“Two Crowds”

6 June 2004

Texts: Acts 13:26-52, esp. 42-43

 

Question: What crowd do you hang with?

 

            Our text is taken from Acts 13: 42-43:

Acts 13:42  And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Acts 13:43  Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

 

After the word of God was proclaimed by Paul and Barnabas in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, we learn that two crowds formed.  They may be identified.  We might designate one crowd, the “see you next Sunday crowd” and the other group, the “we just can’t hear enough, teach us everyday crowd.”  We are going to explore the similarities and differences between these two groups, divided as they are by the preaching of the word.  They represent for us the human condition.  In fact, they represent what happens to us when the word of God is faithfully proclaimed even today.

 

            My purpose then is to plainly present to you a twofold aspect of our perennial heart condition, the fallen condition.  Even those who are redeemed continue to sin, to slight our great salvation by falling away either from our sense of desperate neediness, or the fervent gratitude appropriate as a response to all that Christ has done in dying for us.  Oh, yes, even fine and faithful church folk fall into this trap.  While we don’t mean to, our tendency is to slide away our complete dependency on Christ to some insidious form of self-works, or, more plainly, self-justification through our works.  We may rejoice, in moments of clarity, that works righteousness has been kicked out the front door, only to find that we left the back door open and it has crept right back in.  When that happens, when we find ourselves afflicted yet again with our religious “doings,” we have but one remedy--to repent of unbelief and put back in place the wonderful truth that while there is forgiveness in no other name, there is forgiveness in His Name.  This carelessness  is nothing less than a denial that it is in Christ alone that our deepest longings are fulfilled and satisfied.

 

            The context for our text is found in Acts 13, particularly in the “word of God” recorded for us there.  I mean, of course, in Paul’s sermon, in its actual content.  Look with me there, please. 

Acts 13:24  after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Acts 13:25  "And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.'

This marks Paul’s transition from the Old Covenant provision to the new.  It’s a wonderful way to introduce the ministry of Jesus which built upon the ministry of John the Baptist.  John’s ministry of repentance had an impact throughout the Jewish world.  It was known, recognized.  You can just imagine the Jews all nodding in agreement, they approved of John as a prophet, a teacher in Israel.  But Paul is building very carefully here.  What was not in consensus about John was his crucial role as the forerunner of the Christ.  It is one thing to agree that John was a mighty man of God, that he had a timely message--but it was quite another to add, “Oh, and by the way, the One who is coming is present.  I am not worthy to loose His sandals.”  Then, without even mentioning Christ’s name, Paul declares:

Acts 13:26  "Brethren, sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the word of this salvation is sent out.

This is a huge, momentous declaration: to us the word of this salvation is sent out.  This is the “news” aspect of the good news/word of God Paul came to proclaim in Antioch.  If you had been present in that synagogue, you would have sat forward on your bench at this moment.  Paul is speaking with immediacy, it’s not about yesterday, or tomorrow as so much as it is about the present

 

            Paul presses in.  The ancient prophecies have been fulfilled in your day, in Jerusalem, recently.

 

Acts 13:27  "For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. Acts 13:28  "And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. Acts 13:29  "And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross (some read, the tree) and laid Him in a tomb.

It is rather crucial here that the cross be understood as “a tree” because the reference is to Deut. 21:23:

Deu 21:22  "And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, Deu 21:23  his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.

We know therefore that it was on that tree that He, who knew no sin, became sin for us and bore in His own person the curse that falls on every person who tries to justify himself before God.  Everyone who please God by performance, as it is written, must perform everything written in the Law and do so perfectly in order to be saved by the Law (he who keeps the Law shall live!”).  Jesus bore our curse, the curse due us for our manifest failure to perfectly keep all the Law. And that curse He took completely away.

 

            To be sure the rulers in Jerusalem were unwitting accessories to this great deliverance.  They had no idea the critical nature of their in taking away the sins of the world.  They moved things forward, blindly and with awful motivations, by condemning Jesus, without cause, to death; but that is indeed what they did do.  (What they intended for evil, God purposed for good as in Joseph’s story!) They were, in their minds, ridding themselves of a problem--it is striking that in both Paul‘s case and Jesus‘, their popularity was a key issue.  In ultimate reality, the high priest and leaders were turning Jesus into an effectual scapegoat for bearing away the sins of the world, all of them--even their own, fully and finally once for all, forever.  And they had no clue.  As Paul points out that they fulfilled everything prophesied about Him the Messiah, even to taking Him down from the tree and placing Him in a rich man’s tomb.  Friends, we need not wonder greatly at their ignorance, for we, too, serve the Lord in spite of ourselves, through, as they say, passive obedience--accomplishing His purposes without knowing it on a frequent and ongoing basis.

 

            Then comes the great Pauline “But:”

Acts 13:30  "But God raised Him from the dead; Acts 13:31  and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.

So, we see, Paul has indeed preached Christ crucified here in verses, 29 and 30.  He proceeds to declare that these things are so on the basis of many witnesses.  But, more significantly perhaps, he doubles back on the message of fulfilled prophecy--that all this “news” is biblical, not novel or made up.  Paul supports his declaration of Jesus’ sonship from Psalm 2 Psalm, 'THOU ART MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE.' and Isaiah 55:3 'I WILL GIVE YOU THE HOLY and SURE blessings OF DAVID.'  He also cites Psalm 16:10: 'THOU WILT NOT ALLOW THY HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.  The resurrection proves that Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of God’s promises, and that He is the very Son of God--He saw no corruption!”

Acts 13:38  "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, Acts 13:39  and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.

 

            Salvation, beloved, is through faith, not through anyone’s puny human efforts to save oneself. Who can comply with the absolute and unreachable standards of the Law?  No one.  Perfectionism should have died instantly, but alas, as too many of us must sadly confess, it revives and thrives in us.  We are the ones who tend to put God’s perfect, moral demands back on ourselves apart from grace!

 

            Now, just in case, you missed it, what Paul declares here is that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you  and he adds, everyone who believes is freed from all things.  This is pure gospel, unadulterated salvation through faith alone!  There is nothing for you to do, everything is for the believing heart to receive.  Now this is hard for all us “doers” to take--if you are used to conceiving of God as a harsh and demanding taskmaster, such liberality is unthinkable.  Never mind that such notions are contrary to the revelation that God is love, salvation by faith through grace is totally outside the box thinking for religious types.  Never mind that we are sometimes to the point of exhaustion with saving ourselves, with our broken cisterns, our self-works, the works’ righteousness of self-help Christianity and all.  It’s all too freeing for those accustomed to bondage!  But, beloved, free it is.  That is why Paul ends his powerful little sermon with a warning against the cost of continued skepticism, against continued incredulity in the face of grace.

Acts 13:40  "Take heed therefore, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: Acts 13:41  'BEHOLD, YOU SCOFFERS, AND MARVEL, AND PERISH; FOR I AM ACCOMPLISHING A WORK IN YOUR DAYS, A WORK WHICH YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU.'"

 

            And that brings us, dear friends, back necessarily to the divided response, I mentioned in the beginning:  the “See you next week crowd” and the “Tell me more, I can’t get enough crowd.”  The first crowd could represent a revived church?  Or, we could be hearing the polite interest of cautious, but “religious” people.  But the second crowd has about it an air of familiarity.  We met this crowd back in Acts 2:40-45:

Acts 2:42  And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:43  And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  Acts 2:44  And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; Acts 2:45  and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Acts 2:46  And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, Acts 2:47  praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

These folks are living out the excitement of living by grace, through faith.  We  can do that, too!  We can do that here and now. They have discovered that Christ-centered living through daily worship, study and praise brings wonderful, lasting change.  They know that if your faith is a “big deal” great things will happen to and for you!

 

            Did the first group become a revived church?  Well, not exactly.  We read on to learn sadly that the Jewish leadership, becoming jealous of the apostles, and more the power and appeal of the truth, chose to protect their turf, their religious traditions and prerogatives.  So they turned on Paul and Barnabas becoming contrary, negative, even to blaspheming God by rejecting the gospel.  The result?  Church went elsewhere.

 

            The church went to the believers, to us, to the God-fearers and converted Jews who were glad, and who glorified the word of God.  Again that word was a word of forgiveness.  Those who know that forgiveness discover God’s incredible and indelible kindness.  That word was a word of relevance.  The deepest longings of every human heart are satisfied in Christ Jesus, in His finished work.  That word was a word of glorification.  Christ is indeed the center of all things, He is magnificent and greatly to be praised.  And, even as I declare these two things, beloved, I know that two crowds are forming.  Which crowd is your crowd?  I urge you to press beyond the “See you next week crowd”!  I urge you to consider your great need and your wonderful Deliverer who alone is worthy to be praised.  I urge you to make a bigger deal of your faith than you ever have before. . . For it true and worthy of repetition, those who do, they prosper!

 

                                                                                                            Amen.