Acts 13:24, 25
When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.…
These verses are part of an address which should have peculiar interest for us, seeing it is the first recorded speech of St. Paul the missionary, and gives us intimation of the points which were prominently before his mind as the themes of his ministry. It is singular to find St. Paul from this time more prominent than the eider man, Barnabas. It may be an example of the commonly observed fact that, sooner or later, the man of power and adaptation comes to the front place. St. Paul's power as a speaker is shown in this address. He was not a rhetorician, and was only in the higher sense eloquent. He was too intense to be careful of mere form, and his speech was always liable to sudden breaks and halts, through the rapidity with which new thoughts were suggested and side issues forced into consideration. His power lay in the intensity of his convictions, which gave a dogmatic and convincing force to the expression of his views; and in his strong sympathy with his audience, which made him quick to adapt himself to them, and so to press home his thought. In this address we may notice:
1. His characteristic attitude, standing up and beckoning with the hand (Acts 17:22; Acts 21:40; Acts 23:1; Acts 26:1).
2. His conciliatory introductions: he always strives first to be sure of a common platform with his audience.
3. His skill in dealing with the early histories; which served his purposes in two ways -
(1) by securing the attention of his Jewish audiences, which are to this day always pleased with reviews of the national history; and
(2) by bringing out the preparatory character of the earlier dispensation, and fitting his gospel message to it as a completion.
4. His firm handling of the facts connected with the mission of Jesus of Nazareth: his innocence; his death as a victim of ecclesiastical enmity; his resurrection.
5. His simple offer of pardon and life in the name of the glorified, living Savior. It is not conceivable that the gospel, in its very essence, can be more succinctly expressed than it has been by the Apostle Paul, in his missionary speeches (see especially here vers. 26, 32, 38, 39).
6. His force of passionate pleading and application of the truth to individuals, as shown in vers. 40, 41. It is to be noted that St. Paul always makes his appeal to both the intelligence and the heart, and the verses now before us for consideration show how he offered proofs of his statements which were well within the comprehension of his audience. A sentiment prevailed generally among the Jewish race concerning John the Baptist. St. Paul takes advantage of it, and shows how John gave his indirect and direct witness to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. It may be true that John's testimony to Jesus was of more value to a Jewish than to a Christian audience, but we question whether sufficient has ever yet been made of it as one of our best evidences to the truth of Christianity. Three things require careful study and efficient illustration.
I. JOHN'S PROPHET-CHARACTER. In fixing attention on John the Baptizer, men have lost sight of his more important relations as John the Prophet. "All men counted John as a prophet," the last of the line of men whom God was pleased to raise up, for a time, as the expounders to men of his will - the voices that spoke to men his message. It was the very essence of the prophet that he had a message from God to deliver, and a right to arrest men and compel them to listen to it. John's message was his mission, and his baptizing rite was but an accident or mode of expressing and sealing his message. We should ask - What did John say to men in the Name of God? not, What rite did John perform?
II. JOHN'S PREPARATORY WORK. This St. Paul dwells on. John never assumed that he had a message complete in itself, or that what he demanded was all, or even, the greatest thing, men needed. He was a herald, but his heralding assumed the close approach of the King. He was a mender of ways, but only to get ready for the royal progress. He demanded repentance, but only that men might be ready to receive the forgiveness and life which the King was coming to bestow. To stop with John is on the face of it absurd. There is no going on from John save to Christ.
III. JOHN'S DIRECT TESTIMONY. There should have been no need for this. And yet it forms a most valuable link, especially to Jews. John witnessed plainly that he had prepared the way for Jesus of Nazareth, that he was the Lamb of God to take away sins, and that God had given to him visible and audible testimony that Jesus was the expected Messiah and Savior. Accept John as prophet, we must accept Jesus as Messiah. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.