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May 28, 2017

 

 

5.28.17                              7 Easter                          - Acts 1:12-26ESV

 

12Then {the disciples} returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13And 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. 14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15In 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. 17For 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. 19And 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.’ 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning 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.” 23And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

CHOOSING SIDES IN THE CONTEST OF LIFE

Whose side are you on?  Sometimes you have to wonder when you hear reports about the latest terrorist attack in Manchester, England.  A British journalist was complaining about their government policies that let jihadists into the country without scrutiny only to regret it too late after a bomb killed a number of children at a concert.  Then officials claim that they are not going to give in to pressure to change immigration rules that would allow even more unvetted foreigners to arrive in Great Britain with no intention of assimilating into their culture, rather demanding that they have their own “no-go zones” of sharia law.  On Memorial Day weekend in the United States, some might wonder whether we are in danger of the same kind of counterintuitive thinking that lets illegal immigrant gangs like MS 13 run wild committing deadly acts of violence in major cities.  While America always has had a big heart for refugees fleeing war-torn countries, perhaps law-makers need to use their heads when deciding who should be permitted to live in this nation of freedoms based on rule of law.  There is a contest between two opposing points of view: open borders or controlled access.   Whose side are you on? This is a question that needs to be asked and answered.
 
On a different subject, the text for this sermon reminds us that there is another contest between the forces of good and evil that we are involved in.  In this little known incident we see the disciples of Jesus CHOOSING SIDES IN THE CONTEST OF LIFE.  And we find, 1. Judas chose to leave the team, 2. Matthias was chosen to join the team.  I’ll explain some details of the story and then make an application or two for our own lives today.
 
The disciples had recently returned from the “mount called Olivet” outside Jerusalem where the Lord Jesus had ascended into heaven.  Ascension Day was last Thursday, forty days after Easter.  Jesus had commissioned them to make disciples by being witnesses for Him, preaching, teaching, baptizing people of all nations.  It was a huge job.  They were to be missionaries, but there were only eleven apostles left.  You heard their names.  Oh, there were some women with them, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and a couple of His brothers who apparently had seen the light after His resurrection.  They were devoting themselves to prayer, we’re told, for the awesome task ahead.
 
Even though there were about 120 believers at the time, they realized they would need some leadership help because Judas Iscariot was gone.  So Peter addressed the group and explained the situation.  Everyone knew that Judas was the traitor who had led the temple guards to capture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  And Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, adds the grim description of his suicidal death in the “field of blood” where his body fell after hanging himself as the gospel-writer Matthew informs us.  The temple authorities used the blood money they had given him to buy that parcel of land for a pauper’s cemetery. 
 
Such a sad story. Judas had been part of the team, the circle of Twelve.  He had shared in their ministry, sent out by Jesus with the others on some practice evangelism calls.  He had heard Jesus teach and seen His miracles.  Yet, he chose to leave the team, succumbing to his greed for money, it seems, when he lost his faith in Christ.  How could this happen?  Hard to say, but Scripture warns, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” (1 Cor 10:12)
 
However, Peter saw this tragic turn of events as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  Quoting two psalms of David, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write them a thousand years earlier, Peter identifies Judas as the one referred to: “may his camp become desolate” and “let another take his office.”  The disciples had learned from Jesus how everything in His rescue mission had been foretold in the Word of Truth.  They just had to put two and two together.  The Scripture must be fulfilled.
 
Judas was not a victim of circumstance, though, a pawn of fickle fate.  The fact that God knew that Jesus would be betrayed to His enemies by one of His own companions and He used this treachery to accomplish His purpose does not make Him responsible for Judas falling away. No, Judas acted on his own.  “He turned aside,” as Peter put it, “to go to his own place.”  Plainly, he chose the wrong side in the contest of life.  How many have followed his lead, making bad choices, nobody to blame but themselves?  Lord, have mercy!
 
Going forward Peter realized it was necessary to find someone to replace Judas.  There was something significant about the number twelve in God’s dealings with mankind.  Not a sign of symmetry like Twelve Houses of the Zodiac, but there were twelve patriarchs in the Old Testament line of God’s people, twelve tribes of Israel who were to preserve the covenant with God.  Then, twelve apostles called by the Savior to carry on His gospel ministry.  He told them they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  The number twelve seems to symbolize the whole company of the faithful in the vision of Revelation where 12x12x1000 or 144,000 represents the countless multitude of Old and New Testament saints in heaven. 
 
Thus Peter outlines carefully the credentials this twelfth apostle must have.  He must be familiar with everything Jesus did in His ministry from the time of John the Baptist to the Lord’s recent ascension.  Quite a resume, but there were some candidates.  You see, there were other followers of Jesus besides the twelve disciples.  Thousands gathered around Him near the Sea of Galilee for His sermons.  Many even traveled with Him on His preaching tours.  Above all, however, the replacement must be able to verify that Jesus rose from the dead.  That was and is the key of the Christian faith.  Jesus died for our sins; He rose for our forgiveness.  The sacrifice is complete; our guilt is gone.  Because He lives, we too shall live in heaven forever.  There is no Christian church without the resurrection of Christ.
 
Two men met the requirements of these qualifications: Joseph Barsabbas, nicknamed, Justus; and Matthias.  Little more is known of either one, but we can imagine that they were honored and humbled to be nominated.  Which one should the congregation choose?  They prayed for divine guidance, trusting the Lord to choose the one He wanted.  Then they “cast lots.”  What?  Wait a minute.  That sounds like a game of chance.  Shaking two stones with their names on them in a jar and seeing which one would fall out first.  Like ping pong balls in a lottery?  Sheer luck?  No, simple faith.  Let God decide.  One advantage of that method is there was no loser as in a vote.  Neither one would wonder why the majority of the people didn’t want him.  It wasn’t like kids choosing up sides for a game of baseball where the most popular kids get taken first, and the last ones feel like unwanted leftovers.  No, here all would know the selection was by divine providence. 
 
Whatever the process, whether election or selection, the Lord’s will was done.  In this case His hand rested on Matthias.  He was designated to join the team of eleven now twelve apostles.  He was drafted to participate in the greatest contest for the highest stakes in the world – to determine the eternal outcome of precious, blood-bought souls. 
 
You have been chosen to join the same team, dear friends.  Oh, not to be an apostle of Christ, but to be a disciple of Christ, a witness for Christ.  At your baptism God drafted you to be on His team.  He equips you, He conditions you, and He trains you to serve in some capacity as a Christian.  Accept His choice.  Commit yourself to follow Him more nearly, to know Him more clearly, to love Him more dearly.  This is not the selective service where you have to register for the military draft under penalty of law.  It’s a voluntary army but the Lord still needs you.  And it’s a privilege to serve.  We honor those who serve even as we remember those who have gone before. 
 
Judas and Matthias.  One chose to leave the team; the other was chosen to join the team.  Not a fair comparison, perhaps.  But we are faced with a decision - choosing sides in the contest of life.  Whose side are you on?  In this day and age when biblical values are under attack and churches have lost their way, the souls of men are crying for help.  Who will answer gladly saying, “Here am I, send me?”   Long ago Joshua challenged the people: “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  May we answer as he did: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  Amen.