[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the final entry in a series looking at passages in Scripture which summarise the biblical story. In part, the series has been designed to help publicise the book, Whole Life, Whole Bible: 50 Readings on Living in the Light of Scripture, written with LICC colleagues.]
Brothers and sisters from the children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent... We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus... Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin... Acts 13:26, 32-33, 38-39
Acts 13 records Paul’s first main speech – given in a synagogue to Jews and God-fearers, Gentiles attached to Judaism. The address is arguably programmatic for the next part of Acts, in the same way that Peter’s Pentecost speech in chapter 2 was programmatic for the first part of the book. We’re also probably meant to understand that Luke provides here a glimpse of Paul’s synagogue preaching, a regular feature of his ministry as he takes the gospel ‘to the Jew first’.
So, what does he say?
In line with Old Testament precedents, Paul recounts the story of Israel, beginning with Abraham, taking in the exodus and wilderness wanderings, the Judges era and Samuel, before moving to David – from whose descendants, he says, ‘God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised’ (13:23). Paul’s claims about Jesus are grounded in God’s prior actions for Israel. The God who worked in the past is the same God who has brought salvation in the present, through the death and resurrection of Christ, in line with scriptural promises related to Abraham and David.
This good news is for Israel, but – in keeping with the whole tenor of the story – is extended to Gentiles too. Jesus is risen, and – as several Psalms promised – is the one to whom is given the blessings of David, including the forgiveness of sins for ‘everyone who believes’.
As we reflect on how God works in our own lives day by day, our personal ‘stories’ are an essential dimension of how we understand ourselves. Even so, our own ‘narrative’ makes best sense not when it becomes an end in itself, but when it is connected to the overarching story of God’s redemption in Christ. We understand our life ‘plot’ in the greater light of what the loving, covenant-keeping God has worked on our behalf – individually and together.
For us, as for Paul’s original hearers, far from us offering a God an occasional walk-on part in the story of our lives, we are called to see our lives in the infinitely larger narrative of what he has done and will yet do in the world – through Christ, our Saviour and Lord.