Their History Is Our History
Having left Paphos on the island of Cyprus, they sailed for what is sometimes called “Asia Minor,” (i.e., Turkey), landed at Perga in Pamphilia (where John Mark deserted the group, a matter that will prove divisive later) and traveled farther inland to Antioch in Pisidia. (They knew from experience that a city called “Antioch” was a good place to preach the Gospel!) They went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day as usual and were asked by the leaders of the synagogue if they had any words of encouragement for the people. This was not an unusual thing for synagogue leaders to ask at that time. But, of course, it was a request which Paul was all too happy to fulfill.
Upon this invitation, Paul preached a sermon similar to both Stephen’s, in that he narrates the history of the Israelites though not in so much detail, and Peter’s on the day of Pentecost, in that he highlights Old Testament passages which prophesied the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus being that Messiah. We can safely assume that this was a standard way for Christians to preach the Gospel to Jews in the first century. It was important to present to the Jews their history as God’s covenant people, and from there to present Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of those covenant promises committed to God’s covenant people through his death and resurrection. In this way, the apostles hoped to show their Jewish brethren the wonderful news that their Messiah had indeed come and that forgiveness of sins and freedom from the burden of the Law was now possible. And as happened then as now, some believed and some didn’t, and of those who believed, a church was formed in that city of those believers with Paul and Barnabas teaching and preaching, at least until they were run out of town by Jews and Gentiles in opposition to their work.
We will learn later in Acts 17:16ff that when preaching to pagan Greeks, Paul did not rehearse the history of the Jews for the obvious reason that such would have meant nothing to them. And that would be just as true when preaching to modern pagans today. But upon saving faith, these truths from the Old Testament must be learned by us Gentile Christians. We must know the overarching story of the Bible in which after the fall, flood, and Babel, God chose a people to whom He gave his law, who failed to follow it, but which people eventually brought forth the Messiah, who was to be their Savior. Why? Because their story is our story as well, as sinners in need of God’s grace. The Old Testament shows us how God fulfilled His promises to His people despite their infidelity to Him. Neither God nor we have changed.