By Ed Little
A Reading from Acts 13:13-25
13 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” 16 So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
“Fellow Israelites and others who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 After he had destroyed seven peoples in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance 20 for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ 23 Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24 before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of the sandals on his feet.’”
As Paul and his companions sail from Cyprus to continue their work in Asia — modern-day Turkey — a pattern emerges. The pattern will repeat itself in city after city (the one exception being Athens in Acts 17), bearing remarkable and rather consistent fruit. Paul always begins with his own beloved people, the Jews. And so, on the Sabbath in Pisidian Antioch, the mission team visits the synagogue, where the officials invite them to speak. And Paul does — his first sermon recorded in the Book of Acts.
He starts with the story of God’s people: Moses, the wilderness wandering, the arrival in Canaan, the judges, Saul, David. So far, the sermon is unremarkable. The story is familiar to everyone in the synagogue. Worshippers may well have allowed their minds to wander. But then, quite dramatically, Paul shifts his attention — and his listeners’ — to the wondrous new thing that God has done: “Of [David’s] posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.” Everything that’s happened so far in the long, glorious, and sometimes tortured story of God’s people points to Jesus.
The principle behind Paul’s sermons — not to mention the letters that bear his name — is this: it all leads to Jesus. Our own stories, like that of the Jews, may be long, glorious, or tortured; but they bend inexorably toward the Savior. That, in the end, is the heart of Paul’s preaching. His sermons are profoundly Christ-centered, and he invites us (in the words of the old chorus) to “turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face.”
How has Jesus worked through your story to draw you to himself?
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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Today we pray for:
All Saints Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh – Anglican Church of Canada