God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, February 17, 2021
19 “So, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I proclaimed it first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, then throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 It was because of this that the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.
This fourth part of Paul’s sermon covers a long period of time. After Paul’s conversion in 35 AD he spent three years in the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:17), about five years preaching and teaching in Syria and Cilesia (Acts 9:30, Galatians 1:21), and he visited Jerusalem during the famine (Acts 11:25-30). His first missionary trip took about two years (Acts 13:2-14:28), after which he was present for the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15:1-29). His second missionary trip took another two years (Acts 15:40-18:23) and was followed by his third trip which took almost four years (Acts 18:23-21:17). He went from there to Jerusalem where he had been arrested, and spent two years here in Caesarea in prison. Now it was 59 AD, 24 years after his conversion.
Paul summarizes his ministry to the Gentiles with the simple preaching of repentance, that is, law and gospel. The law crushes me. The law makes me see my sinfulness and the law makes me despair over the certainty of eternal damnation in hell for my sins. The gospel lifts me out of that despair, turns me back to Christ, and lifts the burden of my sin from my conscience. This makes me want to respond to God with thanks, “performing deeds in keeping with repentance.” This is the difference between the true Christian faith and all other religions and even false Christian teachings: The world teaches that man does something for God to buy God’s blessings. But even after we have come to faith, nothing we do merits God’s forgiveness. We cannot buy the forgiveness of sins with silver or gold or good deeds (1 Peter 1:18-19). Paul explains this in his first Epistle: “If while we are seeking to be justified in Christ we are found out to be sinners, does that make Christ an agent of sins?” (Galatians 2:17). Not at all. He does not condone the sins of believers, nor does he forgive them because we earn his forgiveness in any way. Just as nobody can change or add to a human covenant, it’s even more certain that nobody can change or alter God’s covenant of grace (Galatians 3:15). So we see that God blesses us by his grace, without us deserving it at all at any point in our lives, and we simply respond with thanks “in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Paul says that it was because of this preaching—repentance for the forgiveness of sins—that he was seized by the Jews, who then wanted to kill him. This was the same teaching that Isaiah proclaimed: “I live” (says the high and lofty one) “in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). For man to be contrite or sorry for his sins was also preached by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 3:13), Joel (Joel 2:12) and all the others. But the Jews hated the prophets. They imprisoned them (Jeremiah 37:15, 38:6). They refused to repent, even when Joel cried out, “Tear open your hearts, and not your clothes!” (Joel 2:13). And they murdered the prophets like Isaiah, stoning them, running them through with the sword, and even sawing them in half and other horrible things (Hebrews 11:37). That kind of hatred was still felt in Paul’s time. They wanted to be shown miracles, like the ones Moses did. They didn’t want to be told to change the way they lived. Paul knew that. Paul understood it better than anyone else. “The Jews demand miraculous signs and the Greeks look for wisdom,” he wrote, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). But the righteousness of Christ is the only merit that brings our forgiveness, “the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9). We are given this through faith, and we praise God for his delightful, saving gift. Through Jesus we have everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith