“Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct[a] in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. “After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ 23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’” Acts 13.16-25
This is Saul’s (i.e. Paul’s) Sermon to the people of Pisidian Antioch, in modern day Turkey, while in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. After being asked to bring “a word of exhortation,” this is what he delivered. Now Paul was a Jew. He had been a Pharisee, a top leader. Not many were as well educated as Paul. But Jesus met him on the Damascus Road and now Paul, was Saul, is a believer in Jesus. And so, his word of exhortation is the Gospel in a nutshell. It is a retelling of the narrative of God’s relationship with his people.
But as you will notice, it’s all about God and his activity, initiation and instrumentation with and for the people. No where in this “sermon” does Paul suggest it was by human endeavor that God saved the world. It was God who chose the Israelites to be his people, he who prospered them in Egypt, he who led them out of that nation into Canaan — helping them conquer seven nations so they might have the land. It was God who brought judges, and kings, and chose a man after his own heart, David. It was God who sent Jesus, and John the Baptizer to announce his arrival.
And yet, much of our world and even our own church is anthropomorphic, suggesting humans are the center of the stage — that “we” are the most important elements to the galaxy. We tend to put ourselves first in so many instances that it gets old, tired and boring. But God always intended to be the center star. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He created the Universe and everything in it.
Paul speaks to this exactly. He’s speaking the Jew’s language. And in doing so, Paul introduces the rest of the story — that God created humanity, had relationship with them in order to send Jesus so that sins might be forgiven and communion might be formed both now and for eternity.
Many preachers could take a lesson from this sermon in which God, and not humanity, is the focus. It’s when we relegate God to second fiddle, that our world becomes a muddy mess.
With the New Year upon us, what steps do we need to take to make Christ central in our lives? What habits can we form, evils we can reject, covenants we can renew so Christ is first in all we do?
I challenge you as I challenge myself to put God first. Plain and simple. Allow him to be the King of your being and the Lord of your heart.
“O Lord God, I get wrapped up in my own garbage that I allow other entities to become more important than you. I believe my ways are best and must be reminded often that I’ve been gifted breath in order to walk in obedience to your word, experience your love and be filled with your joy. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen