Wherever in a city Jews were to be found, there also were their synagogues in which they taught and preached; and many gentiles, coming to hear, were converted to God through the preaching of his Word. Undoubtedly it was by God’s wonderful direction that the Jews were dispersed throughout the world among the gentiles, after the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. Inasmuch as this dispersion resulted in the spread of the Word, they were instrumental in securing salvation for the gentiles and in preparing the way for the world-wide preaching of the Gospel by the apostles. For wherever the apostles went they found Jewish synagogues and the opportunity to preach to a regular congregation, through whom their Gospel might be widely disseminated because of the many gentiles also in attendance. Had not these gentiles been already accustomed to the Jewish synagogues, they would not have listened to the apostles, nor even permitted them publicly to preach, strangers that they were.
3. As stated later in the text, there were, beside the Jews, many gentiles present at the preaching of this sermon, and at its conclusion they besought Paul to speak to them again between sabbaths. Accordingly, when he came to the synagogue the next sabbath, he found almost the whole city assembled.
But to return to the first sermon: Paul says, “Brethren, children of the stock of Abraham” — or, native Jews — “and those among you that fear God” who are gentiles. Now, though this could not but be a discourse objectionable and highly offensive to the Jews, Paul opens with tender and nicely chosen words meant to conciliate and to secure their respectful attention. He highly honors them by addressing them as the people chosen by God in preference to all the gentiles; as children of the holy fathers who had a special claim to the promise of God. But, again, he vitiates his pleasing impression when he proclaims to the Jews naught else but the crucified and risen Christ, and concludes with the statement that with nothing but Moses’ Law and ordinances they ranked no higher in the sight of God than the gentiles.
THE WORD OF SALVATION.
4. Paul’s discourse is in perfect harmony with Peter’s sermon. Peter speaks of God having sent unto the Jews heralds proclaiming peace; and Paul here says, “To you [us] is the word of this salvation sent.” Notwithstanding the joy and comfort wherewith these words are fraught, they could not please the Jews. The Jews disdained the idea — in fact, it was intolerable to them to hear it expressed — that after their long expectation of a Messiah to be lord and king of the world, they should receive a mere message, and at that a message rendering of no significance at all that Law and government for which they had expected, through that Messiah, exaltation and world-wide acceptance. Indeed, such an issue could only mean to them having entertained a vainhope.
5. Paul makes his teaching yet more offensive by not referring to the Gospel simply as the word of peace, as Peter does, but by giving it the greater and grander title, “the word of salvation”; in other words, a doctrine calculated to heal and save. No grander name could be found for the Gospel; for a message of salvation is an expression of God’s grace, forgiveness of sins, abidingpeace and lifeeternal. Moreover, these blessings were not to be bestowed upon the Jews alone; they were to be equally shared with the gentiles, who had no knowledge of God, of the Law, or of divineworship. The gentiles were thus to be made the equals of the Jews, leaving the latter without preference or special merit before God, and without advantage and lordship over the former in the world.
6. Thus early in his discoursePaul grows blunt and severe, kneading Jews and gentiles into one lump. Indeed, he plainly tells the Jews that the Law of Moses did not secure to them the favor of God in the past and would be equally profitless in the future; that through the Gospel message, and only so, they, and all gentiles as well, were to be delivered from sin, death and the power of the devil, and to become God’s people, with power over all.
Note, it is the keeping of the Word on which Christ lays stress. “Keeping” is holding fast to the promise, feeling and all senses to the contrary, doubting not the truth of the message heard. For he who promises is not man; it is the Lord of heaven and earth and all that in them is, who has to this moment controlled and preserved the same. One hundred years ago, what were you and I and all men now living but absolutely nothing? How and from what was creation effected when there was nothing to start with? “He spoke and it was done” — that was created which before had not existence — declares Psalm 33:9, quoting from Genesis 1; “he commanded, and it stood fast.”
10. Being the Word of God, the Gospel is an entirely different thing from man’s word, no matter though it be spoken by a mere man or even a donkey. Therefore, let there be, now or henceforth, discord, terror of sin; the menace of death and hell, of the grave and corruption: come upon you what may — only press to your heart this Word that Christ has sent you a message of salvation — of redemption, of triumph over all things; and that he commands you to believe it. Then you will perceive that he, as your God and Creator, will not deceive you. What are death, the devil and all creatures as a match for Christ?
11. The glory of Christ’s message, then, here called by Paul “the word of salvation,” is much greater and higher than would have been the promise of all the kingdoms, all the riches and splendors of the world, yes, of both heaven and earth. For what, could they benefit if one possessed not the Word of salvation and eternallife? With all these, when assailed by sins, or by the distress and danger of death, one must still say, “Away with all the blessings and joys of the world, so that I may hear and have altogether the message of salvation sent by Christ.” You must hold fast to it and know that it alone gives eternalpeace and joy; that it must receive your faith in spite of all apparent contradiction; that you must not be governed by your reason or your feelings, but must regard that as divine, unchangeable and eternaltruth which God has spoken and commands to be proclaimed. Such is Paul’s exhortation addressed primarily to the Jews to accept this message as sent by God and as being the bearer of wondrous blessings.
12. Next, he proceeds to remove their chief stumbling-block, the thing of greatest offense to them. He warns them against the course adopted by them of Jerusalem, who had the Word of salvation from Christ himself, who read it in the prophets every day, who should have had no trouble perceiving that the prophets testified to Christ and that there was complete harmony between their teaching and that of Christ and the apostles, yet would not understand. Because Christ came not in the manner they desired, they condemned the very One whom they read of in the Scriptures as appearing with this Word of salvation, the time of whose coming had been pointed out, leaving them to know it had long since arrived and they had no reason to wait for another. They understood not the Scriptures because their minds were completely hardened and dominated by the fixed idea that Christ should reign as a temporal king. So thoroughly was the whole Jewishnation impressed with this belief that the very apostles had no other conception of Christ’s kingdom, even after his resurrection. As John says ( John 12:16), they did not understand the Scriptures until Christ ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit came.
13. That Paul should make bold to tell the most prominent men and rulers of the whole Jewishnation — the heads of God’s people, pillars of the Church, as we would say — that not only the common rabble, but likewise they themselves did not know and understand the Scriptures committed to them; ay, that, not content with such ignorance and error, they had themselves become the individuals of whom they read, the murderers and crucifiers of the Son of God, their Savior — this was a matter of grave offense indeed!
Was there not reason here to tear Paul to pieces with red-hot pinchers as a seditious character, a public blasphemer, speaking not only against the Jewishgovernment but against the honor of God himself; daring to accuse all the princes of the nation of being in error, of knowing nothing of the Scriptures, even of being murderers of the Son of God? The Pope and his crowd lack the credentials of such glory and endorsement by God. They have merely reared a system of self-devised doctrine and idolatry, which they still defend. Hence, whatever censure and condemnation we heap upon the Pope and his crowd is small in comparison to the thrust Paul dealt the Jewishleaders.
15. But what cause has Paul at heart that he dares so boldly condemn the judgment of these exalted officials? It is this, according to his own statement: There is One called JesusChrist, of whom the prophets, in fact the entire Scriptures, speak. Him the Jews refuse to know. He is higher and greater than the high-priests and the rulers, greater than the temple or the whole city of Jerusalem. And the Jews know his coming means their passing, and their obedience to him as Lord and SupremeRuler. Therefore, they are inexcusable in their rejection of Christ. Of no avail is their evasion, “God has given us the dominion and the supremepower, and has commanded obedience to us in equal degree with obedience to parents.”
But the gentlemen and lords at Jerusalem, like those of our day, were unwilling to permit obedience to any but themselves. From such conditions arises the present dispute about ecclesiastical authority. To go counter to it in obeying God’s command — this the ecclesiasts unjustly call disobedience and sedition. But such must be our course if we are to be loyal to our Lord and theirs, whom they deny.
Ye have become great blockheads, blindleaders, understanding not at all the Scriptures. Yet ye should and would teach others, just as Moses and the prophets have pointed to this Christpromised to you and to all the world for salvation and solace. Persisting in your blindness, ye have brought him to the cross, though finding in him no cause for condemnation. Surely, he did you no injury; he deprived you of naught, neither money, goods, honor nor power, but has brought you all good — even salvation — if ye will but receive him. But ye made yourselves the very ones who fulfilled the Scriptures ye daily read — those who put Christ to death and brought to pass the fact that he rose from the dead (though without thanks to you or to Satan) and became a Lord commanding the obedience of all creatures. “We shall no longer regard what ye, or all the world, have to say of our preachingChrist; it is all the same to us whether you rage or smile. For we boast the Lord, the Son of God, made Lord over all the fathers through his resurrection. It is his will that we preach of him, and that all men believe. Since ye refuse him, your God-given privilege ceases, which, however, was granted only until the advent of the Messiah. We must withdraw from you, renouncing your authority and priesthood, and Jerusalem itself. We tell you plainly that we cannot and will not obey you in opposition to the will of the Lord.”
18. Mark you, in order to make the JewsChristians, Paul had to preach that Christ was already come; that he was no longer to be looked for. He was obliged to bring home to them what they had done to Christ, they the rulers and chief of those bearing the name of God’s people and entrusted with the Law and the order of divineworship — he was forced to do so that they might perceive their sin and quit their boast of having the true Law and worship, having nothing whatever wherein to glory before God.
For, though possessing the Law of Moses and having heard often enough the Word of God, they would not recognize and receive the Messiah sent by God in accordance with his promise, but condemned him and became his murderers.
In view of this fact, what does their boast about being Abraham’s children, God’s people, possessors of the prophets and the Law and the priesthood, amount to? These privileges only magnify their sins, only make their guilt the more grievous, before God. Not as blind, ignorant heathen, but as a people who have, and should know, the Word of God, they wilfully put to death God’s Son. Thus we have the first part of Paul’s sermon.
THE RESURRECTION AND FAITH.
19. The second part deals with the resurrection of Christ and its power through faith. This is the goalPaul has in view when he tells them that they have slain the Christ, thus effecting their condemnation by God and forfeiting whatever glory they possessed as Jews, gaining shame and wrath before God in its stead. To be still delivered from such condemnation, and to obtain justification and salvation, as he expresses himself toward the end, it is necessary to hear and believe the word concerning the selfsame Christ. Moreover, inasmuch as they with their leaders have refused to receive and recognize this Messiah when he preached and wroughtmiracles in person; now, that he is invisible and absent in the body, they are called upon to receive him whom they themselves have crucified unto death, and to believe that he is risen from the dead as Lord over all, according to the testimony of the apostles.
20. Paul supports his discourse on the resurrection of Christ with many strong Scripture texts. There is no doubt that he dwelt on these at length and preached quite a sermon, which, however, has not been recorded here in full, but only in part. The apostle’s purpose was to point us to the Old Testament Scriptures, that we might there make diligent study for ourselves of how forcibly the prophets have spoken concerning Christ, his works and his kingdom.
21. The first text Paul cites is from the Second Psalm ( Psalm 2), which treats throughout of the Messiah and his reign, as even the Jews at the time when wisdom still prevailed had to admit. Christ’s own words are: “I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Paul says he is here quoting from the First Psalm, though in all editions, old and new, this psalm comes second in order.* *SINCE LUTHER’ S TIME THIS DISCREPANCY HAS BEEN REMOVED BY ALLOWING THE CHANGE, “ SECOND PSALM.”
But the apostle does not have reference to the technical arrangement of the psalms in a book, but to the order of his quotations. The thought is: “First, I will prove it from the psalm,” or, “First, as written in the psalm.” Just as the preacher of today says, “I observe, first,” or, “It is written, first, in the psalm,” whether the psalm be the first, second, twentieth or thirtieth, he not having reference to the order of the psalm but to the order in which he cites it.
22. But how does Paul make this text prove the resurrection of Christ? It is truly a strong statement, and no doubt the apostle fully explained it, amplifying it beautifully and well. The psalm refers to that Messiah, or King, who shall reign in the Jewishnation, among the people; for the writer says plainly, “I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion,” or Jerusalem.
The King, then, must be true man like other men. Indeed, the psalmist adds that the kings and rulers of earth shall rage and persecute him, which could not be unless he reigned upon earth.
27. The third passage cited by Paul is taken from the Sixteenth Psalm, which is in reality one of the Messianic psalms. This is the psalm Peter in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost more fully explains, drawing from it the irresistible conclusion, so apparent in his own words, that Christ indeed has died; not, however, to become victim to decay in the tomb, but, proof against mortaldestruction and hurt, to arise on the third day.