Exposition of Acts 13:32, 33ff (5)

In this last essay of our exposition of Acts 13:32, 33 we wish to call further attention to the element in the text, that speaks of the preaching, the proclaiming of the glad tidings of the gospel, that God hath fulfilled the promise in raising Jesus, our Lord, from the dead.

This glad tidings is preached definitely to the people, to the congregation as a word of comfort and exhortation.

Thus we attempted to point out in our former writing on this subject.

But the question still remains in this connection (it persists) does this preaching, this evangelizing merely come to those children of the covenant, who are the spiritual seed of Abraham, or is the preaching also to those who remain unpersuasive to the gospel.

To this question we can only answer, in the light of the sermon of Paul recorded here in Acts 13, that the preaching of the glad tidings comes to all to whom God in His good pleasure sends it. It does not only come as preaching, as sermon (Canons of Dort, III, IV Art. 6) merely to those who believe, and who from the good heart bring forth good fruits, but it also comes to those who are to be likened unto the three kinds of unfruitful soil in the parable of the sower. Such also hear the Word and react to it; they give a spiritual-ethical response to it. It is a horrible response, but it is a response nevertheless to the preaching of the glad tidings concerning the fulfilled promise in Jesus, that God has made Him both Lord and Christ.

And this horrible response is that they will not, that He be King over them!

To them comes the preaching together with the command to believe and repent!

Such is clearly the teaching of holy writ, and such is the very preaching of Paul here on this Sabbath morning in Antioch of Pisidia.

It is very clear not only from the subsequent attitude of unbelief on the part of a rather large number in this audience, (see verse 45) but also from Paul’s preaching itself that the preaching came also to the unbelievers, that is, that it came into their hearing. They heard and did not understand, they saw and yet did not see. Their ears were dull of hearing and their hearts were fat nevertheless, lest they repent and the Lord heal them! Yes, the preaching they hear without spiritually perceiving and grasping the content with believing hearts.

Hence, we read in verse 45 “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed.” And what does Paul then say: This word is not spoken to you? Nay, he says “it was necessary that the Word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles!” And this word is spoken by Paul and Barnabas very boldly. These contradictors are told that the word was spoken to them first. They are the Jews, who would save themselves; establish their own righteousness they seek to do.

Have they then not heard the preaching?

Indeed they have heard it; it was preached to them on this Sabbath morning. But they have not believing hearts. They cannot be justified by works of law and yet they will continue in their sins. And the fault is not of the gospel, nor of Christ offered (presented) therein, nor of God who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that they who are called by the ministry of the Word, refuse to come and be converted: the fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the word of life; others though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the word by perplexing cares, and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit.

It seems that these contradictors are those in whom the seed falls upon stony ground. They did not understand the word that was sown in their hearts, and the evil one came and took it out of their hearts. They heard but did not understand; they did not compare spiritual things with spiritual. And so they are only blind before so much light and deaf before such great and glad tidings.

Was this preaching glad tidings to these people? Did these unbelieving Jews consider and judge this message of Paul from all the Old Testament Scriptures to be glad tidings of great joy? Of course not! For this joyful tidings is joyful tidings to all the people. And to the rest, who are hardened in their hearts and blinded, it was bitter in their mouth, the rock of offense upon which they are crushed, and which shall dash them to pieces! To such says Jesus in John 12:47-49, “And if any man hear my sayings, and keep them not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake the same shall judge him in the last day.”

Surely the word is spoken to all; to all to whom God sends it in His good pleasure. Let each therefore, beware how he hears!

Thus also Paul speaks a word of warning to the congregation before him, composed of the elect kernel and the shell, children of the Promise and children of the flesh!

To this church comes the word of warning as written in the Prophecy of Habakkuk. In Habakkuk 1:5 we read “Behold ye among the nations, and look, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you.”

Concerning this quotation we would like to make a few introductory remarks in connection with the subject of the preaching of the gospel as it comes to all who hear it.

In the first place, we would remark, that we have in this passage a very clear and conclusive “case study” of what our fathers refer to when they, speaking of the preaching of the promise of the gospel, express that this preaching of the promise of the gospel always goes together with the command of faith and repentance. Canons II, 5. And it is our conviction, that this should not be overlooked. We should notice this fact as a fact, and should emulate it in our preaching of the promise of the gospel. It is the confrontation of all with the preaching!

In the second place, it should not escape our notice, that this text quoted by Paul in this sermon from Habakkuk 1:5 is the direct word of warning from the mouth of the Lord. It is a word of warning from God to Israel in the days prior to the Babylonian Captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, warning them to take notice of His marvelous judgments upon the earth. And Paul, who lives a few centuries later, quotes this same word, and applies it to the situation in his day.

Thirdly, it ought to become very clear to us, that his quoted passage is full of rich significance. In it reference is made in the judgment and marvelous deeds of God in the entire history of the Pan-Asiatic nations, to wit, Chaldea, (Babylon) Medo-Persia, and then afterwards in the Western world-powers of Greece and Rome. Mighty judgments God would work. The impossible would happen. Jerusalem will be besieged and made a desolation. The city of the great king David will be taken by the proud Chaldeans. It will then seem to be the end of the work of God’s redemption and that the glory has departed from Judah. Her kings will be led captive in chains, the temple of the Lord destroyed and laid in ruins, the walls of the city will be broken down. The people once delivered by God’s high and mighty arm out of the land of Egypt will be led to a country that is not theirs. Then shall Jeremiah write his Lamentation, and the unbelieving people will have their wall of wailing. And all shall be for an astonishment and a hissing. And they that pass by will wag the head. Psalm 2 with its word that the Lord will have the nations in derision and that He will laugh at them will seem to be true no longer.

But high and above these judgments the Word of God stands, that even then the just shall live by faith! It must be written by him who climbeth into the watch-tower of the Prophetic vision; it must so be written in bold and large letters, that he that runneth may read the glad message even in the midst of these judgments: “My just shall live by faith.” That is still true of the people of God’s promise in such times. And so they only see these judgments with their eyes, but it does not really come nigh unto them. They take refuge in the Name of the Lord, which is a strong tower of their strength.

On the other hand if anyone’s heart is not right in him, if he is not trusting the Lord, then God has no delight in him and he falls back into perdition. At such a time the souls of men are tried. And if the gold of faith is lacking the judgments will clearly reveal it.

Now this was all written for the warning of the church.

And this word of warning is uttered here by Paul in this memorable sermon in Antioch of Pisidia.

And it is still applicable.

For God still works the great and mighty judgments. It is true: the time on the clock of God’s times and seasons is a bit later. But fundamentally the pattern of God’s dealings in the Word is the same. Fact is, that there is an intensification of the judgments of God, Is not Pentecost the opening, of the era of the Great Day of the Lord? Is not the preaching of the Word of the Cross that which shall convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and is it not also the saving power unto life eternal of all those believing?

When Paul begins to preach here in Antioch then all men are called to repentance. God shall judge the world through one man Jesus Christ, and this judgment shall be according to Paul’s gospel.

And so there is in the preaching itself threatening, warning, calling to repentance. It is the precepts of the gospel calling to walk in the old yet new Commandment. It is the call to walk not after the flesh but according to the Spirit in the ministry of reconciliation. And through this call and these warnings the Holy Spirit turns His people unto Christ in whom the Promise is realized, for this is a part of the Ministry of reconciliation. Any other ministry is the ministry of the law. And this ministry of law kills us!

When Paul says to the church: ‘‘Beware, lest that come upon you, which was spoken in the word of the prophets,” then those, who had ears to hear took refuge to Christ by faith.

And the rest became manifest to be void of faith, while they contradict the Word!