The issue that lay at the heart of this debate between Paul and these synagogue leaders was the question of how God deals with sin. Paul was trying to convince them that God requires a payment to be made for our sins, one that goes far deeper than anything we humans could even provide. But most of those elders appear to have believed that God can simply ignore our sins if He chooses to. And that difference of opinion likely determined whether or not any elder believed what Paul was telling them: that Gods Messiah had to die. They were asking themselves: Is sin really a problem, or is it something God can dismiss with a wave of His hand? Probably everyone in that room believed that God would some day send the Messiah to save them, but they differed greatly on what they thought He would do when He arrived. Most had been raised to believe the Messiah would be an extraordinarily gifted human being who would rise up to lead Israel to world dominance. To support their position they could point to an abundance of promises in the Bible which picture the Messiah arriving in glory to destroy enemy armies, re-gather the people of Israel into their land, prosper them, and bring peace to the whole world. Paul, on the other hand, was showing them in passage after passage that sin always produces death, and unless that sin is transferred to someone else there can be no forgiveness. Then he would have shown them that God had appointed the Messiah to die for our sins, and also had promised that He would raise Him from the dead. Paul was trying to convince them that God cannot simply ignore human sin. His justice demands that our sins be paid for, not ignored. And if it isnt, we stand condemned before God, and instead of blessing us, when the Messiah arrives in glory, He will have to condemn us.
To make his point, Paul undoubtedly reminded those elders of all the images of blood in the Old Testament and explained that those symbols were intended to teach us about the cross of Jesus. He was doing with those elders in Rome the same thing Jesus did with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Listen: And He said to them, O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ (Messiah) to suffer those things and to enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Lk 24:25-27).
Later on, Jesus said this: Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk 24:46-47). Even after He rose from the dead Jesus had to talk to His disciples about this same issue. Do the Scriptures really say the Messiah must die, and if so, why? And if they do, why is it so hard for people to accept that fact? Lets join this discussion and try to answer those questions.
Paul meets the elders (Ac 28:17-24)
During the course of this discussion some of these elders became convinced that what Paul was showing them in the Scriptures was true, and they believed, but others did not. And, once again, as had been true in city after city, the gospel divided this Jewish community. What began as an orderly presentation dissolved into a loud disagreement. Then, Luke says those who rejected what Paul was teaching loosed themselves from Paul, and as they departed he warned them that their rejection of Christ was a symptom of the fact that they had grown resistant toward God and that their decision to reject His salvation would cause them further spiritual damage. Why some of them believed and some didnt isnt said, but I think the difference lay in the fact that some felt troubled by their sin, and some didnt.
Some people are deeply aware of the sins they have committed. Somehow they sense they are separated from God. They know what they are doing or have done is wrong and feel guilty for it. But others do not. Their conscience does not seem to bother them. They feel no need to be rescued from anything, so theyre not worried about what God will do with them in the future. If God does review their life, Hell be okay with it. I actually think this difference in the way people feel about their sin is part of what Jesus meant when He said:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him
It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me (Jn 6:44-45).
How is it that the Father draws people to Jesus? One very important way is by convicting them of sin. That feeling of being guilty before God is a gift from Him. Hes preparing us to see the Savior. Depending on how a person responds to this drawing separates him or her into one of two groups: some are under conviction for their sins, and some are not. Then, when those two groups look in the Scriptures they see different things. One ignores all that stuff about sin and looks for the blessings. The other sees all that stuff about sin, and looks for a Savior.
All the symbols
To make his argument, Paul didnt have to draw on some obscure Bible passages and try to force them to say something they dont. He took those elders back to the most foundational events in Israels history: Abrahams covenant with God (Ge 15); the Passover Lamb (Ex 12); the altar of burnt offering in the Tabernacle (Lev 1); the Scapegoat (Lev 16); the high priest sprinkling blood on the Ark of the Covenant on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16); as well as the prophecies about the Messiah suffering and rising, in the psalms (Ps 2, 16, 22, 110) and prophets (Isa 49-53; Da 9:26; Zec 9:9; 12:10; 13:7). He simply reminded them that God had been teaching their people for thousands of years that sin doesnt disappear; it has to be paid for. And those who believed that, had to ask themselves: Then where is this sacrifice for my sins? Surely the blood of bulls and goats is not enough (Heb 9:12). Pauls right; those must have been symbols pointing to something greater. And who but Messiah Himself could provide such a death sufficient to pay for all our sins? Those who were aware of their sin became deeply grateful and amazed that a way had been provided; but those who felt no such guilt, for whom sin was merely a theological inconvenience, no messy death on a cross seemed necessary. A pleasant pardon would be more than enough.
The conversation continues
That conversation in Rome took place probably in the year AD 60 or 61, but frankly the same issue is still being debated today. Many people still teach that because of His love God simply chooses to ignore our sin. They feel no guilt and have no fear of being punished. To them the idea that God had to go to such great lengths to pay for our sins seems silly; all that talk about blood and death seems disgusting (slaughter house religion). They picture God as an old man in the sky who can change the rules if He wants to. After all, Hes God! So all this talk about Him having to send His Son to earth, and then insisting that He allow Himself to be arrested, horribly beaten, and executed seems completely unnecessary.
So when they open the Bible they see nothing but a book full of blessings. And theyre right; the Bible does say God loves us and is merciful, but:
His mercy doesnt mean our sins dont matter.
His love doesnt mean He wont judge sin.
His patience doesnt mean He forgot what we did.
He has provided a way for us all to be saved, not by ignoring our sins, but by paying for them. Thats why theres all that talk about blood in the Bible. Thats why there are shocking passages about a suffering Messiah. In order for us to live, someone had to die
and the only person who could pay that price was His own Son, the Messiah, Jesus.
Coming to the Light (Jn 3:16-21)
The problem with coming to the Light is that the Light is a Person, not a concept. The closer you draw to this Person the more you see how beautiful and pure He is, and how unlike Him you are, and it makes a person want to run away and hide. And some people do. But others keep walking toward Him, and the closer they get the brighter this light becomes and the more their sin is exposed. It becomes very uncomfortable, yet they want to be with Him so much they cry out for mercy, and He gladly gives it by showing them the cross: Thats what I did with your sins. My Son died for you. And when they behold Jesus and believe, He gives them eternal life (Jn 6:40).
It isnt that God wants us to grovel before He grants us mercy, or insists that we feel bad before He will let us feel good. He offers His salvation to all. The difference is that some feel the need for that salvation, and some dont; some are thirsty, and some arent.
Jesus answered and said to her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water (Jn 4:10).
1) What does it feel like when God convicts you of a sin? Describe a time when the Holy Spirit confronted a sinful attitude in you.
2) When did you realize you needed a Savior? How old were you? What brought you to that awareness? How did you respond?