These All Died in Faith: Saved in a Synagogue

Acts 13 – Antioch in Pisidia

The sudden death of the eloquent but vain Herod Agrippa 1 was the talking point in every home in Palestine in AD 44. Yet few in those households were aware of the momentous events taking place to the north in Syria’s capital city Antioch – where a missionary movement of unparalleled effectiveness was about to be unleashed on the Roman Empire, spearheaded by Paul and his companion Barnabas.

First stop, Cyprus – Barnabas’ home territory. Despite fierce opposition from a prominent occultist on the island, Sergius Paulus the local governor was saved. Next stop, Asia Minor (now Western Turkey). Except for a gathering at the synagogue, nothing much happened on a Saturday in the Jewish community in Antioch – one of the major commercial towns in the area. Paul and Barnabas took their seats among the congregation. Not knowing who they were dealing with, the synagogue rulers asked the visiting “brethren” to address the gathered company. Paul rose to his feet and delivered a stunning sermon. Nothing like it had ever reverberated around the synagogue’s walls in all of its history.

Paul started innocuously enough. Israel was God’s chosen people he assured them. The exodus had birthed their great nation. Abraham, the judges, Samuel, Saul, and David all received a mention. Was the audience looking for a promised Savior Who would deliver them – the son of David? White-haired heads in the synagogue nodded sagely. Then Paul dropped a bombshell. He declared that he knew the true identity of this Savior. It was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, whom Jerusalem’s inhabitants had crucified not 12 years before. Declaring himself a personal witness of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul stated: “Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

To sincere souls trusting in the law of Moses, these words came as a severe shock. Salvation, Paul affirmed, is through a Man. Almost 2,000 years later, multitudes who claim to be right with God are still trusting for salvation in anything but “this Man.” Many trust in feelings, a sinner’s prayer, an experience, or something said or done by self. How vain is all such trust! Salvation is in Christ and Christ alone! His death and resurrection weren’t merely necessary – they were all that was necessary. There is no justification before God by any other means.

The following Saturday Antioch came to a standstill. Some had been saved the previous week; others had hardened themselves. During a large street meeting, Paul was heckled by a Jewish contingent in the crowd. Over several days the situation worsened until the preachers were literally run out of town. They left behind two groups. The majority, who through their rejection of the gospel, had “counted themselves unworthy of eternal life,” and the minority, who, finding their hearts set on eternal life, repented and believed in Christ – and were filled with joy. In which company are you?