The Twelve Apostles
Tying up loose ends – that loose end of Judas, and the fact that now they are missing one of the 12 apostles. Might seem like that’s all that its about:
But, 2 main things it accomplishes:
nature of God’s plan; unique role of the apostles.
Remember – Acts marks not the end of the ministry of Jesus to his people/church; but transition from earthly ministry of Jesus to heavenly. And, Jesus, during his earthly ministry, had 12 apostles. And, before he would send the spirit to continue his ministry from heaven, since he had 12 apostles during earthly ministry – and that wasn’t an arbitrary number; so he ought to have 12 during heavenly.
But, Judas’ betrayal and falling away from the faith would seem to throw a wrench into that; or cause God to have to change his plans of building & bringing his kingdom through these 12 representatives.
If anything, Judas’ betrayal which resulted in – from an earthly perspective – the untimely and unfortunate death of the leader of this young movement – if anything, this, would seem to hinder God’s plan.
But it doesn’t. Because the nature of God’s plan, is such that, it can’t be successfully hindered or opposed.
One of the main themes of the book of Acts. That the word keeps going forward; the church keeps growing; the gospel keeps spreading – no matter what seeks to oppose or stop it.
Energizer Bunny “It keeps going, and going, and going…”
It never stops moving forward – no matter what gets in its way or what obstacles seem to threaten its progress – it keeps going.
– Batteries will die; ask any kid here – batteries die, stop, run out.
But, the gospel, is different, because unlike anything else in this world – unlike anything else in this universe; it’s supernatural
the gospel is the one movement that can never be stopped; the one power that can never run out; the one thing that will never stop: no obstacle, no hindrance, no difficulty, no surprise turn or seeming defeat can stop the gospel, because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of many.
And, the church is built on the power of the gospel, and so we can be forever assured and certain and confident that, as Jesus himself promised, that he will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Nothing will stop the plan of God from going forward to accomplish what it sets out to do.
Can’t stop Jesus – if you betray him, and kill him; he defeats death and rises again and replaces his betrayer. If you oppose him, it only furthers his plan.
And can’t stop Jesus church – if you persecute it / oppose it, it it only grows more rapidly.
Judas – tried to oppose Jesus – but it was only what the scripture had promised would happen centuries before – it was only part of God’s plan all along – v16 – the scripture had to be fulfilled… concerning Judas.
This was all foretold; it seemed like a surprise intrusion which caused a change of course, like plan B, but it was all part of the plan, laid out long ago that now the Apostles have the eyes to see and understand.
Judas tried to oppose God’s plan; but everything went according to God’s plan – and the only one who loses, is Judas – the one who set himself against God.
You can’t oppose God. You can’t oppose God’s plan. And if you try you become an unwitting participant in God’s plan, but you lose yourself and find only destruction in the process; so you may as well lay down your opposition and join God’s side.
And, when it feels like the whole universe is trying to betray and oppose and defeat God’s plan in your life, you can look at this and remember – as the disciples learned to do, that everything is going according to his good perfect pleasing will.
in the midst of these events unfolding in the life of the disciples, they were bewildered, afraid, ready to give up and lose hope; they thought God’s plan had been defeated – but all throughout the book of Acts in the preaching of the apostles you see a confidence and certainty that the cross – and Judas role in leading up to it – was all a part of God’s mysterious, good, perfect plan.
What this passage is ultimately about; is Jesus building his church upon the rock of the apostolic confession; about Jesus laying the foundation of his church through the apostolic witness; and about how nothing can hinder that – not even, the terrible defection and apostasy of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus.
nature of God’s plan; unique role of the Apostles.
Before we can go forward with the story; before the apostles can received the spirit to enable them to take up their commission to be Christ’s witnesses all the way to the ends of the earth, there is one little thing that needs to be resolved, wrapped up, one “loose end” to be tied up.
And, that is the “loose end” of Judas. Most people will recognize the name Judas – as the infamous betrayer of Jesus – the one who – v17 – was one of their number and shared in their ministry – he was one of them; but he fell away, turned against, and gave Jesus up to his enemies for financial gain.
And, that’s what this chapter is primarily preoccupied with – but even before that – while the disciples seemingly have nothing to do but wait around for the gift of the Spirit – they still do something; in fact, they still do 2 things: they obey; and they pray.
These are 2 things you can always do – even if you feel like you are just waiting around on God – waiting for his guidance or his providence or his intervention: there’s always 2 things you can do: you can obey; and you can pray.
The disciples hear Jesus’ commission – and they obey – v12 – “they returned to Jerusalem” – which is what Jesus commanded them to do in v4: “he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised”
They obey – the go back to Jerusalem, and wait for the gift of the spirit, just as Jesus told them to do.
And, while they’re there – they pray – v14 – “They all joined together constantly in prayer.”
This is a glimpse – right off the bat – of something we see over and over in the book of Acts – that the early church was a praying church – at every point in the progression of God’s plan and the expansion of the gospel, the church is praying.
Praying perseveringly – “constantly”. Of course they ate and slept, but they were devoted to prayer; they carried with them an attitude of prayer.
For the early church: Prayer wasn’t a last-resort but a first-reaction.
Prayer wasn’t a diversion from normal but the normal course of habit.
Prayed perseveringly; prayed together – not just that they prayed in the same room – but that they were united – they all had the same desire to honor & exalt Christ as Lord, and they all had the same goal of serving Christ as Lord and proclaiming him as his witnesses, they all had the same mind of seeking his will, not their own, but his will for what he would have them do.
We don’t know what they prayed for, but possibly they pray for the fulfillment of what God has promised – the outpouring of the Spirit for the enablement of the mission of the church.
And, so even in there time of waiting, they obey, and they pray.
And, it may be in the time of prayer, that they realize that this loose end of Judas needs to be dealt with.
Jesus had chosen 12 disciples, who became his apostles – and, it was significant both that Jesus chose them; and that he chose twelve of them.
That number wasn’t arbitrary; but Jesus himself said that they as 12 Apostles were representative of the 12 tribes of Israel -Luke 22:30— they would form the new, reconstituted, restored Israel – the true Israel – the Church – composed not just of physical Israel but Spiritual Israel – Jew and Gentile who believe in Christ as Messiah.
Outline of 1:8 – geographical sense, but also ethical & theological. Judea & Samaria would be divided Israel- the northern and southern kingdoms which had split so long ago and developed into the Jewish and Samaritan peoples, now, all 12 tribes are being brought back together under the gospel, represented by the 12 disciples; and then the ends of the earth – the Gentiles, being represented by the Apostle Paul – apostle to the Gentiles.
And so God is fulfilling his promise to the twelve tribes of Israel, restoring them through these 12 Apostles – to fulfill the promise to Abraham that his nation would be the vehicle through which the blessing of God comes to all nations.
And, so, it was important that there were 12 of them; and:
it’s important that Jesus chose them.
Just as Jesus chose them initially when he called the 12 disciples in the gospel accounts; so only Jesus could choose Judas’ replacement, because:
The apostles were divinely appointed, to a unique role.
This passage mentions other disciples present – Jesus’ brothers and Mother became his disciple;
and from the gospel accounts we know that Jesus had other followers besides the 12.
And, even in the NT others are called apostles in the general sense of the term (“sent ones”), but the term “apostle” also had a technical sense, which referred only to these 12 (plus the apostle Paul).
Because, there was something special about these 12.
They were divinely appointed to a unique role.
Now, all who come to Christ have a divine calling upon their heart and life;
But, none of us, were hand-selected by Jesus himself to be one of Jesus’ 12 apostles.
The gospel accounts tell us of a special calling of these 12 disciples: they were hand-chosen; hand-selected; specifically called by and commissioned by Jesus to be his 12 apostles – to fulfill a special & unique role in the founding of the church.
And so, just as the original 12 including Judas were chosen directly by Jesus – not through any human agency, but directly – so, Judas’ replacement couldn’t be chosen by man or human process, but could only be chosen by Jesus – through a divine appointment.
And, this passage emphasizes that divine appointment in 2 ways:
First, by the language used to describe the appointment of Judas’ replacement, and second, by the means used to decide.
If you look in the translation in the bulletin in v21 it says, “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men” which sort of makes it sound like they are going to make the choice – but actually, in the Greek there is no word “choose” in v21 – the word “choose” doesn’t appear until v24 – when they ask God to show them who he has chosen;
and it’s the same verb that is used in chapter 1 v2 when it mentions “the apostles who Jesus had chosen”.
And, so, the language of the text shows us that just as it was Jesus doing the choosing of the original 12, so it is Jesus doing the choosing again.
They narrow it down to 2 qualifying men – these are the only ones who qualify, because they are the only ones who meet the qualifications of what an Apostle is: Someone who was with Jesus from the beginning of his earthly ministry all the way through to the end, and not only that but was a first-hand eye-witness of the resurrected Christ.
That, plus being divinely appointed, is what made an apostle and apostle. And, so, it should be obvious then that no one living today qualifies to be an Apostle.
Only 2 people then qualified. And, even after they narrow it down to these two as the only possible, potential candidates; they themselves don’t choose; they don’t vote, they don’t apply a test; they leave it to God to choose.
And, that’s why they cast lots – sort of like drawing straws or rolling dice – this was a common way in the OT to allow God to choose the outcome of a decision – they recognized that God was sovereign even over the seemingly random event of the roll of the dice – and this allowed them to let God choose without human choice entering into the picture. – to discover GOd’s will without their human wills clouding things – such as to ensure, that this was God’s choice, not theirs.
Because an Apostle can only be appointed by Christ himself.
It’s important to note, that this is the last instance we see of casting lots in scripture – there is no evidence of this method of discerning God’s will being used after the sending of the Spirit; and even here in this instance, as we’ve seen there was a specific reason that casting lots was appropriate and necessary, but even in this situation they used the guidance of scripture as far as it could take them.
Many people have questions about finding God’s will; and many people have come up with creative ways to do so.
We believe in the sufficiency of scripture: that scripture gives us all the divine words we need for life and godliness. But it doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know or answer every decision for us (where to go to college, who to marry, how many kids to have, etc)
And, so, in those situations, we use the guidance of the Spirit through scripture and prayer, as far as those will take us, and then when scripture takes us no farther, then we are free to simply make a decision and trust God.
And, there may be many legitimate, God-glorifying options to take in many decisions we make; and we trust God in working his eternal plan for our good even in those times we may not make the best decisions.
And, even when we might have a conviction that goes beyond scripture, we don’t “bind the conscience” of someone else – we don’t insist that others share our beyond-scripture decisions or convictions – because as far as we do that, we are setting ourselves up as apostles over others; but there are no apostles in the church of Jesus today – because there is no one hand-selected by Jesus; there is no one who fits the qualifications of having been with him throughout his earthly public ministry and and eyewitness of the resurrection; and there is no one given the unique task of laying the foundation of truth for the church.
In fact, the role, or office of Apostle is unique, such that, it is what we call “extraordinary” (and so temporary) office of the church, as opposed to elders & deacons which are “ordinary” (and so perpetual) offices of the church.
The office of Apostle was extraordinary and temporary.
There was no apostolic succession beyond the truth they passed down;
In fact, the reason Judas needed to be replaced was not because he died,
in fact in chapter 12, the Apostle James is put to death by Herod and there is no replacement of him as there was for Judas in chapter 1.
He died in the course of fulfilling the commission Jesus gave. And,
James wasn’t replaced even though he died; Judas was replaced not because he died but because he became an enemy of Jesus and he fell away from the faith – before even really beginning the commission Jesus had for his apostles.
Whereas, in the NT you see the apostles establish the roles/offices of Elder & deacon – which are “ordinary” – and so, perpetual offices – they continued after the days of the apostles and they continue still today and they will continue throughout the church in this age.
And in our denomination Elders and Deacons are voted on by the congregation – because though they are divinely appointed their appointment is indirect, as opposed to the apostles divine appointment being direct – elders & deacons are appointed indirectly, mediated through the consent of those whom they lead.
Because they don’t have the same kind of authority that apostles had. Apostles wrote and spoke with divine authority because of that direct commission from God. But, elders only speak with delegated authority – its only valid so long as they are in line with the word of truth laid down by the apostles.
That’s why in our denomination we have elders & deacons – not apostles, and it’s my humble opinion that if you have someone in a church or denomination acting as if they are an apostle – in the technical sense of that term – then you should run, not walk, to the nearest exit.
And this helps us to understand much of the book of Acts – where we see the apostles and those connected directly to them, doing all kinds of supernatural things.
The apostles were extraordinary – and so their actions aren’t always meant to be things we should try to do, or expect, in the life of the church after the apostles – in the post-apostolic age.
It helps us to see that some of the book of Acts – and any narrative book of scripture – is descriptive, not prescriptive.
It’s describing what happened, not prescribing what ought to happen. It’s describing what they did not commanding what we ought to do.
Not all of it – and it’s not always easy to determine – but some of it was describing what came about as a result of the extraordinary ministry of the apostles – and not all of that is to continue or be repeated:
Because, they had a unique role:
They laid the foundation of truth for the church.
they laid the foundation of the Church; and once a foundation is laid, you build upon it – you don’t build anywhere else, you don’t need to lay it again.
And we see here in this passage, that the apostles – represented by Peter here – have become master interpreters of scripture – whereas in the gospels they didn’t get how the OT scriptures pointed to Christ, now they see it.
And, they were taught this by Jesus himself – Luke 24:45 – “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures…” & the specific thing, the focal point of Scripture: the death & resurrection of the Messiah for the forgiveness of sins.
They were taught by Jesus himself how to understand scripture in light of the gospel story.
We see: their approach to scripture; the nature of scripture.
Their approach: the gospel is what ties the Scripture together and unifies it into 1 story.
all the OT points forward to Jesus; the gospels & acts tell the story of Jesus; and the rest of the NT reflects back upon Jesus and what he means for us as we live as his disciples.
But not only were they taught by Jesus himself how to understand Scripture – Jesus specifically promised them – that the Spirit would guide them into all truth – such that they could preach the gospel, and such that they could either write or oversee the writing of the NT, in order to complete God’s written revelation.
they laid the foundation of the Church by writing the NT
And, the church is built on the foundation of the Word of God – spoken by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.
Nature of Scripture:
v16 – the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas… According to the apostles, the foundational witnesses of the Lord Jesus, scripture is not merely a human book filled with their ideas or the ideas of men; it is a divinely inspired book – written through men by the Holy Spirit – the spirit of truth who cannot lie.
Story of Judas – often claimed that this is an instance of the bible contradicting itself. Now, someone who wants to find a contradiction can find a contradiction anywhere. But, if we give the bible a fair hearing, we can reasonably and with confidence resolve most of the apparent contradictions – there are some that maybe remain a mystery but for the most part, what we see is an incredible consistency and agreement within the scriptures.
In Matthew’s Gospel, there are 2 main places where it’s thought there is contradiction with Acts.
And so in Matthew, we see Judas trying to return the money he earned through his betrayal to the religious leaders who arrested Jesus; but they won’t take it and so he throws it at their feet; and then, goes and hangs himself; and then they agree that the money can’t be put into the treasury; and apparently they don’t want to take it themselves because it is blood money and guilt is associated with it; so they use the money to buy the field.
But, then here in Acts, we hear that Judas purchased the field; and that his body burst open.
And it’s often said that there are 2 contradictions there – who buys the field, and how Judas died.
But, even in the Matthew story, you see the refusal of the priests to take the money, and so legally, it was still Judas money, and since they don’t know what to do with it, they probably just want to get rid of it, they purchase a field with it, but since the money is legally Judas’, the purchase would be done in his name, and the field would from a legal standpoint be his.
And, Matthew says that Judas hanged himself; while Luke says that he fell (or, swelled up) and his body burst; and so either, he hung himself and his body remained until after swelling up it burst open; or he hung himself and the rope or branch broke and he fell – either way, it reasonably harmonizes the seeming discrepancies.
2 witnesses don’t need to say exactly the same thing, to be valid witnesses. In fact, if they do, it makes their story more suspect – just like if two exams have the same exact essay on them, you suspect plagiarism. But eyewitnesses testify to their validity by bringing their unique points and perspectives to the story.
(Imagine witness on stand being cross-examined… Oh, right, well what I meant was… Written by different people, for different purposes, and so one perspective clarifies, rather than contradicts, the other).
Judas, in his remorse, committed suicide.
Suicide is a sin; and, in our culture suicide is sometimes romanticized, and glorified; but it is never the answer; it never solves a problem.
Judas could have dealt with his guilt by turning to Christ and finding forgiveness- But he didn’t; and his death didn’t solve his problem at all;
and no matter what you are dealing with, you can find help by turning to Christ, turning to parents or friends or doctors or elders or other church leaders; there are people who care about you and who can help you; it never solves a problem and it is in some sense the ultimate form of selfishness and self-centeredness. It is an attack on the image of God in which we all have been created.
It is a sin; but it is not the unforgivable sin. And so, while we don’t always know with certainty another person’s eternal destiny, we can have hope in the mercy and forgiveness of God – that if you have a loved one or family member or friend who committed suicide, that doesn’t mean they had no hope;
Though we aren’t left with much hope for Judas – that isn’t because he committed suicide but because he didn’t turn to Christ – and for our friends who have made this tragic choice, we can still have hope if they were in Christ because the forgiveness of Jesus is rich, and free, and deep enough to forgive even that sin.
Scripture is a divinely inspired book – written through men by the Holy Spirit – the spirit of truth who cannot lie.
And, how could it be otherwise – if the bible was written by many different human authors, spanning over centuries, yet still has an internal consistency and cohesion: one main central story and point – the story of God rescuing humanity through Jesus Christ the promised Messiah;
that defies explanation, unless we explain through the Bible’s divine character. Unless we see the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture.
And, the Holy Spirit still speaks to us today. The holy Spirit convinces our hearts of the truth of scripture – the truth of the apostles preaching – which was unwaveringly focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the foundation of the church.
Have you heard the Holy Spirit speaking to you? Have you come to be convinced of the truth of the gospel.
The gospel means “good news”- and that is what gripped these twelve men and led them out into the ends of the earth to preach and proclaim it.
Have you heard the good news of Jesus?
The bible – the whole bible from old testament to new testament proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ – the one upon whom we can cast our cares; the one who carries our burdens; the one who forgives all our sin and cleanses us from our guilt and shame; the one who frees us from all the things that we couldn’t free ourselves from.