‘My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him.
Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything 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; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “I will give you the holy promises made to David.” Therefore he has also said in another psalm,
“You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.” For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you: “Look, you scoffers! Be amazed and perish, for in your days I am doing a work, a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.”’
Paul continues his speech in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. He is speaking to fellow Jews, ‘descendants of Abraham’s family’. He tells them that they and other God fearers have been sent a message of salvation. The definition of ‘salvation’ is not given at this point but as we read on towards the end of today’s passage, we learn that it seems to be about the forgiveness of sins.
Paul tells his listeners that the residents in Jerusalem, together with their leaders, did not recognise Jesus and failed to understand their own scriptures, so they handed Jesus over to Pilate to be killed. Even though they failed to understand their scripture, paradoxically by doing this they were fulfilling it.
Through the actions of people Jesus is killed and through the action of God he is raised from the dead. Paul tells of the appearances, over many days, of the risen Christ to those who accompanied him from Galilees to Jerusalem, although there is no reference to Jesus’ appearance to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8).
The speech concludes with warning words for his hearers, what was offered in Jerusalem is now being offered more widely, the offer is the ‘forgiveness of sins’ His listeners need to be careful that they do not make the same mistake as the people of Jerusalem and without realising it fulfilling the words of the prophets.
As we read this speech the words that are used don’t follow the words that are used by Paul in his letters, indeed there is closer comparison with speeches elsewhere in the first part of Acts. All this raises a question about whether this speech comes from Paul’s lips. The reference to the offer of forgiveness and being set free by the law of Moses contain some Pauline emphases. Some scholars see this speech as a summary of justification by faith written by someone who does not hold on to it in the same way that Paul does.
Merciful God, You grant us the forgiveness of sins, We find forgiveness hard, When someone close to us is hurt by others, When we are abused. We do our best, But we do not pretend that it is easy. We put our trust in you, And learn that despite our failings, We are forgiven. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr David Whiting, retired Minister living in Sunderland