Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Message Did Paul Preach in a Typical Jewish Synagogue?

I know you'll enjoy and be edified by this guest article by Brother Ivan Burgener (contact information at end of article):


What message Paul preached in a typical Jewish synagogue? For my part I had become so focused on Paul’s ministry as God’s Apostle of the Gentiles that I had failed to give proper attention to his ministry to Jews. His visiting synagogues seemed paramount at every city. Even in Philippi he sought a gathering of Jewish ladies when, apparently, there was no synagogue.

Paul surely visited far more synagogues than are named in the Acts and his epistles. Yet we need not guess at the content or focus of his ministry there. We have an inspired example, namely his first recorded message in Acts 13:14-52 wherein he tells how “they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, ‘Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on’ ” (13:14-15).

Being Gentiles and strangers to synagogue practice, many of us fail to realize that Paul had seated himself in the place reserved for visiting rabbis so as to be called upon if invited. The invitation received, “Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, ‘Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it’ ” (Acts 13:16-17).

What an entre! He began where God had begun to make good His 400 year old promise to Abraham, for in Genesis 15 :13-14 God had said, “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs (Egypt), and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance” (Acts 13:16-17). The Exodus!

Paul had skipped over their flight from Pharaoh’s army and the crossing the Red Sea where their enemies drowned. He also skipped telling anything of their year-long encampment at Mt. Sinai during which time Moses’s seven escapades up and down the mount had concluded in Israel signing on to a covenant written by the hand of God. Paul did not “rub their noses” in their breaking that Covenant within 40 days. He also skipped completely over all the negotiations which concluded in their refusal to make the thirteen day journey directly to the promised land.

He went directly to their wilderness journey and their many provocations of God therein.

“And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.”  (13:18-21).

How interesting, that forty years began it and forty years concluded this period yet Paul also swiftly passed over the centuries of their wilderness wanderings to the removal of King Saul!

“And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will. Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, “Whom think ye that I am? ‘I am not he’ (We remember John’s denial of being Elijah or the Messiah). But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose” (13:22-25).

Paul deftly brought them to Luke 16:16 where, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” The message from God through John was upgraded by the Messiah Himself, Jesus of Nazareth, and it ran headlong into stiff opposition as many other verses confirm. Yet Paul pled:

“Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you fears God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him. And though they found no cause of death in Him, yet desired they Pilate that He should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre. But God raised Him from the dead: And He was seen many days of them which came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses unto the people” (13:26-31).

Paul applied this message to himself and to his synagogue audience for “we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, (to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again (in resurrection); as it is also written in the second psalm, ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.’ And as concerning that He raised Him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, He said on this wise, ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’

Wherefore He saith also in another psalm, ‘Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.’ For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: (Peter said in Acts 2:29, ‘let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.’) But here Paul continued: “But He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (13:32-39).

What in the world is all this but the New Covenant as promised in Jeremiah 31:34, when, “saith the Lord... I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Prophesied by Jeremiah indeed, but ably ministered now by Paul according to 2 Corinthians 3:6, “able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit...” But Paul continued,

“Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you. And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

“And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.   But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.

“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (13:40-46).

The Lord’s words of Paul’s commission (given to Ananias), that Paul was God’s chosen vessel to bear His name to “Gentiles... kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15) seemed to suggest that Gentiles would be in first place. But Israel clearly enjoyed first priority throughout the entire book of Acts! Only after the Jews had rejected his message in the synagogue that Paul was free to extend God’s blessings to Gentiles. Paul respected that priority and always went to them first. This “Jew first” policy continued through his Romans epistle but did not continue beyond the book of Acts.

I cannot forget my own awakening to this fact. I had been reading Romans wherein Paul had written in Romans 1:11-13 “I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you...” And again in Romans 15:32. “That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.”

How disappointed I was to read in Acts 28, that within a few days of his arrival in Rome, he did not call for a meeting of the church, as I hoped and expected! He called for the leaders of the synagogues of Rome. He spent several days with them going over with them his “able ministry of the New Covenant,” just as he had done in every synagogue. Right up to the end of Acts was God making good His promise of the New Covenant, and they were making a big mistake if they refused.

“For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (13:47-52).

Was there any other issue, half so appropriate, as Paul offering “the New Covenant to Jews scattered outside the land” just as Peter had done “to Jews within the land”? See how Peter’s message concluded, “... it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (Acts 3:23-25). This is the only place where we find the word “covenant” in Peter’s mouth or pen!

It seems clear that just as Peter did all he could to bring Israel to repentance and that his ministry was that of offering the New Covenant within the promised land, we find the Apostle Paul, throughout his Acts ministry, including all his epistles written during that period, offering the same New Covenant to the hosts of Israel scattered throughout the Gentile world.

Paul’s New Covenant epistles are listed below in, we believe, the order of their writing:

Galatians; written between Acts 14 & 15. It does not seem possible he could have written it after Acts 15 and failed to mention it in his letter to the Galatian churches. Circumcision was the issue in the Galatian epistle, the very issue which was resolved at the Acts 15 Jerusalem Conference.

1 & 2 Thessalonians; written after his visit in Acts 17

1 & 2 Corinthians; written after his visit in Acts 19

Romans, the last letter; written before his imprisonment in Acts 21:26-37.

That Hebrews was written during this same period covered by the book of Acts seems beyond doubt. Hebrews is God’s glorious message offering the New Covenant to Israel. It is equally without question that whoever wrote it must have been a very “able minister of the New Covenant”!   Hebrews uses the word “covenant” 17 times, more times than all the rest of the NT books combined.

Many mid-Acts dispensationalists are persuaded that the competing messages throughout the book of Acts were the Gospel of the Kingdom giving way to the Gospel of Grace. We suggest that the competing messages were the Law of Moses, the Old Covenant, versus the New Covenant (a ministry of grace) as ministered by Peter in Acts 1-12 and by Paul in Acts 13-28. The finale of this competition was Paul’s confrontation with the synagogue leadership of Rome in Acts 28. When Israel stubbornly rejected Paul’s final presentation of the New Covenant, God’s salvation went to Gentiles, not through Israel, but in spite of them. Israel’s priority was not mentioned thereafter.

Let us consider all of the 33 NT appearances of the Greek word for covenant. We find it translated “testament” 13 times and “covenant” 20 times. For our purpose we will consider it to be “covenant” all 33 times and list them below.

It appears 1 X in Matthew and Mark, and 2 X in Luke, (once early before the birth of Christ and a second time with Matthew and Mark at the Last Supper). In John it does not appear. We can understand the Lord using the word covenant only once, just before His assumption of the role of  “...the mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).

It appears 2 X in Acts, 3:27 and 7:8, (the covenant of circumcision).

It appears 1 X in Revelation 11:19 when the Ark of the Testament (Covenant) is seen.

It appears 17 X in Hebrews

It appears 9 X in Paul’s epistles, 8 X in his Acts epistles and 1 X in the prison epistles, Eph 2 where

Gentiles are strangers from the covenants.

This collected evidence suggests that Paul, who labels himself, an “able minister of a New Covenant” is the writer of Hebrews.  Others have suggested that the Greek language and grammar are by Luke but the theology is that of Paul.

For sure only Paul gave us two of the three comparisons of two covenants.

1. Galatians 4:24-31, by Paul

2. 2 Corinthians 3:6-18 by Paul

3. Hebrews 12:18-28, by the ablest minster ever of the New Covenant. (Who could that be?)

“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember Jesus Christ of the seed of David risen from the dead according to my gospel: wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2:7-9).

Address all questions, compliments, and complaints to Ivan L. Burgener, 618-344-6741; cell: 618-792- 6462, or to 401 Willowbrook Lane, Collinsville, IL 62234.

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