The Lord's Day Evening
May 14, 2006
“Then They Were Twelve Again”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me, if you would, to The Acts of the Apostles, and on Sunday evenings now for a while we’ll be going through this glorious book. The Acts of the Apostles, that tells us the story of the early church, focuses as it does initially on the ministry of the Apostle Peter, and then the rise of the Apostle Paul — the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and the rise of the influence of Paul — and the missionary journeys that will take us literally from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
Last week we began looking at the opening eleven verses and the account that Luke gives us of the ascension of Jesus (something which I believe was a literal physical ascending of the body of Jesus) and disappearing into a glory cloud — reminiscent, of course, of clouds that appeared at various times in the Old Testament, particularly in the period of the wilderness wanderings and the tabernacle: the pillar of cloud by day, the cloud that descended in the Holy of Holies in the temple, the cloud that the Bible speaks of when Jesus will come again. At the time of His Second Coming, He will come on a cloud.
Well, that's where we left it last week. We pick up the reading now in the second half of Acts, chapter one, beginning at the twelfth verse. And before we read the passage together, let's look to God in prayer.
Our gracious God and ever-blessed Father, we thank You now for the Scriptures. We thank You that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Help us, we pray, as we once again read this portion of Scripture. Help us by Your Spirit to understand that which we read. Give us illumination, we pray. Open up the word to us. Grant that Your word might dwell richly in our hearts by faith, for Your glory. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Now this is God's holy and inerrant word:
“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, 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. 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 persons was there together), and said, ‘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 man dwell in it’;
‘Let another man take his office.’
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 He was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.’ So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 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, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”
Amen. May God bless that reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now let's turn our attention to this wonderful passage–a glorious passage. It somewhat reminds me, initially, of boring history lessons in school. Yes, because at first it doesn't appear that promising a passage, but it's full. It's chock full of the most extraordinary lessons that I think are as relevant to us here in First Presbyterian Church tonight as they were when Luke first penned these words.
Matthew Henry, in his extraordinary Commentary on the Bible...he's commenting on a passage in the Book of Exodus in chapter two, that period when Israel was still bondslaves in Egypt, and he's making a comment and he says this: that “before God unbound them, He put it into their hearts to cry unto Him.” In other words, Matthew Henry is saying that before God does that which He intends to do by way of blessing, He sets us first of all in a place where we will cry out to God for it. He makes us feel a need, so that we will cry out for the very things He intends all along to give to us. Well, that's what's taking place here. God intends to build His church, and He intends to build His church by way of pouring out the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, not many days from now.
That promise is one that Jesus has reiterated in His ascension ministry, but God puts them now in a place where they will cry out, where they will pray for the very thing that God intends all along to give to them.
Well, there's a wonderful lesson there about prayer. You want an application? Well, let me give it to you right up front, because there it is. Because God intends for us as His people to gather together in groups–perhaps on a Wednesday night, perhaps in our Sunday School classes, perhaps in a men's meeting or a women's meeting–but He intends for us to gather together to pray for those very blessings which He intend to give to us.
The disciples are making their way from the Mount of Olives, where they've just seen Jesus ascend up into the sky and disappear into a cloud. They walk, perhaps, down the slopes of the Mount of Olives and up the other side, and somewhere into the city of Jerusalem to the upper room. We’re not sure whether this was perhaps the upper room which belonged (as in Acts 12) to John Mark; or, it may be the upper room where Jesus had served the Lord's Supper; and it may be that the two are the same place. But they gather to a place known to these disciples, and they are there — isn't it extraordinary and beautiful, and so very fascinating? — that Jesus’ brothers are there? the ones, you remember, in the course of the Gospel narratives, who did not believe Jesus’ word and testimony? And, yes, on this Mother's Day, let's make the note that Jesus’ mother is there in the upper room, together, now, with the eleven disciples. Later they are going to be joined, as the days go by before Pentecost...later they will be joined by 120. They will number about 120.
There seems to be a temporal sort of break at verse 15. Initially, it's just the eleven disciples, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and the brothers of Jesus. Their minds must be filled with the sight of the ascension and the sound of Jesus’ words to them, the word especially of the angel as they gazed up into heaven, the word “You will be My witnesses to the end of the ages.” You’ll see Jesus’ words to that effect back in verse 8 of Acts 1. And the word of the angel: “Why stand here gazing up into heaven?” They've heard the most extraordinary promise. They've heard the most extraordinary charge given to them: that they–these forlorn disciples–are going to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth.
And it is Peter who eventually will rise (in verse 15)... who, you remember, immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter had gone back up to Galilee, where he was from. He had gone back, you remember, to fish. He’d gone back to do that which he had been doing. Perhaps it was the overwhelming thought that he had failed Jesus so miserably that he goes back to do the one thing that he knew how to do, the one thing that he was good at doing, namely, fishing. And isn't it a wonderful providence that that night he fished all night and caught nothing? Because that was not God's will for him. God had plans for the Apostle Peter. He must come back to Jerusalem. He must wait for the promise of the Spirit. And, you remember Jesus’ saying to Peter,
“Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you. And when you have turned again, [what?] strengthen the brethren.”
When you have turned again, strengthen the brethren. Now that's what Peter is doing. Peter has turned again. You get the impression (and note, this takes place before Pentecost; this is something that is taking place in Peter's heart and soul before the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost) Peter is a changed man. Already we see and discern something of the hand of God molding and shaping him and strengthening him, and equipping him to be the voice and servant of God to His people.
So he gets up to speak. But before he gets up to speak, Luke gives us a little glimpse of the fledgling church, a little glimpse in verse 14 of the church as it was immediately after the ascension and before Pentecost:
“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer.”
I. They were all of one mind.
They were, first of all, of one mind. They were a united people. They were together. There was a unity of the Spirit among these people, these disciples, these brothers of Jesus, Mary his mother. There was a unity, there was a bond, there was a single-minded goal and purpose about them in these days.
And there was perseverance in prayer. “They continually devoted themselves to prayer.” This is a beautiful picture of the cameo church, the early church, in an upper room in Jerusalem. This little group, this little band of men and women who will spread to the end of the earth, taking the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus and calling upon men and women to repent and believe in the gospel. And it begins here, in this upper room. It begins in a season of prayer.
My friends, don't ever underestimate the importance of a prayer meeting in the life of the church. You know, Spurgeon was wont to exaggerate, of course, but Spurgeon was once asked which of all the meetings would he least abandon, and he said it would be the prayer meeting. Now, you can argue with that and it will fall in a heartbeat, but the sheer importance of the corporate mind and spirit of the Lord's people gathering together with one voice, pleading and interceding and supplicating at the throne of grace.... Let me encourage you, let me woo you, to come to our prayer meetings. If you haven't been for a while, come back! You won't be chastised, there will be no homework, no lines...[no, that's a British thing! Writing...never mind!]...extraordinary, wonderful, beautiful little picture of the church, devoting themselves here to prayer. Calvin says, “Prayer is not a sign of doubting, but it is a witness to our certain hope and confidence, since we ask of the Lord the things we know He has promised.” Isn't that an extraordinary statement? He's saying when we come together to pray, we're not confessing our doubt; we're confessing our faith. We’re coming to ask for the very things God has promised us. God had promised to send His Spirit. They were to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit came, and that's what they’re doing. They’re waiting for the promise of God to be fulfilled, and they’re praying for it.
Now Peter gets up to speak. They are joined now by others, and Luke tells us there are 120 people. I am hopeless estimating numbers, but–if I'm wrong, then tell me–but...there are 300 here? I don't know. Maybe not. Half, less than half this number. Just one side. That's about 120. maybe I'm wrong, but about that many. I mean, think about it! Look at this side here! That's all the church was. It was a big room...[that's probably more than 120!]...and Peter stands up, and he's a man of conviction now, and two things come now to the surface.
First is the necessity for the replacement apostle. There is a necessity to it. Look at verse 21. It's not so clear unless you’re reading in the New American Standard. “Therefore it is necessary,” he says. There is a divine imperative now. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done because there is a divine necessity for it. And what is that? It is that Judas’ position be replaced. It's brought about by three things.
First, of course, is the death of Judas.
I have with me here (and some of you may have purchased it in the bookstores of the airports and Barnes & Noble and other places) The Gospel of Judas. And this is a text. It was discovered in the late 1970's on the banks of the River Nile. It was written in Coptic, the early Egyptian style of writing. The original was probably in Greek. It was from the mid-third century. It's one of the classic Gnostic texts, and it was discovered about thirty years ago and published this year in a fresh translation–about thirteen pages or so. This looks like more than thirteen pages because most of this is commentary.
You know, the fascinating thing about reading this and reading Luke's account of Judas’ death and Luke's account of Judas in the Gospel of Luke...the fascinating thing is the sheer contrast. In this book, The Gospel of Judas, Judas is not a villain, he's a hero. Judas is under orders — and he's under divine orders — to betray Jesus, because Jesus needs to be released from His physical body, the prison house that is keeping His soul and spirit down. And if Jesus is going to be the spiritual person, He needs to be released from His physical body. And this is what The Gospel of Judas is all about. It's a classic Gnostic text.
Luke is giving us a very different portrait of Judas. Luke tells us in verse 18 that what he did was an act of wickedness. Luke tells us in his Gospel that he was a traitor. Luke tells us in his Gospel that he was the tool of Satan, that he betrayed our Lord.
And he describes now the death of Judas. It's a fairly gruesome description. There's a parallel in the Gospel of Matthew, and one needs to join together sort of the frayed edges of Matthew and Luke. In putting those two pieces together, we discern that a field was purchased by the money that Judas had given back to the priests because of his guilt, and the priests went and bought this field. It was called the Field of Blood probably because it was bought with blood money. It's given here in the Aramaic language, called Hakeldama. Judas hung himself. His body, corpse, was there probably for a considerable amount of time, until the branch of the tree on which he hung himself broke, or perhaps he was cut down. And because of the extensive decomposition, when he fell to the ground his body burst open. Why is Luke giving us these details? I think to underline the historicity of it, to underline (because Luke is a historian)...and he's telling us this deed, this event, actually happened.
Well, the death of Judas necessitated a replacement apostle, but more than that, Peter says — and you notice in the text in verse 20, he cites from two Psalms. He cites from Psalm 69 (which is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament, apart from Psalm 22) and Psalm 109. And he quotes these two Psalms, and he says there is a necessity now laid upon us because of what Scripture has said. Scripture had prophesied this. Scripture had foretold this. And one gets the impression that here is Peter, and he's been spending these days, and especially since the death of Judas, he's been spending his time in the word, and especially in the Psalms. Not surprising, perhaps, the Psalms...because Peter wouldn't have a Bible like you have. And the Psalms were the Scriptures that were used in the liturgy of worship, and therefore the Psalms were portions of Scripture especially that would be extremely well known to the early Christians. And Peter is spending his time reading the Bible, and there's an overwhelming sense in which Peter comes to the conclusion, and he comes to a conclusion and says not only is there a divine necessity here, but whatever the Scriptures teach, we must do. We are bound now, to do what Scripture has told us to do.
And here's a little glimpse, you see, of the mindset of the early church: that they were in the word, and whatever it was they discovered in the word, they were determined to do and implement.
And there's a third reason for the necessity for a replacement apostle, and it's not only the fact that Judas was dead, and it's not only the fact that Scripture had prophesied it, but there was also a sense, I think, in Peter's mind especially, that God in Jesus Christ was determined to build His church.
Wasn't it to Peter that Jesus had said at Caesarea Philippi, “Peter, on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”? Now, it's interesting that Luke should say there were 120 people there, or about 120 people there, because in Jewish custom, to establish a new community with new leadership, you needed around 120 people. And it's as though Luke is saying, and it's as though this is what Peter is saying, that a new community is being established. And if that new community is going to be established, it is going to be established according to the pattern that God has laid down: the church built on the foundation of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles that He had chosen.
But there's one missing. Satan had filled Judas’ heart–not, you understand, because Satan had a particular interest in Judas. It was the purpose of God that Satan was trying to thwart. And it seems to me that Peter has caught a glimpse of the intention of God for the church of Jesus Christ: that there is a purpose here, an overwhelming purpose here, and that they are caught up in this purpose. And it is imperative now for Judas to be replaced, in order that there be twelve apostles again.
II. The method of choosing the replacement.
Well, there's a second aspect of this chapter: not only the necessity for a replacement apostle, but the method of choosing the replacement apostle. And there are three things about it that are fascinating. It's intriguing. How would they go about choosing a replacement apostle? And they resort to lottery. (Well, not quite; but it looks like that.) There's a nomination process, there is intercession, and there is election.
There's a nomination process. Now, to be sure, the New Testament uses the word apostle sometimes in a broad sense and sometimes in a narrow and very definite sense, and here it's in the narrow and definite sense. In order for somebody to be an apostle in the narrow sense, he has to be a witness of Jesus from the time of John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan to the ascension of Jesus. And two men meet that criterion. Two men meet that test. Perhaps, in all likelihood, there were only two men who met that criterion: one is Matthias, and the other is Joseph, called Barsabbas — because he was born, more than likely, on the Sabbath day. The nomination process yields two men, Matthias and Barsabbas.
Then comes the intercession, and the super-spiritual among you may think that this is not the way it should be. The super-spiritual among us may be inclined...and I can imagine some saying, “You know, the first thing they should have done was to go to prayer.” But you misunderstand the nature of the process.
You see, in the nomination process they didn't need extra revelation. They didn't need to know what the mind of God was, because the criterion was already revealed to them. They needed to meet the criterion of being a witness of Jesus from the time of John the Baptist until the ascension. They didn't need to go to prayer to find that out, but in order to find out which one it was to be, Matthias or Joseph, they needed to know the mind of God. They needed to be assured of the divine intervention of the providence of God, and so they go to prayer. They go to prayer. They intercede. They get on their knees and they cry to God, and they say, “Lord, show us which one it should be.” And only after doing that do they engage in the election process.
And the election process is by lots. It was in all likelihood the use of the Old Testament Urim and Thummin. Bits of wood, or perhaps bits of papyrus, or maybe bits of broken clay pots, and on those bits would be inscribed perhaps the names Matthias and Joseph, and these would be thrown into a garment or into an urn or utensil of some kind, and it would simply be a process of drawing out.
Now, these were the days of the infancy of the church. This was the time Paul speaks of in Galatians as the A-B-C's of the church, before the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, before the full complete canon of Scripture, in terms of the 66 books, had been given to the church. And in this process God reveals His mind, and God reveals His will, and they were able to do this because, as Luke has already told us, they were of one mind. They were in one accord. And the secret, it seems to me, of the strength of the early church at this point...the secret of their strength was their unity...was their unity in spirit, their unity in each other. Satan, you see, was attempting to destroy the very thing that Christ was trying to build. And do you remember what Peter will say later as he writes his first epistle?
“Be sober minded; be watchful, for your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
He is seeking someone, in the singular! “Resist him,” Peter says, now using the plural. In other words, as a united band of the Lord's people, resist Satan's attempts to destroy the church.
Do you see what at least one aspect of the corporate prayer meetings of the church is about? It's about the people of God–“the brethren”...isn't that an interesting description here in chapter one?–the brothers, the adopted children of God belonging to the family of God coming together in one mind and with one spirit to pray for a brother who's about go off to Turkey, and together that united voice brings down the gates of hell so that it will not prevail against the kingdom of God.
Did you ever ask the question, whatever happened to Matthias? Do you know anything at all about Matthias? I mean, anything at all? This extraordinary man given this extraordinary office of the twelfth — or, if you like, the thirteenth — apostle, and we hear absolutely nothing about him. It was still important, not because of who Matthias was, and not because of what Matthais did, but because the overarching thing that Luke wants us to see here is that Jesus is building His church. And by the power of the Holy Spirit which will come not many days from now, He intends for the church to do what Peter has been doing here: ransacking the word of God and coming in the presence of His people and saying ‘Whatever it is the Bible says, that we will do, no matter how insignificant it may seem to be.’
Oh, my friends, if we could learn just that lesson...just that lesson! If we were a people tonight who could learn that lesson, “Whatever the Bible says, that we will do”, we will have learnt a lesson that will make the knees of Satan buckle...buckle. May God help us to learn it.
Let's pray together.
Father, we thank You for these portraits of the early church: small, frail, and weak, and yet so full of faith and so full of resolve, and so full of determination to follow You no matter what it is You teach. Make us such a people, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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