top of page
  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

But God Had a Plan


 


"When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead…” Acts 13:29-30


These words (v.29-30) are found in a message spoken by a Christian named Paul. Verse 16 tells us that he addressed his audience as ‘fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God’. These were people who had a connection with Paul’s own background. They were either fellow Israelites – like him – or others who had embraced the one God religion of that nation. Paul’s message can be summarised in two words – ‘But God’.


Paul had been invited to speak in the local Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Verse 15 says, ‘After the reading from the Law and the Prophets’ (v.15), ‘word’ was ‘sent’ to Paul and his companions. Apparently this was a custom whenever an educated visitor came to a synagogue - they were invited to comment on what had been read. What had been read? We don’t know exactly, other than the general pattern. There had been a reading from the Law, which was God’s standard for Israelite life, given to them through a prophet called Moses, early on in their history. Many Jews had an incorrect view of that Law and of its potential.


Paul had previously been such a person, before he came to faith in Jesus Christ. He, like others, believed that this life standard showed them how they could get to God by their own good behaviour. But it didn’t. What God’s life standard really does is highlight how far short the standards of our lives are compared to his own standard of expectation (see Romans 3:20). The Bible has a tiny word to describe this massive difference between our lives and what God expects – it is the word ‘sin’. Sin separates us from God. Sin means that we cannot have a full, free, ongoing relationship with our creator. He is holy. We are not. ‘But God’ had a plan.


That is where ‘the Prophets’ come in – that is the other place that was read from that day. The prophets were people who God used as his mouthpiece throughout Israel’s history. They communicated what God was promising. They foretold of God’s people-rescue plan, from sin and its devastating consequences. This ongoing revelation told them of someone who was coming - someone who God was sending - who would lead his people to an awesome victory. Many Israelites were blinded to the full extent of the truth of what they were being told. The look of this predicted future was very misshapen in their minds. Why? Because they were just like us. How many of us, even with good information in front of us, can really predict the future. If we could then we’d all be down at Ladbrokes. Del Boy, from ‘Only Fools and Horses’, would actually be a prophet. This time next year we would all be millionaires! But we cannot predict the future. No one can – ‘But God’ can.


These people in Pisidian Antioch that morning were waiting for God’s promise to come true. But, the last of the prophets in the Old Testament – someone referred to as Malachi – had spoken over 400 years before. It was as if God had gone silent. These people were desperate for God to speak - they were desperate for God to act.


It is easy for us to think that the Jews were only waiting for the coming of God’s promised one, until that point that Jesus arrived on the scene, and when, after his rising from the dead, his saving name was first preached on the Day of Pentecost described in Acts 2. But that isn’t true. These Jews in this place had never heard the message. They were still waiting. Actually, this links them to us. We may never have heard the message of Jesus before. Today may be the day. We may have heard it many times, but never really appreciated its value – never fully embraced its relevance to us. Today may be the day. And if we have heard it, and believed it before, how does it feel when we hear it again? The power of the cross of Jesus is undiluted. It should always delight his people. When Paul stood up to speak, that ‘today’ was going to be the day for some of them. Their waiting was about to end.


I like to think of myself as a very patient man, although my self-appraisal may not be accurate, seeing as my family seem to delight in reminding me that my favourite phrase, whenever we are in a McDonald’s drive-thru queue, is, ‘You call this fast food?!’. Anyway, whatever the truth is, I once had to wait for a very long time. It was 5th July 2014. The Tour de France was in town – our town! Stage One was starting in Leeds and, after travelling through the awesome countryside of Yorkshire, was finishing several hours later in Harrogate. After the riders had left Leeds, my plan was to catch the next train to Harrogate. Simple – except it was so simple, that half the world’s population had come up with the exact same plan! I and my son, George, joined the queue.


I genuinely believe that if you collected up all of the people in every other queue that I have ever been in, and put them in a line, it would be considerably shorter than that queue in Leeds that day. Leeds is a sizeable city. Its train station car park is not small. But this queue snaked the length of that car park and back many times over. We were going to have to wait. And wait. And wait. When the station staff did communicate with us it was so good. They told us of the plan that was already in place to bring rolling stock from all over the region into Leeds, and that there would be room for everyone who wanted to get on board.


At times, they fetched us something to refresh us with, une bouteille d'eau - a bottle of water – it was awesome! But there was a point when we had heard nothing for what seemed like 400 years! Like time, we did a slow march, gradually forwards until we entered the station concourse and… were greeted with the sight of many hundreds of people still between us and the platform. And then, the news came. A lengthy train had pulled in and a lady from the rail company was walking towards us. She told us that we would fit on this train. I scoffed - it seemed ridiculous. There was no way that all those in front would fit on and then there be room left for me - I was too far back. But over 700 people boarded and boarded until, at last, I did too. It was true - there was room.


In Acts 13, when Paul stood up to speak, there were people who were waiting. They were waiting for the fulfilment of God’s plan. But they had received no information for ages. They wanted refreshment and encouragement. Paul was asked, in verse 15, if he had ‘a word of exhortation for the people’ – something that would encourage them to stay in the queue and patiently go the distance. They didn’t want something dry. Their hope was that Paul would perhaps bring something from the Old Testament scriptures that would be like a cool drink to quench their thirst. But he told them something beyond imagination. It was like he told them that the train had arrived and there was room for everyone. They were anticipating no more than a bottle of water but Paul gave them the whole reservoir of God’s saving plan! He told them about the risen Jesus – God’s son cruelly executed like a wicked criminal – his life extinguished by an act of tremendous sin - ‘But God raised him from the dead’.


Paul starts at the beginning of this nation’s history. His account uses several words which point to God’s pre-planning. In verse 17, he ‘chose’ their ancestors. ‘He made the people prosper’ even while they were slaves in Egypt, suffering the effects of living in a world of sin and separation. ‘He led them out’ ‘with mighty power’. Why? Because God had a plan.


I mentioned earlier that this plan was to deal with sin. Sin was the reason for God’s saving plan and sin opposed it every step of the way. Verse 18 alludes to the behaviour of this people group during a forty year wilderness journey. Those of us who know that part of the Old Testament’s account, know what their behaviour was like. They constantly complained. They constantly rejected God and the people who brought his word to them. What did God do? Did he reject them, like we would expect him to, like we would have done if we were in his place? No. ‘He endured their conduct’. Why? Because God had a plan.


Verse 19 tells us about the way in which God gave them victories on the way and provided them with a land to live in. Verse 20 tells us that, what Paul has just described in 3 verses, actually took ‘450 years’. Who would be prepared to take 450 years just to see the first beginnings of a long term plan unfold? Not someone like me. Someone very, very patient and very, very purposeful. Someone very, very good. Someone very, very God.


Then we have the flow of verse 20 into verses 21-22 where, once again, God is rejected. Previously, God ‘gave them’ leaders, called ‘judges’, to make wise judgements over national life. The final one of these, ‘Samuel the prophet’, is mentioned (v.20). This refers us back to Samuel’s prophecy, one of the Old Testament books. 1 Samuel 8, tells us that when ‘the people asked for a King’, Samuel felt rejected. But the Lord God of Israel spoke to him. The truth was worse than Samuel thought. God said, ‘it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king’. Ostensibly, they wanted to choose a ruler, ‘such as all the other nations have’. Actually, they just wanted to loosen God’s authority over their lives. Samuel warned them what this would lead to. A human king would be the opposite of what their God-king had been. God had given & given & given. The king they replaced him with would take & take & take. And so it was when God ‘gave them Saul son of Kish… who ruled for forty years’. It was important that those people learnt this valuable lesson about rejection of God, and God allowed it to happen. Sin and rebellion are never without consequence. But, how gracious was God? Verse 22 says, ‘After removing Saul, he madeDavid their king… a man after his own heart’. Why? Because, ‘he will do everything I want him to’. Why? Because God had a plan.


Paul then skips a large chunk of Old Testament history to near his dramatic conclusion. God’s plan given through his prophets foretold of one of David’s descendants being God’s Saviour – his person that would rescue people. Paul mentions this in (v.23). He then speaks of John the Baptist, who himself was prophesied by Malachi as the announcer of the coming of Jesus. And then he moves into what happened in Israel when Israel’s Saviour appeared in the streets of the capital of Jerusalem. Just as, throughout their history, they had made an awful habit of rejecting their God, when Jesus – God’s Son and humankind’s Saviour – came, they rejected him too. This was human rebellion’s finish hour. Expect, Paul tells us that it wasn’t. Verse 27 says that in ‘condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets’, and verse 29 says, ‘when they had carried out all that was written about him…’. God had already predicted that this would happen. Why? Because it had to happen to deal with sin. Why? Because God had a plan.


Jesus came to live a life that we never could live. How good was the life of Jesus? He met God’s life standard, in an extra-ordinary way. The rightness of his life was so exact that it matched God’s standard even to ‘the smallest letter’ and ‘the least stroke of (God’s) pen’ (Matthew 5:18). And Paul references God’s life standard – his law. Firstly, Paul quotes various Old Testament writings to prove that the risen again Jesus is the Saviour and then says in verse 38, ‘I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you’. Then, verse 39 says, ‘Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses’. What does that mean, ‘Justification’? That is a big Bible word! But it is a simple truth. Another word can help – it’s ‘Microsoft Word’.


There is a function in word processing software that adds tiny spaces to each line to ‘distribute your text evenly between the margins’ (MS Word). That function is called ‘Justification’. Microsoft say this, ‘Justified text gives your document clean, crisp edges so it looks more polished’. - When we hit the ‘justify’ button, everything looks neat and tidy. That is what happens when we put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour. According to God’s plan, Jesus died on that cross to take upon himself, the suffering and deathly consequence of my sin. He took my life’s document. In exchange, he gave me his. Now, when I come to God, he has hit the ‘justify’ button on my life’s standard. Before, it was all over the place. It was a mess. There were massive gaps everywhere. But now, I have the life of Jesus as my own, and that is of a standard that exactly matches that of God’s law, even when placed under his holy microscope (see Isaiah 42:21 (AKJV)). And, as Paul says in verse 39, the same is true of ‘everyone who believes’ in Jesus.


That is the Easter message - Jesus lived. Jesus died. ‘But God raised him from the dead’ so that all who believe would know that they too will rise again to live with him for ever. What a plan!?


How awesome is it when someone who you consider to be important or valuable, invites you to be part of their proposals. It’s pretty good, I think you’ll agree. The message of Jesus is God’s invite. He includes us in his plan. How good is that?! Paul, in verses 40-41, talks about it being so good that we could never have dreamt it up. For people conscious of life’s ruin, it is a message beyond our wildest dreams. Paul warns us not to scoff and reject and so perish. He was telling this message to people that day who had been waiting to hear it. He was like a station announcer – ‘Today, if you will hear, Jesus has arrived and there is room for you’ (see Psalm 95:7 & Hebrews 3:15). A further 2000 years of human history have passed since Acts 13, but this message is unchanged. My question for you this Easter day is this, ‘Are you on board?’


‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16).

Comments


bottom of page