Acts (Part 20) - Paul's First Sermon
Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, believes (13:12). And it is not just because he has seen the miracle of Paul striking Elymas with blindness; Sergius Paulus understood the miracle in conjunction with Paul’s teaching, as we learn in 13:12b. It was the teaching that astonished him. The miracle served only to confirm.
In this passage we have seen Paul become extremely angry. He is angry with Elymas for his attempted obstruction of the gospel message. This is very much like the anger of Jesus in Matthew 12 and 23, which was directed toward the Pharisees who had attempted to thwart the message of the kingdom. Anger is not a sin of itself. Anger is simply a human emotion, but as with all emotions, its particular motivation determines its correct use. Paul discusses anger in Ephesians 4. In the context of the chapter, Paul is drawing a line in perspective between the unsaved (here referred to as Gentiles) and Christians. We learn in verses 17 through 24 that the unregenerate act in futility of their minds because their basis is for self. The Christian mind and walk is set on God and his people. A mind set on self is deceitful, lusting for and bitter against that which is not to the person’s own benefit. Paul tells us in verse 17 that we in contrast should be honest, speaking truth. Immediately then Paul says to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). In honest, open communication from a motivation for God and his people, anger has a rightful place—as demonstrated by Paul with Elymas. The selfish, bitter anger is that which finds a home in the egocentric heart and continues to embitter as time goes on (4:26b), resulting in outward intent and expression of clamor, slander, and malice (4:31).
After the conversion of Sergius Paulus, Paul and the others leave Cyprus and sail to Perga. Upon landing at Perga, John Mark decides he has had enough and returns to his home in Jerusalem. Usually we hear speculated that John Mark, being young, became homesick and didn’t want to continue the toils of the ministry. Yet this speculation seems to be assumed with little support. After all, John Mark was a young man (perhaps a teenager) when Jesus and his disciples ate the Last Supper in the upper room of his mother’s house. But that was around AD 31. It is now about AD46—15 years later. John Mark is at least 30 years old, perhaps older—at least the same age as Jesus when he was baptized and began his ministry. So we should not picture John Mark as just reaching manhood.
Although still speculation, another scenario seems to have more support. We should have noticed that a change took place in Cyprus. Prior to going there, Luke constantly refers to “Barnabas and Saul” (11:30, 12:25, 13:2), apparently indicating that Barnabas—the one who brought Saul to the apostles and the one who established the church in Antioch—held more prominence in their relationship. As this mission journey began, Barnabas may have been considered the leader. After Paul’s presentation to Sergius Paulus and denunciation of Elymans, Luke begins to speak of “Paul and his companions” (13:13) rather than “Barnabas and Saul.” And it is Paul who apparently takes over as leader. John Mark is Barnabus’ cousin (Col 4:10). It could well be imagined that instead of being a shy, homesick, young man, John Mark is an assured, maybe even quick tempered, man, who is a little put out by Paul’s usurpation of control.
It may have been Paul who decided to leave Cyprus (the homeland of Barnabas and John Mark) to head for Antioch of Pisidia. Antioch was the home territory of Sergius Paulus. Sergius Paulus may have urged Paul to go to Antioch where his relatives could hear of the same gospel which he believed. So Paul makes the decision to go. Barnabas, who may have wanted to stay in Cyprus, gives up on that idea to follow Paul’s lead. And now John Mark is angry. The boat ride over to Perga probably included some angry clashes between John Mark and Paul as to leadership and plan. But Paul wasn’t budging. When they got to Perga, John Mark tells Paul that if it’s his way or the highway, he chooses the highway, and then he finds another boat to take him back to Jerusalem. Again, although this is also speculation, it seems to fit the background information a bit better, and it will also bring more sense to the subsequent clash concerning John Mark that we’ll see coming up in Acts 15.
From Perga, Paul and Barnabas head inland to Antioch. They attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. We see a difference in form here from the practice in Palestine. In Palestine, they read the Law standing, and then the one who would speak sat to teach (Luke 4:20). Here, however, after the reading of the Law, Paul stands to speak (13:15-16).
Paul’s message is much like Stephen’s defense and Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Paul begins with the Old Testament—that with which his hearers are familiar. He speaks of the care of God for the Jews from Egypt to their establishment in the Promised Land. He tells them that God gave them judges and then a king. And it was to King David that God promised his ultimate care through the coming Messiah. Paul then presents Jesus as this Messiah.
Paul’s highlight is in speaking of the cross and the resurrection. Paul uses three verses to specify what happened at the resurrection. He recalls to their minds Psalm 2, a psalm of David, in which God calls David his son, “Today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2: 7). God said that to David at the time of David’s becoming king over Israel. When Paul uses that verse in reference to Jesus’ resurrection, he tells us that Jesus took the throne and began to reign at his resurrection.
Then Paul connects two verses through the use of a word they share—“holy.” Isaiah 55:3 tells us that to David were promised “holy and sure blessings.” This referred to the Messiah. Then Paul pulls in Psalm 16:10 to tell us that this “holy” Messiah would not be left to corruption—a prophecy of the resurrection.
Before we continue through Paul’s message, I want to pause to consider Christ’s death and resurrection a little more. These are the central issues of the gospel—the climax of redemptive history from the fall to Christ’s return. We should understand them well.
Theological terms and Christian expressions are tossed about frequently—so frequently that meanings evolve and split resulting in less than a clear idea of what is meant or believed. For example, the theological term “satisfaction” refers to one aspect of what Jesus did on the cross. For the first 1500 hundred years of our 2000 year Christian history, the word referred to the ransom that Jesus paid. And a ransom was thought of in just the same way we normally think of a ransom today—a kidnapper holds a hostage for ransom, releasing the hostage when the ransom is paid. Thus, the thought was that sin or Satan held sinners for ransom, releasing them when Christ paid the ransom. But this understanding meant that Jesus paid this ransom to the Devil.
The reformers decided that could not be quite right. The satisfaction, they insisted was an appeasement or propitiation to God. Rather than us pay the penalty for sin, Jesus stood in our place and paid the penalty for our sin. So Jesus’ death was substitutionary or vicarious. And since he paid the penalty so that we didn’t have to, we call it a penal substitution.
But this idea of penal substitution has expanded over the years so that the most widely held conservative evangelical view is that this penal substitution was the infliction on Jesus of the full wrath of God that would otherwise have been directed against us for all of eternity. Not only does this strain comprehension (how could eternal wrath be spent in temporal event?) but this also seems to go beyond what Scripture tells us. What actually occurred (not what was the result) with Jesus on the cross? Perhaps the question could be better stated in this way: Did Jesus die only physically, or did he die physically and spiritually?
Certain events may tempt us to think that Jesus died spiritually. In Gethsemane’s garden, he sweat great drops of blood and told his disciples that he was sorrowful to death. He prayed to the Father that, if possible, this cup would pass from him. Many preachers, convinced that Jesus could not simply be worried about death, would cry out that Jesus, who had been with the Father from eternity past, could not bear the thought of separation from him that would occur on the cross. Christ’s agony was not about physical death, so they say. Christ’s agony concerned separation from the Father. This view comes into conflict with itself. If was truly in agony about this separation, it requires him at that moment to remember eternity past from an experiential point of view, otherwise the emotional agony of separation could not occur. But if Jesus did remember eternity past from an experiential point of view, why would he be asking the question whether that cup could pass from him. He was in on the decision in eternity past. He knew why it had to occur. On the contrary, Jesus did not employ the Godly attribute he had set aside such as omniscience by viewing the agony as some kind of division in the Trinity.
Another event some have used to argue for Jesus’ spiritual death is the Psalm 22:1 quote from the cross. Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Here preachers have argued that the sin of the world was placed on Jesus, and therefore, the Father, who could not look on sin, turned away from Jesus, leaving him alone. First of all, Psalm 22:1 is a psalm of David. When David uttered those words, he immediately spoke of the trust he had in God’s continued care. In other words, David shows in this psalm that to him it had appeared that God had left him alone, but he knew that was not the case. We would have to wonder then why Jesus would quote the Psalm out of context if by his quote he meant that God did not just appear to have left, but had actually left. On the contrary, Jesus quoted this psalm precisely to say that although it appeared that God had left him alone, he trusted in the watchcare of God, committing to him his spirit at the end.
To make the case that Jesus death was only physical, we must start at the beginning. In Genesis 2 God tells Adam (and eventually Eve) that they are not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God says, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17b). But in Genesis 3 when both Adam and Eve eat, neither one drops dead! Our answer, of course, is that they didn’t physically die at that point, but they did spiritually die. God wasn’t proclaiming some curse by informing them that death would result. He was merely stating the natural consequence that had to occur. They would have to separate from God. Later in Genesis 3 we read, however, that God did have a specific curse penalty for their disobedience. God told them that they would also physically die. This is the curse placed on Adam and Eve and all who followed them. And this is the penalty that Jesus paid on the cross—physical death.
What happened to Adam and Even when they died spiritually? The image of God in which they were created was marred. Did that happen to Christ? In spiritual death, we lose spiritual wisdom, choosing for ourselves, utterly depraved. Did that happen to Christ? Absolutely not! And that is why both Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in Acts 13 quote Psalm 16:10 that God would “not let your Holy One see corruption.” Holy One? The sin of the world is on him, and he is called holy? No, the sin of the world was placed on him bodily, and he died bodily. But his spirit remained holy. That is why God was able to resurrect Jesus when he died but not able to resurrect us when we die. Jesus died with a holy, righteous spirit.
Notice the following verses. All show that sin was not place on the spirit of Christ, but rather on his body.
I Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
Colossians 1:21-22 “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
Hebrews 10:10 “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
The payment by Christ—his physical death on the cross—purchased our redemption. We no longer hold guilt for our sins. That is why our spirits, covered in Christ’s righteousness and bound with the Holy Spirit, go to God. Our bodies still hold that same material curse of sin wrapped up with this earth. When Jesus returns, those without Christ will be resurrected unto death. We who know Christ and this very earth will be resurrected to life everlasting—just as Jesus, the firstfruits, was resurrected because of his holy soul.
We began speaking of the penal substitution of Jesus. Yes, it was a substitution for us. Yes, it was penal in that Jesus did pay the penalty. But the penalty of physical death is not the same as the full composite of the wrath of God that will issue forth (as Revelation 16 depicts). God’s judgment is eternal (Matthew 25:46). You simply cannot say that eternal punishment was cast upon Christ in a moment of time. By his love and grace, Christ paid the penalty for our sin that we may have life.
The Power of the Cross
Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.
This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.
Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.
Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.
Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.
This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.