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Sermon May 19, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1398

May 19, 2019 Acts 1.15-17, 21-26

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Another Witness”

 

  • Peter Takes the Lead (As They Wait)

 

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said,

 

Remember this is the time that they are waiting on the promise of the Holy Spirit. They are praying and considering Scripture. They have seen Jesus and seen him ascend into heaven. Peter makes the first move to do something! Seems fitting that Peter takes the lead. He has been at the forefront of many stories in the Gospels, sometimes saying just the right thing and other times getting rebuked by Jesus. Peter has made great professions of faith and also denied the Lord three times. Peter is the strong willed disciple who is perhaps impatient.

He stands up among all who are also gathered waiting for the promise Jesus made to send the Holy Spirit. It is not just eleven apostles waiting for something to happen. It is a much larger number, about one hundred and twenty. According to Jewish law this was the number that constituted a synagogue. A community is forming, a worshiping community who follow Jesus. These are people who had been with Jesus most if not all the time throughout Jesus’ ministry. These are also disciples, just not a part of the selected group Jesus called specifically to follow Him as the twelve.

Peter, perhaps thinking about replenishing the twelve, stands up to speak about the need to replace Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Twelve is a significant number. It harkens back to the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact Jesus said in Luke’s gospel that the twelve apostles would one day judge the twelve tribes (Luke 22.28-30). In this time of waiting, one disciple takes action while they all prayed and waited. In times of waiting, we all have roles to play, some leading, some following, all praying, all waiting.

 

  • The Fulfillment of Scripture

 

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.”

 

What does Peter say? His first words deal with Scripture being fulfilled. It had to be fulfilled! Now, he will speak specifically about two Psalms that he attributes to Judas. But before we go there, I want us to imagine where Peter might have learned to speak about these Psalms in relation to Judas. Remember back in Luke’s gospel account, the same author of Acts, Luke tells us that Jesus taught the disciples about all that was spoken of Him beginning with Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms. It is highly likely that Peter is giving testimony to what Jesus taught them when he first appeared to them after the resurrection.

When we looked at the Emmaus road story and it says that Jesus taught the two disciples on the road about the fulfillment of Scripture and then back in Jerusalem that same night Jesus appeared and taught the rest of them even more about how the Scriptures had to be fulfilled. When I preached those two stories I told you how I wished we had Jesus’ teachings revealed to us. I like to think that we have at least two of them here from Psalm 69 and 109. I did not read them in our text for the day, but Peter understands them to refer to Judas. I cannot help but think that Jesus taught them to Peter and the disciples (see Luke 24.25-27, 44-49).

In Acts 1.20 Peter quotes two verses from the Psalms, “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’(69.25);

and “‘Let another take his office.’ (109.8).

He is speaking about the demise of Judas in the first and the need to replace Judas in the second. But more importantly to our point this morning, he is talking about the fulfillment of Scripture. This is a point along the larger story of Jesus and the fulfillment of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. All these things needed to come to pass in order for God to fulfill His purpose in bringing reconciliation to His people.

But notice something else in this progression. Today I want us to see that there is a line of progression in becoming a witness to Jesus Christ. Peter and the twelve disciples are called on to be the core eye witnesses to what they had seen and heard from the time of Jesus’ baptism to His ascension. But what Peter is demonstrating here is the witness message being passed on. Peter is addressing the 120, give our take, as to the fulfillment of Scripture. It is a small part here, the part that leads Jesus to be arrested, but it is also the witness to the larger story of Christ’s death and resurrection. And the witnesses who hear Peter’s words carry that same story and those Psalms to tell others until, at some point, the story reaches our ears and we too become the witnesses to share the story with others. We are all a part of the upper room, waiting, praying, studying, witnessing.

 

 

  • He’s Seen It All

 

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—

 

Peter’s leadership seeks to reveal the way to fulfill that Psalm to let another take his office. Peter has some criteria to meet with the one who will fulfill the Scripture and fill the office. It must be someone who was with them from beginning to end, from Jesus’ baptism to ascension. There are one hundred twenty folks present as Peter speaks. Out of those two are nominated. It is hard to know how many candidates there were who had been with them from beginning to end but it is reasonable to assume a lot more than two. I imagine for one, that many of John the Baptist’s followers immediately followed Jesus after John pointed them in Jesus’ direction. I imagine that many more who had come to be baptized by John also followed Jesus, but here only two are chosen, or “pre-chosen” to be eligible to replace Judas. These two fit the bill as two who had seen it all. They saw and heard just as much as any of the twelve.

 

  • Another Witness

 

one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

 

Which ever one is chosen, the purpose is to become a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. By the end of Acts 1 Matthias is chosen. He becomes one of the twelve. He is to give witness to everything he has seen and heard from the time Jesus was baptized to the time He was taken up (ascension). Matthias becomes another witness. I spoke earlier about how Peter received from Jesus the teachings about the Old Testament witness to Jesus. Now the witness is passed on in a similar manner from the disciples to all who will listen. So, for example, Matthias tells others, they tell more, and the witnesses give witness to produce more witnesses until it comes down to us who have also heard the same witnesses so that we become witnesses to what we have seen and heard. Now that you’ve been told, you are another witness.

We are the witnesses who are called on in our time to give testimony to the resurrection. We also are like the apostles in that we wait for the right time, we wait for the Spirit to move, we pray, and we learn from the Scriptures everything spoken about Jesus.

 

  • Prayer and Casting Lots

 

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.

 

Acts 1 ends with how Matthias was chosen. It seems an oddity to our eyes and ears to see that they cast lots. But that is not the first thing they did. First, they did what they had been doing all along, they prayed. They prayed three main things we need to consider: 1. God knows the hearts of all, 2. God will reveal the right one, 3. God does the choosing. The prayer indicates that everything is in God’s hands. Casting lots was just the method the disciples used between two good candidates. The disciples are actually placing all their trust and faith in that God will reveal the choice through a unique method of casting lots. It is sometimes likened to flipping a coin or selecting a name out of the hat, but it is not just left to simple chance. It is bathed in prayer. It is expressed with complete trust that this ancient Jewish custom of casting lots is not leaving it to chance, but is actually leaving it to God.

Casting lots is not our method for choosing leaders, but in some ways our method of voting is also a way to leave it up to God. Maybe we could consider pulling a name out of the hat for our net selection of elders! But Peter and the other disciples are not going about this without any guidance or forethought. They make a decision to choose two from among them. Some would argue that since we now have the Scriptures and the Spirit, no more need for this practice. One thing is clear, of the one hundred twenty, only two were nominated for this post. Therefore, there was a certain criteria and discernment in the choices.

In casting lots to chose, the disciples are actually trusting through the method that had been used since the Old Testament times, trusting in God to choose another witness. It seems odd to us that this is the method used, like picking a name from the hat or flipping a coin. But this method was bathed in prayer. This method was their way of giving the decision over to God. We give the decision over to God as well when we use a method of voting. It is not left up to one single person, but the Lord’s choosing through a group of people.

But don’t we also leave things up to God’s choosing without regard for the methods we might use. Can God work through these methods we choose whether it is casting lots or flipping a coin? Aparrently the answer is yes. I don’t see us rolling the dice in our net congregational meeting, but I do hope we will do what the disciples did and steep everything in prayer. This is what leads us to hear the witness and to become another witness ourselves. We are the other witnesses in the long line of witnesses who share the gospel of Jesus Christ until Christ comes again!