使徒言行録13:26-37 Acts 13:26-37,
We sometimes liken life to the changing of the seasons. In other words, spring is the time of children and youth, when life shines brightly; summer, when we are mature and in the prime of life; autumn, when we are in a ripe old age and we realise our limitations; and winter, old age when our bodies and minds decay and our earthly life ends. According to these metaphors, our life ends in winter. But isn’t it rather sad that it ends in winter? As the saying goes, “If winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” if, after our bodies and minds decay and our earthly life is over, we can welcome spring, what a blessing it would be!
Paul Tournier, a Christian psychiatrist, wrote in the last section of his book The Seasons of Life that beyond the winter of life there is a time to get to know God face to face. In other words, based on 1 Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face,” he said, “I know with Paul that just as God knew me before I was born, beyond the winter of death I will know God face to face.” Precisely speaking, the quoted biblical passage means that Christians will come to know Christ fully on the last day when salvation is complete. But since the first step in getting there is for us to end our earthly life with faith in Christ, it would also be correct to say, as Tournier does, that beyond the winter of death I will know God face to face.” We could then say that it is God’s plan that we will experience various sufferings in the spring, summer and autumn of our lives, and that we will look forward to what lies beyond the winter.
Carl Hilty, the brilliant Swiss Christian thinker known for such books as For Sleepless Nights, wrote in one of his books as follows: “The man who has never been troubled, who is always swimming in the waters of so-called happiness, never progresses inwardly, but rather remains mediocre forever and is unfit for the work of the Kingdom of God.” In fact, those who have entered the winter of their lives after a series of peaceful steps, unaware of suffering, often find themselves at a loss, not knowing how to accept the coming end of their lives. Therefore, it can be said that it is good for human beings to experience anguish in the days of youth, in the days of maturity and in the days of ripeness.
What is the most representative book that describes human sufferings? I think it is the Old Testament which contains numerous accounts of human sufferings, sometimes in the form of narrative, sometimes in the form of prophecy, and sometimes in the form of poetry. When we read the laments of the psalmists and the righteous Job, the prophecies of the prophet Jeremiah in his anguish, or the stories of the suffering lives of the patriarchs, we cannot help but feel deep sympathy. We realise that the Old Testament is about the sufferings of God’s people Israel, and that the great theme of God’s grace in delivering the Israelites from their sufferings pervades the entire Old Testament.
Interestingly, however, there is no specific answer in the Old Testament as to how the Israelites will ultimately be saved from the suffrings. Of course, it is prophesied and awaited. But it is only in the future. The Old Testament is a book of longing for the salvation to come, and the answer as to how that longed-for salvation was granted can only be found in the other book, the New Testament.
And the answer is the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if we want to understand the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must know how that event was prophesied and awaited. The question of why God gave the suffering Israelites an answer in the form of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, cannot be understood without hearing the deep cry of anguish and the longing hope for salvation of the Israelites that runs through the Old Testament. And the anguish and hope echoed in the Old Testament are the fundamental questions that have been asked since the beginning of human history: what will overcome human sin and death?
Asked to preach in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, the apostle Paul testified that the kingdom that God had promised to David, king of Israel, and his descendants, had been realised through Jesus Christ. It is written in chapter 13 verses 22 and 23, shortly before today’s passages, as follows.
“And when he had removed him (Saul), he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”
The biblical passages we have read today also tell us that the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and in particular the resurrection, have been prophesied and awaited since Old Testament times. In other words, we are told that the kingdom promised to King David was not in fact a shifting throne and kingdom of this world, but the eternal Kingdom of God, and that therefore Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
The Apostle Paul begins in verse 26: “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.” In other words, “Since God has brought to Israel a Savior Jesus as David’s offspring, and since ‘the message of this salvation’ is addressed to ‘us,’ that is, Jews, including Paul, and non-Jews who seek and believe in the true God, let us take it seriously,” Paul is calling on the attendance of the synagogue. Paul then briefly speaks of Christ’s death on the cross in verses 27-29. Here, for some reason, Paul does not elaborate on the redemptive significance of Christ’s cross. However, the fact that the cross of Christ is a matter of redemption that was prophesied in the Old Testament, is well illustrated in the way that the people and leaders in Jerusalem “fulfilled them by condemning him” in verse 27, and in the way that he says “when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb” in verse 29. By these phrases, Paul must have alluded to the Old Testament verses of Isaiah 53:12 and Deuteronomy 21:23.
Paul then makes a powerful statement that it was not only the cross of Christ but also his resurrection that was prophesied in the Old Testament, and now fulfilled.
First, after declaring in verse 30 that “But God raised him from the dead,” he introduces the work of the apostles in verse 31 by saying that those who have met the risen Christ now witness concerning his resurrection. In verse 31, “for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people,” which probably refers to the Twelve Apostles, such as Peter, who followed Christ all the way from Galilee. And in verse 32, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers,” which may refer to the activities of Paul and Barnabas sent from the Antiochian church. As far as being witnesses to Christ’s resurrection is concerned, this means that the Twelve Apostles, such as Peter, who knew Jesus well on earth, and Paul and Barnabas, who became Christians after Christ’s ascension to heaven, are basically the same.
Second, Paul gets down to business and describes how Christ’s resurrection was prophesied by the Old Testament. In verse 33, he quotes Psalm 2:7 from the Old Testament. This is the verse, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” The second Psalm is a psalm sung at the coronation of the king of Israel, and the original context is that God calls out to the new king, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Here the king of Israel is called “Son of God,” but this does not mean that he was believed by myth or superstition to be a supernatural being. The kings of Israel were given the status of sons of God on the basis of their legal relationship as those to whom God had entrusted the rule of Israel.
If even the king of Israel, who was only a human being, is called “Son of God,” it is only natural that Jesus Christ, the original Son of God, should be given authority as King. And Christ’s authority as King was not merely the authority to rule over earthly kingdoms, but also the authority to rule over all of heaven and earth. The authority of an earthly king to rule over the nations of this earth is only temporary. The lifespan of the person sitting in authority and the duration of their reign are limited. And above all, the nations of the earth themselves are subject to change. However, the authority that governs all things in heaven and on earth is eternal, and the Kingdom of God, or heaven, is also eternal.
Therefore, the One who rules over heaven must be the One who lives forever. God the Father in heaven is just such One who lives and reigns forever. And not only that, the Bible teaches that Christ, who has risen from the dead, is the One who lives forever with God the Father and rules over all things in heaven and on earth. In chapter 28 verses 18 and 19 of Matthew’s Gospel, the risen Christ says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” So it was, so to speak, an inevitable event that Jesus Christ was resurrected and received eternal life in order to become the eternal King of heaven and the nations of the earth.
The Apostle Paul explains from two passages in the Old Testament that Jesus Christ was awaited as the eternal King.
The one is in the second half of verse 34: “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David,” which is taken from Isaiah 55:3. In its original context, this Isaiah prophecy states that God will make an everlasting covenant with the suffering Israelites. In other words, it expresses that the people of Israel are looking forward to an eternal land of peace that will no longer be invaded or destroyed, and that God has promised them this.
The other is the confession of faith in verse 35: “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” This is taken from Psalm 16:10. The psalmist sings that those who are in communion with God are protected from the power of death, i.e., that communion with God is not cut off by the power of death. The psalmist prophesies the resurrection of Christ by believing in and looking forward to communion with God, which conquers death. This verse is also quoted in Acts 2:27 in Peter’s sermon, and is an important verse that shows how Old Testament believers longed for the saviour that which overcomes death.
Thus, believers in God in Old Testament times confessed a faith that looked forward to the eternal Kingdom and eternal life. And God had indeed promised them those things through prophecies. However, the eternal Kingdom and eternal life did not come true in Old Testament times. Even the great King David died after fulfilling his kingly duties, as verse 36 says: “David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption.” David’s kingdom was also destroyed by the armies of the Babylonian Empire in 587 BC.
However, the eternal Kingdom and eternal life prophesied in the Old Testament were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And this was the One for whom the Israelites, who had suffered in sin and death, had long awaited. When Paul says in verse 37, “but he whom God raised up did not see corruption,” he is of course referring to this Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the eternal King who reigns over an eternal Kingdom with eternal life. The prophesied and long-awaited Saviour Jesus Christ has risen from the dead to take the throne of the eternal Kingdom. And by believing in Christ, we can become partakers of this eternal Kingdom.
The first phrase I mentioned, “If winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” is from the poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). What then is the spring that we Christians look forward to? If it is prosperity in this world, then we must say that spring is also empty. But if we look forward to eternal spring in heaven, then that hope is a certainty.
The spring that Christians look forward to is, first of all, the day when we finish our earthly life and are welcomed into heaven by Christ, the eternal King. And not only that, but also the last day, when we will be resurrected into a body of eternal life like Christ’s, and his Kingdom will be completed when evil is destroyed by his final judgement. As we look forward to this eternal spring, we go forward with hope in this cold and headwindy earthly walk. Therefore, the various events we experience in the four seasons of our earthly life are passing points on the way to the spring of heaven. And by recognising this, it also means that we can, in turn, have a moderate, joyful and meaningful life here on earth. As we journey towards the city of the eternal Kingdom of God in Christ, the difficulties of this earthly journey will be overcome and we will be given new strength.