Second Reading (Christmas Eve): Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
The Appearance of the Messiah
How have you seen Christmas come alive?
Paul arrived at the synagogue in Antioch. 16 After he stood up and waved his hand for silence, he addressed the congregation: “My fellow Israelites and all here who love God. Listen to me! 17 The God of Israel chose our ancestors as his people. While they lived as slaves in Egypt, he raised them up and led them to freedom with his great power.
22 After he removed Saul, God raised David up as king for the people. God said, ‘I find David is close to my heart because he does everything I want him to do.’ 23 From the descendants of David, God brought Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised. 24 Before Jesus appeared, John preached and baptized to all of Israel so people could turn back to God. 25 At the end of his life, John kept saying, “Who do you think I am? I’m not the Messiah. But, listen! He will come after I am gone. And I am not worthy to untie his sandal!”
Paul came to Antioch in the area of Pisidia. He went to the synagogue, and was invited to speak after the Scripture readings.
16 Having stood up and having motioned (for silence) with (his) hand, Paul said, “Men, Israelites, and (those) fearing God, hear (me). 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and raised up the people during the sojourn in the land of Egypt and with an arm high, he led them out from it.
22 Having changed (Saul as king), (God) raised up David for them as king, in whom, he said, having testified, “I found David, the (descendant) of Jesse, a man according to my heart, will carry out all my wishes.” 23 From this (man’s) seed according to his promise, God brought Israel a savior, JESUS, 24 as John announced (in) a baptism of metanoia before the presence of his coming to all the people of Israel. 25 As John finished the course (of his ministry), he kept saying, “Who do you think I am? I am not (HE). But, Look! he comes after me of whom I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.”
13:16 “Men, Israelites” These two terms are synonymous; a translation could be “Fellow Israelites.” “Those fearing God” could be either Greek converts or Gentiles who worshiped YHWH. In the context of the synagogue, Paul meant the converts, but in the context of reading audience, the author Luke meant Gentiles, like himself.
13:22 Paul’s quote combined 1 Samuel 13:14, Psalm 89:20, and Isaiah 44:28.
13:24 “metanoia” is repentance, a turning toward God with mind, heart, and lifestyle.
13:24 “before the presence of his coming” is literally “before the face of his entrance.” The term “face” meant presence, just as the face of the person symbolized the presence of one’s personality.
When Paul preached, he modified his message to his audience. To the Gentiles, he preached the resurrection and new life in Christ. But, to his countrymen, he could frame the Good News in light of national history and the testimony of those the people trusted.
These verses from Acts presented Paul the Jew preaching to Jews. He recalled the glory years for Israel for his audience, from the liberation out of Egypt to the reign of David. Both events communicated the covenants of God, one to his people, one to his chosen king. Paul inferred that God’s promises would be answered in a descendant of Abraham and David, Jesus of Nazareth.
Notice Paul’s next tactic. He turned to the person of John the Baptist. By mentioning the name of the desert prophet and his baptism, Paul recognized his audience was familiar with John and his message. Both Paul and the author Luke presumed John had a favorable reputation among the Jewish population at the time. They did know the core message of John’s ministry, preparation for the coming Messiah. Paul simply connected Jesus with John’s message as another proof that the Christ had indeed arrived.
History and testimony. Paul argued for Jesus in these ways. We, too, have a Christian history that extends over two thousand years and multiple testimonies about the power of God in the lives of Christ’s followers. Both history and testimony attest to the appearance of the Messiah. Both proclaim his presence in our lives.
How has Christ appeared to you this Christmas? How does Christian history and the testimony of others help you to believe in his presence?