************ Sermon on Acts 1:26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 13, 2018
"Replacing Judas by Casting Lots"
Difficult Passages # 3
I would guess that almost everyone here has a story of being the one not chosen for something:
-a college scholarship
-the spelling-bee or basketball team
-the home-coming queen
-the office of deacon or elder
-a position at work
-a role in a play or musical
How do you respond if you are the one not chosen?
Some people say, "My feelings are hurt." This is one of the arguments I hear for why we should cast lots for church office instead of doing a vote at a congregational meeting. According to these people, the consistory should follow the example of Acts 1.
"My feelings are hurt." Really? What happens if their name is not chosen by lot either? If choosing for church office is a matter of feelings then wouldn't their feelings still be hurt?
Tonight we continue our study of difficult passages of the Bible. In our first sermon we looked at the sin against the Holy Spirit. In our second sermon we looked at the throwing of pearls before pigs. Tonight we will look at the casting of lots.
As with the first two passages we cannot understand what is in front of us if we don't pay attention to the context. Problems always arise when a text is isolated and taken out of context. So, again, the bulk of our attention will be spent on the context.
I The Cultural Context
To understand out text we need to begin with the cultural context.
The world in which the first Christians lived was brutal, totally pagan, and openly anti-Christian. There was no real sense of morality. Early believers were opposed to almost everything in popular culture. There was no bill of rights or constitutional amendments that provided religious safeguards for Christians. Instead, their experience was out-and-out persecution, often on the part of governing officials. Those who dared to confess Christ and/or proclaim Christ often became martyrs. To become a Christian often meant death.
Why was the world and culture so hostile to the Christian faith? What were the early Christians doing to cause such hostile treatment? It had nothing to do with the individual Christians or the church. It had to do with the offense of the Gospel (Gal 5:11; Ro 9:32,33; 1Co 1:18,23; 1Pe 2:8,9). Namely, the teaching that if you don't repent and believe in Jesus you are going to the fires of hell.
Our culture has changed so much in the past 50 years that our situation today is becoming very similar to that of the early Christians. I know we cannot say that America was ever a Christian nation. Yet, 50 years ago there was what we can call a cultural Christianity. To some degree, people understood the church, the Bible, the Gospel. They accepted the Judaea-Christian view of morality. While most people weren't genuine Christians there was at least superficial acceptance of cultural Christianity in public life, politics, education, business, and health care.
To illustrate how much things have changed, let me mention two phrases: the Moral Majority, the religious right. In the 80's and 90's Christians were excited about both of these political movements as they elected more than one president, controlled Congress, and set the national agenda. Where is their influence today? Gone. No more. There is no more cultural Christianity. People no longer understand the church, the Bible, or the Gospel. There is no acceptance of a Christian morality. Public life, politics, education, business, and health care have been separated from the Christian world-and-life view. The Biblical view on abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and sexuality is openly mocked. And, we are accused of being anti-women, homophobic, intolerant, and guilty of hate crimes. We find ourselves in opposition to a lot of things in our culture.
Do you know what the early church needed to minister and proclaim Christ in this hostile environment? She needed the Spirit. Our Bible reading is to be seen as the final work of preparation before the pouring out of the Spirit. We can break it up into three points: a waiting, a fulfilment, and a choosing.
II A Waiting
A In verse 4 Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait. In verse 8 He told them they were going to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth -- but, again, they were supposed to wait. They were supposed to wait for what the Father promised. They were supposed to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit.
Don't leave Jerusalem. Don't start the church's mission. Wait for the Spirit.
God's people are not always good at waiting. Jacob got tired of waiting for God to give him the birthright so he took advantage of Esau and deceived his father. The people of Israel got tired of waiting when Moses was up on Mount Sinai so they fashioned a golden calf. When it comes to waiting, God's people can be like little children:
We celebrated David's birthday this past Wednesday. Alexander knows his birthday comes next. So Wednesday night he told us "It is my birthday tomorrow." He doesn't want to wait until his birthday on May 28.No matter how hard it is, God's command to the early church was "wait." Even today we need to wait upon the Lord: for answers to prayer, for the saving of souls, for the second coming.
So after the Ascension of Jesus the disciples went to the upper room to wait. Important and momentous things happened in that room. Some commentators think there they had the Passover. There Jesus suddenly showed up on Easter. There the disciples waited for the Spirit. There the disciples were gathered when the Spirit came.
B Our Bible reading lists the eleven apostles who were waiting. Judas Iscariot, of course, is not mentioned because he is dead. The Judas son of James that is mentioned is a different Judas.
The women were there. What women? The women who were at the cross and the grave: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Mary and Martha. All the women who followed Him, who believed in Him, who ministered to Him. All of them were waiting.
Also present was Mary the mother of Jesus. She is mentioned almost as an afterthought, a footnote. She is not given a place of superiority. No one is worshiping her or exalting her. No one is lighting candles for her. They weren't praying to her. Rather, with the rest she was waiting.
And His brothers were there: James, Joseph, Simon, Jude. James the brother is NOT the same person as the James who with Peter and John are friends of Jesus. The brothers of Jesus have come a long way. Early in Jesus' ministry they did not believe in Him (Jn 7:5). But James the brother became the head of the Jerusalem church. Jude wrote the letter that bears his name. They are there in the upper room. Waiting.
Our Bible reading tells us the group was about 120 souls. So about 120 people were waiting.
C What were they doing as they were waiting? They were praying. "They all joined together constantly in prayer" (Acts 1:14).
What were they praying about? What were they praying for? I can tell you what they were NOT praying for. They were not praying that the Spirit would come. About the coming of the Spirit there was no doubt; it was fact. The coming of the Spirit was always part of God's plan and was and is not conditional upon the prayers of God's people. I say this because there are Pentecostals who believe the Holy Spirit is only given to those believers who ask for it. The early believers didn't need to pray that the Spirit would come. All they needed to do was wait for the Spirit. And as they waited they chose to have communion with God in prayer.
III A Fulfilment
A As they were waiting Peter stood up and said something surprising: "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled ..." (Acts 1:16). This is the same Peter who didn't want the Scripture fulfilled that said Jesus had to suffer and die (Mt 16:22).
What happened? What happened is that Jesus opened the minds of Peter and the apostles so they could understand the Scriptures (Lk 24:45). Peter had a light go on and he suddenly understood the Old Testament Scriptures.
"Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled ..." It is a must. A divine must because it is part of the plan of God.
"Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled ..." What Scripture? Two Scriptures. First, that there would be a vacancy in the rank of the apostles. Second, that the vacancy would be filled.
B The first prophecy, quoted in verse 20, comes from David in Psalm 69: "May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it" (Acts 1:20).
Peter explains that this prophecy was fulfilled by Judas. Let me put it more strongly and say this prophecy had to be fulfilled by Judas. You all know the story. Judas was one of the twelve, yet He betrayed the Lord with a kiss in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. When he was seized with remorse, he threw the thirty pieces of silver at the feet of the chief priests and the elders. The money was used to buy a burial place for foreigners. As for Judas, he went and committed suicide by hanging. Somehow the rope or the branch broke and he fell and his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.
"The Scripture had to be fulfilled." Psalm 69:25 had to be fulfilled. Meaning what? Meaning Judas did exactly what the Old Testament said he would do. Judas did exactly what his wicked heart wanted to do. And yet what he did fulfilled Scripture. We see here, congregation, that everything Judas did was within the sovereign purpose, power, and providence of God. Likewise, everything we do is within the sovereign purpose, power, and providence of God.
"The Scripture had to be fulfilled." So Judas was one of the twelve and shared in the ministry (Acts 1:17). Judas shared in the ministry for a divine purpose; and that divine purpose was to be the betrayer of Jesus.
"The Scripture had to be fulfilled." So, according to the plan of God there were eleven apostles instead of twelve when Judas killed himself.
IV A Choosing
A There was also a second Scripture that had to be fulfilled: Psalm 109:8. "May another take his place of leadership."
According to the plan of God there must be twelve apostles. Why twelve? Even as the twelve sons of Jacob were the foundation of Israel, so twelve apostles were to be the foundation of the new Israel, the church. The birth of the New Testament church on Pentecost requires twelve apostles.
There are supposed to be twelve apostles but Judas has created a vacancy. So the vacant position must be filled.
There are three requirements to be an apostle: first, they had to be with Jesus beginning from John's baptism; second, they had to be eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ; and, third, they had to be personally chosen by the Lord.
Obviously, this means more than the twelve traveled with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry. More than the twelve were eyewitnesses to everything from the baptism to the crucifixion and resurrection to the ascension. Of the 120 in the upper room, there were others who qualified to be an apostle.
B Three things happen to fill the vacancy. First, two men who met the qualifications were proposed: Joseph called Barsabbas (NOT Barabbas) and Matthias. Not once do we meet them in the gospels. But they were with Jesus since the beginning. That's all Scripture tells us about them.
Second, prayer was offered for God's guidance. Peter prayed. The other apostles prayed. The 120 prayed.
Third, lots were cast; maybe their names were put in a hat; maybe dice were used. The lot fell to Matthias. The number of apostles was now complete. And everything was ready for the birth of the church on Pentecost. Everything that was needed for the Spirit to come was in place.
C In Senior Bible Study the last couple of years we've been coming across the Urim and Thummim. The high priest carried them in his breastplate (cf Ex 28:30). We are not exactly sure what the Urim and Thummin were; the most likely possibility is that they were two stones, one white and the other black -- something like our dice. The high priest could use the Urim and Thummin to determine God’s will in a particular situation, to give a "yes" or "no" answer to a specific question. Should Israel be preparing for battle? To get an answer the high priest would toss the stones. If they turned up black the Israelites would not go to battle, and if they turned up white they would proceed into battle with the knowledge that they were in the will of God. Yet, we know they didn't always give an answer to a particular question (1 Sam 28:6).
It is noteworthy that Moses never used the Urim and Thummim. Why not? Because he had another means of knowing God's will; namely, he spoke with God directly.
The Old Testament seems to indicate that the Urim and Thummin faded from use during the days of King Saul and King David. Why? Because God used the office of prophet to communicate His will.
Nevertheless, we still find Ezra using this device to determine the ancestry of the priests who returned from the exile in Ezra 2:63. After this the Bible never mentions the Urim and Thummin again. God did not preserve it for His people. Why not? Because He used other means to make His will known.
D We aren't told that the apostles used the Urim and Thummim when they cast lots but what they used was something similar.
Why can't we do this? Why don't we cast lots? The same reason Moses didn't use them. The same reason they were phased out of use during the monarchy. Because God uses other means to communicate His will. Because once Pentecost comes God uses the Word and the Spirit to communicate His will.
God uses the Word and Spirit to communicate His will for the church.
I'm always amazed that God's people think we need something, anything, besides the Word and Spirit. We don't need lots. We don't need the Urim and Thummim. We don't need Gideon's fleece. We don't need anything other than the Word and the illuminating presence of the Spirit.
As we look forward to Pentecost we look forward to celebrating all that we need to know God's will: namely, His Word and His Spirit.
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