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Acts

Evidence

Acts  13:13-52

"How can you prove that God exists?" If you haven't heard that question, you haven't been listening. But sometimes getting the right answer starts with asking the right questions. You may ask, "Can I cross the street blindfold?" The answer is yes; that, however, ignores Howdy Doody's rule: you still cross the street with your eyes.

The existence of God is something like that. Consider, for a moment, this variation on Pascal's wager. It's called a truth table - and in this instance it carries a double meaning:

 

God doesn't exist

God does exist

You Believe

You're a happy fool

You go to heaven

You Don't Believe

See, you were right - and you win nothing except ulcers and kidney stones

You go to hell

Maybe the question isn't, "Does God exist?" Maybe the question is, "What should I do about the evidence that God does exist?"

Sometimes the universe is so constructed that we are forced to make a decision on the basis of limited evidence. For example: You are young and foolish - and you meet the girl of your dreams. Should you propose? Will she be the woman of your life? Or are you making a big mistake? Three things are certain:

·         You don't - and never will - have enough evidence to decide for certain - but there will be plenty of evidence to consider.

·         Trying to get that evidence will destroy the relationship between you.

·         You are going to make a decision - for not to decide is to decide.

The nature of the universe is such that God has provided us with much the same choice with regard to him.

·         God does not provide overwhelming evidence that makes his existence obvious - but there is plenty of evidence that He exists, and has spoken.

·         Somehow, He has chosen to have a relationship of love and trust; testing that relationship destroys it ("Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.")

·         And, one way or another, you will decide.

Why did God do this? Why didn't He just put up a large sign - say, on the moon - that says "I AM - and you better watch out!" To understand this, we need look no further than a typical teenager's room.

If you are like most parents, you are faced with a room that looks like the residue of a tornado. You want it clean - or do you?

·         If you just want it clean, you can get a skiploader and do it yourself. Mission accomplished?

·         "Ah," you say, "what I really want is to have the teenager clean it up." So you can spend all day, standing over them, getting more and more frustrated. Is that what you wanted?

·         No, what you really wanted was for the teenager to do it without being forced to do so.

So you see that what you want precludes the use of parental authority and a bullwhip. God has a similar position. He wants us to love Him, freely and completely. He has given us free will to make this possible - and in so doing, has created the possibility we will reject Him. Now then, is it "free will" if the evidence is a lunar billboard? Not to the thinking animal, man.

So God, therefore (if He is to be consistent to the Truth He is) must provide enough evidence for a decision - but not so much as to be a "slam dunk." In this passage Paul lays out for us the basics of that evidence.

(Acts 13:13-52 NIV) From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. {14} From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. {15} After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak." {16} Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! {17} 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, {18} he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, {19} he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave 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. 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.' {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 think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' {26} "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. {27} The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. {28} Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. {29} When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. {30} But God raised him from the dead, {31} and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. {32} "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers {33} he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: "'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' {34} The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' {35} So it is stated elsewhere: "'You will not let your Holy One see decay.' {36} "For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. {37} But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. {38} "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. {39} Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. {40} Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: {41} "'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.'" {42} As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. {43} When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. {44} On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. {45} When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. {46} Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. {47} For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" {48} When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. {49} The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. {50} But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. {51} So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. {52} And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

It may help us somewhat to have a map of the situation:

Map

Types of Evidence

Paul brings to us the three major types of evidence for the truth of the Gospel:

Historical Evidence

Paul begins by reciting the acts of God throughout the history of Israel. It is no great wonder that the Old Testament is under attack in our time; it is a major witness to God's plan for mankind. (It is also no great secret that the archeologist's spade keeps uncovering the truth - a major difficulty for those who know it cannot be so.) In his recital, Paul sticks to two themes:

·         He very carefully enumerates the actions of God - his generosity and love for the nation of Israel.

·         He omits their rebellion! This is not a history lesson; these people already know these things. He's pointing their minds to the continuous action of God in history - which points to the coming of the Messiah.

The key point for our time is this: The incidents of the New Testament are not "isolated" or "unique." They were preceded by two thousand years of God intervening in the affairs of a particular people - for a particular purpose. It is very difficult to have a conspiracy to produce evidence over two thousand years long - and then have the chief conspirators miss the point when it arrives.

Prophetic Evidence

Paul cites a very small portion of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. The point is simply this: In the Old Testament there are passages which point out certain unique characteristics of the Messiah. In this instance, it is that his body would not see decay. How can this be? Only by the Resurrection. But this passage was written a thousand years before Christ!

If I tell you I am in Los Angeles today (and you phone me there): then I say I'll be in San Francisco tomorrow (and you find it so) and Seattle the next day (and sure enough, you phone me there too) - you might logically conclude that I had made the travel plans in advance.

The Essentials

Paul, in this message, gives us the essentials of the faith:

·         The death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ

·         The forgiveness of sins by grace.

The rest is commentary.

The Burden of Those With the Evidence

Picture yourself in this situation: you are the judge in a tax case. The defendant is a widow. Her husband prepared the tax returns, and she trusted his math and understanding of the law. Unfortunately, he missed some complicated part of the tax code which carries with it a major penalty. She knew nothing of the law. Do you fine her as heavily as you would a similar offender who was a CPA?

A similar situation occurs here. The Jews are the ones who were first given the evidence of God; it is only fair, therefore, that they should be the first to receive the good news of the Messiah. But they reject it. Two things need to be said:

·         God does not reject them; they reject Him. They choose to do so. Even if by not deciding.

·         The Apostles then "shake dust."[1] When a people rejects God, God rejects them - so that the good news may move on to those who will accept it. For God desires that all men should be saved.

Why do men reject the evidence of God?

The question has many answers; here are three we see:

·         Some focus on the superficial. Jesus was a carpenter - how could he be the Messiah? Wouldn't the Messiah be born in a palace? Similarly, we hear today that Christianity can't be true, otherwise there would be no hypocrites. Such a person needs to look beneath the surface.

·         Many were blind to the Scriptures. They heard them; they read them, but they did not try to understand the heart of God in them. The reached for the letter of the Law and ignored the Spirit.

·         More commonly, they did not see that God wants ALL of a human being - heart, soul, mind and strength.

But out of an evil thing, God brought a greater good: from the rejection by the Jews God sent the Gospel to the Gentiles - which, by the way, is most of us!

Lessons for us

·         We are now the ones with the Word. We have the evidence, and therefore our burden is all the greater.

·         If we reject this Word, He will reject us.

·         And if He rejects us, how much more severe will the punishment be?

(Luke 10:12-16 NIV) I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. {13} "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. {14} But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. {15} And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. {16} "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."


[1] Matthew 10:14-15

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