Sermon for Sunday Evening, March 28th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 1:12-26 ESV] 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.
Jesus has ascended into heaven from there on the Mount of Olives.
So the disciples return to Jerusalem from the mount. And they go to the upper room (possibly the same upper room where they had the last supper) and there they were “with one accord,” “devoting themselves to prayer.” Also there were the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers.
I. Being of One Accord
The church of Jesus Christ was of one accord. There was peace in the assembly. Sure, each person had their own preferences in life—one prefers fish, the other likes bread—but when it came to the things of the Lord, they were all on the same page.
In our membership vows here we vow to pray and seek the “peace and purity” of the church. This means, when it comes to non-essentials—the color of the carpet, the time at which we meet, the style of clothing we wear—we must be quite flexible. It is far better to let your own preference fall by the wayside if it will keep the peace.
As Paul sought to be “all things to all people” so Christians must conform to an extent to the customs around them. A missionary to the Pacific Islands is not going to wear a three-piece suit or a robe; it is far too hot there. The preacher to urban youths is not going to speak to them in King James English, but come to their level and speak to them as a fellow human being in their own language.
Again, it is far better to let your own preference fall by the wayside if it will keep the peace.
I knew a minster who’s adult son had come home and was again living with mom and dad. And he brought with him a large pit bull which was causing some trouble at their house. And I asked the man, “why don’t you tell you son (and his dog) to leave.” And he said, and I’ll never forget this, “I’d rather put up with the dog, then lose my son.”
We must all seek peace at our church and so be flexible.
But we must also seek the purity of doctrine, and there have no flexibility.
We are to be in one accord when in comes to the essentials of the faith.
The “Five Fundamentals” is too small of a list of essentials to keep peace and purity. The Westminster Standards (our confession plus catechisms) are more extensive and our presbytery and denomination require officers (ministers, elders, and deacons) to subscribe to these standards. Without disparaging our standards, I might say that for the peace and purity of our church it is important for members (not officers) to agree to the truths of the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.
II. The Death of Judas
As for the disciples meeting in the upper room, and all the 120 people, they were all on the same page; there were no doubters. They had all seen the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Thomas no longer was doubting, and the traitor Judas was no long kicking; he was dead.
Our text says that Judas acquired a field (presumably with the money he got for turning in Jesus to the authorities) and there in the field fell headlong (or head-first) and he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
In Matthew 27 there is more about the death of Judas. It says that he realized his sin in turning in Jesus and tried to give the thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders. They wouldn’t take the money back, so Judas threw it on the ground. The priests bought a field with it (or completed the transaction Judas himself had begun), and there Judas hung himself.
Then, coming back to our Acts account, Judas’ body apparently falls from his rope (maybe even hanging there for some time) and bursts open.
While Judas recognized his sin and had remorse, there is no evidence that he repented and came to believe in Jesus Christ.
No one was rushing to take down Judas’ body. No one claimed him, certainly not the other disciples.
So there is a need to replace Judas with a new twelfth disciple.
III. The Replacement, Matthias
Peter stood up among the brothers, and he quoted the Book of Psalms:
“May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it” from Psalm 69:25
“Let another take his office” from Psalm 109.8.
So there are those reasons, the fulfillment of those prophecies, for replacing Judas with another.
But it seems that the number 12 is important here. There were 12 tribes in Israel, and 12 apostles. Not 11.
Jesus said to disciples in Matthew 19:29, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
11 just isn’t complete. 12 is.
So a new apostle needs to be chosen, to be added.
Peter says they must chose “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.”
This shows us that there were more who followed Jesus during his life than just the twelve apostles. Of course we know of the women, Mary Magdalene and others. But clearly there were many others. And it is from them that someone is to be chosen to replace Judas.
Two then are put forward.
The first has a bunch of names. Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus.
And the second has just one name: Matthias.
And fortunately for us readers Matthias is chosen, not the name with three names!
And he is chosen by lots.
The casting of lots occurs a number of times in the Scripture.
The priests used the Urim and Thummin in the Old Testament.
The soldier cast lots for Jesus’ clothing.
And now the apostles are casting lots for deciding who should join as their twelfth man.
This is similar to flipping a coin or drawing straws. Casting lots may have worked differently from place to place, but could have been stones in a container chosen without looking at them. And the stones would be different colors, perhaps there is a white stone and a black stone, and ahead of time the determination is made that one means “yes” and the other means “no.” Or one means Barsabbas and the other means Matthias.
Should we cast lots?
I’m not so sure it is sinful. It is just usually unnecessary.
First, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to use lots.
Rather, since God has now revealed his will in his completed Word, the former ways of his revealing have ceased.
We now are to discern the will of God through His Word, not from lot casting.
And so when we have multiple candidates for office in a church, but only one position in mind, we make the determination by majority vote, not by casting lots. Each voter is to prayer consider the gifts each candidate has and chose who they think will most benefit the church of God to keep peace and purity of doctrine.
Indeed, the Scriptures never have elders and deacons chosen by lot, but they are always “appointed.” (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). And they are appointed, BY PEOPLE, not by lot. We are to actively be involved in the process, not passively let it be chosen by lot.
So also in all things in our lives. We are to seek God’s wisdom in His Word, not in lots. Why would we cast lots when we already have God’s Word?
One final thing that I want to point out from our Acts reading.
God accomplishes his plan.
There is going to be twelve apostles. And one—Judas—is disqualified, but the Lord has raised up Matthias to be an apostle.
And Matthias didn’t know this as he was going about his life, even as he was following Jesus.
And when we think about ourselves and our own situations, we should realize that the Lord is preparing us for something. We might not always know what. Maybe some men here are being prepared to be future deacons or elders in the church. Maybe the Lord is preparing the hearts of some women here to do great acts of service for people and places you currently don’t even know of.
So if you are bummed out feeling that you are not presently being used by the Lord in an active way as you desire, consider that this may be a time of training; giving you the experience and knowledge necessary for something big that the Lord will bring in your life.
While none of us will be apostles, we may be parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends to those in need.
Let us prepare for these things by following the Lord now and all our days. Amen.