Sunday, April 10, 2016, 5:56 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “Near the Cross.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 13 (Select vv. ESV).

The Message of Salvation (vv. 26-33a)

“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus…

We have also been given this message of salvation from sin. Jesus Christ, God the Son, left his throne in heaven, came to earth, was born of a woman, and lived as a man. When he walked this earth, he was fully God, yet fully man. He suffered as we suffer, and he was tempted in like manner as we are also tempted, yet without sin. During his years of ministry on the earth he healed the sick and afflicted, raised the dead, comforted the sorrowful, and taught repentance for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God in heaven. He said that if we want to come after him we must deny self and take up our cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) him. He said if we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self) we will lose them, but if we lose our lives (die with him to sin), we will gain eternal life (See: Lu. 9:23-25). Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

When Jesus died, our sins died with him and were buried with him. Yet, God the Father raised him from the dead. When he was raised, he rose victorious over sin, hell, Satan and death. Through faith in Jesus Christ and in what he did for us in dying for our sins, we can be delivered from the curse of sin, and slavery to sin, and we can be given new lives in Christ Jesus to be lived in his righteousness, by the power and working of his Spirit who now lives within us. When we believe in Jesus Christ to be Lord (owner) and Savior of our lives, we are crucified with Christ in death to sin, of the Spirit, and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24; cf. Ro. 6:1-23). If we say we have fellowship with God, but we continue living in sin, we are liars, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:6).

Forgiveness of Sins (vv. 38-41)

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:

“‘Look, you scoffers,
be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”

Jesus Christ forgives the sins of all who put their faith and trust in him. It is not enough, though, just to mouth the words, “I believe,” or to go through an emotional experience at a church altar, or to just repeat some words after another person which, at the end, you are congratulated and told that you now have eternal life with God and the hope of heaven when you die. Believing in Jesus Christ means that we participate with him in his death to sin (Ro. 6:1-23), for that is why he died, to free us not only from the penalty of sin, but from its control over our lives. It is not true freedom if we are still under the control and weight of sin, is it? Paul said that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. If we still live our lives according to our sinful flesh, we will die. But, if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live (Ro. 8:1-14), which is basically the same thing Jesus said.

There is a warning here for all who scoff at the message of the cross of Christ, and I believe the warning is extended to all who deride the full gospel message, and who only accept a diluted version absent of the necessity of the cross in our individual lives. If we do not believe that Jesus died for our sins, and that he offers us the hope of salvation from sin to all who believe, we will perish in our sins. Yet, if we do not accept what the Bible teaches regarding what takes place in the life of someone who truly believes in Jesus Christ, and we think we can just get by with some intellectual assent to what Jesus did for us, and we believe that nothing has to change in our lives, then not only are we missing the whole point of why Jesus died in the first place, but we will also perish in our sins. It is what Jesus said, and it is what the apostles reiterated time and time again (See: Lu. 9:23-25; Ro. 8:1-14). If we continue living in sin, we don’t really know God (See: 1 Jn. 3:6-9).

Continue in God’s Grace (vv. 42-43)

As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.

We are not saved from sin just so that we can escape hell and go to heaven when we die. Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; and that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave himself up for us (See: 1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Co. 5:15). We hear a lot about God’s grace these days, but much of it preaches a grace which does not put sin to death in the life of the believer, but which still leaves him bound in slavery to sin’s deceitful ways. Yet, God’s grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for Christ’s return (Tit. 2:11-14). God has called his followers to be holy, set apart from (different, unlike) this sinful world, because we are becoming like Christ. Our salvation gives us the empowerment to live free from the control of sin because we are now under the control of Christ’s righteousness. This is true freedom!

We are also not saved from sin, and that is the end of it until we die. We are saved (past). We are being saved (present-continuous). And, we will be saved (future) when Jesus Christ returns for us and our salvation is complete. God is making us holy. He is transforming us into the image of Christ. He is maturing us and he is helping us to grow in our walks of faith and obedience to him. Our salvation is not just about forgiveness of sins, but it is a lifestyle change, and we keep on changing and growing until we die or until Jesus returns. We grow in our faith through daily time with our Lord in prayer and in his word, in listening to him speak his truths to our hearts, and then in obeying whatever it is that he teaches us. The more we obey, the more he teaches us. And, all this is done in the power and strength of the Spirit living within us as we cooperate fully with God’s work of grace in our lives.

Opposition to Belief (vv. 44-48)

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

When we truly believe in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of our lives, and we are crucified with him in death to sin, and we are resurrected with him in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” the devil is not going to like it. So, he will do everything within his power to try to stop this work of grace in our lives, from trying to draw us back into sin, to persecuting us for holding to the truths of scripture and for living the life God intends for us to live for his glory. And, if we are sharing the full gospel message with others, so that their lives can also be transformed of the Spirit of God in death to sin, and in living to God and to his righteousness, then we will be persecuted, rejected, hated, mistreated, falsely accused, ostracized, and even put out of some church gatherings because of our “strong convictions.”

Yet, we are not on this earth to live to ourselves and to do what pleases us, or in order for us to be liked by others. We, as followers of Christ, are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and we are to let our lights shine before humankind. We are to be Christ’s witnesses to his salvation throughout the world. And, we are to make disciples (followers) of Christ of people of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all of Christ’s commandments (his instructions to us) (Ac. 1:8; Matt. 28:18-20). Even if we don’t presently see the results of our labors, we can be confident that our Lord will “supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Co. 9:10). Amen! We just have to obey our Lord, do what he says, and leave the results with him.

Near the Cross
Fanny J. Crosby / William H. Doane

Jesus, keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary's mountain.

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day
With its shadow o'er me.

Near the cross I'll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand
Just beyond the river.

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.