Treasures New and Old

By Ed Little

A Reading from Acts 13:26-43

26 “Brothers and sisters, you descendants of Abraham’s family and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. 27 Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. 28 Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29 When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,

‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.’

34 “As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

‘I will give you the holy promises made to David.’

35 “Therefore he has also said in another psalm,

‘You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.’

36 “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers and sisters, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39 by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:

41 ‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’ ”

42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next Sabbath. 43 When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Meditation

Early Christian preaching is remarkably consistent. The gospel is old, firmly planted in God’s promises uttered centuries before. In his sermon in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, Paul cites passage after passage from the Hebrew Scriptures to prove his point. Directly and indirectly, through allusions and hints, God prepared his people for the coming of the Messiah, for his condemnation and death, and for his resurrection. “Don’t ignore these hints,” Paul tells his listeners, “that what the prophets said does not happen to you,” making a grim reference to Habakkuk.

Yet the gospel is also new. Could we ever fully have anticipated the wondrous thing that God has done? Death itself has been reversed! The opaque words from the Old Testament, “You will not let your Holy One experience corruption,” only come clear in light of what God has done in Jesus Christ. “Let it be known to you, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free.” When the Stone Table cracks and Aslan rises from the dead, the miracle displays (in C. S. Lewis’s words) “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time.” The new thing blooms, with roots stretching back and back and back.

How does your walk with Jesus reflect the oldness and the newness of the gospel? Both are essential for Christian discipleship. Like Paul’s listeners, we need roots, a grounding in what God has done: the history and teaching of his people, as well as our own memories of baptism, formation, conversion, spiritual awakening. And like Paul’s listeners, we need to open ourselves to God’s surprises. “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:19). May Jesus bring forth in us “what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52)!

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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