Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, aying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it." So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
"You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the desert. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, "I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes." Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, "What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet."
I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,
that your truth is firmly established as the heavens. (R./)
I have found David my servant
and with my holy oil anointed him.
My hand shall always be with him
and my arm shall make him strong. (R./)
My truth and love shall be with him;
by my name his might shall be exalted.
He will say to me: 'You are my father,
my God, the rock who saves me.' (R./)
" Truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, "The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me."
I tell you this now, beforehand, so that when it happens you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me."
A line of meaning stretches through Israel’s history through Jesus and right through to our own day. Jesus is sent by the heavenly Father, with a message not just in words but through his personality. He is both the messenger and the message from the heart of the living God. Like Yahweh on Mount Horeb, Jesus can say of himself, I AM. This I AM title not only identifies Jesus with the eternal divinity, but links him into the long history of Israel. He is the visible presence of the God who spoke to Moses at the burning bush, the mysterious saviour whose name is “I AM” or Yahweh (Ex 3:14). In fact, the name for Jesus in Hebrew (Jeho-shua) means “Yahweh saves”.
God is known as the reliable One who will always be with his people. Gradually they discovered aspects of God in their hopes and struggles and triumphs. This sacred name of Yahweh is deliberately echoed by Jesus when he says: “that you may believe that I AM.” In this phrase he links himself to the entire saving history of Israel and of mankind.
While preaching in a synagogue in Pisidia, Paul reviews some of the great moments of Israel’s history, focusing on Moses, David and John the Baptist, leading ultimately to Jesus. Israel’s long history from the eternal God to Jesus of Nazareth, saw many hardships and new situations. They escaped from oppression in Egypt but their entry to the land of promise was delayed for forty years. Even when they invaded the land of Canaan it was a long time before they settled it under a monarchy. Their first king, Saul was deposed; and after four centuries David’s dynasty also disappeared. This series of defeats and renewal continued within the life of Jesus and his church. Judas, one of the apostles betrayed him; but Jesus predicted this betrayal and put it in a positive light: “I tell you before it takes place, so that you may know that I AM.”
Life-changing events can appear to be disruptive or disastrous. But in the life of Jesus such events were part of God’s plan: “so that you may believe that I AM.” God moves in ways we cannot anticipate in advance. But even when we are not in control of events, this is no reason to despair and give up. On the example of Jesus and of Paul we turn to God in prayer, and realize that ultimately it is God who directs all things. Trusting in this providence, we can be inwardly at peace.
When Jesus told his disciples to welcome children in his name, it was a surprise and a wake-up call. They were arguing about which of them should be in charge and sit at the top table. But seeking social status like this was trivial and had no place the kingdom of God.
What is worthwhile in God’s sight is becoming servants of all, including those to who have little social status. Like the disciples we can easily slide into frivolous values that are not those of the kingdom of God. Only by keeping our focus on Jesus and listening to his word will his values shape how we think and speak and act.