The following sermon is based on Acts 13:15-33. You can listen to it here.
Before we hear encouragement that the Apostle Paul once shared with some folks in South-Central Turkey, I’d like you to spend a few moments pondering the types of encouragement we often find around us in this world. To help us do this, I have a list of 10 quotable quotes. I found these by searching Google for the word “encouragement.” One of the first page results was this link that reads “Words of Encouragement: 50 Encouraging Quotes.” As you read through these, look for common themes that run throughout. Later on, I’ll ask you to compare them with the encouragement we’ll hear Paul share.
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~Arthur Ashe
“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” ~Helen Keller
“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” ~Tony Robbins
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~C.S. Lewis
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” ~Winston Churchill
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” ~Japanese Proverb
“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” ~Thomas Edison
“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value. ~Albert Einstein
I certainly don’t mean to bash these quotes or any other quotable quotes that you might find encouraging. That said, I did want you to take a listen to these, before you hear what the Apostle Paul has to say in this portion of Acts chapter 13. You’re about to hear how the rulers of the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch asked Paul to share a message of encouragement with the people who were there that day, and the encouraging message Paul shared could not be any more different than these. As we walk through this text, see if you can pick up on the difference. “After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” 16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!
In the next 10 verses Paul walks through an Old Testament historical review. God caring for his people while in Egypt, giving the land of Canaan to them as their inheritance, the period of the judges, King Saul, then King David. Paul points out the link between David and Jesus in verse 23, “From this man’s descendants (David’s) God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised... He continues in verse 26.
26 “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. By beginning his encouragement with a review of God’s faithfulness through Israel’s history, Paul is setting a historical tone. Now here, he’s providing validation for the encouragement he’s about to share. It’s not as if this encouragement is something that he dreamed up. This message is not some wise quotable quote that will have the Apostle Paul’s name tagged to the end of it. The encouraging message that Paul was about to share centered on this man named Jesus from a town called Nazareth. And this message, was a fulfillment of the words of God’s prophets which had been read in synagogues like this one, every week, for centuries. This encouragement was time honored and rooted in history. Paul goes on. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ ”
Paul is asked to share encouragement with the people who came to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch that day, and what message does he share? He shares the message of Easter. And it’s not as if this is some brand new story. Paul says, this “good news” is exactly what God promised our fathers! A man named Jesus was killed by his opposition. Nothing crazy there. That kind of thing happened all the time. What made this incredible was the fact that Jesus didn’t stay dead. God raised him from the dead! More amazing still, God had promised their forefathers that this would happen! In the verses following our text, Paul says, “The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: “ ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ 35 So it is stated elsewhere: “ ‘You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ 36 “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. 38 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”
The message of the cross of Christ—Jesus winning forgiveness for all—a not guilty verdict given to you is valuable, not because Jesus died, but because Jesus rose. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” On Easter Sunday we basically looked at the argument made in the Bible in favor of Jesus’ resurrection. We did that, because the fact that Jesus did rise from the dead means everything. It means that your death on this earth is not the end. It means your sins really are forgiven—you really are at peace with your God—Jesus really does have the power and the authority over death to raise you from the dead. There is nothing more encouraging than the message of the crucified Jesus, raised from the dead.
And yet, is the message of Easter our “go-to” message of encouragement? How often do we seek encouragement elsewhere? How often do we turn to quotable quotes like the 10 we looked at earlier as we seek encouragement for ourselves or for others? Did you catch the difference between those 10 quotes and Paul’s encouragement? Those 10 quotes are all advice for today and for today alone. Oh sure, they might make today and tomorrow and the day after that better. They might improve the quality of your life for the rest of your life! But what do they have to offer you when you face death? As encouraging as the quotable quotes of the wisest of men and women may be, they all deal with the here and now. Not one of them has encouragement for dealing with death.
But this message does. This message changes everything. It even impacts our lives right now. Easter means that whatever Jesus promised to us, it has to come true. Jesus promised that he would provide everything we need for body and soul, Easter means he has to keep that promise. So when we lose a job, he’ll still provide somehow and someway. When we get that bad news from the doctor, Jesus will be there to heal us completely, whether he heals us now in this life or takes us to heaven where there will never be another disease of any kind again. This encouragement means that when we get even the worst news of all, our closest friend, family member, or even we ourselves, are on our deathbed, we know where we will end up. We will be in the arms of Jesus, our Good and Living Shepherd who loves us and promises to raise us from the dead. Easter gives you a LIFE – Free To Encourage. Because this message of Jesus’ resurrection is not only for you, it’s for everyone, in every place, at every time. May this message of Easter encourage you this week, and may the Lord give you the opportunity to encourage someone else with the good news of Easter.