
And folks this gift is truly remarkable because of what Paul says at the end of this verse. I can never be “justified by the law.” No matter how hard I may try, I will never be good enough to earn God’s favor. The only way I can be right with God is to receive the alien righteousness of Jesus.
And notice in v. 39 how I receive this incredible gift of justification. It belongs to “everyone who believes.” I don’t earn it; I just receive it, and when I do, Jesus becomes my Savior or my deliverer. Maybe that’s what you need to do today. If you have never believed on Christ for salvation, you need to understand that Jesus is God’s promised Savior and that your sin makes you guilty before God. But Jesus bore the punishment for your sin on the cross and he rose again proving who he is.
And you need to believe on him today. You can leave today forgiven and justified if you will simply put your faith in Christ alone for your salvation. Won’t you do that today? God has given you a wonderful offer.
But then Paul closes his sermon with…
The Sobering Warning (vv. 40–41):
Paul closes by quoting Habakkuk 1:5. Habakkuk prophesied just before God sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. God had given warning after warning to Israel to repent, but they refused to see the signs of God’s coming judgment. They failed to repent, and they were destroyed.
And Paul tells his audience, and God is telling us not to make the same mistake. Do not turn a blind eye to the obvious truth of who Jesus is, to his warning of coming judgment, and to his offer of salvation. Rather, come to Christ today and be saved. And may we all leave today rejoicing that Jesus lives and because he lives he is our Savior.
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