Paul’s First Recorded Sermon:  Despising the Gospel (Part 3)

Paul wrote that it is in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1.7).  “By Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13.39).  It is God who justifies.  Man cannot justify himself.  Man will not be justified by the Law:

Romans 3:19–20 (NKJV) — 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Those who despise this should take heed.  Paul quotes Habakkuk 1.5:  “Look among the nations and watch— be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”  The Jews in Habakkuk’s day did not believe that Babylon would carry them into captivity, but it happened.  All men today may believe that the wrath of God will not come upon sinful men, but it will happen.  They will be swept away by God’s judgment – as a broom sweeps away ash from the fireplace – the besom of destruction.

A good, worthwhile sermon will always bring us to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World.  Paul does not disappoint in his first sermon.  Paul’s said in 1 Corinthians 2.2, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  

Paul speaks to both Jews and Gentiles.  He tells them that the Messiah promised in the prophecies has come.  Luke said in his Gospel that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24.47).  Paul is doing just that in this text.  But not without a warning to those despising God’s declaration.

Despising the Declaration of God

What does it mean to despise the declaration of God?  It means at least two things in the mind of Paul.

It Means Despising God’s Forgiveness

This is the core of what people despise.  When they reject this declaration of God, it means they are rejecting the only forgiveness that will ever be offered to them, namely the forgiveness of their sins.  

The theological term propitiation means that God is satisfied ONLY with Christ’s death and sacrifice for the dismissal of your sin.  Jesus Christ satisfied the wrath and justice of God for sin.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself, “and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5.18-19).  There is nothing more important than forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God.

Here it is good to recognize that the theme of forgiveness of sins is an emphasis both in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts.  The Gospel emphasized that Jesus accepted those defined in Judaism as sinners; that is, those outside of Judaism and without hope.  It is written that “[Jesus] sits and eats with sinners.”  The idea of Jesus reaching sinners was particularly scandalous to the Pharisees, for instance.  

But here in Acts, forgiveness of sins is also emphasized.  When Peter preached at Pentecost, many responded by asking, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2.37)  The answer was that they repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name.  Once they did, they received forgiveness of sins and the promised presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Dismissal of sin is aligned with repentance by Luke in Acts:

•”Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3.19).

•”To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3.26).  

•”Him God has exalted to HIs right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5.31).  

But Luke also communicates dismissal of sin as aligned with faith:

•”To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10.43).  

•Our text stresses faith:  “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sin; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13.38-39).   

•The Jerusalem council will conclude in Acts 15.9 that the Holy Spirit makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile.  He purifies all hearts by faith.

All of this to say, that repentance and faith for salvation are inseparable in the Scripture.  God gives His Son for the forgiveness of sins.  Either we despise that fact or delight in it.  Those who despise the gift of God keep going in the direction they’ve been going.  Those who delight in it, turn to Christ and trust in Him alone for eternal life.

It is God’s desire that you embrace the forgiveness of sins offered through Jesus Christ.  If you are reading this, then are you not a sinner before God?  Dear reader, who is it among mankind that does not need a Savior?  And yet while we should delight in this fact, many will despise this message.  But we have the word of this salvation (13.26).  I implore in Christ’s stead, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5.20)!

It Means Despising God’s Once-For-All Sacrifice

Jew or Gentile, American or Kenyan, male or female, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is God’s once-for-ALL sacrifice.  Note my purposeful emphasis on the word of ALL.  There is no distinction.  

It is the same for sin.  The blood of Christ cleanses from ALL sin.  There is no distinction.  If you repent and believe, you shall be forgiven.  The only thing that won’t be forgiven is despising Christ for the final time through the convincing work of His Spirit.  On a human level, one does not know when this final time comes.  That is why today is the day of salvation for you.

•”Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1.18).  

•Christ has made us alive together with Him, having forgiven our trespasses (Colossians 2.13).

•”Your sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 John 2.12).  

God has admonished us.  So when we despise the preaching of Christ, we are in fact despising God’s persuasive efforts through the Spirit-filled preaching of His Word.

Despising the Dissuasion of God

Many are Despising

“They have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?'”  (Romans 10.16; Isaiah 53.1)  Even today we wonder who will believe our witness to Christ.  The offense of the cross is still very much a part of our witness.  If we are faithful to Christ, many will despise our efforts.  To them we are mindless fanatics.

Anyone who will not receive the compassion and mercy of God through the Gospel of His only begotten Son is a despiser of God.  The question we must ask is, “Have we despised the Gospel of the grace of God made available through the work of Christ?”  If so, we are grouped with the many who are in danger.

Many are in Danger

Broad is the path which leads to destruction.  Many are on it.  The temporal judgments of the Babylonian captivity or the Roman destruction of Jerusalem pale in comparison to the judgments which will come upon unbelieving people in eternity to come.  

God has given to us incomprehensible mercy in the redemption of the world through His only begotten Son.  Those who despise this mercy are in great danger.  They will face eternal misery because of the fact that they rejected the Gospel.  

You would think that an awareness of judgment to come would compel men and women to come to Christ in droves.  However, most will not believe.  Still, they must be warned of the danger to come nonetheless:  “He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3.36).  

Philippians 3:8–9 (NKJV) — 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”  Righteousness in Philippians is a gift from God received by my faith or dependence upon Him not by my works of righteousness – which Paul delineates in Philippians 3.1-7.

The unbeliever can hardly believe that salvation is a free gift; the believer struggles as well.  As believers, we acknowledge that salvation is a free gift, why do we marvel when it comes to sanctification by faith or dependence upon the grace of God?  Freedom in Christ includes freedom from law of any kind.  We have been set free from the sin nature still within us; we are also free from the Law.  We now obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Your fleshly obedience will not achieve holiness and sanctification.  It is God who saves; it is God who transforms.  Laws have no dominion over you as long as you are alive to them; die to the law.  

By death we were set free from the law to marry Christ (Romans 7).  All this so that we might bear fruit to God.  Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces more grain” (John 12.24).  Fruit in our lives is produced by the Holy Spirit not the flesh.  The flesh produces only death, decay, and rot.  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15.56).  

What will happen to those who do not trust in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?  How shall we escape the judgment of God if we neglect so great of salvation?  If we despise the Gospel, there will be no mercy for us in eternity.  But mercy is alive with every breath you draw and as long as your heart keeps beating.  Acts 13.41 warns,

Behold you despisers,

Marvel and perish!

For I work a work in your days,

A work which you will by no means believe,

Though one declare it to you.

May God grant that those reading this heed the warning found in the mercy of God.  If you do not, you are bringing down upon yourselves wrath and fiery indignation which belong to all those who despise His appearing.  Behold you despisers, marvel and perish!

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