The Church’s First Decision – They Blew It!
I am studying for a series of sermons in the Book of Acts. I’m calling the series “ACTS: Authentic Christianity, Today’s Society.” The main idea is to see the Church as she existed immediately after Christ’s ascension, but rather than seeing this as purely historical, to see it as a model for the way the Church should look today.
One of the problems with a study such as this is that I can’t really preach verse by verse. I cover a certain portion of the passage, and the remainder is left for discussion among our home groups. I’m already struggling with this, because there is a portion of Acts 1 that will not be included in my sermon, and it is so relevant to contemporary Christianity. That passage is Acts 1:15-25:
“In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”
Why is this passage so relevant? I believe this is the first time the Church, operating before they had received the Holy Spirit, got ahead of God and thus made a bad decision. Indeed, I think that is the whole point of this passage. Jesus tells His disciples they are to wait until they are empowered by God’s Spirit and then they will be His witnesses, but instead they, on their own authority, start doing administrative church stuff, filling up an office with someone of their own choosing, using their own procedures.
Interestingly, the pattern for doing this looks very similar to what often happens today. Someone with the voice of leadership stands up and expresses an opinion. To add credibility, He tacks on a few verses of Scripture. They are taken entirely out of context, of course, but that doesn’t stop him from applying them to the situation at hand. He pronounces it an absolute necessity to make a decision immediately. Using the criteria then established, they narrow the pool of available candidates. Then they get all spiritual and ask God to bless what they have already done. They limit His options, but want Him to show which of their two candidates He would pick. They roll the dice, and voila!, God speaks. It had to be God, right? After all, they did pray that He would bless this mess.
Can I just point out that they chose Matthias, and we never hear from him again?
You see, acting on their own initiative and in their own intelligence and with their own devices, the Church was certain that they had chosen “the man of God’s own choosing.” But God’s ways are not our ways (He doesn’t act like us) and His thoughts are not our thoughts (He doesn’t even think like us). God apparently had a different plan, one that could never have been imagined by those who chose Matthias. God had chosen a man who at that moment in history did not meet a single criterion to be an apostle. He was not even a Christian. In fact, he was so adamantly opposed to Christ that he was persecuting His followers. His name? Saul of Tarsus. (How would you like to have been the one that nominated Saul at this first church business meeting? J)
I find it interesting to compare these verses: “Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:26. “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.’” Acts 9:15
You get the picture. The church chose Matthias. God had already chosen Saul.
So let me ask you, when you read Rev. 21:14: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb,” who do you think was the twelfth apostle?