“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. 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. But God raised him from the dead …
“Therefore, my 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.” (verses 27-30, 38-39)
In these verses we get a front row seat to Paul’s evangelistic preaching. We hear the essence of his good news message, the gospel of Jesus in a nutshell.
Here’s what he preached in that community of Pisidian Antioch so long ago:
• Salvation didn’t come suddenly from out of the blue. No. God planned it long in advance, announcing it through his prophets. The Old Testament scriptures speak of Jesus at every turn, prophesying his suffering and death, which in turn lead to salvation. Here’s a taste: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering … After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:3, 11).
• Salvation was accomplished in a sequence of clear, concise, surprising events. Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, then raised to life by the Father. Later, Paul restates this same simple message in written form: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, … he was buried, … he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). So simple, straightforward and absolutely powerful.
• Forgiveness of sins is given to us through Jesus’ sacrifice. Amazing. All our sin and wrongdoing is completely washed away. No lingering weight of guilt remains. All is wiped clean. Paul will later say, “When you were dead in your sins … God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code … he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). What a phenomenal gift.
• Paul repeats the same point, stating it from a different angle, speaking in legal language. When a judge makes a declaration of “not guilty,” the accused is said to be “justified” (verse 39). Such clearing of offense could never happen through the law of Moses, but it becomes a solid reality through Jesus. We have been “justified” indeed.
• All of this comes about for “everyone who believes” (verse 39). There are no Herculean tasks that must be accomplished. No standard of success that must be first met. The sole, necessary response is to believe – an active step of faith which puts the weight of one’s life into Jesus’ hands.
This is the simple, glorious message which rang out from Paul’s preaching. It rings out still. Jesus has purchased salvation for all who believe. He has done it by his death and resurrection. Forgiveness is given. Justification declared.
Praise be his name.
Thank you, O Lord Jesus, that this message rings true. Salvation has been won. You have done it. Praise your name.
Reflect: If you are in Jesus, reflect on the reality of “forgiveness of sins” – all of them, not one remaining. Linger in the reflection. Give thanks.
Then, reflect on the reality that the Judge of all the earth has declared over you, “Justified”! Nothing stands against you. Linger in the reflection. Give thanks.
For any who have never “believed” in Jesus, reflect on the gift offered to you. Be bold. Confess your need. Receive.