'GOD HAS NOT REJECTED HIS PEOPLE, HAS HE?'
SERIES: PAUL, AN INSTRUMENT OF THE RISEN CHRIST
by Ron Ritchie
I have had the privilege of visiting Israel on several occasions. On recent
trips, however, my interests have been moving away from the famous Biblical
sights and more toward the Jewish people themselves. As I have done so I
have noticed that Jews are very religious people on the whole, but the god
they are serving is a god of materialism, tradition, military might and
secular humanism. My heart has been deeply grieved to find that the majority
of them have rejected the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and, in these
last days, their Messiah Jesus Christ.
On my last trip there, a group of us decided to have dinner one evening
in a sidewalk restaurant in Jerusalem. It is fascinating to sit at a table
in one of these restaurants and watch the passing parade of young and old,
police and military, religious and secular. As we watched the hundreds of
people passing by, my heart grieved over the emptiness of their lives and
the fear which they must constantly live under. The apostle's word to the
Romans came to mind, "God has not rejected His people, has He?"
(Rom. 11:11). 1 wondered how could one penetrate the veneer of religion,
pride and tradition of these people. Just as I was feeling helpless in the
face of this seemingly overwhelming dilemma, a voice behind me said, "The
word is out that you have been looking for me!" I turned around to
find Tuvya and Ellen Zaretsky, missionaries whom we support from the Jews
for Jesus movement, sitting behind me. They were in Israel accompanied by
some twenty-five Christian students from the United States whom they were
training to do evangelism among the Jews.
There in flesh and blood was the answer to my question of how to reach the
Jews! Thus I could say, with Paul, "God has not rejected His people."
Neither has God rejected the Gentiles. In every generation and in every
nation he has placed his people, those who love him and his Son Jesus, to
witness about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. God has not rejected
his people. He is constantly reaching out to penetrate the darkness of human
hearts, hearts that are filled with pride and ignorance, and opening eyes
and ears that are closed to the person of Christ. He uses Christians to
be salt and light to dark and sinful communities of men and women everywhere.
What a comfort it was to me that the Zaretskys were in Jerusalem that very
The apostle's cry, "God has not rejected His people, has He?"
is answered in three distinct phrases in our study in the life of the apostle,
which we take up in the thirteenth chapter of Acts this week. Paul has embarked
on what has come to be known as his first missionary journey, which will
last approximately two years, from 47 to 49 A.D. He has just made his first
Gentile convert, Sergius Paulus, on the island of Cyprus, and he has also
demonstrated for the first time his gift of apostleship in his dealings
with the Jewish false prophet, Bar-Jesus. Now recognized as an apostle,
a teacher and a preacher, Paul has begun his first missionary journey, together
with Barnabas and John Mark.
"God has not rejected His people, has He?" No, says Paul, in the
first part of his answer.
God Has Chosen Our Fathers
Acts 13 :13-22
Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Phapos and came
to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem. But
going on from Perga they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath
day they went into the synagogue and sat down.
Paul, Barnabas and John Mark enter the port of Perga, planning to travel
on to Antioch, but two events occur before they ever reach that city. The
first occurrence is that, following their arrival at Perga, John Mark decides
to return to Jerusalem. That in itself would be no cause for suspicion or
alarm, except that in Acts 15:36-41 Paul charges that John Mark "deserted"
them. This break-up of the missionary team would later become a bone of
contention between Paul and Barnabas when another missionary journey is
The second thing that happened, many scholars believe, although it is not
alluded to here, is that it was on this particular journey that Paul received
his famous "thorn in the flesh." He would later write to the Galatians.
. . . you know that it was because of a bodily illness that
I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial
to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received
me as an angel of God, as Christ Himself . . . for I bear you witness that
if possible you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.
Some feel Paul's illness may have been malaria. while others think he may
have suffered from epilepsy. This text, however, seems to indicate that
he suffered from a problem with his eyes. Regardless of his specific ailment,
Paul was physically handicapped at the beginning of his Galatian ministry.
Five or six years ago I suffered severely with my eyes when I had Graves'
disease. Paul's word to the Galatians about their not loathing or despising
him because of his illness reminded me that when I looked at myself in the
mirror back then I had a sense of loathing because of the condition of my
eyes. I wondered how I could ever minister in public when I couldn't even
stand to look at myself. That is when one really ministers by faith, being
thrown on the person of Christ himself for adequacy. Perhaps the apostle
learned the same lesson.
And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue
official sent to them, saying, "Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation
for the people, say it."
It was customary for Paul to visit the local synagogue whenever he entered
a town. He knew he would find the Jews there, of course, but also those
Gentiles who were God-fearers. Because of what the apostle says later in
his sermon, it seems that on this occasion the Law was read from Deuteronomy
1, while the reading from the Prophets was taken from Isaiah 1. These readings
covered the subjects of God's protection of Israel in the early days despite
their rebellion, and his forgiveness of their sins, as recorded in Isaiah:
"Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though
your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are
red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will
eat the best of the land."
Following the readings, it was customary for the leader of the synagogue
to invite visitors to offer an exhortation. Paul did not need any persuading.
And Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand, he said, "Men
of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose
our fathers, and made the people great during their stay in the land of
Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. And for a period
of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. And when He
had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their
land as an inheritance all of which took about four hundred and fifty years.
And after these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet, and
then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man
of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And after He had removed him,
He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and
said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will
do all My will.' "
Here we have Paul's first recorded sermon. In order to put his audience
at ease, he begins by going over material which was familiar to them. Peter
had adopted the same approach at Pentecost, as had Stephen before the supreme
court in Jerusalem. Thus Paul, the newly recognized apostle, is about to
review one thousand years of Jewish history, an outline of God's dealings
with his people. He is not thinking so much of a chronology of events as
he is of the history of God's deliverance and salvation extended towards
a wandering and rebellious people.
Paul makes reference to eight major events. "God chose our fathers,
is his first point. He is referring to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph,
spiritual leaders and shepherds, given by God to lead, guide and protect
them in trying times. "God made our people great," he continues.
The Jews went down to Egypt some 75 strong, and after 400 years they became
a nation of 600,000 people. Paul goes on, "with uplifted arm, God led
them out of Egypt,." God used Moses to lead them out of the house of
slavery into freedom. "For a period of forty years He put up with them,"
declares the apostle. God carried them like a father would carry his son
through the desert. He bore them in his arms like a nurse. "God destroyed
our enemies." Under Joshua, God destroyed seven Canaanite nations and
gave their land to the Jews as an inheritance. Then, says the apostle, "God
gave them judges.
The book of Judges records the names of those mighty ones: Deborah, Gideon.
Samson, up to and including the last judge and prophet, Samuel. "Then
they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul," the apostle continues.
They wanted a king, just like all the nations around them. But God removed
the wicked Saul from among them. Finally, says Paul, "God raised up
David." Of him, God said, "I have found David the son of Jesse,
a man after My heart, who will do all My will."
At this point Paul must have had the congregation in the palm of his hand.
They did not find one thing he said to be offensive to them. The beauty
of this history is that it reminded them of the sovereignty of God in all
their affairs. They were reminded of his love and his care for them, and
his patience with them despite their past disobedience and rebellion. The
apostle had set out for them a history of their deliverance from Egypt,
from the wilderness and from their enemies, and a history of the salvation
which was offered them by their spiritual leaders, judges and kings.
The thrust of the apostle's first recorded sermon, of course, is that God
is behind history, and especially the history of the nation of Israel. Behind
all of history is a loving, merciful God who offers salvation to rebellious
mankind. He chose Israel to deliver his plan of redemption to all the world.
Included in that plan is his covenant which he made with Abraham, and the
promises he made. Included in that plan also is the promise that a Savior
would come forth from the loins of Abraham and David. The coming Messiah
Jesus would be the fulfillment of those promises. This will be Paul's next
point. The history of Israel, of course, is a picture of the life of every
man and woman. It is my history and your history. We were born in trespasses
and sin, held captive by the world, the flesh and the devil. We were wanderers,
lost, confused and rebellious. We wanted only to serve the wicked king.
Our only hope was God himself, the Deliverer and Savior.
Last week I met a newly married couple who were living in a disastrous way.
They had bought just about all the temptations this world has to offer.
As we talked, it was obvious to me that there was no clinic or hospital
that could help them in their entrapments and their addictions. I could
not recommend to them a psychiatrist who would help them overcome their
emotional problems. I could not recommend an exercise plan to get them healthy.
To do so would merely be squeezing pimples, and that was not the answer
to their problems. They needed much more radical treatment. The blood of
Jesus Christ was what was necessary to deliver them. I told them the only
answer I had for them lay in his person and work. He would deal with them,
not on an emotional and physical level at first, but on a spiritual basis.
When the issue of their sin was dealt with by him, then their emotional
and physical health problems could be addressed. I hope you will pray for
them. This very week they are considering a "blood transfusion"
by the Savior Jesus.
"God has not rejected His people, has He?" asks Paul. No, certainly
not. God has chosen our fathers, he says; and secondly,
II. God Has Chosen a Savior
From the offspring of this man, according to promise, God has
brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His
coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And while John
was completing his course, he kept saying, "Who do you suppose that
I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose
feet I am not worthy to untie." Brethren, sons of Abraham's family,
and those among you who fear God, to us the word of this salvation is sent
out. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither
Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled
these by condemning Him. And though they found no ground for putting Him
to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. And when they had carried
out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross
and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days
He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the
very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.
In these verses the apostle highlights two things: God told the prophets
of a coming Savior; and, God keeps his promises. As the years rolled by
following the death of David, his house seemed to pass from the pages of
history. The Jews began to realize that the promises of God would not be
fulfilled through David's immediate seed but through a future seed whom
he would raise up.
A study of the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah reveals that they were anticipating
the coming of a greater "David." For example, Ezekiel 21:32 says,
. . . a ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I shall make it. This also will
be no more, until He comes whose right it is, and I shall give it to Him.
The coming One, the Messiah, would restore and surpass the vanished glories
of earlier days. Jeremiah 23:5 says,
Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I shall
raise up for David a Righteous Branch; and He will reign and act wisely
and do justice and righteousness in the land.
From the offspring of David, Paul declares, according to promise, God brought
to Israel a Savior, Jesus. The apostle skips over the next one thousand
years of Jewish history and comes directly to the story of Jesus. Those
years were a time of captivity and defeat, a time of the break-up of the
kingdom of Israel. There was no prophet, no king, no priest in the land.
The Jews were conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians,
the Greeks and the Romans in turn. But Paul passes over all that history,
preferring instead to come right to his main point: Following all of this
darkness and despair, God brought forth his Son Jesus. It is he who would
fulfill all the promises made to David and the sons of Israel.
Paul continues by demonstrating to those in the synagogue how God keeps
his promises. He moves from a history of human failure to tell of a history
of grace. Truly, God keeps his promises. From the loins of David, according
to the promise, God brought forth a Savior. Psalms 89:3 says,
I have made a covenant with My Chosen, I have sworn to David
My Servant, I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne
to all generations.
Referring to Messiah in the New Testament, Luke records the words of the
angel to Mary,
And behold you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and
you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the
Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father
David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom
will have no end.
Paul then went on to illustrate how this occurred on a human level. John
the Baptist was the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi.
John kept repeating to the Jews that he himself was not the Messiah, but
he proclaimed a baptism of repentance to prepare the nation to receive the
Thirdly, Paul says to those listening to him in the synagogue, "Brethren,
sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the word
of salvation is sent out." Now their hope and their salvation rested
in Jesus who, Paul says, has already come.
He continues by saying that God had sent his Son but the rulers of the Jews
and the people rejected him, as they had rejected his prophets. The condemned
their innocent Messiah and crucified him, all in fulfillment of prophecy.
"But God raised Him from the dead," says Paul. For a period of
forty days Jesus appeared to his disciples who were now his witnesses throughout
the world. They talked with Jesus, ate with him, were taught by him and,
finally, were given the Holy Spirit to witness to him. Can there be any
doubt that Jesus is the Son of God? How much more evidence do you need?
Paul asks his hearers.
"God has not rejected His people, has he?" Absolutely not!. says
Paul. "God has chosen our fathers, God has chosen a Savior, and,
III. God Has Chosen Some of You, Acts 13:32-43
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the
fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He
raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, "Thou art
My Son; today I have begotten Thee."
Paul is preaching nothing but good news, saying in this section that Jesus
is both King and Messiah, and then extending to his hearers an invitation
to eternal life.
First, Jesus is King. According to Psalm 2, God fulfilled his promise by
decreeing that Jesus be King. The nations of the earth were rebelling against
God and reviling him, and here is part of God's response to them, taken
from Psalm 2:
The Lord God said to the kings of the nations on earth who are
taking their stand against Him and His Anointed . . . "I have installed
My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of
the Lord: He said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee.'
God had allowed Jesus to become manifested as King. According to Paul, Jesus
is the one referred to in Psalm 2.
The second promise of God to the Jews is referred to by Paul in verses 34-37:
And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no
more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: "I will give you
the holy and sure blessings of David." Therefore He also says in another
Psalm, "Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay." For
David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell
asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; but He whom
God raised did not undergo decay.
Paul is saying that not only is Jesus King, according to Psalm 2, but Psalm
16 declares him to be Messiah. The psalm was not speaking of David, who
died and was buried, but of Someone who would come from the loins of David.
So Jesus is both King and Messiah. The promises made to David and his posterity,
and repeated centuries later by Isaiah, could not have been fulfilled apart
from the resurrection of the crucified Messiah. The resurrection was one
of the promised blessings. The proof of the resurrection is the fulfillment
of Psalm 16:10, which does not refer to David, who did see corruption, but
to Jesus who died and was buried and then rose again without undergoing
corruption. Thus, Paul declares, here is proof that Jesus is the Messiah.
The apostle next extends an invitation to eternal life, in verses 38 and
Therefore, let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him
forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes
is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the
law of Moses.
Through Jesus as Messiah and Savior the forgiveness of sins is made possible.
"Through him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which
they could not be freed through the law of Moses," says Paul. The apostle
is referring to justification, the divine act whereby a holy God declares
a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable to him because Jesus Christ
has borne his sins on the cross. The sinner who accepts this and believes
it is thus made righteous in Christ. The forgiveness of sins therefore is
based on faith in Jesus alone. It has nothing to do with the works of the
The holy God allowed his wrath to come upon mankind because of man's sin
and rebellion. The only way man can return to a relationship with God is
through the blood of his son Jesus Christ. He cannot do so by his efforts
to keep the law because just one breach of the law makes him a lawbreaker
and a sinner. In Old Testament times, a lamb was slain for the forgiveness
of sins, foreshadowing the Lamb of God who was to come. In order to be acceptable
before God, man must accept the finished work of Jesus on the cross. There
he took all of our sins upon himself. When we accept that, we come into
a relationship with him. That is when, according to Isaiah, God clothes
us with garments of salvation and wraps us with robes of righteousness.
The prophet says in 61:10:
I will rejoice greatly in the Lord. My soul will exult in my
God for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me
with a robe of righteousness.
God no longer extends his wrath upon the man who by faith comes to Christ.
but rather declares him righteous before him, and never again condemns him.
He is wrapped in Jesus Christ himself. his robe of righteousness. This is
the only hope for mankind.
The apostle concludes his first sermon with a warning. Verses 40 and 41:
Take heed, therefore, so that the things spoken of in the Prophets
may not come upon you." "Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and
perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will
never believe, though someone should describe it to you."
The apostle caps his message of the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus
by quoting a warning from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. "Remember
Pearl Harbor'! ! he is saying, in a sense. The Jews in Habakkuk's day refused
to believe in the impending invasion by the Chaldeans, but it came. Won't
you respond to this good news? asks Paul. Do not reject the Savior whom
God has sent.
Let us see how the people responded to this powerful invitation.
And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging
that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the
meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing
proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging
them to continue in the grace of-God.
The meeting spilled out on to the street. "Please come back next week,"
they pleaded with Paul and Barnabas. They had heard the word of God, spoken
by men of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
"God has not rejected His people, has He?" Absolutely not. God
has chosen the fathers as a testimony of his love, care, protection, deliverance
and salvation, despite the human condition of weakness, failure and rebellion.
God has chosen a Savior, Jesus, who is the fulfillment of all of God's promises
to Abraham and David. He is the King of kings, the Messiah, God's Anointed
One. In him and in him alone do we find forgiveness of sin. He is the justifier
of all who place their faith in him.
Today is the day of salvation. Many of you who are here this morning are
in the same spiritual condition as many in the congregation who heard Paul
in the synagogue. You have a choice: Accept Jesus Christ, the only One who
has power to forgive sin, the only One who can offer you a relationship
with God. If you have already done that, you will never again be condemned
by him. Your heart will forever be filled with joy because you have a relationship
that no one can destroy. If you have not done that, today you have one more
opportunity to come to Jesus by faith. Come to him and receive your robe
of righteousness, the forgiveness of your sins. If you refuse him, you will
walk out of here today still under his wrath. It's your choice.
Catalog No. 4035
Acts 13 :13~3
Ron R. Ritchie
March 29, 1987
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