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Saturday, 11 July 2015

Acts part 3: All together now.

Building a right foundation part 3.
Acts 1:12-26

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 the 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’;
“‘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.

The church gathered: 120 in number, together united they did what came naturally. They devoted themselves to prayer the men and women together as one body. They were in the place appointed by Jesus (Jerusalem) in an upper room waiting for the promised gift. As yet they did not understand how that might happen or even what the gift was to be.

  • Obedience. They were obedient to the commands of Jesus.
  • Prayer. They prayed that the Lord would lead and guide them.
  • Unity and devotion. The mark of the church and evidence of true faith is unity in prayer and fellowship.
    They were all together.

The scripture proclaimed and applied:

Peter opened the scripture and applied it to their situation. He understood what the Holy Spirit had declared through the psalmist that Judas was the traitor, that it was no surprise to the Lord Jesus because it was plain to see from scripture but it was only now that they could understand. Judas was the guide for the soldiers to Jesus and he paid the price as was foretold in scripture. The scripture tells that another must take Judas' place and so Peter instructs the disciples to choose from amongst themselves a successor to Judas.

  • Scripture is the only guidebook for the church, it supersedes all including our constitutions.
  • Scripture is relevant for today, it may have been written long before the event but it was exactly what they needed for their situation. That is true today also, there is no need for further revelation, God does no new thing apart from what He has ordained in the bible.
  • From scripture we learn how to lead the church.
Trust in the Lord for decisions made:

This passage is somewhat confusing in that we know that Paul was going to be God's appointed replacement for Judas.
Did the apostles jump the gun in appointing Matthias?

It is difficult to say but what we can learn is that the principle they followed is a good one. The scripture declared that a replacement would be needed and the disciples did their best to fill the post. Personally I believe that they made a mistake and should have waited but the Lord makes no public judgement of that.

Lessons to be learned:

  • Wait for God to reveal the right man!
    Remember the instruction that they had received from the Lord Jesus: they were to wait in Jerusalem until promise of the Father had been realised. They knew that the promise was concerning the Holy Spirit who would baptise them more fully than John had baptised those who had responded to his message. They did not appreciate what this baptism would look like and it is not for us to discuss at this stage in our considerations in Acts.
    Our purpose is to learn from Luke's account of the events of this particular day when the foundations for the church were being put into place. There is plenty of scope in the weeks to come for us to consider all of the controversial issues. At this point in time Jesus had given a very simple instruction to wait. The problem that the disciples had was that they were fully human and as such were not too keen on waiting. There is the old adage that says that the devil has work for idle hands and so it is easy when we are waiting for us to be carried away with all sorts of distractions. On this occasion Peter had understood from scripture that Judas would betray the Lord and that he would die an horrific death. He rightly understood this from his knowledge of Psalm 69. He also saw that there would be a replacement for Judas from his understanding of Psalm 109:8. The very fact that Peter knew these passages and was able to interpret them speaks of a man of great understanding and not the ignorant fisherman that some would have us believe him to be. It was Peter's decision that the disciples should appoint a successor; that I believe was a mistake. God had appointed Saul of Tarsus to fill the post of apostle and Peter who was simply being true to his impetuous character decided to act immediately instead of simply obeying Jesus.
    It is so easy for us to jump the gun and make decisions before we truly know God's will. Jesus had told the disciples to wait and trust but they were pro-active in a decision making process before the Lord had ordained it.
    Sometimes we are called to a period of prayer and inactivity. What the disciples needed most at that time was to be rested and prepared for the task that was about to unfold for them. I am encouraged that there seems to be no criticism from God for their actions and so it was not sinful rebellion but their guilt in trying to give God a helping hand in His purposes. As the church we are given a clear mandate to make right decisions in a right way and to at times wait on the Lord for guidance and help in our decision making process. We are just as likely to make mistakes but they will not be earth shattering and are not the end of the world. We should avoid mindless meddling but equally we need to make the decision. God will forgive mistakes but refusing to go forward in God's plan is unforgivable.
    Pray for God's guidance and trust Him for the outcome.
    Peter knew rightly that an apostle was somebody who had been with or knew Jesus first hand, logic therefore told him that a replacement must be one of those in that room. From this pragmatic decision it was logical to appoint a man into post. There were two obvious candidates and so by the casting of lots they were to determine the right person. I do not want to focus our attention upon the rights and wrongs of the process or of the decision but to consider that even if their rationale was in error we can learn a great lesson by how the disciples conducted the business in hand. They put forward Joseph and Matthias as candidates and were about to trust their decision to the casting of lots but before the process was to begin they prayed!
    Prayer is the church's vital lifeline with God Almighty. The prayer prayed on this occasion was simple yet profound and is an example of their complete trust in God.
    Note first of all that their prayer was a direct approach to God. “You, Lord.” It would be impossible to be more direct than this with anybody let alone God in heaven. I do not know of any of the deities of the world that would tolerate their subject to approach them in such a manner. Many in fact would destroy (if they were at all real!) the person for such a blasphemous approach! But Almighty God hears such prayers from His children even when they are making decisions that are not directly in line with His command.
    The prayer continues: “ you know all of our hearts” an amazing statement and one which if we really thought about it might tempt us to believe that because God fully knows everything about us then He might never want to hear our little prayers. There could be nothing further from the truth. God delights in the prayers of His saints despite His knowledge of our hearts.
    This is followed by the purpose of the prayer; “please reveal by the lot which one of these 2 men should be appointed! They recognised Judas' failing before God and then went on in full faith believing that the decision made would then be God's choice. I am certainly not advocating lots for today but we do need in the 21st century to come back to a simple trust in the truth that God can aid us in our decision making process. They cast lots and Matthias drew the short straw and was immediately numbered amongst the eleven.
    Matthias was instated as an apostle, he was accepted by all and was appointed in a Godly manner. When we make our decisions as a church we make them in the understanding that God has directed them and that we accept the person appointed as God's person for the job unless somehow it is proven to be wrong and not as we might have thought according to God's plan and purpose. For the disciples at the time there was nothing that suggested that the decision was a bad one and so they simply got on with their duty in hand which was to pray and wait for God's Holy Spirit to come. We too have made important decisions and will soon look top appointing John to be an elder of the church. We would do well to keep our decision making by secret ballot in the church members meeting before the Lord in prayer, to seek His guidance as we vote as individuals and then to stand by the decision made. Matthias was appointed and Joseph was not, there was no reversal and there is no bitterness or upset recorded on behalf of Joseph. The decision made was done in a Godly way and was accepted as such, it must be the same with all decisions that we make as the church. The decision was made corporately by the whole congregation and is as such a foundation laid for our benefit, we make decisions together and then we stick together in the decision made. From this point on the church is marked by it's togetherness and so our motto ought to be:

All together now!

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