You Will Be Free Indeed (Acts 13:38-39)
I. The Freedoms You Enjoy
Think for a moment about all the freedoms you enjoy. Because today we regularly hear about or see examples from all around the world of individuals suffering under injustice and oppression, though we can easily take such things for granted, it's not difficult to identify these freedom. So again, think for a moment about all the freedoms you currently enjoy. Now... for which one of these are you most grateful? Which means the most to you? Look with me, if you would, at Acts 13, one of the chapters from Our Bible Reading Plan from last week.
II. The Passage: “Through This Man” (13:38-39)
Last time we highlighted the fact this book highlights how God, almost two-thousand years ago, supernaturally advanced his word in those early days of the church. What we find here in Acts 13 is no exception, especially since this chapter begins with the Holy Spirit speaking to believers in the very young church at Antioch. What did God's Spirit communicate to these believers? Take a look at 13:2. The Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” And that's exactly what they did. Saul, of course, represents another clear supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The once infamous persecutor of the church was now, amazingly, proclaiming the name he once sought to stamp out... the name of Jesus. Now, as we move down from verse 2 of this chapter, we find a helpful note in verse 9: “...Saul, who was also called Paul...”. So from here on out, the author will refer to him as Paul.
So where has the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas? He's sent them west, by sea, to the island of Cyprus, and then after that, to the Roman province of Asia Minor (which today is the country of Turkey). Interestingly, these men who had set out from Antioch in Syria now found themselves in a city of the same name: Antioch. Even though our main text is way down in verses 38 and 39, it's important we understand the context here. We read in verse 14 that these men went to the local synagogue on the Sabbath day, and in verse 15, were invited to address the gathering. So beginning in verse 16, Paul preaches to these Jewish listeners. This is the first of Paul's sermons (or messages) recorded in the book of Acts. Okay. Now drop down to v. 38...
[Paul declared...] Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,  and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Now, I've got three crucial questions that we need to ask about these verses, but let's deal with the most obvious one first: who is “this man” that Paul mentions in verse 38? I suspect most of you know the answer to that question, but just in case, look back at verse 23. Everything Paul tells his listeners about their history in verses 17-22 is simply meant to bring them to King David. And it's from David that Paul links the past to the present in verse 23: “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.” And so, everything from verse 23 down to our main verses is focused on Jesus. Paul is telling them in verse 38, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you”.
So, having established that Paul is talking about Jesus, what are the three crucial questions we need to answer about this passage? Here they are...
Number one, What does Paul mean by “freed”? Number two, Why did the law of Moses fail? And number three, How exactly does Jesus free us? Let's tackle those in that order:
First, when he tells them that, “everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses”, what does Paul mean by “freed”? To understand this concept, we need to understand the Greek word Paul originally used with these listeners. The word translated “freed” here is the word dikaioō. What's interesting about this word is that it doesn't literally mean “freed”. So when Jesus famously declared, “...you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...”, or, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:32, 36), he wasn't using this word. But he was talking about the same freedom.
Okay. What's incredibly helpful to understand about this word is how it's used by Paul himself in his letters. Here's one example... “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Now you may be thinking, “I didn't hear anything there about being freed or freedom.” But that same Greek word is there; in fact, it's central to Romans 4:5. In that verse the word is translated as “justifies”. And that's how it's usually translated in the NT... to justify, to count as righteous, to acquit of all charges. So why is it translated “freed” in the ESV? Well, that's what helps us understand the kind of freedom Paul is talking about.
This term is rarely combined with the preposition from (i.e.,to be justified from). But when it is, it seems to point to freedom from a legal penalty. It's like saying, “The prisoner was justified from death row.” Which means what? That he was freed from death row, because... he was acquitted of all the charges against him. And this fits nicely with what we find in Acts 13:39, since Paul makes it clear that he's speaking about a specific legal context: “the law of Moses”.
So that leads to our second question, “Why did the law of Moses fail?” In Romans 3:20, Paul makes this same exact point, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight...”. But look at what he adds to the end: “...since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” What exactly does that mean? Well, it simply expands on what Paul revealed in the previous verse. Here's 3:19, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” So the law of God brings the knowledge of our sin, and thus, knowledge of the full extent of our sinful condition. Paul had come to understand that though the law of God could at times help people avoid sinful choices, it couldn't deal with the sin already at work inside sinners like us. In fact, it simply confirmed our condemnation, since no one can fully keep the law, as it should and must be kept. But God was still at work. Thus Paul told the Galatians (in 3:24), “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be (dikaioō) justified by faith.”
And that brings us to our supremely important third question: how exactly does Jesus free us? The first part of an answer to that question is found in verse 38. What precisely is now possible “through this man” that the law could not perfectly provide? “Forgiveness of sins”. Sure, the law of Moses included forgiveness through animal sacrifices, but these were ultimately inadequate to fully and finally deal with sin. Again, using that key word, dikaioō, Paul's letters can help us better understand Paul's sermon here, specifically in regard to “forgiveness of sins”.
[Galatians 3:11–13...] Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”  But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” [i.e., works, not faith] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”...
And that's exactly where Paul pointed his readers in Antioch. Look back at Acts 13, at the end of verse 27. The Jewish leaders actually “fulfilled [the prophets] by condemning [Jesus].  And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed.  And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree [i.e., the cross] and laid him in a tomb.  But God raised him from the dead...” How does Jesus free us from every-thing from which we cannot be freed by the law, that is, by our own works? Through the ransom or redemption price he paid on the cross, for our sins, and through his resurrection from the dead, giving us power to live a new life of freedom; freedom through faith alone. Freedom from the oppressiveness and futility of works; of trying to be good enough.
III. The New Way
So let's summarize: Paul was offering his listeners in Antioch a freedom they never were able to experience through the OT law: freedom from the law's penalty. So is God guilty of injustice by not punishing guilty people like us? No. That penalty was handed out. It was laid on Jesus... as he hung on the cross. But when God raised him from the dead, he also made another freedom possible. Remember what we said about the law's failure: though it could at times help people avoid sinful choices, it couldn't deal with the sin already at work inside us. But Paul wrote in Ro. 7:6, “But now we are released from the law, having died [through Christ] to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
So please consider what is true for us, just as it was true for those in Antioch: the resurrection makes possible, and the Spirit of God empowers, a new way to serve God in freedom. Here's how that freedom work: the law said, for example, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex. 20:14) Then Jesus took us deeper in Matthew 5:28, “...I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” You see, the law could forbid adultery (and thus condemn us), but it couldn't fix lust. That's where freedom through Jesus comes in. His death made possible our forgiveness, and his resurrection made possible a “new self”, which according to Ephesians 4:24, is not enslaved to lust, but was, in fact, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Just as Paul announced in that synagogue, here's good news: because of Jesus, we can now be changed.
So is that it? Does God now just take lust (or hate or greed or jealousy) away when we look to Jesus? Are we talking about freedom from the presence of such things? No. But he does renew our minds toward that goal. How? Well... first, he frees us from the weight of condemnation. Paul told the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Brother, sister, friend, there is condemnation from which you need to be freed. God knows it's crushing you this morning. Second, true freedom give us true perspective: (e.g.,) what kind of love or belonging or pleasure can lust give you that could ever compare to everything Jesus has secured for his people? Through the gospel, we have new eyes to rightly recognize these counterfeits. Third, we have power through God's Spirit to live in light of that new perspective; for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Co. 3:17) God knows that for some of you, there is control from which you need to be freed. He knows it's leading you astray. There is a helplessness that robs you of hope. But he is offering you power today. Or... He is calling you back to these things today. Friends, we live in a nation that regularly and rightly celebrates its many freedoms. And yet, so many are not truly free; that is, free in the freedom only Jesus makes possible. Are you? And are you walking in that freedom? You can never be good enough to secure or experience such freedom. But you can look to Christ. And you can rest in what he did, and in what only he makes possible. Shouldn't that be the freedom for which we are most grateful, above everything else? “..if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
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