We live in a world of broken promises, a world where lying is common place. You don't have to look very far to see it, whether its the broken manifesto promises of MPs or the disappointing reality behind much of the advertising we see.
We see it in our colleagues, when they don't deliver what they have said they will.
In our children when lying seems to come naturally to them.
We see it in our society with nearly half of all marriages promises made this year are predicted to be broken by divorce.
In fact broken promise are so common place that we have legally binding contracts to try and force us to honour our word. Trusting someone, it seems, has become a sign of naivety.
And in that culture that has such and issue with trust, a striking question for us as christians is, can we really trust God? Especially when we look around us and we see tsunami's and volcanoes, wars and earthquakes, and its easy to find ourselves doubting the promises of God isn't it?
In a world that seems out of control he claims to be in control.
In a world he claims to love in horrendous suffering is going on.
Good, godly people suffering and dying,
opposition to church and christian life in this country seems to be rising. I mean isn't it just naive for us to hang on to those age old promises of God?
And for the Jews of the first century in our reading that would have been a very poignant question. God had promised a land for his people, he promised them that they would be under his rule and no one else's and he had promised them that they would be free. And yet here they were, not in a Jewish land but in Antioch of Pisidia, a Roman colony. And as if to rub it in, this was the place that roman army officers retired to. So day by day they would have been reminded that they were a conquered people, in a land that was not their own and to make matters worse their seemed God had been silent for the last 400 years.
You can imagine, the promises of God must have seemed somehow disconnected to reality for these Jews. And hence when Paul and Barnibus come they ask them for v15 a 'word of encouragement.'
And I wonder if there are some here tonight who are in the same boat, in need of encouragement. Maybe you have been here over the last few weeks and have heard of the power of the Gospel in acts, and yet chatting about Jesus has been harder than you thought. Maybe you've been spurred on by Christianity explored and have eagerly invited friends but their response was very negative. Maybe you're in need of a word of encouragement.
Lets look at Paul's encouragement to the Jews, and to us. And we will do so under the following three headings:-
Be encouraged by Gods faithfulness shown through his past Grace V17-23
Trust God's promises fulfilled in Jesus' death and resurrection v26-39
And Beware of God's promises to be fulfilled in final judgement v40-43
So firstly Be encouraged by Gods faithfulness shown through his past Grace V17-23
I have made a discovery recently, it was one of my female colleagues that let the cat out of the bag. Its a manly attribute that, it seems is common to all men. And it happens whenever we have lost or misplaced something. I am, as all you ladies may already know, referring to 'man looking.' Let me explain, whenever I lose something in the house my immediate response is to ask my wife, Rachel, where she put it. She then tells me where I left it and I go there. I have a good look around, and find nothing. So I ask her again, and she says she could have sworn it was there. A full scale hunt of the house ensues which lasts a good hour and includes me guiltily re-looking in the place she says its in. After a while the search is abandoned only for Rachel to find the object under a jumper exactly where she said it was. Man looking, the inability to find something that's right in front of your nose.
And it seems that these first century Jews were a little guilty of 'man looking' when it comes their history. They were missing or had forgotten what was what was right in front of their noses. So Paul starts by taking them back to the beginning; he's, saying "Lets look at God's track record with his people." So he gives us this super speedy overview of the Bible v17:-
The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years.
He says look you Jews, you are chosen, God made you his people, he rescued you out of Egypt. Now what is Paul showing us about God when he recounts that history? Well surely more than anything he is a God of grace. Did you notice, this is all about God doing the work.
V17 The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers
he made the people prosper
he led them out of that country
he endured their conduct for about forty years
he overthrew seven nations in Canaan
He Choses He blesses, he frees, he puts up with, he gives them the land. What do they do? Nothing! Why? Well because God's is a God of outrageous grace.
When you look at it in that light of that grace, you begin to ask why would the first century Jews not trust God? They might say well that's all very easy for you to say but we're here, and its been 400 years since we have heard from him. 400 years that's almost half a millennium since we heard from him, in a foreign country with a foreign king. Feeling forgotten and ignored by God.
Perhaps you fell like that too. Maybe you're here tonight on the verge of giving up as a christian. You've tried, but God just seems so distant, its been months since you had a good quiet time, you fallen flat on your face again and again and again and you feel like yelling out "don't you even care? Where are you?"
Lets look over Paul's paraphrase again, When he chose them God promised abraham a nation. Around 650 years later the nation of Israel left Egypt on their way to the promised land, so called because God had promised it to them. 40 Years later they entered the land. God promised them ownership of the land and (v20) 450 years later that's exactly what they had. You see God's promises thought out the Old Testament are proved true again and again again. Maybe not immediately, sometimes it took years but they were always proved true. They were always proved true
So let me ask you, what promise is it that you are doubting?
Is it his promise never to leave you or forsake you? Gods promises were always proved true
Is it that promise that in all things he is working for your good to make you more Christlike? Gods promises were always proved true
Or perhaps the assurance that in reading his word he will speak to you, challenge, rebuke and train you?
As we think about the church here, do we really trust the promise that God will build his church and the Gates of hell will not prevail against it?
Look back at his track record of keeping promises throughout the Old Testament, he is not one to break promises, he will not start with you! Be encouraged by God's Faithfulness in the Old Testament
Paul goes on
V22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. He 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.' "From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the saviour Jesus, as he promised.
Now the Jews who were listening to this overview would have been very happy up until about v23, when suddenly, from talking about their history Paul starts talking about this man Jesus. But you see for Paul and for us there is no divide between the old testament and new. Between the history God's people and Jesus they go together like htg and food, their inseparable. You see what Paul so beautifully shows us here in his paraphrase of the old testament is that the whole old testament is one big act of grace promising and preparing the way for Jesus.
So with that in mind, lets move on to look that second point, Trust God's promises fulfilled in Jesus' death and resurrection V26-39
I cant decide weather I love or hate film sequels. At the end of a good film I always want more, I want them to bring out a sequel. But then so often sequels are rubbish aren't they? Star-wars EP1, Jaws 2, Star trek V all pants! The originals were so promising weren't they? But then the sequels just did not match up, there was a quality to the original that was not there in the sequels. Now is that what is happening here? We have seen that the Old Testament was promising and preparing the way for Jesus but would he match up?
Well at first glance from 27-31 it does not look great does it: The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognise Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
It doesn't look great but Paul is at pains to tie the Old Testament promises about Jesus' death to the New Testament fulfilment. V27 "In condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets" and v29 "When that had carried out all that was written about him…" only then did "they laid him in the tomb". He is saying "Yes Jesus died but look you can trust this because it plays out exactly as God said it would, it is not an accident."
Is 53 Hundreds of years before Jesus describes him as "The suffering servant …. despised and rejected by men." Jesus death was to plan, but look at the rest of verse 31 " But God raised him from the dead," Friends Is that not the best news ever.
This is why Paul keeps referring back to the old testament to talk about Jesus. You see unlike Krishna, Budha or Mohammed Jesus was promised and prepared for hundreds of years before his birth. By the time he was born there were over 300 promises about him in the Old Testament, and Paul, in talking now of Jesus resurrection, picks on three to highlight. Now we don't have time to look at them in detail but can I suggest that you note them down and have a look at them over the next week?
V32, "you are my Son; today I have become your Father." Its a direct quote from Psalm 2; A psalm about how Gods king will be established and none shall prevail against him. We saw that partially fulfilled at Jesus baptism didn't we? God said: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! (Matt 17:5). So you have got the promise of the all powerful King. Fulfilled in the risen Jesus, yes his enemies crucified him but he stands victorious.
V34: I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David from Isaiah 55: In a passage about God's compassion we see that his king would be the fulfilment of the promise to David, that there would be a king on his throne forever.. We see that more clearly in his next quote from Psalm 16. "You will not let your Holy One see decay" You see like David, You and I we live and die, our bodies will decompose or be burned, but Jesus died and now lives. He alone has conquered death. He uniquely stands on the page of human history saying I am he lives, that lives and was dead, behold I am alive for ever more.
You see Gods amazing promises fulfilled in the Old Testament don't even hold a candle to the promises fulfilled in Jesus.
Did you notice Paul's testimony is focused on Jesus' death and resurrection? You see at the literal crux of human history, is Jesus, not feeding the 5000 or cleansing the temple (important though those things are). At the crux of human history, Christ hangs on a cross. An act that has haunted, convicted, blessed, confused, saved, or condemned everyone who has ever lived.
Why? because v39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Through Jesus' death and resurrection he, offers us relationship with God, that's what this verse is saying. The bible says our rejection of God has driven a wedge between us and God which the bible calls sin. We stand guiltily accused of ignoring God our creator. And Paul focuses on the cross and resurrection of Jesus for it is in trusting in that and that alone that we are justified, made right with God. Let me ask you what are you trusting in to make you right with God? Being religious, saying the right things, reading the right books, going to the right church? Trying in your own strength to be good enough? V39 does not leave those options open to us. As we will sing in a few minutes "Death is through the cross defeated, Sinners justified:"
If that's something you have not heard before, can I recommend this free book, a fresh start?….
We must conclude, So finally and much more briefly, Beware of Gods promises yet to be fulfilled in future judgement. (40-42)
Paul finishes his sermon with a warning to them it is essentially another warning about man looking. Only this time the stakes are high! You see if you fail to spot a lost pen it doesn't matter all that much, but if you fail to spot the edge of a deep cliff it matters a whole lot more. Here Paul warns us in the strongest terms possible. Its a quote from one of the prophets called Habakuk and it comes from a part of the book where God has just promised to punish the sin in his people through having another race invade them in judgement. Back then he says the people were so ignorant of God that even if he told them what he was going to do they would not believe him. The sad thing is that is exactly what happened, God had told his prophet what would happen and the people of the time did not listen to him and many were killed.
We have herd a lot about God's promises this evening, they are all sure and certain promises. Just like he warned the people of Habakuk's day, God promised us that there will come a day when he judges the living and the dead. When he deals with our sin, in one of two ways either through the death and resurrection of Jesus or in a place separated from all his Goodness. Can you see the danger of us as individuals missing this? Can you see the danger of us as a church not emphasising this?
There once was a father and daughter and they had a massive argument, so much so that the daughter left home to live in a near by town. Weeks went by and the child did not return, so after a while the father went to the town and looked for her, unable to find her he stuck up posters everywhere he could, from the classy hotels to the brothels and streets. On on each one was written, wherever you are, whatever you have done, Come home.
Wherever you are, whatever you have done, Come home. That's an offer that Jesus is making to you tonight. Wherever you are, whatever you have done, Come home.
If that's an offer you want to accept, or reaffirm, why not come and pray with someone at the front after the service, come and chat to Rod or me, or take one of the fresh start books. Whatever you do 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."