Do you consider yourself worthy of eternal life? It is an important question that the apostles asked people to think about. We will come back to this question in a few minutes. As you think about that question, we have been going through the book of Acts and in chapter 13 there is a shift in the focus of the book. Beginning in Acts 13 we start reading about Paul and his companions traveling throughout the Roman Empire, preaching the gospel. There is a tendency to turn these journeys into geographic memorization or tracing their trips on a map. But the point of these chapters is not a geographic exercise. Rather, we are going to listen to their sermons on salvation that are preached to the whole world. We are going to see what they asked them to consider about what God is doing in the world. So as we consider these chapters this summer, we are not going to bog down in the cities, the journeys, or the maps. We are going to look what they preached so that we can have a better picture of our Savior and the salvation that is for all.
Making Crooked Paths (13:1-12)
Paul and Barnabas are designated by the Holy Spirit to be sent for the work that God has set before them (13:2). So they go about preaching in the Jewish synagogues, where there would be people who want to hear God’s word. As they are teaching, they come across a sorcerer named Elymas who was a Jewish false prophet. He is opposing Paul and Barnabas and tried to turn Sergius Paulus away from the faith. Listen to what Paul says to Elymas in verses 10-11.
“You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” (Acts 13:10–11 ESV)
That is quite a description for this Jewish false prophet and sorcerer. You are the son of the devil, an enemy of all that is right, and are full of all deceit and trickery. But I want you to particularly listen to the end of verse 10. He is making crooked the straight paths of the Lord. This is our problem. The Lord has set before the straight paths. But we come along and make them crooked. We try to alter them.
Have you ever tried to draw a long, straight line? I think I can typically draw a long straight line and I think it will look pretty good. I had to do this often with Grace when we were drawing angles and plotting lines on graph paper. But if you get a ruler out you will see that my line is not as straight as I thought it was. As much as I think I have a good eye for my line, it is not a straight line and the ruler reveals that truth. God has given us the ruler, the straight paths, and those are his teachings as given to us through Jesus and through the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). God has set the ruler down as perfectly straight. But we want to draw our own straight lines and call them straight. When we put God’s ruler down we will see that our ways are not straight. But we try to bend that ruler and declare it now be straight and right. This is what Elymas is doing and we often do not see that this is what we are trying to do when we challenge and resist the teachings of the Lord. We are bending and making crooked what God declared to be straight. Notice what God does through Paul in verse 11. God blinds this sorcerer. The point of the miracle is simple: you think you see and understand but you are truly blind. When you trust in your straight lines, you are blind. When you try to bend God’s ruler to your line, then you are blind. You must see the straight ways of the Lord stop trying to make them crooked if you are going to enjoy the salvation of the Lord.
Too Good To Be True (13:13-43)
Paul and Barnabas leave and continue to go to various cities, entering into the synagogues, preaching the message about Jesus. Paul begins by teaching the redemptive hope that God gave through Israel. God led his people out of Egypt with great power and put up with them for 40 years in the wilderness (13:17-18). Eventually God raised up David, and through David brought to Israel a Savior in Jesus, just as God had promised (13:23). Everything that happened was according to God’s plan and prophesied in the scriptures (13:26-37). God has kept his promises in Jesus. With this established, there are two focal points to this sermon that Paul delivers. The first point is in verses 38-39.
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 you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39 ESV)
I want us to hear what happens through Jesus. Through Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you and everyone who believes is freed from everything that you could not be freed from by the law of Moses. This is interesting to think about because we live in a world and a culture that is looking to be set free. Unfortunately, many think that God is what is enslaving them and holding them back. So they cast off God and try to be free. The problem is that in our great “freedom,” the world seems worse, not better. Jesus says that he came to forgive you and set you free from all of that pain and hurt. He came to set you free from your sins. You can be set free from condemnation. You can be set free from guilt. You can be set free from wrath. But only Jesus can provide this forgiveness and freedom.
The second point is a warning, which is in verses 40-41. Make sure that what the prophets said does not happen to you. What did the prophets say? The prophets said that the Lord was going to do something that you would never believe, even if someone told you. Think about God is saying. God is going to do something so amazing and so unbelievable that you won’t believe it. This is something that is easy to do. If I were to tell you that in your mailboxes in the foyer, I have put a check for one million dollar for each of you, how many would believe it? How many of you would get up and check your mailbox right now? I dare say that no one will. The reason is because the promise is too amazing and too unbelievable. But this is what God has done to the world. He has offered something so great and so unbelievable that many are not going to believe it. People are not going to accept what is being offered in Jesus it is too astounding. But Paul says that you do not want to miss out just because you can’t believe something so amazing is offered to you. Can you imagine missing out on a million dollars because you did not believe enough to check your mailbox? Can you imagine missing out on forgiveness, freedom, life, joy, and eternity because you did not believe enough to listen to Jesus? Paul warns us to not be those people who will refuse to listen to Jesus. We need to see the promise God is offering.
This leads us to the question I asked at the beginning of the sermon. Notice that the next Sabbath the people of city gather to hear the word of the Lord. But the Jews were filled with jealousy and contradicted what Paul was teaching. The Gentiles of the city are coming to listen but the Jews are refusing God’s message. Notice what Paul says in verse 46.
It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46 ESV)
Notice what Paul says that they have done. They have thrust the word of God aside and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. I want this final picture to rest on our minds. God has determined that all people are worthy to enjoy eternal life. They just need to find their freedom and forgiveness in Jesus. But when we do not listen to the word of God, we are declaring and judging ourselves to be unworthy of eternal life. When we determine that God’s ways are not straight but try to bend his ruler to match our lines, we are judging ourselves as unworthy of eternal life. When we decide that God’s offer is too amazing and too unbelievable that we will not believe, then we are judging ourselves as unworthy of eternal life.
But notice the contrast in verses 46-49. Paul says that the message of light and salvation was going to go to all people, not just the Jewish people. They were to bring the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. When the Gentiles heard this, they were rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord. Those who were appointed to eternal life believed. Who were the ones who were appointed to eternal life? The whole chapter has been making this point. The ones who were appointed to eternal life are those who listen to the word of the Lord. Elymas the sorcerer rejected eternal life, as depicted by his blindness. Those who are scoffers and will not believe the work God has done rejected eternal life. God has judged you to be worthy of eternal life. Paul said it this way to the Thessalonians:
For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10 CSB)
You are appointed to eternal life. Can you believe it? Will you judge yourself worthy to receive what God is offering through his Son? Will you bend your life to God’s straight ways and be set free?