The book of Acts is essentially the story of the establishment of the church. The name Acts of the Apostles is sort of misleading. It’s not meant to be a biographical account of the apostles as much as it is an account of the establishment of the church by the apostles.
And so as we begin this study of the book of Acts, it is important that we understand what the church is. God has a blueprint for the church. God has a plan for the church. And that plan is not subject to our ideas of how we might improve upon it. We are constantly being bombarded today with modern ideas of how we might improve upon the church, how we might modernize it, or how we might make it more accessible, or how we might make it more relevant to our modern culture.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that it is man’s wisdom. And the power of the church is that it is built and relies upon God’s wisdom, not man’s. Only by reliance upon God’s wisdom and God’s power can we ever hope to possibly win the world. And His wisdom is found in His word and proclaimed through the preaching of His people.
That’s what 1Cor. 1:18-25 is talking about, which says, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Last week in the preceding passage we said that Jesus gave His last instructions in regards to the church before handing over the stewardship of it to the apostles. And in that message we pointed out that it was necessary to have the right message, which was the Word of Christ, the right confidence in the resurrection power of God, the right kind of power, which was the Holy Spirit, the right timing, the right mission and the right motive. Now today we are going to see that if you are going to build God’s church you need to have the right men. The right kind of leadership.
I was talking to someone this week about the typical process that is often used today to call a pastor, or choose a pastor for a church. And I pointed out that unfortunately, the call of God upon a man to pastor a church has largely been disregarded in lieu of some sort of popularity contest. I watched a church recently choose a pastor, or whatever kind of title this church called their pastor, and they used a pastor search committee that was made up of people who were chosen for their social standing in the community, but at least some of whom were unsaved. I’ve seen pastor search committees hire pastors based on their personalities, based on whether or not they were entertaining speakers, based on their looks and one fleshly characteristic after another. Using that type of criteria, it is doubtful that the average evangelical church today would call into the pastorate the Apostle Paul. He was a hunch backed, beak nosed, bald headed old man who more than likely was half blind and was considered contemptible in appearance, probably because he had running sores in his eyes.
They need to be reminded that when Israel, which is the OT picture of the church, sought a king, the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Now the first church is about to be formed within a week or so of Christ’s ascension, almost all the necessary ingredients are in place except that there is still a need to have the right men. And who are the right men? They are the apostles. The twelve. They will form the foundation of the church. Ephesians 2:20 says that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. This building made up of living individuals is built of the foundation of the 12 apostles and the prophets. That simply means that the word of Christ that these men preached would be the foundation that the church is to be built upon.
So if the church is not made of brick and mortar but of people, then it stands to reason that the right foundation will be made up of people as well. But only a certain type of person qualifies as an apostle. Contrary to some of the church signage you might see in certain areas of Sussex County, there are no modern day apostles. Peter makes it clear in this passage what qualifies one to be an apostle. Look at vs. 21-22 “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 that He was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
In order then for one to be a true apostle he had to have been with Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry – taught by Christ since the days of John the Baptist, and he had to have seen the risen Lord. That was the criteria set forth by Peter and accepted by the rest of the apostles.
Now let’s back up for a moment and remind ourselves of why this selection was even necessary. Jesus had appointed 12 disciples. But from the very beginning Jesus had known that one of them was a devil. Peter said in vs.16 that it was necessary, scripture had to be fulfilled. Vs.16 “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.
What scriptures is Peter talking about that prophesied Judas’s betrayal? Well, for starters there are a couple in Psalms. For instance, Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.” And then another in Psalm 55:12-14 “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, Then I could bear it; Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, Then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend; We who had sweet fellowship together Walked in the house of God in the throng.”
But Peter says not only did the scriptures prophesy that Judas would betray Jesus, but it also prophesied that his office should be replaced. And to validate that Peter quotes from two other places in the Psalms, chapter 69 and chapter 109, respectfully. He says in vs. 20, “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’; and, ‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.’
And Luke inserts a bit of historical information about Judas that we will mention but not belabor, since we dealt thoroughly with Judas when we were in Luke. But he mentions that after Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver he went out and hung himself. But it would seem that when he did so, the limb broke and he fell some distance and his body ruptured from the impact and all his intestines gushed out. That would have caused a great deal of blood to spill out on the ground. And the scripture says everyone who lived in Jerusalem heard about it.
Matt. 27:4-8 adds a little more detail, saying that after Judas’s betrayal, he went back to the high priests and said “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.”
So the end result is that now that Judas is gone and as the apostles are waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the commencement of the church, they want to fulfill the prophecy concerning replacing Judas with another disciple to take his office. They believe that Christ’s intention was to have 12 apostles and one position is now vacant and so Peter stands and says, one of these men who were with us from the beginning until the day the Lord ascended into heaven must replace the position formerly held by Judas.
Now if you are going to choose the right man for leadership in the church, it is important that you use the right criteria. Peter lays out the right criteria. First and foremost, the person had to have been with the Lord Jesus. He had to have been there from the beginning to the end. He had to have been a witness to all that Jesus said and did during His ministry on earth. He needed to have been taught directly by the Lord Himself. Christ’s message was what the Apostles would take to the ends of the earth. Peter would say later that they were eyewitnesses of His glory. 2Pet. 1:16 “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” If the world was going to believe these men, it was important that they had been eyewitnesses of Christ.
And because they had known the Lord and been with the Lord for all of His ministry, they were able to preach the word of Christ. And in order to validate that message as having come from the Lord, they were given power to perform miracles. It says in 2 Cor. 12:12 “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” They are given the apostolic gift to do signs and wonders so that they can validate that they were the true representatives of Christ by the miracles that they did.
So to be a leader in God’s church you must meet the right criteria. I have to say that I am dismayed at the popular practice in many churches today to create all sorts of leadership positions for the church that God never established. And to make it worse, since these positions are not articulated in the Bible, they don’t feel that they need to meet any sort of Biblical criteria. Consequently, we have people in leadership positions in the church that have escaped all the requirements set out for Biblical leadership. Let me be clear; I’m talking about worship leaders, Sunday school directors, youth leaders, small group leaders, etc, etc. Far too often these people are selected based on how they look with a guitar and wearing skinny jeans rather than due to meeting any prescribed Biblical criteria.
As far as the Bible is concerned, there are only 2 positions established for church leadership. One is elders and the other is deacons. We’re going to be looking at the criteria the Apostles used to select the first deacons in just a few weeks or so. But let me just say this much, in order to wait on tables in the church the apostles set forth a stringent criteria that included being men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, and at least two of them were soul winning preachers; Stephen and Philip. Now that was what was involved in the criteria for waiting on tables. So when the church turns over our preaching and teaching and leading worship to people who have not been tested, as Paul instructed Timothy, to make sure that they are above reproach, to meet the Biblical criteria, then we are at the very least jeopardizing the ministry and mission of the church as Christ prescribed it.
So if you are going to select the right men for leadership in the church, you not only need the right criteria but you need to have the right process. And I just want to quickly go through the process that the apostles used to select this man. This is the process we need to use as well in order to make godly decisions. First of all, they were obedient to Christ’s commands. He told them in vs. 4 not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. And they were obedient to His commands. They waited several days in the upper room. It says in 1 Sam. 15:22, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.” If you want to know God’s will then you need to be being obedient to the commands of God, and to the criteria of God.
Secondly, they were in fellowship. It says in vs. 13 that all the 11 apostles were together, Jesus’ brothers were there, the women who had been following Jesus were there, and all together there were 120 people. Now that was the first church; 120 people. They were together in fellowship. This was a 24/7 church. They didn’t leave the upper room. This was church fellowship. They were together waiting on the Lord, worshipping together. Folks, if obedience is number one in importance, then I believe church fellowship is number 2. If you don’t commit to be in church regularly and faithfully then I don’t think you are going to be making the right kind of decisions in the rest of your life either. The first step into error is directly tied to skipping the local fellowship with believers in church.
Thirdly, it says in vs. 14 that they were continually devoting themselves to prayer. Listen, make note of this; prayer is seeking God’s will. Prayer is not demanding your will to God like a petulant child. Jesus set the example for prayer on two occasions. First was the model prayer. He prayed, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Second was His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” That’s the key to Biblical prayer. We pray not for God’s blessing on our will, on our decisions, but we pray that God would establish His will in our lives.
Fourthly, they were in the word of God. Man! This is good, isn’t it? What a recipe! Be obedient, be in fellowship, be in prayer and be in the word. Peter had been reading the word. Listen, you have to be a student of the word to find the references that he found concerning Judas’s office. We are told to search the scriptures. To study to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that don’t need to be ashamed. Folks, if you can’t show someone how to be saved by using the Bible then you ought to be ashamed. If you can’t give a Biblical reason for the hope that is within you then you should be ashamed. The Bible is our wisdom, it is our guidebook, our rulebook, our food, our drink. Get in the word.
Fifthly, they relied on God’s decision. Now there are three steps that they took to make sure it was God’s decision. First, it says in vs. 23 that they put forward two men who fit the criteria: Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. They didn’t have a beauty contest, they found men who fit the criteria. And then it says in vs. 24, 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 then they used a method to select the right person which revealed and depended upon the decision of God. They took the decision out of their hands and put it in God’s hands. Vs. 25, “And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”
Now the casting of lots may not be a way that we are told to make decisions today, but at that time it was the way God led them to do it. In Old Testament times God often used this procedure to show who He selected. In the book of Proverbs it says in Chapter 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord.” There are numerous OT examples of God using this method of determination. But while we may not use that method today, the principle is still valid. We need to seek God’s decision and not according to our own wisdom. I believe that the Bible teaches that the word of God is sufficient for all knowledge and all wisdom. The apostles at that point did not have the full, complete revelation of God that we have available to us today. But Peter makes it clear that we have the knowledge which comes through the scripture for all faith and practice. 2Pet. 1:3-4 “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”
And Paul writing to Timothy says that we have everything we need in scripture to equip us for every good work. 2Tim. 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
So Matthias was added to the eleven apostles and now the foundation of the church was complete. The time had come for God to pour out His Spirit on the church, baptizing them all through the Holy Spirit into one body. That body was the church, founded on the word and deeds of the apostles and built living stone upon living stone into a temple of the Lord. And we shall see next week how that begins. I hope you will make plans to be here for that. In the meantime, let us be as the apostles were, walking in obedience, staying in fellowship, devoting ourselves to prayer, reading the word, and seeking God’s will in all our decisions.