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This very long text describes the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey and the official offer of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Specifically, the focus is once again on the power of the Word of God to transform lives by its presentation of Christ (vv. 5,7,12,46,48,49). Such power moved Katherine Hankey to exclaim, “I love to tell the story . . . the message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.” While most of us here today know that old, old story called the Gospel, even we have a tendency to forget what its central message is. You might be freshly surprised today to remember what it promises.

1. For Some Who Have Never Heard (4-12)

Sergius Paulus was a man who had never heard the good news of forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. While he was not the first Gentile to be converted, he was the first in Luke’s record to come to Christ with no religious background whatsoever. Who was this man and what did it take to reach him? The answers to these questions provide insight for reaching the lost. They should also be encouraging to you if you do not personally know Christ.

 

A. Who: Who was this man Sergius Paulus? Luke informs that he was proconsul of Cyprus. That was a position akin to the governor of a state. This description, by the way, reinforces the accuracy of Luke’s account. Consider the history of Cyprus’ rule. This little island off the coast of Turkey was annexed by Rome in 57 BC. After Rome brought the settlement up to their standards, Cyprus was assigned in 55 BC to the province of Seleucia which comprised the southern coast of Turkey. Twenty-eight years later Cyprus was made a separate province ruled by the emperor through an imperial legate. By 22 BC Cyprus’ rule changed from the imperial legate to its own proconsul, who served under the Roman senate. Therefore, by the time of Paul’s visit, the ruler would have been a proconsul and not a legate. This was Sergius Paulus whom Luke identifies with the proper title.[1] The important implication of this information for our purposes is not just Luke’s accuracy, but the fact that Paulus is a powerful man in the Roman government.

 

One did not become a powerful man in Rome by niceties. For one climbing the corporate ladder in Roman government, “backstabbing” was more than a metaphor! (“Et tu, Brute?”). The Romans in power were not known for their delicate dealings with people. Remember what John the Baptist told Roman soldiers who came to him for baptism, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely” (Lk. 3:14). Though it is just conjecture, it is probably reasonable to say that Sergius Paulus destroyed some people physically and emotionally to get where he was. Can you identify? There may not be any physical murderers here but I would guess there are some here who have hated bosses, some who have wrecked their children’s self-confidence, and others who have killed their spouse’s self-esteem. What do you need to hear from me today? That you are OK? No, don’t you want to hear what this man Sergius wanted to hear—this man who seemed on the outside to have it all together but who on the inside was empty and guilty? And what did he hear? That through Jesus Christ sins can be forgiven (38). That the blood of Jesus does what no amount of law-keeping can ever do, justify—make perfectly righteous in the eyes of God (39). My friend, I don’t care what you have done, if you come to Christ for salvation today, your sins will be forgiven and you will be called “a righteous person.”

BWhat: But what is required in getting that message to those who need it? Notice first that you must relate that message to others by the power of the Holy Spirit (4). Success in conveying this good news is not related to your personal charisma or expert delivery. Success comes from the Spirit conveying power to you to speak. Notice that proclamation is the primary strategy for spreading the Gospel. It always has been. The single most effective method of evangelism—from the early church until now—has been telling someone else in a personal way that Jesus is the answer to his or her need.[2] And it is the Spirit who fills us with power to do so. He must because we are often afraid. At times we are even unwilling. Remember, Paul and Barnabas were members of a people who had been severely oppressed by the Romans—they would have been tempted to withhold the Gospel from someone they wished would go to hell. And not only does the Spirit give power to speak, he fills us with even more power after we speak that we might do it again (52).

II. For Those Who Know It Best (13-52)

The rest of this chapter is the record of Paul and Barnabas taking the Gospel to religious people who have heard the good news from the Old Testament for their whole lives. While it was not as clear in the Old as it is in the New, it was clear enough. Sergius Paulus was hearing the Gospel for the first time; they were being reminded of it. No matter how many times you have heard the message of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, you need to hear it again.

A. Pursued in History: Perhaps I have confused you with that statement that the Gospel is declared in the Old Testament. You say, “I don’t read anywhere that it says that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins.” No it doesn’t say that, but it does say that God “announced the gospel” to Abraham by declaring that he would send grace through Abraham to redeem a people as his own and laid all of the groundwork for finally accomplishing that feat in Jesus Christ (Ga. 3:8). That is the point that Paul makes in his sermon. Let me explain it to you. Remember, some time ago as we were studying Peter’s sermons I said that a man named C. H. Dodd demonstrated what he called the New Testament kerygma, a fancy Greek word for “sermon.” He showed that there are a few basic points made over and over in the New Testament sermons. We see all of those points here:

 

  1. Continuity with the Old Testament (24) – John the Baptist, as the last OT prophet, announces that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the Old Testament prophets.
  2. Cursed (27-29) – By his trial and crucifixion Jesus proved to be the one who was cursed for our sin (Dt. 21:23). Further, his burial proved he became sin for us and suffered the curse of death.
  3. Resurrection (30,31) – His resurrection proved his life justified our sins and accomplished our adoption and sanctification.
  4. Justified (38,39) – Those who receive Christ by faith are justified by his righteousness.

 

Those are not new points to you. What is a new thought perhaps is that a similar kerygma can be found in the Old Testament. There are a few basic points about God’s pursuit of us in redemption which are repeated over and again. Paul lists them here:

 

  1. Patriarchal (17): God found Abraham and made a covenant with him.
  2. Exodus (17): God came to the Israelites in Egypt and led them out.
  3. Wilderness (18): God protected the Israelites and led them through the desert.
  4. Conquest (19): God fought for the Israelites and gave them the Promised Land.
  5. Judges (20): God pursued the Israelites through the judges during their most intense period of rebellion.
  6. Monarchy (21,22): God built up his people as a light to the nations for the first eighty years of the monarchy.

 

What I want you to hear is that God has been pursuing his people from the beginning of time, and you are one of those people. The Bible makes it clear that when God came after Abraham he was coming after you (Ga. 3). You have been a pursued person. He pursued you through the desert, through the period of the judges, through the New Testament and into your personal history.

B. Pursued Now: And God continues to pursue you and apply grace to you. Further, the covenant means he is pursuing your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren through you.

 

Luke reinforces the tenacity of God’s redemptive pursuit in several ways. First, he explains that faith is a gift of grace: “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (48). These Gentiles came to faith because God elected them, brought the Gospel to them, and then enabled them to believe. Another reinforcement is the example of John Mark (Barnabas’ cousin) who left Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia (13). Later that desertion will drive a temporary wedge between Paul and Barnabas. While Ramsay argued that John Mark left because he wanted to reach Pamphylia, it seems clear that Mark deserted the missionaries for less than spiritual reasons.[3] Whatever the reason, God pursues and restores John Mark such that he becomes one of Paul’s most trusted fellow workers (Co. 4:10; 2 Ti. 4:11; Phm. 24; 1 Pt. 5:13). Finally, Paul’s turn to the Gentiles (46) reminds us that it is only temporary in order to make the Jews jealous and draw them to Christ in even greater numbers—a revival so dramatic that Paul calls it “life from the dead” (Ro. 11:15). The point is that God never gives up.

 

 

[1] Bruce, 246.

[2] Cf. Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church and ?, To Spread the Power.

[3] St. Paul the Traveler, 94-97.