GETTING THE MESSAGE/The sin of unbelief
We didn’t quite finish the study in Acts before the holiday season, so we will look at the last verse this week. The book concludes with the apostle Paul in Rome as the Lord Jesus had promised he would be. Paul is in prison, but he has freedom to receive visitors, and we read that Paul was “welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all openness, unhindered (Acts 28:31).”
Paul did this for two full years. The book of Acts began with the resurrected Lord Jesus appearing to His disciples and giving them instructions to wait on the Holy Spirit and then to proclaim His word, His truth, His gospel, all over the world beginning in Jerusalem. And this is what happened as the book of Acts details. God is behind it.
Guy Waters comments on the last verse in Acts, “Nothing in all creation can impede the progress of the word, nor keep it from reaching the destinations God has purposed for it. The fact that unhindered is the last word in the book of Acts surely concludes the narrative on a note of optimism and triumph.”
What we see is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the center of the message of the whole Bible, and the book of Acts pronounces that God has fulfilled His word in Christ. The glory of the gospel is that it is primarily an announcement of what God does, and has done, in the person of Jesus Christ.
That was the essence of Paul’s gospel and was preached by all the apostles. They preached Jesus as the Christ, the Savior that Moses and the prophets foretold. The apostles made a proclamation, an announcement. They called on people to listen to what they called “good news.” They did not speak primarily of a program or a better way of life, but of a Person.
They said Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God who came down from heaven to earth. They said He demonstrated His uniqueness by His sinless life, the miracles He did, and the fulfilment of all God sent Him to do. His death on the cross was not merely the end of His life, but it had a deeper and more eternal significance.
Paul writes in 2nd Cor. 5, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and making him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The entire emphasis of the gospel is upon what God has done. The content is God’s way of salvation and of making men righteous. Men but have to accept it and submit to it. And the only way is to fall before Christ and embrace Him. He is the way, the only way of life.
The book of Acts shows us how unreasonable the sin of unbelief is. What a pity it is that there should be such a one as the Lord Jesus Christ, very God of very God, to take our poor nature and intercede to take away our misery and death itself, and so few to take Him. Acts shows us multitudes embracing Christ and entering life, but also many rejecting the salvation of God.
The gospel presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the final authority. There is no other Savior, nor is there any other Judge men may appear before. The fate of men will be determined on whether we listened to Him. Prepare yourself to meet Him by calling on Him and seeking to honor Him.
The message of the gospel instructs us not to waver or be double-minded with respect to the Lord Jesus. If He is our Lord, our Savior, then our lives are not our own, but belong to Him, so we are to follow Him and look to that day when we will be with Him.
The great encouragement is that Christ shows us the love of God. It is in God’s abhorrence of sin that we can see the glory of the gospel. The measure of His anger against evil and sin is also the measure of such a love that is prepared to forgive the sinner and love him despite the sin. God so loved he gave His only Son, and Christ so loved He offered up Himself for sinners.
This great message of salvation is this: that in Christ the sinner is not destroyed by sin, but is delivered from all the consequences of it, adopted into the family of God, and given eternal life.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.