Exposition of Acts 13:32, 33ff (4)

This passage of Holy Writ is the very heart of the great sermon spoken by Paul in a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, where he and Barnabas preached the Word of God in Christ on their first missionary journey. This very rich and instructive passage of the Word of God reads as follows: “And we bring you good tidings of the promise made unto the fathers, that God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.”

When Paul spoke these words, in that gathering in Antioch of Pisidia in the Synagogue, on the Sabbath day it was already late on the clock of God’s times and seasons, as they are in His sovereign power and dispensation. Jesus Christ had been born from a woman and made under the law, so that the adoption unto children, and the forgiveness of sins might be proclaimed in His name. The mighty God, in human flesh, had conquered over sin and death, hell and the grave, and he had given His disciples the mandate to go forth in His name and to preach and witness of the gospel beginning at Jerusalem and from thence to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In ever widening circle the gospel must be proclaimed. Hence, the Holy Spirit Himself separated Paul and Barnabas unto this ministry. (Acts 13:1-3). And in heeding their Lord and Christ they are here in this synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia.

The Lord, our Christ, from on high is working with and through them, preachng peace also to those who are “far” as well as to those who are “near”. For the hearts of men are in the hand of God as brooks of water, and He it is who leads the course of them. Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas wend their way to this synagogue here in Antioch of Pisidia, they do not remain seated on the seats in the audience, but are requested to speak a “word of consolation” to the “congregation” if they have such. And, to be sure, they have such a word of consolation for the people. They have a word from God to this people which prophets and brads of old were not given to see and to preach: how that the Gentiles are fellow partakers of the great promise in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins in Christ from all that which no one could be justified by the law of Moses—by works of law that we perform.

What a word of consolation Paul and Barnabas, the son of consolation, have for God’s church, to the (laos)people! In passing we may note, that here we see one of the thousands of cases in which Paul as a wise architect, according to the grace of God that Is given him, lays the foundation besides which no one is able to lay another foundation. Compare I Cor. 3:10, 11 and Rom. 15:20. In the latter passage we notice, that Paul makes it his aim, he is ambitious, so to preach the gospel, there where Christ was not already named, that he might not build upon another man’s foundation, but as it is written in Isaiah 52:15, “They shall see to whom no tidings of Him came, and they who have not heard shall understand”. Paul is a trail blazer in the work of the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles. He is God’s chosen vessel for this exalted task. And he has a great message of comfort for the people. He can truly fulfill, in the New Testament sense, the task which God lays upon our shoulders when He says “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she hath received of Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1, 2.

Such is the Word of consolation brought here by Paul in this sermon. Says the leader in the synagogue “Brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation (para-kleeseoos) to the people, say on” and Paul rises to the occasion as a wise architect to lay the foundation here, namely, Jesus Christ as He is spoken of and promised in the Old Testament Scriptures and as He has come, has suffered, died, and was raised from the dead by God Himself, powerfully being revealed to be the Son of God in our flesh, as it is written in the second Psalm!

Blessed is this audience here in Antioch; as many of them as are ordained unto eternal life. For their believing ears hear the things that many prophets, including John the Baptist, desired to hear and could not hear. It is the great message that God, who promised deliverance unto his fathers, hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son, even in His vicarious death and resurrection.

Let us try to analyze this terse and meaningful statement of Paul concerning the great message, which he brings as the Ambassador of Christ.

What does Paul say is the emphatically unique word of consolation that he preached? It is: that God, who promised salvation to the fathers, hath now realized and fulfilled this promise unto us their spiritual children, and that this fulfilled promise is the great message of consolation.

In analyzing these words of our exposition, it should not be difficult to notice three distinct elements here in the text.

1. What, according to the text of Paul, and that, too, in the light of the whole address, are we to understand by the term “the promise”?

2. What does the text teach us, and that, too again in the light of the entire address concerning the fulfillment of this promise.

3. And what is the distinct implication of the fact that Paul “brings glad tidings” concerning, that he preaches this fulfilled promise?

Let us first of all attend to the meaning the term “promise”. In the text we read literally; “the unto the fathers having been made promise”. It is the promise that was evidently well-known to Paul’s audience here, and surely stood out before the mind’s eye of Paul as the promise, which is the beacon light of the hope of Israel. It is the one great promise, which shines throughout the ages, which shines more and more unto the perfect day in Christ, both in the day of His humiliation and in the day of His power. For it is the well-known and oft-repeated promise of God, which God first spoke to the fathers, namely, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To them it was spoken, it was “made” so that it is a “testament” a will of the Testator given with a specific content and to a specific people called the “heirs of the promise”. For the promise is to Abraham and to His Seed, that is, Christ. Gal. 3:16, 17.

I think that it is A. T. Robertson in his “Word Pictures in the New Testament”, who says of this sermon of Paul, that it contains in brief form the entire epistle of Paul to the Galatians and to the Romans. That remark is very much to the point. However, here in this sermon we have no polemics, no refutation of error, but simply a laying of the foundation, the teaching of Christ Jesus’s death and resurrection as the fulfillment of the promise. It is this “Pauline” conception of the “promise” that is so fundamental in the glad story of grace. Grace must remain grace, and works must remain works. Now Abraham received the promise out of faith, and all the children receive this promise out of faith. Thus this promise is spoken of in Romans 4:13, 16 etc.

The promise here is God’s immutably sure word in which He assures Abraham and His seed that He is their God and that they are His people. And the essence of this promise made to the fathers is undoubtedly that it is Abraham’s seed, that is, Christ. Thus it is stated in Galatians 3:16, 17 where we read “Now to Abraham and He seed were the promises spoken, He saith not; (Gal. 13:15; Gal. 17:8) and to seeds as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, that is, Christ.” Such is the promise. It is Abraham and His spiritual children in Christ, as they are according to the elective purpose in Christ Jesus. Romans 9:6-12.

Thus also the promise is spoken of here by Paul in this beautiful sermon in which this elective purpose of God is traced in the covenant history (heils historie) from Abraham to David, the king, to Christ. Paul’s tracing of this history is masterful according to the grace of God given Him. Notice how carefully he lays all the truths of God, and traces for us the fundamental lines of the understructure of the work of sovereign grace!

Notice the key note in Paul’s interpretation of history, and also observe his point of departure in this brief sketching of Israel’s relationship to God as this appears from the Old Testament Scriptures. Says he: “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers”! Evidently all that God did subsequently to this choosing in His elective purpose in Christ dominates all of history; this elective love is determinative. Therefore we can read in the last book of the Old Testament Scriptures: “For I Jehovah change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed”. Mal. 3:6. Now it is true, that there are many in Israel, who are not chosen, to whom the great promise does not pertain, since they are not of the Seed! Of these Paul says nothing in this sermon as to the main thrust of his argument in sketching this history. The steps of Paul are very bold and conclusive encompassing all of the history of the fulfillment and realization of the promise in history, the unfolding of the counsel of God. These steps are as follows:

  1. The choosing of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the 70 heads of houses from which the entire people of Israel are numbered in their generations, according to the number of elective grace in Christ Jesus, as they are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Vs. 17, a.
  2. The exaltation of the congregation, the people (laos) by God’s mighty arm out of Egypt, because Israel is God’s firstborn Son, in whose place the souls of Egypt’s first-born must be given. Vs. 17b. Compare Hosea 11:1 and Matt. 2:15 and Exodus 16:36.
  3. God suffering the manners of Israel in their forty years of wanderings in the desert. Here we have the entire book of Deuteronomy and part of Exodus and Leviticus, all in one sentence as to its general thrust. All points to the fact, that the promise stands relative to the seed! The promise did not fail! Vs. 18.
  4. For God gave Israel the land of the accursed Canaan (Gen. 9:25-27) and no taunting of Israel, according to the flesh, is going to stand in the way of the realization of the promise to and in the elect believers, who enter by faith into the land. Vs. 19.
  1. Abundant proof of God’s determinate purpose of election in the great promise we have in the 450 years of the Judges. For it is the period, which indicates the crying need of the King of righteousness in Israel; it all points toward the need of the coming of the Son of David, according to the flesh. Therefore Saul is rejected, and God finds in David a man, who will do all His good pleasure. Vss. 20-22.

And David is, according to the prophetic word, not really David, but the Son of whom God says: This day have I begotten Thee, the firstborn Son out of the dead, in whom all God’s promises are yea and in Him, Amen!

(To be continued)