Acts 13v13-52: Jesus Saves - 16th June 2013 - Dave Walker

Bible Reading: Acts 13:13-52

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Jesus saves. Come to Jesus and be saved. There is salvation in Christ. The church has this drum which we bang a lot, don’t we. Salvation in Jesus. Salvation in Jesus. Jesus saves.

That has always been our message. So look again at that Bible passage which we just read: verse 23: “From [King David’s] descendents God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.” Or verse 26: “Brothers, children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that the message of salvation has been sent.” Or verse 47: “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Bang, bang, bang. Salvation in Jesus, salvation in Jesus. Jesus saves. The message of salvation. We can easily summarise today’s Bible reading by saying “Paul tells Jews and Gentiles about how Jesus can save them. Some of them reject. Others believe and are saved.” It’s a simple story, and it’s all about salvation.

Now, if you’ve been following along with the Acts series, or even if you’ve not but you’ve been in church a few times before, you may be thinking “tell me something new! I’ve heard about salvation in Jesus before. The church is always going on about it.” Even some Bible commentators do that – there are some commentaries which don’t discuss this chapter because they just say “we’ve said all we need to say when we talked about Peter’s sermon in chapter 2. This is just the same stuff again.”

Our minds love novelty. We love finding out something new that we haven’t heard before. When we hear the same old stuff it’s easy to get bored and switch off. But with this, it’s really important that we don’t. Because real, deep spiritual growth will happen, not when we find out all sorts of interesting novelties, but when we grow in deep conviction of the central things, the familiar things at the heart of the Christian gospel. Many of you know that the book of Acts is really part 2 of Luke’s gospel. It’s Luke: the sequel. And when Luke started part one of his gospel, he said he was writing it – and I quote from Luke chapter 1 verse 4 – “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” He wants his readers to be convinced of the main things.

Christians are less like buttercups and more like dandelions. If you’ve ever tried to pull buttercups out of the soil, you’ll know it’s quite easy, because they have lots of little shallow roots. Dandelions are much harder, because they’ve got this one enormous root that goes really deep. When Christians sink down deep into the main truths of the gospel, the really central stuff like how Jesus saves us, then we’ll grow. The message that Jesus saves may not be new news to you, but I’ll bet that you’ve not really got it. Not really. Those roots can go deeper.

Jesus is salvation (v13-37)

So Paul stands up in this synagogue in Pisidian Antioch – that’s not the same Antioch as we saw last week – and he speaks. He’s given an opportunity to give a word of encouragement, and he goes for it. The people there are the sort of people who know their Bibles, at least in outline, so Paul starts on familiar ground; he gives them a whistle stop tour of the history of Israel, a mini Bible overview. He tells them how God chose his people, and then in time raised up David to be their king, and then, verse 26, “From this man’s descendents God has brought toIsraelthe Saviour Jesus, as he promised.”

These were people who were waiting for a saviour. When Paul says “God has brought to Israel the Saviour… as he promised” he’s talking language they know and he’s describing something they crave. A bit like if someone in 21st century Britain went in the press and said “I’ve got the cure for cancer. It’s here at last.” It’s that sort of excitement. These people knew their history, they knew what God had done in the past and they knew how desperately the sin of the people had messed things up. They knew what a state the people ofIsrael were in, and they knew that God had promised to put that right. They were longing for a saviour, and now they were hearing that one had come. Verse 26: “Brothers, children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.” They craved salvation. Paul says “here is salvation. Salvation has come. His name is Jesus.” Like a child craving Christmas morning, the answer to their longing has come. The good news of Jesus is very good news for them.

Do you crave salvation? Do you know what it’s like to long for rescue? Because if you do, you’re well set up to understand the heart of the Christian message. The Christian message comes to us as a message of salvation, a message of rescue. If you don’t know that you need rescuing, chances are you won’t understand Christianity very well. Jesus is the answer, but an answer only works if you’re asking the question. I’ve met some people recently who are asking the question, deeply. People who know that there is more to life than the empty busyness of now, but they long to know what it is; people who are despairing of themselves and their own inability to change. People like that often seek a saviour. If that’s you, Jesus is very good news. The message of salvation has come to you.

How far does this salvation stretch? In what ways is Jesus good news? What does he save from? Look how Paul puts it in verse 38: “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”

Salvation in Jesus covers everything (v38-39)

Jesus saves from sin. And because he saves from sin, his salvation is huge. It’s deep and wide. It’s what we truly need. Lots of people want to be saved from their circumstances, don’t they? You know, if only someone would bail me out of this debt, if only someone would heal me from this illness, if only someone would give me a decent job, if only someone would sort out my messed up family. The idea being that if the circumstances changed we’d be ok. But if you think that, if you think that your problems can be fixed just by a change in circumstances, without a change in you, you don’t understand yourself, and you don’t understand your circumstances.

Because at the heart of the problem is always the heart. The mess in the world, the mess in your life, the mess in my life – it’s all tied up with sin. Either directly or indirectly, it’s related to the fact that people are living in ways that are out of step with what God wants, out of step with what God created us for. There is no salvation without salvation from sin. Because, like the world after Noah’s flood, we just go back to how we were soon enough.

If you don’t long for forgiveness you don’t understand yourself. A person who neither forgives nor longs for forgiveness is a very lonely person indeed. Jesus can do the job. He alone can really rescue from sin. He can cleanse us from it. He can forgive us such that we are forgiven. That’s why this verse 39 is so great: “Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” See those big, wide words there: ‘everyone’; ‘everything’. This is a fantastically wide offer. It is enough for you. It is enough to save you from your sin, whatever it is.

Often when people articulate what we like about Christianity or the Bible we put it in these terms “the Bible is like an instruction manual for life; it shows us how to live.” Or something like that. We especially talk like that when it comes to children: “I want my children to grow up with Christian values; I want them to know right from wrong.” Does that sound familiar?

It’s not wrong to want those things; those are good things. But values and morals and knowing right from wrong doesn’t save anyone. The law of Moses was a wonderful thing because it showed the people how to live. It showed them what God wanted; it showed them how bad it could be to take the wrong path. It still does that for us. But it can’t save you from anything. Knowing right from wrong is all very well until you have done wrong. Then all you have is condemnation. You’re in the wrong and you know it and there’s no way out.

The message of Jesus is not just good advice on how to live. Much more importantly, the message of Jesus is the message of salvation. Because he has died for us, in our place, and because he has risen to new life, Paul can say that Jesus justifies us from all that we could not be justified from by the law of Moses. He justifies, that is that if we are believing in Jesus, joined on to Jesus by faith, then God counts us as in the right, even though we’ve done wrong. God counts us as in the right, as righteous, as justified, not because we’ve done the right things, but because Jesus has done the right things for us. Jesus’ righteousness is ours if we believe.

If you’re someone who’s in the wrong and knows it, that’s wonderful news. If you’re someone who despairs of your inability to save yourself, that’s great news. God counts you not as guilty, but as righteous, if you believe in Jesus. That’s salvation. That’s freedom from condemnation and from death and from hell. That’s salvation indeed.

Perhaps you’ve been a Christian for some years but you’ve still not got this. You are still weighed down by that uncertainty, that doubt and anxiety that comes with thinking that you’re not a good enough Christian. You’ve heard how God wants you to live, you try to do it but you know you’re not there. Your life doesn’t match up. So you carry the guilt around with you. Breathe the free air of God’s grace. Jesus doesn’t just tell you how to live, he’s come to save you. He’s come to forgive you. He’s come to justify you. That’s what he does. So why do you think that’s somehow not enough? Breathe the free air of God’s grace. If Jesus has saved you, you are saved. His salvation is enough for you.

Don’t reject salvation in Jesus – there is nothing else (v40-41; 46)

This passage is littered with response, isn’t it? We don’t just hear the message of salvation, we hear the responses too. And lots of people in this passage respond negatively. So we keep hearing the warning – don’t reject salvation in Jesus; there’s no other salvation to be had. Look at what Paul says to them in verse 40: “Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’” God has done a wonder in Jesus. They are told about it. If they do not believe it, well, they will perish.

How do you respond to salvation? How do you respond to rescue? You can’t claim to earn it – it’s salvation. So imagine you’re out at sea, floating around, sinking a bit, gasping and spluttering, and then along comes the lifeboat and pulls you out. You can’t exactly say “oh well, about time, I’ve been paying my taxes for years, this is the least I deserve.” If you did that the lifeboat man would be well within his rights to say “we’re a charitable organisation, mate, taxes have nothing to do with it” and push you back into the water! You can’t claim to earn or deserve salvation – it’s rescue! It happens to you. And crucially, nor can you say “it’s mine! No one else can have it!”

That’s what happens with some of the Jewish people in this passage, isn’t it? They think they are worthy of eternal life; exclusively so. They think it’s their right to be rescued by God, and only their right, and they get very upset when these gentiles start getting in on the act. Look at verse 45: it’s when they see the crowds that they get upset. They think they alone are worthy of eternal life. In actual fact they are ruling themselves out. Look at verse 46: “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”

Demanding your rights before God is a very dangerous thing to do. Because there’s every chance that God will give you what you deserve. And nobody deserves salvation. All the way through the Bible the people who get the hardest time are the self-righteous. The people who think they are good enough. The people who think that God owes them something. The people who think that their life is their own by right. People like that won’t listen when Jesus comes saying “I will save you even though you don’t deserve it. Come to me and let me rule.” Holding on to what you have with a closed fist means that you lose it. It’s just what Jesus said – whoever wants to keep his life will lose it.

Are you hanging on to something before God? Are you holding back? Do you think that God owes you something? Do you have areas of your life that you are not willing to let him get his hands on? That’s a dangerous place to be. Be careful that you don’t lose everything. When rescue comes to you, you can’t dictate the terms. It’s His way or… well there is no other way.

Don’t expect salvation in Jesus to make things easy (v49-52)

Don’t come to Jesus because you expect an easy life. Jesus’ salvation goes really deep. He truly, properly, everlastingly saves. But that might not make your circumstances easier. Because the battle and the hostility that faced him can face you too. When Jesus takes over, he turns everything upside down. That’s wonderful. But it’s not easy. That’s how it was for those new believers here, wasn’t it? Especially the Jewish ones. One minute respected members of the synagogue, next minute thrown out by their family and friends as the people rise up against Paul and Barnabas.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has an amazing name and an amazing testimony. She was a very successful professor of English at Syracuse University in the US. She was lesbian and deeply anti-Christian. Her friends were just as anti-Christian as she was. And yet, amazingly, she felt God’s call on her life, calling her to Jesus. She knew that following him would cost her everything as she surrendered her life to live for him. But she also knew that there was no other way. Listen to her description of what happened when she came to Christ:

"Then, one ordinary day, I came to Jesus, openhanded and naked. The church that had been praying for me for years was there. Jesus triumphed. And I was a broken mess. Conversion was a train wreck. I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world. I drank, tentatively at first, then passionately, of the solace of the Holy Spirit. I rested in private peace, then community, and today in the shelter of a covenant family, where one calls me "wife" and many call me "mother." I have not forgotten the blood Jesus surrendered for this life."

Salvation in Christ is a free gift. But it’s not cheap. It cost Jesus everything. It will cost you your life too, as you surrender it to Jesus. If you’re not willing to offer it all, don’t commit to him. Because he wants all of you. But there really is no other salvation out there.

It’s fathers’ day today and I wanted to say something to dads and husbands, just thinking through a bit of what it means to be a saved husband, and a saved dad.

It’s this: there is responsibility in being a husband and a dad, isn’t there? Lots of responsibility. That’s a good thing; what a disaster it is when men don’t take that responsibility. God sees you as responsible before him for your family. That’s a big thing. But don’t forget that you cannot save them. You cannot be their saviour. That burden is too great for you. The role of saviour is already taken. If you don’t know that, or if you don’t act like it’s true, you’ll be crushed by the burden of it all, or else you’ll run away and hide in an imaginary world.

So as you lead them, lead them to Jesus Christ. Show them how he alone can carry them. Show them that he carries you. I’m eternally grateful to my dad that when he became a Christian he showed me that. He didn’t make a show of it, but I saw him praying, quietly on his own in the morning, and sometimes with us. I knew where his strength came from. You need to be dependent on God, you need to be leaning on God in prayer. You need to let them see that you are saved.