A Spirit Led Church - Acts 1:12-26 (Sermon)
Preached on 3/31/2019 at Sawyer Highlands Church
It is great to be with you again. I thoroughly enjoyed studying the word this week.
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE - COME ON DOWN
I would like to have all the children nine and under come up front for a short lesson. Come on down! If you are in the balcony come on down.
HOW DO YOU MAKE DECISIONS
I need your help. I need to decide should I drink water from this cup or that cup. How am I going to decide? How do we make decisions? How do you make decisions?
- (You think about it).
- (You talk to your siblings or parents or friends).
- Have you ever done paper rock scissors to make a decision?
- Or have you taken turns on who gets to play the video game of choice?
- Are there other ways to make decisions?
- (Pray). Do you ever pray about what to do? That seems kind of silly for something that doesn’t seem to matter, doesn’t it? If the decision was bigger, prayer makes sense.
Today, we are going to hear a story where Jesus’ followers were faced with a decision, and they used some of your suggestions to figure out what to do. They looked to the Bible. They thought things through. They talked to each other about what to do. They prayed. They also did one thing we didn’t, and they cast lots.
Q. What is a “lot”? (Many). Right. It is also something else. What? (Dice). Right, it is like dice. We don’t know exactly what the “lot” look like. They would throw them, and the result would be something like “yes” or “no.” They threw a lot to make a decision.
CHILDREN’S BIBLE POINT - DECISION MAKING
What I love about Jesus’ followers was their desire to follow the Holy Spirit and the Bible. Sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions, more difficult than which cup to drink from. Both choices seem good. We might get stuck not knowing what to do. We can seek the help of our parents and grandparents, we can go to the Bible for answers, we can pray that God makes it clear, and ultimately, God wants us to trust him when the path forward is confusing.
Q. I don’t have one of the disciples “lots,” but I did bring a die to help me decide which cup to drink from. How many sides are on a die? (6) Right. Some of the numbers are even, and some are odd.
Q. What is an even number? What is an odd number again? (2, 4, 6 are even. 1, 3, 5 are odd). If the number is even, then I will drink from this cup. If it is odd, I will drink from this cup.
I need a volunteer to roll the dice for me to help me decide which cup to drink from? What did you roll? (Even or Odd). Great, that is the cup I will drink from.
Thank you for listening. Pay attention as I try to say basically the same thing to the adults. Maybe you can clear it up if I get a bit confusing.
Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your church. Thank you for your Spirit. Thank you for your Word the Bible. Thank you for those who lead us. We need your Spirit, all of us. Help us know what is best. Help us to obey. Help us to seek you. Help us today as we hear your Word. AMEN. You can go back to your seat.
As you have already heard, today we are going to learn about the Apostles’ decision-making skills. I have asked Caleb and Amanda Dryden to read for us. They will be reading from Acts 1:12-26 using the English Standard Version Bible. We have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s word before it is preached. Would you stand now with me, if you are able?
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 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. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “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. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (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. 19 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.) 20 “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.’ 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 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.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.Thank you. You may be seated.
WHY DID LUKE WRITE ACTS 1:12-26
As I was studying the passage, I began to wonder, “Why did Luke include this account?” Chapter two is so great as we see the Apostles obey God and the Holy Spirit descend on them. What do we gain from verses 12-26? Another way to ask that, is “What do we lose if Luke jumped to chapter 2?” I thought to myself, “We learn about the selection between Justus and Matthias as a replacement for Judas. Apostles are important, aren’t they? They choose Matthias.” However, the Bible never mentions Matthias after that; in fact, the Bible doesn’t mention many of the Apostles after that. Peter, James, and John get the majority of the attention in the rest of the Bible. Justus might be mentioned in Acts 15:22, but maybe not. Luke mentions a man by the name of Judas not Justus in 15:22. He could be the same person because both have a second name, Barsabas. However, maybe they just had similar second names. As in our church, we have several Jeff’s, Mike’s, Rob’s, Jim’s, John’s, Deb’s, Judy’s. The church at the time of Acts was significantly larger than ours. Wouldn’t duplicate names be more prevalent in a larger church? Why go to all the bother of documenting something that is only brought up here? Why did Luke write Acts 1:12-26? Here is my answer. I think these verses help us understand the heart of church leadership at the point of its birth. The leaders were obeying Jesus’ commands given through Spirit, they were observing His Word inspired by the Spirit, and they were open to God’s leading in prayer by the Spirit. They were led by the Spirit.
This morning, if you are taking notes, I want us to see how the Apostles Obeyed, Observed, and Opened themselves to the leading of the Spirit of God.
WHERE DO WE SEE THE APOSTLES OBEYING?
Let me show you why I say that. First, do you remember what we read last week? Jesus said not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait there in chapter 1 verse 4. What did the Apostles do? According to verse 12, they returned. Did they obey Jesus’ command? Yes. Look at verse 12.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.Verse 12 tells us they were going to where Jesus told them to be. Isn’t going contradictory to not departing? Did they really obey? The verse says they went a Sabbath day’s journey. What was that? Some of our versions of the Bible tell us. According to rabbinic teaching, a Sabbath day's journey was the distance one could travel without it being considered work, which was about a ½ mile. Jesus said not to depart and wait in Jerusalem, so in a sense, they obeyed because they were already there. The Apostles were obeying Jesus’ command. They waited in Jerusalem.
WHO IS OBEYING
Who were they? Verse 13 tells us.
“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.”Along with them were women, including Jesus’ mother. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome were at the empty tomb of Jesus so they could have been there. Mary, the wife of Clopas, was at Jesus’ death, she could have been there. Joanna and Sussana were followers; they could have been there. They were not followers initially, but had come around and started following. Jesus’ brothers were there. Who were his brothers? The gospel of Mark names them: James, Jose, Judas, and Simon (Mark 6:3).
UNITED AND PRAYING
Verse 14 tells us what they were doing.
14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.They devoted themselves to prayer. Why?
THE VIOLENCE DONE TO JESUS MAY HAVE MOTIVATED THEIR PRAYERS
Remember what just happened? They had just seen Jesus violently executed. They saw Jesus killed. They were eyewitnesses to hate crime. Jesus was perfect. He healed the sick. He spoke as one with uncanny authority. He knew things no one knew. He never sinned. What got him killed was his confronting the religious authorities who arrogantly asserted their good deeds and racial identity made them superior to everyone else. Jesus was tough on people like that. He was not kowtowing or politicking or seeking a popularity bid among elites. He made his enemies. At the same time, he won the hearts of the marginalized, underprivileged, and poor. He was a threat to the ruling class’ self-righteous paradigm and power. That kind of influence can’t coexist for long. After three years of public service, they assassinated him. That is what the disciples witnessed. How might that impact prayer for Jesus’ followers? I think it would fuel it.
JOHN - JESUS PROMISED PERSECUTION
In chapter 1 of Acts, Jesus sent them back to the place of execution, Jerusalem. He told them to not depart from the city that recently allowed this mockery of justice in killing the innocent author of life. Jesus’ murders were loose and not only that; they were in control. How would that impact prayer? I think it would fuel it.
JESUS SAYS YOU WILL BE PERSECUTED
Not only that, Jesus said in his last week of life to this small group,
20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)These words must have reverberated in their minds as they saw what he said come true. The authorities persecuted him. They would be next. In this same breath, Jesus continued to pronounce ominously,
16 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.The hour of persecution was fast approaching.
- Jesus mentioned he would suffer and die. He did.
- He mentioned he would rise in three days. He did.
- He said he was going to leave them. He did.
He also said they too would be persecuted, kicked out of the synagogues, and killed. How would such predictions affect prayer? I think it would fuel it.
RESURRECTION - MOTIVATING PRAYER
However, I don’t think those realities were the primary driver of their devotion. I think the major motivator was the recent experience of seeing the resurrected Christ. He conquered the grave and his opponents once and for all. What more could his enemies do? He was invincible. He demonstrated dramatically for 40 days that he was living through his eating, appearing, and teaching. We read in Luke 24:32 the disciples’ hearts burned with joy seeing the truth of God come alive. Death had no power over Jesus.
- Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled. The head of the serpent, Satan, was crushed by the death and resurrection of Christ, the second Adam.
- Isaiah 53:10 was fulfilled as the suffering servant’s days were prolonged. What Jesus said was coming true.
Those are just two examples of Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in their day. Jesus promised though he was leaving, he would send his Spirit. Subsequently, in leaving, he didn’t leave. He would be with them through the Spirit. The disciples could trust all that Jesus said. He was more than a great teacher, more than a miracle worker, and more than a cultural prophet and more than a good person. He was God’s one and only Son, the Son of God, and Savior of the world risen now and reigning at the right hand of the Father. How would knowing God like that impact prayer? I think it would fuel a fiery devotion to pray with one accord.
They were in one accord. The Greek word for one accord describes how they were praying. Some of your Bibles might say they were of one mind. When I think of being in one mind, I am reminded of Psalms 133.
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!Unity is a joy to those of us who have experienced conflict. They were of one accord. This one accord was not an overly exaggerated response of
- ignoring differences,
- sweeping opinions under the rug,
- denying alternative perspectives,
- quieting interpretations,
- or silencing contrary preferences, no.
I think their hearts were entranced by this great God and that fueled their being of one accord. They were engrossed by the truth they witnessed. Have you ever had a mountain top experience with the transcendent and immanent God? I think that was what the disciples were enjoying in those days fueling a unified devotion to prayer. Luke 24 verse 50 and following supports that perspective. Luke wrote,
50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.The Apostles in the upper room were joyfully worshipping, praying, blessing, and agreeing with one another.
- They didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next,
- they don’t know how it is going to happen,
- they don’t know when it is going to happen.
But they did know the Holy Spirit was coming. Jesus said it, and they believed it. That’s what surrounded the obedience of the early church to God the Father, through Jesus’ words given by the Spirit (Acts 1:2).
Not only were they obeying God’s Spirit inspired instructions through Jesus, but we also read Peter’s speech in verse 15, and see him observing the scriptures. Peter would observe the commands of the Holy Spirit given by David. What did Peter say? Look at verse 16.
16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David.
- Peter doesn’t pull rank to lead.
- He doesn’t go to the fact that he was there at the transfiguration, with Elijah and Moses.
- Nor did he bring up the fact that he walked on water.
- He did not remind the church that he was the one who declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mk. 18:27, Mt. 16:16).
- Nor did he quote Jesus’ naming him the Rock on which the church would be built (Mt. 16:18).
Where did he go to lead the church as they waited for the Spirit? He went back to the Bible. In his obedience to Jesus, he went back to the word of God to guide the church, and he observed God’s direction.
WHERE DO WE GO?
Where do we go when looking to find what to do? God puts us in holding patterns frequently.
- We have to wait for grades,
- we have to wait to know what school to attend,
- we have to wait to find out if we get the job,
- we have to wait to find out if they accept our offer on the house,
- we have to wait for marriage,
- we wait to see if we are pregnant,
- we have to wait to hear the test results from the doctor.
We wait and wait, and wait some more. What do we do in our waiting? The disciples prayed in one accord and found marching orders in the scriptures.
Peter makes the connection between David’s directions in the Psalms and the Spirit. It is one more evidence for us that this Old Testament is not Old. It is relevant. It is not an ancient, obsolete historical document. It is the living Word of God. It is holy and true. It is not like any other book on the planet. You are reading Spirit inspired words when you read the Bible. It is power and truth bounded in print. Peter, as he was looking into Psalm 69 and 109, saw a prophecy that was fulfilled and a command they had to be observed. Let’s read some of it to understand why.
1 Be not silent, O God of my praise! 2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. 3 They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. 4 In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. 5 So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love. 6 Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. 7 When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! 8 May his days be few; may another take his office!Who is the Psalmist talking about? Peter reads this and thinks of Jesus and Judas. Jesus’ detractors were wicked, deceitful, liars, encircling, hating, accusing, and attacking.
“May another take his office.” Now, sometimes the connections between the Old Testament and New are not that clear to me, to be honest. It doesn’t mean the connections are not there. I just don’t see them. It helps to remember that Jesus just finished a forty-day crash course on Old Testament prophecy with these guys. Peter and the disciples were present for much of that, and I was not. So Peter is the authority on the prophetic connections, not me. “May another take his office.”
Peter is earnest. He read Psalm 109 verse 8 and must have thought, “We have to obey this.” He reminds me of my little kids. At a young age, they have passion, zeal, innocent questions, and simple thoughts. They see things so clearly with wide eyes and animated actions. Obviously, Psalm 109 verse 8 is a direction to replace Judas, isn’t it?
8 ...may another take his office!Obviously. In the church’s nascent state they were obeying and observing Spirit inspired directions. They were observing scripture. When we wait, do we observe scripture? Do we know scripture well enough to say, like Peter, “We need to do this.” I think it would be good for us to ask, “How well do we observe God’s Word?” and “How well do we know it?”
OPENED TO THE SPIRIT’S LEADING
That brings me to my last point as we get a peek at the heart of the leadership of the church. We see they were open to the Spirit’s leading. They obeyed, observed, and were open.
Why do I think that? The reason I say that is because Peter, along with the Apostles, led the congregation through four steps of discernment for Judas’ replacement with an accent on submitting themselves to God regardless of the outcome.
1. The first step of discernment, after obeying and observing scripture, was an application of wisdom. Peter determined several qualifications for Judas’ replacement based on wisdom.
"'Let another take his office.' 21 So one of the men..."Stop there. The replacement must be a man. Judas was a guy; his replacement should be a guy.
2. As we continue to read, we discover Peter thought the replacement had to be with Jesus from the beginning. That meant the candidate had to be there since the baptism of Jesus when he went public.
3. The candidate also had to have been with Jesus during his ministry. This person would not have to be with him all the time, because Jesus came and went. Jesus was ministering for three years.
4. Finally, the candidate had to witness the resurrected Jesus. Look at verse 21.
21 "So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 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."Where could they find such a person? We know from scripture that John the Baptist’s had disciples and were witnesses of Jesus’ baptism. They interacted with Jesus when John went to prison. They may have been candidates. In Luke 10 Jesus sent out 70 or 72 disciples to heal and proclaim the Kingdom of God. They could have been candidates. Luke recorded here in Acts that Peter had 120 brothers with him. They could have been candidates. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul wrote that Jesus appeared to over 500 brothers before he ascended into heaven. So a large number of possible candidates may have existed to fill Judas’ shoes. Why did Peter put so many parameters on the replacement? I think Peter took Jesus’ command in verse 8 seriously. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” Peter seemed to be connecting the nature of the Apostles specific witness with a like replacement of Judas using reason. That is the first step of discernment I see here after a pursuit of obeying scriptural direction a pursuit of wise application. The resurrection is critical to Christianity. Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 said,
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God…. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. (1 Corinthians 15:15-17)Secondly, Peter sought input from the group. Look at verse 22.
22 "...one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward twoThe text moves from Peter’s qualifications to the group putting forward two. The group made a selection. “They put forward two.” The congregation owned the process. “They put forward two.” It was not Peter who put forward two. They did. The early church leadership was open to input. The early church was humble enough to hear from the people. It would be like us adults listening to the youth about an idea for our Sunday service or your employer taking an employee’s suggestion. We are a body, a family, and a community needing each other. This isn’t a one hour a week religion. The church is not a clique or a yacht club where we all have it put together or take out where we drive through, pay our bill, and leave. We are not independent religious consumers. We are a community. We need each other. You have a valuable role to play in the community of faith. You have insight and gifting and talent. Peter did not dictate a decision. He sought out input. At the same time, the congregation giving input did not dictate a decision either. The discernment didn’t stop with a vote. I am not against voting, however, their lack of voting puts an accent here on their unity and their dependence of the Spirit we will discover in a minute. They put forward two. They needed only one. What did they do next? Look at verse 24.
24 And they prayedThey went back to their knees. The leadership sought the Lord’s guidance in scripture; they used wisdom, input, and went to prayer. These men and women were devoting themselves to prayer. Why? I wager they knew what they needed. Prayer measures dependence. They were dependant on God. They needed God’s help. What did they pray? Go back to verse 24.
24 "And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."They recognized God’s character. God knows all. He is all knowing. He knows what we don’t. He knows the future and the past. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our secrets and potential. He knows. They asked the Lord who knows all to show which one He picked. They want God’s man, not theirs. So they said one more prayer. That was not their last step in discernment.
The leadership concluded their selection by casting lots as I told the children in the beginning. They used wisdom, sought input, prayed, and cast lots. Verse 26,
26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.So, from now on I think we should cast lots. It’s biblical. Just kidding. Is that what this is teaching? NO! That is not the point. Nowhere in the rest of the New Testament do we see the church cast lots. When they chose seven deacons, we don’t read any other instance of that. When James died in chapter 12, they didn’t replace him or cast lots to decide that. When they sent out Paul and Barnabas, they didn’t cast lots. Why not cast lots moving forward? They could have, but we don’t read them doing that. Remember what Jeff said two weeks ago, “History is descriptive, not prescriptive.” Acts is not a textbook or playbook for how to exactly make every decision. The lack of additional documented use of “lots” in the New Testament should give us pause and freedom to adopt this practice or not. There are benefits; it can eliminate resentment, pandering, and factions. However, there are drawbacks like we may not have a choice of two equal choices. The point here is not how to make decisions in four easy steps, it is how the church being led. They were being led by the Spirit of God before the Spirit came to rest on them.
So back to my original question, “Why did Luke include this account?” I think it is historical follow up to Jesus’ command to stay in Jerusalem and wait. It demonstrates the church’s reliance on the Spirit of God from the beginning. The disciples were praying, observing God’s Word, pursuing wisdom, and seeking input in seeking His will. Their example encourages us. Who leads our church and leads our lives? Are we obeying God? Are we observing what He says in His word? Are we open to His Spirit leading and directing us?
Whatever happened to Matthias we don’t know for sure. Several legends exist. One tradition says he went to an area in Central Asian. There he was stoned to death for his faith. Another tradition says he was stoned to death in Jerusalem, then beheaded for his faith. Justus didn’t avoid persecution either. He was killed for his faith south of Jerusalem as a bishop in the church. All the disciples were persecuted for their faith. Seeking to do God’s will did not mean life would be comfortable and easy. God’s will is about His glory and praise and Kingdom advancing through the power of the Spirit.
This text documents the small church seeking God’s leading at its beginning. The church wouldn’t grow with slick marketing or cultural compromises. Tertullian, a church father, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The church was birthed in blood by the Spirit-filled believers witnessing regardless of the cost. The leaders would be ridiculed, jailed, and killed for their faith, yet, in a few chapters, the numbers would grow from 120 brothers to over 3,000 and then to over 5,000. Soon the gospel would spread from Jerusalem to all of Judea, from Antioch to Athens, from Caesarea to Berea, from Damascus to Derbe, Lystra to Smyrna, from Macedonia to Malta, to Philippi to Colossae, Thessalonica to Philadelphia, from Tarsus to Ephesus, and on and on and on to Rome. The gospel could not be stopped, nor has it, nor will it ever until Jesus comes back. The good news of the Kingdom of God is on the move. May we yield to the Spirit in our lives and in our church as we seek Him.
MAYBE YOU DON’T HAVE THE SPIRIT
Perhaps sitting here you recognize that you don’t know God’s Spirit or His Word. Let me encourage you if you turn from your sins and truly believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, you will be saved from the wrath of God to come. You will experience God’s Spirit dwelling in you and empowering you to say no to ungodliness. He will comfort you and strengthen you. He will guide you through life’s ambiguity and confusion. Some of you need to repent and believe today. We all had to do that at one point. If that is you, we are glad you are here. Seek the Lord while He may be found.
SOME OF YOU ARE NOT READY
Some of you are not ready or wanting to do that. If you have questions about the Spirit and His Word, talk to me, fill out a connect card, speak to an Elder, talk to a ministry leader, talk to a Life Group Leader, or share your questions with parents or grandparents. We would love to continue the conversation.
Let’s pray. God, we need you, oh we need you. Every hour we need you. Help us now to know you and your ways in the waiting, confusion, and ambiguity of life. Guide us in our offering, praying, singing, and living. In your precious name Jesus, Amen.
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