Series: Next Things: Acts 1,2,4 - Part Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 28, 2002
Please turn with me to Acts 1 - and we’ll be coming there in a minute. In recent Sundays we’ve been looking at the what took place after the resurrection of Jesus - trying to understand the next step in Jesus’ work in and through His Church - through us. We’ve seen that Jesus spent the days after the resurrection with His followers - doing the ordinary things of life and teaching them about the Kingdom of God and their part in the Kingdom.
Crucial to this teaching is the message that the disciples - and us - the message that we’re called to share with others. The message that Jesus is alive and all that God offers to us through our living Savior. We share that message - Jesus said - by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.
Then, 40 days after the resurrection Jesus and the disciples we’re up on the Mount of Olives - Jesus ascends into heaven - the disciples - and us - are left with the promise that Jesus will return. Which brings us to our passage today and a crucial decision that these believers needed to make.
There’s a story about a wealthy man who died and left a fortune to his nephew John. When the will was read at the lawyer’s office, the lawyer said to John, “According to your uncle’s instructions, payment of your inheritance will depend on choices that you must make.” The lawyer held his two fists out in front of John and asked, “Do you choose what is in my right hand or in my left hand?”
John decided to take what was in the lawyer’s right hand. The lawyer opened his left hand to reveal a gold coin and a silver coin. “Had you chosen this hand,” he said, “you would have received a substantial share in a gold mine or a silver mine in Chile.” Then he opened his right hand to reveal a nut and a coffee bean. “These represent your uncle’s plantations in Brazil,” said the attorney. “Which do you choose?” John decided on the nuts.
When John arrived in Brazil he discovered that a fire had destroyed the nut plantation. Meanwhile - of course - coffee prices had doubled. John - not having insured his nut holdings - lost everything. He had only enough money for his airfare - either back home to New York or to Los Angeles where he could stay with a friend. John chose Los Angeles.
Just before he took off, the New York plane came out on the runway - a beautiful brand new Boeing 777. John’s flight to Los Angeles was an old 1928 Ford trimotor that barely get off the ground. Over the Andes two engines fell off and the pilot said, “We’re going to have to bail out. There’s two parachutes. Choose the one you want.”
John chose the one on the left and jumped from the plane. When he pulled the rip cord the wire pulled loose. He tried to open the emergency chute. The lines got tangled. Falling - in desperation - John cried out, “St. Francis save me!”
Suddenly a great hand reached down from Heaven, seized the poor man’s wrist and let him dangle in midair. Then a gentle voice asked, “St. Francis Xavier or St. Francis of Assisi?”
The disciples faced the decision of choosing an Apostle to replace Judas who had betrayed Jesus. There are crucial choices - decisions - that we make in life. How do we make these decisions? How do we know these decisions are according to God’s will? How did the disciples make this crucial decision?
Acts 1 - starting at verse 14 - the disciples have come back down from the Mount of Olives and have gathered in Jerusalem. Verse 14: These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty person was there together), and said, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled...”
Let’s pause here. In thinking through how we make decisions according to God’s will there are three things we need to notice.
First, notice that those who had gathered were “with one mind.”
How can 120 plus people be of one mind? Take two cats - tie their tails together - and we have union but no unity. Too often that’s the picture of the church. Union in Christ - yes. But, unity - no.
Is the church a social club? A place to gather? A preserver of culture? A tradition to pass on? A teacher of morals and a more excellent life style? A philanthropic and benevolent institution? Many people in churches today are not sure. Many have great ideas about what the church should be doing. How do we decide?
In some ways each of these descriptions of the church are correct. They have their place. But, consider how Paul describes the church to Timothy, “The household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) The truth is the Gospel - Jesus died for our sins. Jesus is alive. Salvation is in Him. He is returning for us. The gathering given to proclaim that truth - to uphold it and support it - is the church - us.
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 relying on the Holy Spirit to work in them and through them - binding them together - teaching them - leading them to get that message out. This is what the church does.
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.
Second notice that those who had gathered, “were continually devoting themselves to prayer” - all of them - not just the leaders - not just the original 11 disciples - but all of them.
On Sunday, September 23, 1990 - with the sweeping changes taking place in the Soviet Union - 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 was reconsecrated by Alexi II, 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.”
We’re so tempted to be distracted by programs, ministries, facilities, projects, attendance, finances and think that these are the inward life of the church. These are the whitewashed walls - the activities which can transform the church into a museum, or a concert hall, or a tourist attraction. But, prayer - not just a congregational prayer said by the pastor - or short prayers at 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 according to God’s will.
Purpose. Prayer. And third, notice the importance of Scripture.
In verse 16, Peter speaks to those gathered together. “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry. Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it;’ and ‘Let another man take his office.’”
We know that Judas was the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples. (John 12:6; 13:29) We also know that Judas probably skimming off the top. He was a thief. Its probable that Judas had picked out a plot of land on which he was planning to build a home. He was 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.
When it looked like things were coming to a crisis with 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 - couldn’t live with himself. He threw the money at the feet of the high priests and went out to the land he was buying and hung himself. (Matthew 27:3-5) The priests took the money - finished paying for the potter for his field - and it became known as the place where Judas committed suicide.
All of which 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, 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 were not Scripturally ignorant. In the 10 days between the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit they were studying, and discussing, and looking at the application of Scripture to the situation of their lives.
On that basis Peter says, we need to make a decision. Verse 21 - Peter goes on: “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us - beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us - one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
Two criteria for the new Apostle. First, he must have been with us from the beginning. Second, he must be a witness of the resurrection. Why? Because our faith is not based on philosophy or legends but on facts. Historical events. These things happened. An apostle must be someone who was there and could give an eye witness account that these things were true. This is what God did. This is what it means for us.
Our decisions need to be grounded in the revelation of Scripture - what God has done. What He says He will do. Example after example - teaching after teaching of how God operates according to His will and purposes.
So, the decision is before them. Who will be the new Apostle? They’re in prayer. They’re searching the Scriptures for guidance. They’re focused on the need to choose someone who will lead them in the testimony of the Gospel.
Verse 23: So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias - two men equal in their qualifications. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they drew lots for them - literally they probably had two stones which they threw like dice - one marked Barsabbas and one marked Matthias - and whichever rolled the right way was the winner - and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
There’s the 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. A pretty flippant way to make such an important decision. But, it was little more dignified than that. 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.
In thinking through all of this and looking for application to our lives today there are two questions we need to consider.
First, as a church, how do we move forward in ministry making decisions according to God’s will?
It is crucial that we be of one mind as to God’s purpose for our gathering, that we be mutually devoted to prayer, and mutually absorbed with the study and application of Scripture. We must hold each other accountable to these three. We must expect our leadership to be living examples and promoters of these three.
Second, as individuals, how do we move forward in our lives making decisions according to God’s will?
Some of you are already way ahead of me: Purpose. Prayer. Scripture. Which is true. And yet, there’s a fourth unspoken element here - faith.
Faith demands decision. Action which trusts God. God spoke to Abram and he chose to move to a land he had never seen. God spoke to Moses and he chose to return to Egypt. God spoke to the disciples and they chose Matthias.
How do we know its the right choice? Quite frankly, we don’t. But, if we ask 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 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.