GETTING THE MESSAGE/Jesus’ blood and righteousness
Acts 18:1 begins, “Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.” Paul entered Corinth alone as he did in Athens. Corinth was a port city and thriving commercial center, much larger than Athens. Corinth was known for its worldliness, sporting events, and sexual immorality. Whereas Athens’ main temple was to the goddess of wisdom (Athena), Corinth had a massive temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The temple had thousands of male and female prostitutes.
Paul finds a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had become Christians before moving to Corinth. They had in common with Paul the tent making trade, so Paul began working with them and then preaching in the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath.
In verse 5 we see that Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia, apparently with funds, because Paul began to devote his time to “testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” The Jews opposed and reviled Paul to such an extent he declares himself “innocent of their blood” and announces he is going to the Gentiles while in Corinth.
So Paul moves his base of operation from the synagogue to the house of a believer, Titius Justice, whose house happened to be next door to the synagogue (verse 7)! Undoubtedly the unconverted Jews were angered by Paul’s ongoing ministry right next door, and their opposition must have weakened Paul because the Lord appears to Paul in a vision and tells him not to fear but to keep on speaking (verses 9-10). Paul ends up staying in Corinth for 18 months (verse 11). And his ministry bore fruit; “many believed.”
The second question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks how may I live and die in the joy and comfort of Christ. The answer is three things I must know: 1) How great my sin and misery are. 2) How I am set free from all my sins and misery. 3) How I am to thank God for such deliverance.
The Jewish resistance to the gospel in Corinth is a demonstration of how great and miserable sin is. Their revulsion to the gospel was so strong that Paul “shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent’” (verse 6). In other words, he had warned them of the guilt of their sin and the judgment of God against them. He was not responsible for their doom.
The Jews in Corinth would have hated being likened to the sinful Corinthian Gentiles. For a list of sins prevalent in Corinthian culture, you can read First Corinthians chapter 6. It is true not all of these things are done by every sinful man, but the same root of sin is in us all. That root at its core is opposed to God, and from it springs all manner of evil. We cannot extract this root but God can.
Resisting the truth of what God says about our sinful hearts will cause, if not a public display like the Corinthian Jews, private indignation. Sin makes man so obstinate that he will not be saved from it, but he will be damned rather than turn to God. Such is the misery of sin.
Sin leads to death. Scripture teaches us death is not a normal process, but that death is punishment. It is the wages of sin. It is an expression of God’s wrath, his judgment against the sinner. But God in his mercy provides a Savior suitable for our case.
Christ came into the world to enter into death. His death was voluntary in obedience to the Father. We see that Jesus shrank from it (John 12, Matthew 26). He knew it was an expression of God’s wrath, the execution of justice against the workers of iniquity. But in all his suffering and agony on the cross, he never became disobedient. His dying was an act of perfect obedience in the love of God.
He himself never sinned, but he came to represent his people so he must bear the wrath for their sins. So he agreed with the sentence of death, that he was worthy of death. The Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all. It is only in Christ’s death we can be absolved from guilt of sin, and be reconciled to God. None who resist him will be accepted by God.
We must agree with the sentence of death also, that we are worthy of it, and that our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. It is a great salvation. Jesus said, ‘the words I speak to you are of spirit and life, come unto me and I will give you rest.”
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.