The phone rang and William Willimon, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University took the call. The voice told Will furiously, "I hold you personally responsible for this!" It was a very irate father. He was angry because his graduate school-bound daughter had decided to do something radical, (in his words) "throw it all away and go do mission work in Haiti." The father screamed, "Isn't that absurd! She has a B.S. degree from Duke, and she is going off to dig ditches in Haiti! I hold you responsible for this!"
Willimon said, "Why me?"
The father said, "You filled her mind with all this religion stuff."
But, Willimon was not easily intimidated. He asked the father a series of questions:
"Sir, you're the reason she's throwing it all away. You introduced her to Jesus. Not me!"
"But," said the father, "all we wanted was for her to be a church member."
Willimon replied, "Well, sorry, sir, but you messed up. You've gone and made a disciple!"1
Sometimes people make radical decisions. And in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul is out again to make disciples with a radical message. In fact, people are making radical decisions either for or against Jesus.
I invite you to open your Bibles to Acts 13 where again Paul and Barnabas are on the move. This passage in Acts briefly tells us where they went in verses 13-15. Where they went was Antioch in Pisidia, so called, to distinguish it from Antioch of Syria. So, where they went is in what is now modern Turkey.
Let's read Acts 13:13-15, Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it."
First off, this passage tells us that Paul kept the Sabbath and, wherever he went, he would go to the synagogue first. And here they sit in the congregation, listening to the reading of the Law and the Prophets. And then came the invitation to step up to the Antioch in Pisidia pulpit. How would you feel if you visited a synagogue as a Christian and after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rabbi motioned for you to speak to the congregation and you know what you have to say is not going to go over well? Would you be scared or intimidated? Not Paul. He was psyched. He was ready to witness for the Lord whom he originally fought against. Paul had come to that pulpit to preach Christ to his fellow countrymen. He did not hesitate to speak the plain truth about the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders.
Paul preached a radical message that day, and it brought about very different reactions. It did not create unity and good will among equally among all who heard it. There was definitely a great response in favor of the message. But not everyone liked the message. And that's the way it was. Paul couldn't help it. Wherever he went he left division behind him. Decisions were made, many for the message and many against it.
So what kind of message could create such a radical polarization as that? Only a radical message could do that. What was so radical about his message in Acts 13? What was radical for the Jewish audience was, as Paul explained, first that Jesus was the promised Messiah and secondly, Jesus' resurrection from the dead. But I believe most of all radical was that the way to righteousness is through faith, not performance.
In fact, this is the very first record in the New Testament. of Paul's preaching righteousness by faith. After having preached the message of Jesus the Messiah, Paul comes straight to the point. Let's look at what he said, in Acts:38 and 39(ESV), Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which yoyu could not be freed by the law of Moses. This is what it says in the NKJV and something similar in the NIV. Acts 13:38-39 NKJV. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
That was radical! But, why so? Remember that the law of Moses referred in the Jewsih mind to all the ceremonial rites that God had revealed as well as the multitude of additional laws and requirements which the Jews had attached to God's original revelation: Lots of rules. Paul is saying that none of those laws could ever justify a believer. And furthermore, what the law could not do, faith in Christ could do.
But I'm not sure "justified" is the right word to use here. That word has come to represent merely a legal adjustment of guilt, a blotting out of sins on the books in heaven. I believe it is much more than that. Other translations are more accurate, in my opinion, when they say "put right" or "set right." The idea is that our relationship with God has been restored. The barriers to a friendship have been removed, and we realize that God has never been condemning toward us and has always been forgiving, and now we are restored and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Romans 5:1. (Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.) Isn't that good news?
Another way to translate the word, 'Justified,' is to do it as the English Standard Version has: everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses." Justified is to be set free. Notice that freedom from sin and guilt comes only through a believing or trusting relationship with God. In fact, all God has ever asked for is trust, because, if we trust Him we'll listen to Him. That's the consistent message of the Bible. (Belief, trust, faith it's all the same Greek word.)
But how can we trust a God whom we're afraid of. Would you trust Someone you think is condemning you? That relationship of trust with our God brings freedom only because we know and understand God. Our faulty, guilt-laden fears of God are transformed into understanding how good He really is, that God is for us, and not against us. And this revelation of God brings us back to Him. It allows us to trust Him, enabling God to set us right with Himself. And then healing and a new creation within us can take place.
Shouldn't the Jews have known all of this? And yet that's what they lost sight of. What God has always wanted is a relationship of trust and trustworthiness. But that can only be established through truth. That's why Jesus told them earlier, "The truth shall set you free." What truth? Ultimately it is the truth about God as revealed in Jesus. In Jesus we see that God is a forgiving God and we are therefore free from the tyranny of a false picture of an unforgiving, harsh God. I believe that was the intent of Paul's message here about forgiveness being proclaimed to people. We have freedom from fear of God. And all God wants is for us to trust Him. Look at this quotation in the bulletin from Steps to Christ, p.10, 11: "The enemy of good blinded the minds of men, so that they looked upon God with fear; they thought of Him as severe and unforgiving. Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice,--one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them. It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men."
This was a radical concept for the Jews, who had long been enslaved to the idea that they had to earn God's acceptance and right standing through a perfect performance of a multitude of rules and regulations. You see, the heart of the problem with legalism and righteousness-by-works is not so much a wrong message, is that it's a wrong concept of God. We don't have to earn His favor. He's the One in Christ Who is trying to reconcile us back to Him. All we have to do is respond with our fullest confidence to Christ who is the perfect, and wonderful and beautiful revelation of God.
So that was the radical message of the gospel of grace and truth. With that gospel there always comes the moment of decision because God never forces people to be healed. And as Paul taught this gospel, people were making decisions.
As Paul was preaching there the first time, he must have sensed an initial hardening among some of his listeners. But that was just one side of the reaction. Others gave a much more positive response. But some are just not used to the truth and its liberating consequences.
Acts 13: 42,43 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
When the next Sabbath came, the Bible tells us, almost the whole city came to hear the preaching of Paul and Barnabas. Now, what would you think if the whole town of Ooltewah came right here on Sabbath Morning to hear a visiting speaker? And, they weren't members of the church, obviously. Would you feel like something strange or unusual is going on? People crowded around the windows (well, they didn't have glass in the windows in those days.).
When the next Sabbath came, the Bible says almost the whole city came to hear the preaching of Paul and Barnabas. What would you think if the whole town of Ooltewah came here on Sabbath morning to hear a visiting speaker? Would you feel something strange was going on?
We're not told what exactly Paul preached about that second time, but we are told about the negative reaction of some Jews. Look at Acts 13:45, But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. In other words, insulting him. They made their decision.
A radical message causes division. That's what we see in this story. And we also see how the message of the truth about God revealed in Jesus and His forgiveness to us is the only thing that heals and changes us through a trusting relationship.
In the book, Shades of Grace, Ty Gibson tells about an encounter that he had with a homeless girl.
"Hey, mister, got any change I can have to get something to eat?"
He had seen her in the distance, hunched down, arms wrapped around her knees as she leaned against the concrete wall. Winter was setting in. Snow flurries danced around her form.
"Do you take VISA?" he replied with a smile.
"No, but if you don't have any change, I take bills," she smiled back, "ones, fives, tens, whatever you got. I haven't eaten since yesterday."
"I think I have a five-dollar bill," he said, opening his wallet and handing it to her. "But I'd like to know the name of the person I'm giving it to."
"My name is Erin, with an E, the girl version."
"Where do you live, Erin?"
"Mostly under bridges; sometimes behind garbage dumpsters."
"How long have you been on the streets?"
"For almost three years, since I was twelve."
"If it's not cold enough for you already, it's about to start getting real cold, freezing and below. Don't you have parents who want you home?"
"Are you kidding, man? My dad's a heroin addict and my mom just lets him use all our money for junk. I couldn't take watching him beat her up anymore. He beat me too. I could take that. But I couldn't see her bleedin' and cryin' one more day. So I took off and I'm not going back."
The conversation went on until Ty ventured to offer more meaningful help than just five bucks. "Listen, it's gonna be really cold tonight. You are hungry. My wife would love to meet you. She's a great cook, and we have a spare room.... I have three children; one is a daughter about your age. Why don't you get off the streets for a few days, have some good food and a comfortable bed as a guest in our home?"
After she first refused, Ty crouched down in front of Erin at eye level and invited her again with a nearly pleading tone. "I like you, mister," she said, "and I'm tempted to go with you, but I don't know you. So thanks for the offer, but I'll be fine."
What could Ty do? How could he expect her to trust him without knowing him?2
That's exactly God's dilemma. And that's why Jesus came to this earth; to show us what God is like. He is forgiving. He treats us as if we had never sinned at all. He died on the cross to show all of that. He died to show that He is for us and not against us. He wants the very best for us. And with that revelation comes the opportunity to choose friendship and trust.
Today we have the power to choose either for life or death. How about you? What will be your choice? Will you join me in choosing to trust Him?
1. Source unknown.
2. Ty Gibson, Shades of Grace, (Pacific Press Publishing, 2001), p.153.
Hymn of Praise: #92, This Is My Father's World Scripture: Acts 13:22,23 Hymn of Response: #524, 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
Return to McDonald Road Sermons Index
Return to McDonald Road SDA Church Home Page
McDonald Road Sermons converted to HTML and
last updated 21/10/06 by Bob Beckett.