A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 13:38-41. c). The sermon’s conclusion: the choice between life and death
Having brought Scripture and history together, and shown how what God foretold in Scripture he has fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul comes to is appeal:
‘Therefore, brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
“Look, you scoffers,
Wonder and perish,
For I am going to do something in your days
That you would never believe,
Even if someone told you.”’
The choice is stark. On the one hand, there is the promise through Jesus crucified and raised of the forgiveness of sins. For through him (repeated, because he is the only mediator) everyone who believes is justified, that is, declared righteous before God. Through the las of Moses there is no justification for anybody, since we all break the law and the law condemns law-breakers; through Jesus, however, there is justification for everybody who believes, that is, trusts in him. We need to remember that Paul is addressing Galatians. Only a few months or so later he will be writing his Letter to the Galatians. It is very striking, therefore, that he brings words which will be foundation stones of his gospel as he expounds he goes on to speak of sin, faith, justification, law and grace. W.C. van Unnik felt able to assert that ‘Luke has no understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith as the centre of Pauline thought’. But I think Luther was nearer the truth when he wrote in his ‘Preface to the Acts of the Apostles (1533):
It should be noted that by this book St. Luke teaches the whole of Christendom… that the true and chief article of Christian doctrine is this: We must all be justified alone by faith in Jesus Christ, without any contribution from the law or help from our works. This doctrine is the chief intention of the book and the author’s principal reason for writing it.
On the other hand, over against the offer of forgiveness, Paul issues a solemn warning to those who reject it. He reminds his hearers of the prophets’ denunciations. In particular, he quotes Habakkuk (Hab. 1:5), who predicted the rise of the Babylonians as instruments of divine judgment upon Israel (40-41).
As we look back over the three parts of Paul’s sermon, we cannot fail to note its similarity to the outline of the apostolic ‘kerygma’ which appears in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Here, as there, we find the same four events: he died, was buried, was raised and was seen – together with the same insistence that both the major ones, his death and resurrection, were ‘according to the Scriptures’. The structure is also practically identical with that of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, in which we detected the gospel events (the prophets and New Testament apostles), the gospel promises (the new life of salvation in Chris, through the Spirit) and the gospel conditions (repentance and faith).
Tomorrow: d). The sermon’s consequences: a mixed reaction (13:42-52).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.