Series: Who We Are - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 19, 2019
Last Sunday we began a study of the first 2 chapters of the Book of Acts looking at Who We Are as the church - as Creekside. Which is not a question, “Who are we?” But we're exploring the answer - this is who we are.
Last Sunday we studied Acts 1:1-11 and focused on the truth that we are witnesses of Jesus Christ. If you were not able to be with us last Sunday you can go back and listen to last Sunday’s message which is online.
This morning - we’re focused on this truth - that we are members. In Christ we are members of Christ’s church.
Let’s say that together: “We are members.”
Paul writes to the church in Rome: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4,5)
When God, by His grace, brings us into a relationship with Jesus, He brings us into a relationship with all who are in Christ. We are members together of the Body of Christ.
Which is totally different than any other membership or relationship that we might be a part of. Membership in the Body of Christ is a whole lot different than being members of Costco or AAA - or any other relationship we may experience. Yes?
Quoting Thabiti Anyabwile: Whether your Christian life began yesterday or thirty years ago, the Lord’s intent is that you play an active and vital part in His body, the local church. He intends for you to experience the local church as a home more profoundly wonderful and meaningful than any other place on earth. (1)
Different relationship. Different purpose. In Christ we are members of Christ’s body.
To quote Allistair Begg - a quote that probably will sound familiar and may sound familiar again at some point: A church is not a homogeneous club of people like us with whom we would naturally like to go on vacation. Rather, it is a supernatural fellowship of people very unlike us in whom we are bound in Christ. (2)
Creekside - we are - a supernatural fellowship of generally unlike people bound together by God in Christ according to God’s purposes and for God’s glory.
This morning, we are exploring the significance of what that means. Specifically what it means that we are members - individually - collectively - of Christ’s Body - the Church.
Please join me at Acts 1 - verse 12. And if you’re able, please stand together as we come before the Word of God together. And would you read with me our passage for this morning.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
We’re going to break down these verses into three easier to digest sections. The first is verses 12 to 14 - which is The Gathering.
Jesus has just ascended into Heaven. The angels have told the disciples that Jesus is going to come back. So in obeying Jesus - the disciples have come back down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. To this upper room. Which is perhaps “the” upper room where they’d shared the Passover Meal. And obeying Jesus’ instructions - to wait until they’re baptized with the Holy Spirit.
This is the gathering of the - before the coming of the Holy Spirit - what is yet to be - but will be - the church in Jerusalem.
Imagine what this would have been like. What Luke describes by “they were staying” - verse 13.
Allistair Begg’s. Not necessarily people we’d take with us on vacation.
Which has the understandable potential for a lot of drama. A gathering of diverse people - waiting for an indefinite period of time - in the midst of tense and uncertain circumstances - for what will come next.
Which is something that we sadly understand. Gatherings of the church that turn toxic.
Each of us can easily and subtlety get focused on our needs and our wants and what too often fuels our egos and our agendas. Not dealt with stuff in our lives that clashes with not dealt with stuff in other people’s lives. Stuff that comes out - often spatters - when we feel threatened or nor in control - or just plain afraid or uncertain of what may come next.
Satan is really good at prompting drama fueled by our own - not surrendered to God - egos and pride. Satan who is continually working to distract us from God’s purposes by getting us focused on our purposes not God’s purposes.
What would it take to get a group of unlike people gathered in room for an extending period of time under tense circumstances to descend into dysfunctional drama?
Luke says that - verse 14: “all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.”
What brand of chariot did the disciples use? A Honda. Because they were in one... Accord.
“...with one accord” - literally the Greek has the idea that they were together with one mind - one single minded purpose. They were in agreement together on why they were there.
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. Some aren’t even close.
Paul - writing to Timothy - Paul describes the church as “...the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15 NASB)
The truth is the gospel.
The gospel is about Jesus. The gospel is Jesus. Jesus is the big picture - Who and what God is doing to redeem us from our depravity and sin and to restore us to a made right - righteous - relationship with Him.
The gospel is that by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone we are saved. Those who believe the gospel, who by faith receive Jesus as their Savior, become children of God. (John 1:12)
We saw this last Sunday. What Jesus said they were to be.
We are witnesses of the gospel. We are the people that God has called together in Christ - given to proclaim the truth of the gospel - to uphold it and support it in the world - even Merced.
These people were single minded - in agreement as to their purpose together. Believers in Jesus and His resurrection they had a message to proclaim. They were gathered - waiting - in obedience to Jesus - 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.
All these with one accord - single minded purpose - were devoting themselves to prayer,
“Devoting” is a good translation but inadequate. What Luke is describing is the depth of their passionate commitment 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 - were continually passionately heart level devoted to prayer.
Prayer that cries out to God to protect us from the working of Satan. Crying out to God to remove anything from us that keeps us back from His perfect will.
Prayer that cries out to God for opportunities and boldness to witness of the gospel. To serve Him according to His will.
Prayer that praises God for all that He’s done and is doing and will do in us an through us for His glory.
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.
Prayer that God uses to guard us from dysfunctional drama and keep us focused and together moving ever closer to the heart and mind and will of God.
Maybe we know that. If we’ve been around church for a while we’ve heard that. But - thinking about those gathered in that upper room - that should do more than remind us. That should heart level challenge us.
Is that true of us?
Beginning in verse 15 - Peter identifies The Problem.
Verse 15: “In those days” which were the 10 days between Jesus’ ascension and the Feast of Pentecost - which was 50 days after the Passover. Meaning Luke is expanding outward to a gathering that included about 120 persons and was probably someplace else rather than the upper room. Maybe even near the temple.
Peter stands up in the midst of this larger gathering of the brothers - generic for brethren and sisteren - and identifies the problem of needing to replace Judas. And Peter gives two reasons why they need to replace Judas. The first is about Judas and the second reason is about God.
Reason number one is pretty obvious and well known. Even though Judas was numbered among us and shared in the ministry he became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.
To which Luke gives us some parenthetical back fill about Judas. Judas buying a field had spilling his guts over it.
We don’t know a whole lot about Judas. Speculation is that Judas and his father Simon were from the town of Kerioth - about 30 miles south of Jerusalem in Judea. Which is where his name probably comes from “ish-ker-ioth” Judas from Kerioth. Judas Iscariot.
Peter tells us that Judas was numbered among us. Judas is on the list of disciples. One of the 12 appointed by Jesus. Loved by Jesus. Discipled by Jesus. One of the 12 who’d been with Jesus during His ministry following wherever Jesus went. Judas had been in the boat on the sea - in the storm. He’d seen the miracles and the exorcisms. Judas had seen and heard all that Jesus had done and taught.
Peter says, Judas had a share in the ministry. Judas went out with the other disciples proclaiming the kingdom - calling people to repentance and faith. Judas had helped when Jesus had fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish.
And we know that Judas was the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples and a thief who seemingly cared more about money and politics than about Jesus as His Messiah. Judas was skimming off the top.
Probably he had picked up this piece of land - that Luke references - maybe as an investment. Maybe for a future residence. We don’t know.
But, 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 - regretted what he’d done. He threw the money at the feet of the chief priests and went out to the land he was buying and hung himself. Apparently with a cheap rope which broke which leaves Judas beside himself.
The priests had taken the money - paid off the potter who’d owned the field - and the field was used as a place to bury people who had no one else or no place else to be buried.
Which - Luke tells us - became well known to the people of Jerusalem. In the Hebrew mindset Jews avoided bodies. And this whole scene was gross and shameful. Someone who hung themselves was seen as cursed by God and if a body wasn’t buried on the same day even the land was considered unclean. So they’d given the field a nickname in Aramaic: Akeldama - meaning “Field of Blood.” (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23; Matthew 27:3-10)
Pulling all that together - we need to be clear on this: While Judas was with Christ, Judas was not in Christ.
Judas is the real time illustration of what Jesus taught - Matthew 7:22: “On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22,23)
Meaning that being a member of the church is not about having our name on a list someplace or in a database - being somehow with Christ - identified with Christ and His church. Identified by what we do or what we say. Outward expressions of a religious affiliation. A religious affiliation that will ultimately be about us and what we choose to associate with - to one degree or another - or not.
Being a member of the church means first of all that we are in Christ. It means yielding our lives to Him - trusting in Christ as our Savior and yielding to Him as our Lord and turning away from our sin in true repentance.
Being in Christ meaning that whatever fruit is produced in us is because we are in Him - remaining in Him - drawing our strength and the very essence of our lives from Him.
Being in Christ means that we do not just taste the fruits of the Spirit - perhaps experiencing their benefit and help. But that we are - in Christ - indwelt by the Holy Spirit being transformed inwardly day-by-day into the likeness of our Savior Jesus Christ - which is evidenced by the growing demonstration of the fruits of the Spirit in our character and manner of life.
Being in Christ meaning Christlikeness which is evidenced in our service of God and our willingness to kneel before others with the gifts God has given to us to be their servant, not for ourselves, but for their benefit and God’s glory.
Reason number one is about Judas. We need to replace Judas because while he was numbered with us he never really was with us. He was with Christ. Not in Christ. Judas is no longer with us.
Reason two is about God. The big picture of what God is doing about our brokenness and sin and separation from God. God working to restore what our sin has removed us from - the righteous relationship that God desires for us to have with Him.
Peter says - verse 16 - “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas”
God is a work here.
God has spoken through Jeremiah - almost 600 years earlier Jeremiah had spoken of the potter’s field. (Jeremiah 19:1-13)
God has spoken through Zechariah - 450 years earlier Zechariah had spoken of the 30 pieces of silver. (Zechariah 11:12,13)
Jesus was betrayed by Judas - delivered to the chief priests who delivered Jesus to the rulers who delivered Him to Pilate. Which Peter says - Acts 2:23a - that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God…”
Isaiah 53:10a: “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him, He has put Him to grief…”
Here Peter quotes of David - songs of David that foreshadow the Messiah. Two Psalms in which the enemies of David represent the enemies of the Messiah
Psalm 69:25 - “May their camp be a desolation...” predicts the demise of the Messiah’s enemy.
Psalm 109:8 - “May another take his office” gives direction for what will come next.
Coming to verses 21-26 - Peter proposes The Solution. Which is to select a replacement for Judas.
Two criteria for the new Apostle are given.
First, he must have been with us from the beginning. He’s got to be someone who’s followed Jesus from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Second, he must be a witness of the resurrection. He has to have personally interacted with the risen Jesus.
Why? Because our faith is based on the factual actual big picture working of God in the real time of human history.
Today we have the New Testament. So our faith - our decisions - the choices - the commitment we make to follow after God - all that is grounded in the true factual testimony of Scripture. Example after example - teaching after teaching - account after account - of how God operates and promises to act according to His - big picture - will and purposes.
But in the time when the New Testament was being written during the apostolic age - which was up until the death of John - the source and authority of theological truth was... the apostles.
The first-century believers depended on the apostles to reprove and correct and train - to teach and disciple. Which meant that the apostles themselves needed to have been personally taught and trained - discipled - by Jesus Himself - from the beginning.
And - thinking forward - these apostles would face the same religious and political leadership that had provoked the Roman authorities to torture and crucify Jesus. Leadership that needed the followers of Jesus - not just to stay silent - but to cave in and recant.
So an apostle had to be so personally convicted of the truth of the gospel that he was willing to die - witnessing - for the truth of the gospel. Conviction that first hand personal experience could provide.
In a very real sense an a apostle is a real time witness of what it means to be heart level “in Christ.” To follow the apostle was to follow someone who had and was following Jesus.
So, the decision is before them. Who will be the new Apostle?
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 get’s to be the new apostle.
Which sounds a whole lot like rolling dice in some casino. Seemingly a pretty flippant way to make such an important decision. But, it was little more dignified than that.
Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” In this interim time of waiting - 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.
Which what they prayed in verse 24: “Lord, You know the hearts of these men. You know where they are in their relationship with you. You know which one of these men is the one you’ve chosen to replace Judas. Lord reveal Your will.”
Let’s be careful. What’s here is less about the decision being made and the process of making that decision but more so what’s here is about the people making that decision and going through that process. A real time example of what it means to be the church. Specifically - the membership of the church in operation.
Which is often messy and may leave us with some questions. Like who’s dice are we using at today’s congregational meeting.
If we’ve been around church for a while maybe this isn’t new information. But there’s comfort in that for us and a challenge.
Comfort in knowing that the early church wasn’t perfect. Read the Epistles. Half what’s there is about dealing with problems.
Which means that - as messed up as we think we are and as imperfectly as we may do things - because God is still God - and God by His grace has redeemed us and made us to be the church of Jesus Christ - God is not through with us and in fact has great future opportunities for us if we are willing to trust Him and follow Him there.
Which is the challenge - to stay in prayer together and under the authority of God’s word together - as we make decisions together - rather than getting distracted into drama because of our own issues.
Pulling together what we’re looking at here - what we’re seeing is a supernatural gathering of unlike people who could very easily have descended into drama and “game over” destruction - who instead are “in Christ” focused on obeying Christ - praying together and seeking to be together under the authority of Scripture - following after the will and working of God.
Processing all that...
First: They had a list. They had a list and they knew who was on it.
The early church knew its members. They counted them. The 120 gathered here in Acts 1 including the apostles and who to choose the replacement apostle from.
3,000 on Pentecost. 5,000 a few days later. They knew who their people were. They had records. Widows needing assistance. They knew who the troublemakers were. They knew who should be held up as examples for the rest.
From Matthew to Revelation there are lists of those who are on the list. Identifiable and committed members of the local church.
When the apostles wrote to churches they knew who was in the church. They knew who they were writing to. Those in the church knew who was in the church. They knew that the letter was addressed to them.
All of the metaphors for the church in the New Testament that describe an organic and spiritual interconnectedness - joined body parts - a building - a spiritual household - a holy priesthood - only make sense - they only become real - when we gather together as members of a local church.
Church leadership. Church discipline. Voting. The close relationship of believers - mutual accountability - encouraging and strengthening one another - being used by God to grow each other towards God - loving God - loving others - serving the church - serving the world together - that only makes sense - that can only happen - if there’s some known - identifiable - distinct gathering of local believers who are in Christ committed to each other.
Which means that membership in the local church - Creekside - isn’t about having our name added to a list or being in our data base.
Being a member of Creekside is formalizing in a tangible way our personal willingness to be committed to the fellowship here. Being here with you all matters. This is my family. This is my place. I belong here with you as we together follow what God has for us together.
The very witness of the church - who we are as the church - is dependent on our being committed to each other - in Christ - members of the local church.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)
The character of our love towards each other - our mutual commitment to each other and our together devotion to Jesus - distinguishes us as followers of Jesus. That we love each other as Jesus loves us. The best place for us to love each other as Jesus loves us is our commitment together as the local church - Creekside.
They had a list. They knew who was on the list.
Takeaway number two: They gathered together.
Our tendency is towards isolation. Towards our own security and where we feel safe and in control. Sin driven tendencies that Satan exploits to create disfunction and drama and destruction.
Tendencies that draw the heart felt admonishment of the writer of Hebrews: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24,25)
Not too many years ago becoming a Christian meant joining with a local church. Commitment and participation in the local church. Today people have a different attitude towards all that.
Many churches require nothing of those who attend. No mutual accountability - especially to leadership. No expectations of service or participation or even conformity to a doctrinal statement.
Maybe they fear that all that will drive people away. Maybe people in our culture just balk at that kind of commitment anyway.
Maybe Christians are just indifferent and it doesn’t matter to them. Or they’re ignorant and just don’t know what the Bible teaches. Or they’re independent minded people who just want to come into a church - consume what they need - and leave when the want.
Some people say, “Church for me is on the radio - or the TV - or the internet.” Which is true. That’s church that’s about them. It’s about me, myself, and I. But it’s not God’s definition of what it means to be the church.
To quote Allistair Begg: The entire New Testament is about being “in Christ” and being “in Christ,” being in the Church. You can’t be “in Christ” without being “in Church.” And if someone says, “I am in Christ” and not “in Church,” then either they are not “in Christ” or they don’t understand what it means to be “in Christ.” (3)
In Christ, we are members of Christ’s church. There is an example here for us of what that means. What we are to consider how we can stir one another up to pursue together. The church gathered together in obedience to Jesus. They were together devoted in prayer. Together, devoted in mutual submission to the word of God. Committed together in pursuing God’s will for their gathering.
1. Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Il, Crossway Books, 2008) page 14
2. Allistair Begg, Sermon: Membership Matters - Romans 12:1-10, September 6, 2015, truthforlife.org
Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Il, Crossway Books, 2008)
Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2007)
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 5: Insights on Acts (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016)
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.