True Fulfillment

This article relates to the devotional Journal for Treasuring God’s Word, Session 6. Share this with your students!

What’s the point of telling the story of redemption?

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12). Everyone can identify with this truth. How exciting it is to prepare the house to welcome guests but how disappointing it is to hear them call and say, “Our car has broken down. We won’t be coming after all.”

The Jews and God-fearing Gentiles of the first century A.D. had their hopes deferred for a long time. Whether they lived in Palestine or in a Gentile city, they were surrounded by the enemies of God. As they lived in an uneasy compromise with their Roman conquerors, the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore the kingdom of David seemed long overdue. Perhaps some had ceased to hope that God would ever again act on behalf of his people. At any rate, the congregation of the Jewish synagogue at Pisidian Antioch was probably not prepared for the message of life proclaimed to them by a traveling Jewish rabbi one Sabbath day around A.D. 46.

Take a few moments to read this story as it is recorded in Acts 13:13–52.

As we look at this text, we see that the synagogue officials, according to their custom, asked the newcomers in the worship service to say a few words. “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” Could the rulers have known what they were asking for? If they were expecting a few perfunctory remarks or an explanation of the texts for the day, they must surely have been surprised when Paul stood up and gave his sermon. For Paul was not interested in merely responding courteously to a customary request. He fully intended to bring a genuine word of encouragement, a word that would be like a “tree of life” to his listeners, a word declaring that the longing of Israel had at last been fulfilled.

Notice the structure of the sermon. Paul began by rehearsing Old Testament history. He quickly sketched the outline that his listeners knew so well—God chose Israel, redeemed her from Egypt, bore with her in the wilderness, and established her in the land of Canaan. God gave Israel judges and then Saul, the first king. After rejecting Saul, God chose David, a man after God’s own heart, and promised to bring a Savior to Israel through David’s descendants.

So far, so good. None of this was new to Paul’s audience. It was encouraging insofar as it reconfirmed their knowledge of God’s special relationship with Israel. Paul, however, was not finished. He announced that the promise of God had been fulfilled! The promised Savior—foretold not only by the Old Testament, but also by John the Baptist—had come. Three times Paul repeated the thrilling news (emphases added):

  • “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation” (vs. 26).
  • “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (vss. 32–33).
  • “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (vs. 38).

The encouraging word has been given; hope is no longer deferred—but the longing of Israel since her inception as God’s people has now been fulfilled. For some of the listeners present it was indeed a “tree of life,” for we are told that after the meeting, “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism” believed Paul and Barnabas, who urged them to “continue in the grace of God” (vs. 43). Others, however, rejected the word—and with it, life. As Paul said to those Jews who opposed him, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (vs. 46).

Using the timelines, we surveyed Old Testament history in order to see some of the high and low points in the development of God’s people. Nehemiah was a reminder of God’s acts and encouraged the people of Judah to renew their own personal relationship with the Lord. Psalm 78 showed that Old Testament history could be useful in teaching the young to trust in God and obey him. Now we see that the New Testament preachers also used a recital of God’s acts in history, this time for evangelistic purposes. As Paul so clearly declared in this text, God’s actions and words both lead to the inescapable conclusion that Jesus Christ is the promised Savior, the center and focus of all that has come before.

Pray that you will see Jesus, the One through whom forgiveness of sin is proclaimed (vs. 38). Paul’s purpose in summarizing the history of redemption was to bring his listeners to a place of repentance and trust in the Lord Jesus. Christ himself declared that the purpose of the Old Testament was to teach concerning him. Remember his warning to the Pharisees: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). This survey brings us face to face with the One who alone is able to give life. Pray that God would deepen your trust in, love for, and commitment to Christ as you see him more clearly in your study of God’s Word. Read and meditate on Acts 13 to draw closer to Christ.

 

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