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"The Church in Waiting"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
July 11, 2007
Theme: This passage describes the activities of the church, after the ascension of the Lord, as it awaited the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
We come now to a unique moment in the history of the church. It is a brief period of time that will never again be repeated. The Lord Jesus had ascended to the Father after having appeared to His disciples over a forty-day period after His resurrection (Acts 1:3). He had risen three days after His crucifixion (40 days +3); and since Pentecost occurred fifty days after Passover, this period refers to the week that transpired between our Lord's ascension and the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was during this week that the church was, as it were, "waiting". Praise God that it no longer waits alone. We now await the coming of our Lord; but we wait with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
What was the church doing during this important intermediate period? In the later half of the first chapter of Acts, we find . . .
I. THE WAITING CHURCH—GATHERED IN PRAYER (vv. 12-14).
A. The disciples had returned from the Mount of Olives (from where the Lord had ascended). It was a short trip—only between one half to one mile in distance (a Sabbath Day's journey). Luke 24:52 tells us that it was a trip made "with great joy". It was made in obedience to the Lord's command to go there and "wait" for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (v. 8).
B. Luke tells us that, when they had entered the city, they went up "into the upper room" of the place in which they were staying. The use of the definite article may indicate that it was the very same upper room in which they had enjoyed their last meal with the Lord (Luke 22:11-13); and perhaps were they were also later gathered (Luke 24:33ff; John 20:19ff); although this can't be said for certain. All of the remaining disciples were present; and it may be that Luke mentions them by name to show that Jesus' words were fulfilled—that not one was lost, except for the son of perdition (John 17:12; Lists of the Twelve PDF Diagram). Also present were the women who also followed with them (Luke 23:49, 55-56; 24:16); and Mary, and Jesus' brothers. The word "brothers" may be broad enough to include His sisters as well. The presence of the Lord's family, who had previously disbelieved Him (John 7:5) attests to the reality of the resurrection. Harry Ironside (Lectures on the Book of Acts, pp. 26-27) noted that though Mary was present as the small gathering of disciples prayed, no one was praying to her.
C. These all "continued" in this place together (see 2:46). The nature of their fellowship together is expressed in the fact that they were of "one accord" (or "of the same purpose of mind") in "prayer". It may be that this unity was a product of a "temporary grace" given to them by the Lord before He left them in John 20:22-23. What a beautiful picture of the early church gathered together—not daring to leave one another; praying together in unity; waiting the outpouring of the promise of the Holy Spirit.
II. THE WAITING CHURCH—MOURNING IN LOSS (vv. 15-19).
A. It was during this time that Peter took a leadership position. It may be that he was motivated to do so in part by the Lord's words to him in Matthew 16:17. As we will see in Acts, Peter moves increasingly in the forefront in the midst of the disciples. The number of those among whom Peter stood up is said to be 120. The number may have been mentioned because, in Jewish culture, 120 was necessary for the beginning of a recognized community. But this number may also be stressed to show that the whole church was involved in the proceedings that follow; and to provide a base-line number for showing later how the church grew very quickly from 120, to 3,000 after the giving of the Holy Spirit (2:41), to 5,000 (4:4). As large as this number was, it was not as large as the 500 who saw the resurrected Lord Jesus at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6); although it no doubt included many from that group. Though Peter stood out, he didn't consider himself above them all; because he addresses them both as "men" and as "brethren".
B. Peter arose to address the issue of the apostolic position of witness now missing from the twelve. The Lord Jesus had promised twelve (Matthew 19:28); and now, with one missing from their number, they felt the compulsion to fill that vacancy. Peter observes that the loss of Judas was in keeping with the promise of the Scripture through the mouth of David (see Psalm 41:9). A sense of the loss is conveyed in the way Peter refers to Judas as the one "who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry".
C. In verses 18-19, Luke fills in some of the background information concerning Judas' death. Typically, three apparent "contradictions" are said to be in this portion of Acts when compared with the Gospel account in Matthew 27. (1) It is pointed out that here, Judas is said to have purchased the land; while in Matthew, it was the leaders of Israel who purchased it. But this presents no conflict when it is remembered that they purchased it with the money Judas threw at them—money that was "the wages of his iniquity". (2) It's also pointed out that the way Judas died is described differently in Acts than in Matthew. In Matthew, he is said to have gone out and hanged himself; while in Acts, he is said to have burst open in the middle. Again, this presents no conflict if it is considered that he may have hanged himself over a rocky cliff from a flimsy tree-branch that broke. (3) It's pointed out that the "field of blood" got it's name in Matthew from the fact that the leaders purchased it with blood money to bury strangers; while it gets its name in Acts from the gruesome nature of Judas' death. This, again, presents no problem if we consider that the name once given by the leaders proved to be ironically appropriate after Judas' well-known death upon it.
III. THE WAITING CHURCH—DEPENDENT IN DELIBERATION (vv. 20-26).
A. Peter draws upon two Old Testament passages to call for two kinds of action—both of which, it had been argued, spoke of Judas (v. 16). Psalm 69:25 is called upon as scriptural precedent for considering Judas' place in the twelve removed; and Psalm 109:8 is called upon as precedent for filling his vacancy with another. He urges that, from among the 120, men be proposed who met certain qualifications: specifically, that they had accompanied the twelve during the Lord's earthly ministry; and could serve as am eye-witness of His resurrection with the remaining eleven (v. 21-22; see also 2:32; 3:15; 10:40-42).
B. Two names were put forth: Joseph (also called by his Hebrew name Barsabas, and his Latin name Justus); and Matthias. Prayer was offered that the Lord—the "heart-knower"—would guide them in making the right choice among them (since they wanted God's will in the matter and, no doubt, didn't wish to pick another deceiver). They cast lots; and the lot fell to Matthias. And so, Matthias was numbered with the eleven apostles.
C. It is often argued that the disciples were wrong—or at least hasty—in having made this choice; since it was clear that, later on, Paul was chosen for the apostolic ministry. After all, they had no command from the Lord to do this; and it was done before the guiding and empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit had been given to them. And it is also argued that this is the last we ever hear of Matthias. But it is also the last we hear of many of the other eleven; though we have no doubt of God's call upon them. What's more, the full "twelve" that resulted from this choice is recognized by the post-Pentecost church (Acts 6:2). What's more, Paul seems later to consider himself separate in his call from the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5, 9-11); and did not meet the qualifications set down by Peter.
D. Note the beautiful picture given of the church in making such a decision. First, it turned to Scripture for the support of the need it felt. Second, it established the qualifications for the filling of that need. Third, it turned to the body of believers as a whole for the selection of candidates. Fourth, it prayed for the Lord's guidance. And finally, it trusted the Lord to lead (though through an unusual method). Except for the fact that the Holy Spirit now leads, and the use of lots is questionable, this presents us with a worthy model to follow.
Lists of the Twelve PDF Diagram