Sovereign Grace

Acts 13:13-52    |    Sermon Resources        14 June 2020


The title that has been given to Luke’s story of the early church is the Acts of the Apostles.  On page after page we see the bold and faithful deeds of this group of men as they sought to obey Jesus’ words to be his witnesses to the very end of the earth.  But as much as the acts of apostles are front and center in the story, so too are the acts of the Holy Spirit.  Behind the human activity, we see the divine activity of the Spirit directing it all.  It is to this theme we turn this week.  Divine sovereignty.  We’ll see that the story of the church, and indeed the story of own lives as well, is not ultimately decided by the fickle will of man but by the purposes of God ordained through all eternity.  This comes out strongly in Paul’s sermon and in Luke’s retelling of the events surrounding that sermon.  I call your attention to six verbs chosen by Paul (and Luke) to describe the activity of God.


#1 God Chose

Having left the island of Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas, minus John, arrived in Antioch in Pisidia (v.14), which is located in the region of Galatia.  Paul soon made his first contribution to the New Testament in the form of a follow-up letter to the Galatians.  As was his pattern, he went first to the synagogue (v.15) where he was invited to speak.   Addressing a Jewish audience, he began by connecting the gospel of Jesus to what God had done in the Old Testament:

The God of this people Israel chose our fathers (v.17).

The story of God’s work with Israel began not with their decision to love the Lord but with the Lord’s decision to love them.  God acted first.  He chose a people for himself and gave them a land in which to dwell.  And lest they should believe they had earned God’s love, he tells them very plainly through Moses:  “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people (Deuteronomy 9:6).”  God made a free and completely independent choice to set his affection on one group of people.

This free and sovereign choice had a purpose that the people of Israel seemed to have forgotten.  Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6 in his sermon – “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”  God’s chosen people had a mission.  They had a purpose!  They were blessed to be a blessing to others.  They were saved that they might be instruments bringing salvation to others.  


#2 God Promised

Paul goes through a rough sketch of the Old Testament with a particular focus on kings of Israel.  This, by the way, stands in contrast with the earlier extended sermon by Stephen who emphasized the role of Moses in Israel’s history.  Recounting the life of King David, Paul says:

Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised (v.23).

In other words, it’s not that there was one plan of salvation in the Old Testament and another one in the New Testament.  There was a singular promise to bring salvation through a singular Savior.  The kings of Israel pointed forward to that Savior who would one day come.  This promise is meaningless without the sovereignty of God to bring it about.  It’s important to understand that God was not reacting to the changing world around him but rather moving history (changing the world) to bring about his promises.


#3 God Fulfilled

There is a difference, however, between the believers in the Old Testament and the believers in the New Testament.  Old Testament believers had the promises made and saw them from afar (c.f. Hb 11:13) but now we have those promises fulfilled.  Hear it in Paul’s words:

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 (v.32-33).

God made promises to our fathers.  God fulfilled those promises to us.  To us!  To you.  To me.  That promise of salvation that perpetually laid “over the horizon” for the saints of old has been given to us.


#4 God Freed

The result of the promise made and the promise fulfilled is freedom:

And by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which could not be freed by the law of Moses (v.39).

This statement is all the more significant when you remember Paul was speaking to the people who would form the Galatian church.  When Paul wrote his letter to that church, he was at pains to remind them that the gospel of Jesus, and not the law of Moses, is what brings true freedom.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!  This gospel freedom is something we are powerless to bring about ourselves.  It must be received from the sovereign grace of Jesus.


#5 God Appointed

Our last two verbs come not from the mouth of Paul but from the pen of Luke.

In response to Paul’s preaching there was initially great excitement. The people begged that these things be told them the next Sabbath (v.42).  When the next Sabbath arrived, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord (v.44).  This quickly led to jealousy from the Jews who began to contradict what was spoken by Paul (v.45).  Having, therefore, been rejected by the Jews, Paul turned to the Gentiles (v.46) who in turn, came to faith:

And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (v.48).

Certainly, for this group of Gentiles it felt as if all they had done was make a human decision to trust the Lord.  The gospel was presented to them, they were cut to the heart, and they repented and believed.  But Luke told the deeper story of what had happened.  They had come to faith not as a result of a human decision to love the Lord, but as the result of a divine decision to love them.


#6 God Filled

From there the word of the Lord began to spread throughout the whole region (v.49) which led to more persecution against Paul and Barnabas (v.50) but as they prepared to leave the area, we are told that:

The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (v.52).

Here again we see divine initiative.  After all that Paul and Barnabas had been through, including persecution, nothing would suggest they would be full of joy.  And note that Luke does not tell us that they attained joy but that they were filled with joy.  They did not earn the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; they were filled with the Spirit.  Once again, we see the gift of the sovereign grace of the Lord at work!


Discussion Questions

  1. What does the phrase “sovereign grace” mean? Why is it important to understand that the grace we receive does not come as result of anything we have done?
  2. Paul says God chose our fathers (v.17). Do you think that God’s choice had anything to do with the righteousness of the fathers?  On what basis then did he make his decision?
  3. Looking at Paul’s sermon what do we learn about the promise of a Savior?
  4. Read verse 39. What are we freed from in the gospel that we can’t be freed from in the law of Moses?
  5. Why do you think the Jews responded the way they did in verse 45?
  6. What does verse 48 teach us about God’s sovereignty over our decision to put our faith in him?
  7. The disciples walked away full of joy and the Spirit (verse 52). In what area of your life do you need to experience greater joy?

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