Series: Being The Church - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 29, 2016
Last Sunday we began looking at the first two chapters of the Book of Acts. Acts is volume two of a two volume set written by Luke. Volume one being the Gospel of Luke. Luke wrote both books to a man named Theolphilus. Who was probably some high ranking official in the Roman Government. Who had come to faith in Jesus as his savior but - with coming persecution - was under pressure to deny his faith in Jesus.
Which is why we’re looking at these first two chapters of Acts.
Luke wrote Luke and Acts to be an encouragement to Theophilus. Meaning: This is what it means to follow Jesus in the messed up world we live in. And for us as a congregation: This is what it looks like in real time to be the church.
Luke concludes volume one - his Gospel account concludes with Jesus and the disciples just outside Jerusalem - with Jesus being taken up into heaven.
Acts - volume two - goes on from there. It’s an explanation of how God the Holy Spirit works - taking obscure men and women - people like us - in the day to day stuff of life - often messed up - and even in the midst of persecution and incredible adversity - how God takes this handful of Jews in Jerusalem - adds Gentiles - and uses them in His history encompassing work of redeeming mankind.
Which is why we’re looking at the first two chapters of Acts. What took place in the lives of the disciples right after Jesus’ resurrection. What were crucial days - foundational days for where God took the church in the next 30 or so years of church history - the church learning what it means to be the church - being the church - expanding outward into the empire and beyond - even into what we’re living out today.
We’re looking at what took place in the lives of the disciples after the resurrection as they’re learning to be the church - comparing their experiences to ours. Very instructive chapters even for us today.
How many of you have been to the Grand Canyon? It’s like the tourist looking at the Grand Canyon who said, “I wish I could have been here to see this happen.” And the park ranger who replied, “You are.”
We have the privilege of living out what Jesus has been doing in and through His church by the power and working of the Holy Spirit for just about 2,000 years now.
Putting that a little closer to us. As a congregation we’ve been talking about where we’re going - where God may be taking us as a congregation and what that might look like - Purpose and Process. Right? Love God, Love Others, Serve the Church, Serve the World. It’s a crucial question for us: What does it mean for us to be the church. The church in process - “Being the Church.” What does that look like as we move forward together?
This morning we are at Acts 1 - starting at verse 12. The disciples are choosing someone to replace Judas Iscariot - who had betrayed Jesus. Which is a choice will impact the future life of the infant and growing church. We’re going to be looking at how they made that choice.
Given a choice - which one would choose? Twitter? Facebook? Snapchat? or Instagram?
Given a choice - which one would you choose? Panera? Taco Bell? In-N-Out? or Chipotle?
There are crucial choices - decisions - that we make in life. As a church - how do we use God’s resources? His finances? His facilities? What ministries are God leading us into?
As families - individuals - we’re constantly making decisions that effect our lives today - tomorrow - the lives of our kids and family. How we use God’s blessings? Where do I go to school? What kind of career path do I follow? How we help our kids? How do we handle the circumstances in our families? Today - there are some here - your mind is focused on a decision you’re struggling with.
How do we make these decisions and avoid major oppses? How do we know these decisions are according to God’s will? How did the disciples make this crucial decision?
Let’s read verses 12 to 14 together: Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying. Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.
Jesus has just ascended into Heaven. The angels have told the disciples that Jesus is going to come back. The disciples have come back down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. In this upper room - which must have been one large room - looking ahead at verse 15 there may have been 120 people in this room - not just hanging out but maybe even sleeping there.
Imagine what this would have been like. Depending on what Luke means by “they were staying” there. The disciples - which was an odd collection of very different guys - together with “the women” - meaning several unnamed women - and Mary wife of Joseph and mother of Jesus - and Jesus’ brothers. Different families - genders - backgrounds - economics. Fun times in the upper room.
Luke says that “all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.”
“...with one accord” - literally the Greek has the idea that they were together with one mind - one single minded purpose.
Take two cats - tie their tails together - we have union but not unity. Too often that’s the picture of the church. Union in Christ - yes. But, unity - no. How can 120 plus people be of one mind?
Is the church a place to gather to be with friends of like mind and morals and beliefs? Is the church a teacher of morals and the “christian” life style? Is the church a philanthropic and benevolent institution? Is church a place where we serve God and have our spiritual needs met? Is church a gathering of people of a like minded faith tradition? Is going to church a tradition to pass on to our kids? Is it all of the above? Some of the above?
There a lot of ideas out there as to what the church should be. There’s a lot of ideas even within the church of what it means to be the church. What the church should be doing and what church should be like. Some of those ideas are actually pretty good.
Paul describes the church to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul writes that the church is, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (NASB)
The truth is the Gospel. Good News. Bad News. Good News. You Choose. God loves us. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus is alive. Salvation is in Him. He is returning for us. The gathering - the people that God has called together - given to proclaim that truth - to uphold it and support it - is the church - us.
Jesus - back in Acts 1:8 - what we looked at last Sunday - Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them and then they were to move out into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit witnessing of Jesus. To be the church - purpose - that’s what the church does. Called together out of the world we are to witness of Jesus.
These people - 120 of them - were single minded - in agreement as to their purpose together. Believers in Jesus and His resurrection they had a message to proclaim. They were waiting - for the Holy Spirit to come and work in them and through them - binding them together - teaching them - leading them to get that message out.
Gathered in Jerusalem they knew why they had been called and any decision they made had to fit that purpose. The church cannot make purposeful - wise - decisions within the will of God if the church is unclear on the purpose for which it has been called.
All these with one accord - single minded purpose - were devoting themselves to prayer,
The word in Greek has the idea of looking for opportunities to pray. Being constantly ready to pray. Praying without letting anything distract us from prayer. Praying and not letting up. Constant attention to prayer. Praying for hours - for however long God leads them to pray. All of them - not just the leaders - not just the original 11 disciples - but all of them - we continually passionately heart level devoted to prayer.
On Sunday, September 23, 1990 - with the sweeping changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union. The ending of the Soviet Empire and atheistic communism - on Sunday, September 23, 1990 - the largest and most historic of the Kremlin’s cathedrals with its five golden domes and ornate interior - after seven decades of use as a state museum, a concert hall, and a tourist attraction - the Cathedral of the Assumption (this building) was reconsecrated by Alexi II, who at that time was the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. A second major church in Moscow - the Church of the Great Ascension - was also reconsecrated. Thousands attended the services and religious procession - including Soviet officials.
What has stuck in my mind are the words of the Patriarch, Alexi II, “The churches are being revived, not by their external restoration but the prayers pronounced in them. Without these prayers the well treated Kremlin cathedrals stood dead in their whitewashed walls for 72 years.” (1)
Satan works to distract us by the stuff in our relationships. Imagine how easily 120 people in 1 room could be distracted by relational drama. Distracted by needs not getting met. Our purposes verses God’s purposes.
Prayer - not just a congregational prayer said by the pastor - or short prayers to begin or end meetings - prayer before meals or before going to bed - but prayer - continual prayer - devotion to prayer - habitual prayer - is at the core of the life of a congregation - that’s what keeps us close to the heart and mind of God.
Prayer places us into the intimacy of our relationship with God. The more time we spend in prayer we learn that prayer is coming - humbly - openly - and putting our lives in God’s hands - giving our creator access to our heart - so He can mold us in His Son’s image - move us where He wants us to go - and remove from us anything which keeps us back from His perfect will.
Prayer is crucial to our decision making and moving forward together according to God’s will.
Prayer focused on - centered on - crying out to God for the purposes of God for the Church - for His purposes for our marriages - for our families - for each of us as we seek to follow after Jesus through the stuff or our lives. Prayer is essential if we’re going to move forward following God through the decisions we have before us in life.
Maybe we know that. If we’ve been around church for a while we’ve heard that. But - thinking about those 120 followers of Jesus in that upper room - that’s challenging. How heart level passionate are we? How devoted to prayer are we?
Going on - verses 15 to 20 bring us to the importance of SCRIPTURE.
Let’s read together at verse 15: In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’
We know that Judas was the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples. We also know that Judas probably was skimming off the top. He was a thief. It’s probable that Judas had picked out a plot of land on which he was maybe planning to build a home. A retirement villa outside of Jerusalem. He was probably buying it little by little from the money he stole. Was Judas buying the property a little at a time or saving the money for one large payment? We really don’t know for sure. But, he was buying property with stolen money. (John 12:6; 13:29)
When it looked like things were coming to a crisis with Jesus. Politically - religiously - economically - things we’re looking not too good for Jesus. Judas took the 30 pieces of silver - maybe all he needed to finally pay off the land - took the 30 pieces of silver - kissed Jesus and betrayed him to the soldiers.
We know that Judas - when he realized what he had done - actually betrayed the Messiah - played patsy for the priests - Judas couldn’t live with himself. He threw the money at the feet of the chief priests and went out to the land he was buying and hung himself. The priests took the money - finished paying the potter for his field - and it became known as the place where Judas committed suicide. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Point being: All of that was a fulfillment of Scripture.
Jeremiah - almost 600 years earlier had spoken of the potter’s field. (Jeremiah 19:1-13)
Zechariah - 450 years earlier had spoken of the 30 pieces of silver. (Zechariah 11:12,13)
Finally - here in Acts 1 - Peter quotes David - 1,000 years earlier - David had written of what was to happen and what was to be done. (Psalm 69:25; 109:8)
The bottom line being that these people - gathered together with one mind - purposefully devoted to praying - these people were not ignorant of Scripture. In the 10 days between Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit - what’s coming in chapter two - they were studying - discussing - looking for the application of Scripture - God’s word - to the situation they were in - the decision that was before them.
On that basis Peter says - as we’re prayerfully considering God’s purposes and Scripture - based on what we’re seeing in Scripture we need to make a decision - on that basis Peter gets up and says: “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’
Seeing God in prayer and His word. Essential to making decisions according to God’s will.
Going on. Verses 21 to 26 bring s to their step of COMMITMENT.
Peter goes on - let’s read together: So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.
Let’s pause there. Two criteria for the new Apostle are given. First, he must have been with us from the beginning. Second, he must be a witness of the resurrection.
Why? Because faith is the search for what is reasonable to believe in. Meaning our faith isn’t based on philosophy or legends or some religion that some guy came up with - but on facts. Real time historical events.
There is a difference between a story and an account. I realize that this may sound like splitting semantic hairs. And it probably is. Especially with the way that “story” and “account” get used interchangeably these days. What difference does it make?
But a “story” can be something that is fiction - made up - tweeked - based on but not an actual representation of what actually happened. The past is fact. History is interpretation of the past. Stories get told.
Sometimes well meaning people say, “We read the story of Jonah.” Or, “We heard the story of Abraham.” Or, the story of Joseph or Moses or Jesus. The Christmas story.
Which almost makes it sound like these could be stories like Aesop’s fables or Greek mythology or something a writer of fiction might come up with or even someone who’s writing some religious book that’s about some man made religion. I know most of us don’t hear it that way. But, God forgive us if the children we teach - or others - think that these are just stories like any others.
An “account” is fact. An accurate representation of what actually took place. In that sense the Bible is not a collection of stories but the accounts of real people in real events in real places taking place in real time. These things really happened.
An apostle - to be a credible witness - must be someone who was there and could give an eye witness “account” that these things were true. All that Jesus taught and did - even His death and resurrection and ascension. This is what God did. This is what it means for us.
Our faith - our decisions - the choices - the commitment we make to follow after God - needs to be grounded in the true factual account of Scripture - what God has actually done and what He says He will do. Example after example - teaching after teaching - account after account - of how God operates and promises to act according to His will and purposes.
So, the decision is before them. Who will be the new Apostle? They’re in agreement as to why God has called them together. You are to be witnesses of Jesus. They’re in prayer. Passionately seeking after God’s will to be done in their lives. They’re searching the Scriptures for guidance - how do we move forward trusting God. They’re together on the criteria needed for someone to chosen who will fit within what God has revealed to them.
And so they’ve come to a point of committing themselves to a course of action that they believe God is leading them to. They need to step forward trusting God together.
Let’s go on at verse 23: And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, Who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two You have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Two men are brought forward. Two men who are both equal in their qualifications. The group prays and draws lots. Which means that they probably had two stones which they threw like dice. One stone was marked Barsabbas and one stone was marked Matthias. Whoever’s stone gets chosen is the winner. He get’s to be the new apostle.
There’s the familiar “story” of a man who followed the practice of praying - and letting his Bible fall open - and whatever it said, he did. He prayed and his Bible fell open to the passage, “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” Which he didn’t particularly like so he tried again and read, “Go thou and do likewise.” He tried a third time and read, “And what thou doest, do quickly.”
This drawing lots may sound to us like rolling dice in a casino to determine the will of God. Pull the lever take your chances. Seemingly a pretty flippant way to make such an important decision. But, it was little more dignified than that. Purpose. Prayer. Scripture. Two Godly men - equally qualified. How do you choose?
Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Culturally, all they knew to do was to toss the stones and see how they fell. Spiritually they understood that the decision was in God’s hands. Purpose - prayer - Scripture - commitment - meaning a willingness to move forward trusting God.
Point being that following Jesus - waiting in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit - waiting doesn’t mean sitting around watching paint dry. Waiting on God is never an invitation to waste time.
David writes in Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
David says, “Wait for the Lord.” The Hebrew word for “wait” is “qäwâ” - which means to wait in eager expectation with our whole being.
“A watched pot never… boils.” It’ll boil when its good and ready to. It depends on altitude and temperature and how much water is in the pot. At the proper time it’ll boil.
Biblical waiting involves eager expectation. Expectation that’s tempered with the understanding that God - in His time - in His way - will move. The Holy Spirit will come. Witnessing will commence.
David says, “Be strong.” The Hebrew word is “häzaq.” It has the idea of a conscious - dogged decision to stand firm - to dig our heals in. No circumstances - no interval of time is going to move us from what we believe.
How firmly are we convinced that God’s word is truth. Not our word. Not our understanding. But God’s. God will do what God has purposed - fixed - to do.
Then David writes, “Let your heart take courage.” The Hebrew is “amets” - literally, “strengthen yourself”.
Imagine soldiers on the battlefield during a cease-fire - scattered - wounded - ammunition spent. There’s no idleness. There is an urgency to regroup. To take stock of what remains. To distribute supplies. To bandage wounds. To use the time wisely to prepare. To gather strength for what comes next. The cease-fire will end. The enemy will come.
God gives us times of waiting, to prepare - to take stock of the resources He’s given us. To equip ourselves - to regain our focus.
Sometimes we’re rushing all over the place - working 25 hours a day - running after kids and ministries and programs and all the things that life is full of. We’re praying for spouses or our kids or what’s going on at work or with our friends - and we wonder if God is really listening. Or we’re praying for God’s direction in our lives - about school or marriage or retirement or you name it. “Why doesn’t God give clearer direction to my life?” Overwhelmed by the demands and pace of life - we ask questions and wonder when God will give the answer.
David tells us to look around and see what God is already doing. Are we clear on what God has already revealed are His promises and purposes for our lives? What are we doing with what He’s already given us? Revealed to us?
God - according to His will and purposes - God gives us abilities and talents. Gives us resources. Gives us His word. Gives us each other.
Waiting is a great God given opportunity for us to take advantage of what God has already given us. To intentionally do what will help us to grow spiritually - to mature - to go deeper - to develop in our relationship and responsiveness to God. To passionately seek after God in prayer - to seek after His will to be done in our lives. To devote quality time to Bible study. Prayerfully to be reading and discussing and seeking application.
Out of that will come opportunities to be faithful and obedient to step forward trusting that God is leading us within His will and purposes.
That’s were the disciples were. Waiting in Jerusalem. Doggedly obediently. Single-mindedly intent on God’s purpose for them. Devoted to prayer. Searching Scripture. And then taking steps that have been marinated in prayer - taking steps forward grounded in the revealed will of God and trusting that God would continue to lead them according to His purposes and plan and timing.
Waiting on God is never an invitation to waste time - but to make sure that we are where God wills us to be and that we are ready to move forward as He leads us.
Faith demands decision. Taking action while trusting God. God spoke to the disciples and while waiting they chose Matthias.
How do we know it’s the right choice? Quite frankly, often we don’t.
But, if we’re asking ourselves if the choice is according to the mind and will of God - according to His purposes for us - weighing the options that are within His will, if we’ve prayed and opened our heart to the heart of God - living in a deepening - intimate - relationship with Him, if we’ve looked into His word honestly looking for guidance and correction to the course of our lives - then we need to go ahead - roll the dice - and make the decision.
In faith make the decision - trusting that the God who has loved us since before we were conceived in our mother’s womb will be with us and will take our decision and use it to His glory and our best good. Trust that the God we worship will not allow us to make a decision that is unredeemable.
Processing all that and thinking about being the church: Love God - Love Others - Serve the Church - Serve the World. What we’re looking at here is foundational to our relationship together - the Love Others part of our purpose and process as a congregation.
What’s here is an opportunity for us to help each other to learn to listen to God. Which is a significantly loving thing to do. As spouses - as parents - as siblings - whatever our relationship. As a congregation. To learn to listen to each other - what God is speaking to us and through us - as we encourage each other to listen to Him - to make decisions together that keep us following Jesus together.
That’s Life Groups. That’s our small group Bible studies - Bridging the Gap - Circle of Joy - College Career. That’s our times to gather for prayer - during the week - Sunday mornings at 9:30 in the Fireside Room.
Let’s be clear. Studies or times of prayer with believers from other congregations are great and they have their place. But as God has called us together here as Creekside we need each other here to help each other to encourage each other because God has called us here together to follow Him. His purposes for us. Encouraging each other to be in prayer by being in prayer together. Encouraging each other to study the word by studying the word together. To encourage each other to step forward in faith according to His will - to obey and serve Him.
1. Los Angeles Times 09.24.90
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.