The Devastating Blow

Acts 13:13-40 (Yes, it’s long, I will let Paul and the prophets do most of the talking)

Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos 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. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” 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.’ “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, ‘What 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. “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, ‘YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.’ “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, ‘YOU WILL NOT ALLOW YOUR 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. “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. “Take heed therefore, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you:

Paul says more here than anyone else has said thus far in the book of Acts. More than Peter, more than Stephan and more than Philip–more than the first stabbing sermon, the second stabbing sermon, the Scriptural summary of Stephan before his stoning and more than Philip’s sermon to Samaria. Rather than focus on it line by line we will consider the context in large portions, considering the context as a whole, rather than chew on it in bite-sized pieces. This will make it difficult to digest but it was difficult for the people present to digest as well. That is precisely where I would like to focus, looking for literary devices such as, foreshadowing. Let’s start with Paul’s conclusion which I conveniently left out–dogmatic dispensationalists beware.

“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.”

Ah, the NASB, letting us know that this is an Old Testament quote. And what better place to start than in the Old Testament. Problem, and it is utterly ironic; Paul quotes Habakkuk, and “YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU.” Paul was not kidding around with his quoting of Habakkuk. We simply don’t have the time or attention spans to read the book of Habakkuk and compare it to Paul’s sermon. Read Acts 13 and then read the relatively short book of Habakkuk, seeing the sublime string and remember that Paul equated Habakkuk with the people present if they didn’t hear and give heed to his words–mind blowing.

Unlike the dogmatic dispensationalists, I will not use my own words or presuppositions to summarize Habakkuk but will zoom in on a few key verses. “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days— You would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, That fierce and impetuous people Who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal, and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.”

Why didn’t the majority of Israel accept Jesus as their Messiah? Each one will come up with their own reasons based upon their presuppositions and preconceived notions. Some, dispensationalists mostly, will say that it was because of a partial hardening, as was written by Paul to the Romans. But lest we forget that Paul equated the partial hardening to the time of Elijah as well. “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

Others, mostly reformed or Calvinists will say, “‘I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” But remember Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

Still others, mega-church pastors mostly, will say, “season, favor, medical report…I’m sorry, Israel who?”

And still others, mostly people of the Pentecostal persuasion, will say, “ooday umpapa bay looloolacobada fay tompapapapa,” without a translator present.

I think you get the point; teachings, traditions, interpretations, focus and certainly personality and cultural climate, all influence our personal preferences, presuppositions and preconceived notions. And while birds of a feather, flock together, each grouping is made up of individuals. Think about the evangelical church, it’s made up of millions of diverse and different people who have all made Jesus their personal savior. Why then did the un-nation of Israel reject Jesus as their Messiah? Rocket surgery 401: because Jesus wasn’t their Messiah, the Law was. Habakkuk is quite clear if we consider the context, they rejected Jesus out of pride. The majority didn’t see the Messiah because they were not looking for a Messiah because they didn’t need a Messiah–the had the Law to atone for their sins through their own merit. They thought that the Messiah would return their autonomy so that they could continue to atone for their own sins, unhindered, through the Law of Moses, free from Roman rule. But what about the people past, what would the Messiah do for them if he had come during the reign of say, Solomon? Current cultural climate clearly contributes to the constructs of one’s preconceived notions and presuppositions. We interpret the Bible by looking out our windows and wonder about the world as we perceive it. That is, we see our situations and then interpret the Bible rather than interpret the Bible and then see our situations.

The apostle Philip was a fairly good example of the latter; “The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.'” Before Jesus had done any major miracles or ministry, Philip recognized him and even brought others to him. But an even greater example was John the Baptist.

Paul, in today’s text, says of John the Baptist: “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, ‘What 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.’” They should have recognized Jesus because they should have recognized John the Baptist, however they recognized neither John nor Jesus–neither fit their narrative.

Silver Bells, Silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.’ And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, “AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.”‘ Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, ‘Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him.’ And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

“So, scribes, where is the Messiah to be born?” “Bethlehem, back to burn incense.” The king wanted Jesus dead because he was threatened–in an ironic twist of fate, Herod did lose his kingdom because he died soon after. Honestly, what older man would be afraid of a baby taking over his kingdom? The scribes couldn’t be bothered, they answered the question, probably proudly, and went right back to scribing. The chief priests also seem disinterested and went back to chief priesting. The only ones wanting to worship the new-born Messiah were unclean, uncircumcised foreigners. Herod was afraid of a baby but the scribes had no use of a baby, they wanted a warrior.

The rulers of Israel missed their chance to see the young Messiah. But just as they knew Michah 5, they knew Malachi; “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming.” And, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a ccurse.”

Question from Jesus to the chief priests and elders: “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” Answer: “We don’t know.”

The dogmatic dispensationalists are always asserting that Israel is the apple of God’s eye, meaning the modern day nation of Israel. They say, “God loves Israel,” to which I would wholeheartedly agree; after all, he sent them the prophet of prophets and the King of kings, but most didn’t recognize either one. They were looking for a warrior like David, to drive out their enemy invaders. They were not looking for a Messiah who apparently broke the law of the Sabbath. The problem the scribes and Pharisees have is the same problem that the dogmatic dispensationalists have, they read too much into Scripture rather than draw things out of Scripture. The Sadducees and some chief priests were more like the mega-church pastors, taking a bit here and there, ignoring the context and author’s aspirations, creating a watered down and heretical belief system. And both sects have led astray an abundance of Israel. Rather than seeing an essential saving from sin (they thought that they had that covered), they looked for military might, despite overwhelming evidence of the former and even more overwhelming evidence that the latter was never by men but through the Lord. It all goes to their presuppositions and preconceived notions.

It is at about this time that we think, “what does this have to do with Paul’s sitting down on the Sabbath in the synagogue then standing up to speak a sermon?” Consider the context. For time’s sake we won’t look at all of Malachi, Micah or Habakkuk but I would encourage everyone to read those short books, seeing the similarities and sublime string, noticing familiar language and themes. We will, and already have, hit the highlights.

“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.’ 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, ‘What 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.”

Again, I enthusiastically encourage everyone to read this sermon from Paul and then to read Habakkuk, Micah and Malachi. Paul’s concern for the synagogue became his concern for the church. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

“The righteous man shall live by faith;” Where have we heard that before? It is found in the context of Habakkuk. Consider the conclusion of Paul’s devastating blow to the Jewish synagogue–it is not a blessing but a curse. Consider the context of Paul’s sermon up until his conclusion–“Men of Israel and those who fear God.” Again, like language from Habakkuk. Paul’s point; every Sabbath in the synagogue Scripture was read and yet misinterpreted. Is it the same in our Sunday morning services and sermons?

Far too many of the facets of the foundations of our faith are fundamentally flawed. The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that “God has blessed the nation Israel;” that’s not totally true especially when considering their context. Has God not blessed Russia, Cuba, China, Ethiopia or any other nation? Pride comes before a fall. Paul presented the blessings of Israel but also considered the curse. They escaped Egypt, but wandered the wilderness. They wanted a king other than God, they received the lunatic Saul (perhaps another reason Saul now goes by Paul) but then they received david, “a man after God’s own heart.” Yet David died and “his flesh (works of the Law) suffered decay.” Ebb and flow, up and down, blessed and cursed–that is, up until Paul’s conclusion that coincides with Habakkuk and Matthew 24.

“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. 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, ‘YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.’ 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, ‘YOU WILL NOT ALLOW YOUR 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. 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. Take heed therefore, so that the thing 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.'”

Context is king! This is only a blessing to those who believe, but a curse to those who do not, who are prideful and proud in presuppositions and preconceived notions–that they are saved by their works. “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days— You would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, That fierce and impetuous people Who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared. Their justice and aauthority originate within themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards And keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, Their horsemen come from afar; They fly like an eagle swooping down to devour. All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. They mock at kings, And rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress, And heap up rubble to capture it. Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god.” And it also reads; “I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail, And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

Fun fact, the dogmatic dispensationalists love to switch names in Old Testament prophecies, especially in Ezekiel. We won’t do that but we will see the sublime string of history. Who sacked Jerusalem the first time? Babylon; and who, in regards to today’s text, is about to sack Jerusalem? The Romans; but who are the Chaldeans mentioned here in Habakkuk? Modern media calls the Chaldeans the Neo-Babylonian empire–see the similarities. This is not evidence but helps us see the sublime string as to what Paul is promising.

“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. Take heed therefore, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you.” Forgiveness is proclaimed to them, not promised. Those who believe are freed because the Law could not free anyone. “Take heed therefore, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you.” Paul says that the Law cannot save, faith does. Paul tells the people present to listen to him so that calamity predicted by the prophets will not befall them. Notice that it is an either/or situation it is an ultimatum and it is imminent. Again, back to Habakkuk, the Lord answered the prophet who asked, “how long O Lord?”  “Then the LORD answered me and said, ‘Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal, and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.”

By Paul’s proclamation of this prophecy, the context is clear; now is the time. The time is at hand. We have not only the prophecy but history so that we see in 70 AD all these things came to be, completely. Not that Jesus returned to rapture his church but in judgment against apostate Israel–Paul says to believe or else. This same Paul who was himself a persecutor of the Lord, proclaims repentance as John the Baptist did, to make ready the way of the Lord. We have all of this context to put together but the sublime string is easy to see–they missed the sublime string based upon their prideful presuppositions, presumptions and preconceived notions. How much did God love Israel? We can’t count the number of times that he warned them. But we can see clearly that he sent them the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and now Paul. I think it’s fair to say that God loved Israel to the highest degree but did Israel love God back? We need more evidence that apostate Israel is about to ruined by the Romans. What would be enough evidence. We have Matthew 24, Habakkuk and Paul’s cautionary claims, would one more example explain it fully so that we would finally understand? Let’s look at what John the Baptist said, remember that the scribes and chief priests didn’t know where John’s baptism came from.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’”

Similar language to Habakkuk–“I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail, And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

Congratulations on considering a copious amount of context. I will be the first to admit that it is difficult. Nevertheless I hope that it has been enlightening–or at least, piqued your interest to pursue prophecy further. Unlike the dogmatic dispensationalists’ discourse which is 99% their presuppositions and preconceived notions and 1% out-of-context Scripture, true exegesis considers copious amounts of context. You can do it, the CAGED method can help. Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught.

 

 

 

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