By Simon ManchesterSunday 9 Oct 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 18 minutes
I wonder if it crosses your mind every now and again, as it crosses my mind, quite often, why it is that God, who has revealed Himself to be good and powerful and wise, does not prevent a lot of the trouble and the pain from happening which happens. Why does He permit as much as He permits? We sing about God being sovereign. Why doesn’t He sovereignly prevent a lot, instead of permitting a lot?
I know a young boy (some of you also know of this boy) who has involved in a terrible car accident some years ago. So terrible was the accident, that he was ripped out of his seat belt and went through the back window of the car, and landed in a field, with his neck broken. But in the sovereign providence of God, caring for this family, the first car that turned up was a doctor. The place where he had landed, in the sovereignty of God, was in a part of the field where a helicopter could be safely and successfully brought in. He was able to be taken quickly to the hospital, and in the providence and the sovereignty of God, his neck healed, and he is now back, a healthy normal little boy at school. But the question we want to ask is, why, in the sovereignty of God, didn’t He prevent the accident?
We could multiply this question many times. Tragedy takes place in the mission field, which furthers the Gospel. But why not prevent the tragedy and further the Gospel? Or, somebody, as a Christian, is going through a terrible time or loss or pain, and God works through that circumstance for good. But why didn’t He prevent the loss and the pain for that believer? Or, somebody is just in a very difficult time of opposition for their faith, they are learning great things about God in the time of opposition. They are learning to trust Him more, pray to Him more. Why doesn’t He take away the opposition and make their life pain-free?
One way to cope with this question, of course, is to be a pessimist, and you just assume that life is terrible as a Christian. It’s all terrible. It’s always going to be terrible. You just grit your teeth and wait till you go to Heaven. That is half the picture. Other people will take the optimist’s view: God doesn’t want you to suffer. God doesn’t want you to be unhappy… God doesn’t want anything to go wrong; He wants you to be healthy, wealthy and wise. And you can imagine, if you put on a conference with this kind of new message, new Gospel, it will attract thousands and thousands of people, because it is a very attractive message. It just happens to be a grain of truth and not the full truth.
Now the best way to cope with God who permits and doesn’t always prevent is to be a Biblical realist. It’s to rejoice in the sovereignty of God: the God who doesn’t always prevent trouble but sometimes permits it in certain circumstances and then provides in the short-term and ultimately in the long-term. It’s to know that the world is not random and that every detail is under God’s control. It’s to be able to say, in the words of Acts 1: what God is doing … it’s necessary. We don’t understand it all, but as far as He is concerned, it’s necessary. And then to go on to say, ‘And now it is necessary for me to act in a certain way’. And that’s the thrust of Acts Chapter 1, the section that we are looking at today. To be able to say, with great thankfulness to God: it’s necessary what He has allowed to happen and then it is necessary for me to act or respond in a certain way. The phrase, ‘it is necessary’ comes up in Chapter 1 Verse 16: it was necessary for Judas to do his job. And then it comes up again in Chapter 1 Verse 21: it is necessary for Judas to be now replaced.
There’s no circumstance that is much worse than what Judas did. We talk about Hitler killing or destroying millions of people. That is horrendous. But on the cosmic scale, to turn against your Maker and to make sure that your Maker is done away with… that is a terrible circumstance.
- Now why did God not prevent this from happening?
- Why did God permit this?
Well, of course, we know the answer because most have been coming to Church for many, many years. But this is the issue that is raised in Acts Chapter 1: why did Jesus, who is so wise and so powerful, pick Judas?
We are going to look at it under three quick headings this morning:
- The Word of God to us
- The Plan of God for us
- The Rule of God over us
The Word of God to Us
First of all, the Word of God to us. The reason I raise the Word of God to us is that we are looking at a bit of Acts, and Acts is a message to us (we may not listen, we may close the book, we may never read it) but Acts is a message to us. Not only is Acts a message to us, but Acts Chapter 1 tells us that God had given a message through the Old Testament which the Apostles listened to and responded to. So, why have we gathered here this morning? Well, we thought about this as a children’s spot this morning, but I want to supplement or underline what was told to the children and us as well, and that is that we have really gathered, because God is a speaking God and we gather to listen to His Word and to respond to His Word and to put it into practise.
What God has given to us in His Word is the script of God, to explain the world of God. And when you read the script of God, it does explain the world of God. Now people can live, ignore the script, but then they live, as we would say ‘missing the plot’. What we seek to do when we gather on Sundays, is to learn from the script that God has given to His world. In other words, we find ourselves in the movie which God has placed us in, and we open the Scriptures to learn of the plot or the script of the movie. Does that seem, to you, to be a wise thing to do? It seems to be a very wise thing to do.
So we are not coming here on Sunday, you know, because we are eccentrics, like coin-collectors, or butterfly collectors. We have come here to study the script together of God’s movie, in which we find ourselves. And Luke wrote the Book of Acts under the direction of God, and he told us two things that took place between the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. He’s given us two incidents in the Book of Acts in those 50 days between the resurrection and Pentecost.
- The first is that Jesus instructed His disciples to get ready to be witnesses to the world
- The second thing that we discover today is that the disciples prepared themselves to be a group of twelve for their witness to the world.
Now nothing in the Bible is random, and again and again, Luke gives us twosomes in his Book of Acts, and we are going to see this as we study the book over the next weeks. I hope you are in the habit of asking yourself not just the question, ‘What does it say?’ – that’s easy – but, ‘Why does it say it?’ That, I think, is a much more interesting question. Why has Luke given us these two stories: instructions and preparation? And then after Pentecost, why does he tell us two things: the Spirit came, and a man was healed?
Well, I suspect he tells us that the Spirit came, and the man was healed because he’s explaining that the new life came to the Church and of course this new life will one day be a perfect creation – this man who is healed is a preview of the new creation.
And then we discover, a little further on, that the Church is persecuted but rejoicing (two things). And that is the mark of the Church – suffering, but rejoicing. And then we discover that the Church shares its property, and then a couple holds back their property. And there’s a twosome on the Church, isn’t it – godly, ungodly. So Luke is putting forward a twosome again and again and again, which is designed to give us the picture or the balance or the perspective that we ought to have on the Church.
Well, this Word has come to us, it’s the Word this morning of the way that the eleven turned into a twelve. And they did it because the Scriptures said to them – choose a twelfth. And Peter says (in Chapter 1, Verse 15), he stood up, and he said: brothers, the Scriptures had to be fulfilled about Judas… and then he says, Verse 20, ‘It’s written in the Book of Psalms – may his place be deserted, may another take his place of leadership. It is necessary to choose another’. So, it’s necessary that Judas did his job; it’s necessary that we choose a replacement.
One of the speakers at the EMA where I was last week kept on saying this sentence, ‘Nothing can stop the plan of God, expressed in the Word of God, to do the Will of God, through the Son of God, for the people of God to the glory of God’. He kept on saying it, and that’s really what Peter is standing up with the eleven, with the Church, and he is saying – we must put the Word of God into practice. And this replacing of Judas has to be done.
- But why does Peter come up with this?
- Why does he say it? It’s before the day of Pentecost. He has pulled two quotes out of the Old Testament, and you can see them both there. We’re probably told where they have come from – Psalm 69 and Psalm 109.
- Why does he pick these two quotes from the Old Testament?
- Why does he pick two quotes that are all about David and then say – well, now they need to be all about replacing Judas?
- Why does he lay these two quotes on the Church, to obey them?
- Why does he tell the Church it is necessary to obey them?
- How did he know these two quotes, how did he choose them?
- How did he apply them to this situation?
- How did he come up with these two quotes?
Is this not what Don Carson calls, ‘Indefensible proof texting’? Peter stands up there at the Church, and he says: I have got a quote for you…now let’s do it. You know the story of the guy who has the Jehovah’s Witnesses visiting again, and he is totally fed-up with them and so, doing what they do (which is to proof-text all the time), he opens up ‘Judas hung himself’ and then he opens up ‘Go and do likewise’, and gives him his two messages. Now that is just grabbing two phrases and saying, ‘Now, get into it’. How does Peter choose his two quotes?
Well, I am going to suggest to you that the answer probably lies in Volume 1 of Luke, which is Luke’s Gospel – Luke Chapter 24 Verse 27 says that Jesus spent time with the Apostles, and He opened up all the Scriptures, and He showed them the things concerning Himself. And He possibly/probably took the disciples to these two quotes, which had to do with David and his experiences, and said to them – do you realise that these ultimately apply to Me and that Judas had to do his job, and Judas has to be replaced. And so the quote from Psalm 69 is about bringing down one of David’s enemies and of course, there is the bringing down of Jesus’ great enemy, Judas. Judas did come down, didn’t he. And then the other quote, from Psalm 109, is about an enemy being removed and replaced, and of course the Apostles are now instructed to do a replacing of Judas.
So I suspect that Peter came up with his quotes under instruction from Jesus, and now he reminds the Apostles, the eleven, and the rest of the Church, that it is time for them to put these quotes into practise. The key thing to note is the essential fulfilment of God’s Word.
I think one of the great privileges of being a Christian is to keep noticing how God’s Word had to happen. And we must say to ourselves, every now and again, ‘God said it had to happen… it had to happen’. And then, of course, the other thing that’s great about being a Christian is to see what God says has to happen and to say, ‘That has to happen’. And I think this is the mark of the keen and strong and faithful believer, is that they keep on trusting in what God said had to happen and they keep on seeking to practise what God says has to happen. The believers that I know, who are fairly secure in the faith and active in the faith are the believers who say, ‘It had to happen’ and ‘It has to happen’ because the Word of God has to be fulfilled.
The Plan of God for Us
Now the second point is the plan of God for us. We see in Acts Chapter 1, the Will of God… but we also see the will off Judas. Whose will is being done in this story? Here is Judas, doing exactly what he wanted. He works out that he can get rid of Jesus, he can earn some money for it, and he can buy a field. That’s what he wants to do. He wants to buy a field. This was his treasure – a field. And he got it. And like everybody, whose treasure is their destination – because let me say this to you this morning – your treasure is your destination. What you treasure is where you will end up. For Judas, his treasure was a field, and that’s where he ended up – he ended up in the field. The two accounts of the death of Judas I think to supplement one another very well. There is Matthew, who tells us that Judas hung himself and then Acts tells us that he fell. Matthew tells us that he got the money for the field and then threw it back, and Acts tells us that they took the money and bought the field. And then we are told that where he died caused the field to be known as the ‘field of blood’ and many others were buried in that same field… people didn’t know what to do with them, and it was called the Field of Blood. So the two stories I think supplement, complement one another very well.
But Judas got what he wanted. He was in charge of what he wanted to do, and he did it. And he was also planning to betray Jesus, and he did it. He did it well. And his betrayal of Jesus shows us what sin is really capable of, because, as somebody has said, ‘Good Friday is proof positive that, given half a chance, a human will do away with their Maker. Not only is Good Friday proof-positive that God is merciful and gracious, but it is also proof-positive that we are sinful’. But the interesting thing is, that hand-in-hand with Judas’ decisions to do what he wanted to do, God did what He wanted to do. The sovereign hand of God was on everything. And so it was not a mistake that Jesus chose Judas because Judas had a role to play in God’s providence. God included Judas in the plan of salvation. He didn’t prevent Judas from the evil; He permitted Judas to do the evil. And then He brought out of the evil, this great plan of salvation. And so this completely obedient Jesus being betrayed by a completely disobedient Judas for a completely disobedient world provides the whole prospect of salvation. That’s the sovereign hand of God. And Jesus, as you know, went to the cross and took our penalty, so that He might offer us His reward. So Jesus had to suffer. Judas had to obey. But Jesus chose to suffer, and Judas chose to betray. And God, in His sovereignty, did exactly what He planned.
Now these are the two train-tracks of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of people which run together in this world completely, and we don’t see how they connect, but we will one day see how they connect, in Heaven. And they work together for God’s Will. I hope you are not embarrassed by the sovereignty of God. I hope it is something that you take to be very secure, that no detail is out of God’s plan and providence. It’s our security and it’s our joy.
Spurgeon said, on one occasion, ‘People say about a great event, “What a providence” but they miss what they think is the less important event. My brothers,’ said Spurgeon, ‘the moss on a hill is as fixed as the castle of a king; and the dust in the air is as steered by God as the planets in their orbit. There is as much providence in the creeping of a bug on a leaf as the march of an army to ravage a continent. Everything – the most minute as well as the most magnificent – is ordered by the Lord, whose Kingdom rules over all. No-one even sleeps or wakes, except by the decree of the Lord’.
This is not meant to make us fearful or careless. We are meant to say, in response to this, ‘God, the Father, knows exactly what He is doing. He is working all things, not some things, but all things for His good, for our good. And our part is to seek His Will and to do it with all our heart’.
Well, don’t say, ‘I am a puppet, because God is sovereign, and therefore it doesn’t matter what I do, it will happen anyway’. That’s fatalism. Don’t say, ‘I am safe, whatever I do, because God is sovereign, and it is all worked out for me’. That’s foolishness. We’ve got to say, ‘God is sovereign, and I am to be responsible. I have got to walk on the two train-tracks that God has revealed’.
The Rule of God Over Us
Now the last thing this morning is God’s rule over us. Judas has gone. There is a need for a twelfth Apostle. And you will notice how the reading began this morning with the eleven – one, two, three, four… all the way up to eleven. Why do they need twelve? Well, according to Chapter 1, Verse 22, they need twelve to be a witness. They need to be a witness primarily to the Jews. That’s where the ministry will begin, and they need to show the Jews that there is a twelve, to show to the Jews that this is a new twelve. This is a new Israel. Jesus said, ‘The new twelve, the twelve Apostles, will sit on the twelve thrones’. That didn’t include Judas. So somebody is needed.
They need somebody who saw the resurrection, according to Chapter 1, Verse 22. They need someone who witnessed the resurrection, someone who could speak at the resurrection. Well, that included Paul. He saw the risen Jesus. But then they say in Verse 22 of Chapter 1; they need someone who has been around from the beginning, right through to the end; someone who was there for the call of John the Baptist, announcing the coming of Jesus and someone who was there for the angels, announcing the leaving of Jesus. Someone who saw the whole ministry of Jesus and that excludes Paul. So Paul is not capable of fulfilling what is required, and of course, he came to be an Apostle to the Gentiles, not so much to the Jews.
So Peter is right to put in place a twelfth. By the Scriptures, before the Holy Spirit comes, to move them out as a twelve. So, how will they do it? Well, I want you to know something absorbing. And you may have noticed it in the last verse that was read in the section. And that is, that they do not choose anybody. They want the Lord to choose. It says, in Acts Chapter 1 Verse 2 that the Lord had chosen the Apostles and now, in Verse 24, they ask Him to choose the next Apostle. So they put forward two – two who have been there for the whole time, from the coming to the leaving – they only need two. There is no point in putting forward twenty. Two is fine. And they are completely even, although it looks, from the way it is written as though Barsabas Justus is the front-runner. But they pray: ‘Lord, you know the hearts of everybody… show us Your choice’.
And then they cast lots. Now, this looks like a very odd thing to do, doesn’t it, to cast a lot for an Apostle, to gamble, but Calvin helped me to work this out. Calvin says that ‘casting the lot’ means that the choice is not down to the people; the choice is down to God… because it says, in Proverbs Chapter 16 Verse 33, ‘The lot is cast, but its decision is from the Lord’. And so it is not a chance thing when they cast a lot or flip a coin. It’s not a gamble. They believe that God will make the choice. This is pre-Pentecost; it’s the clearest way to work out, under the sovereignty of God, who He has chosen. After Pentecost, I suppose, He might have told them using the Holy Spirit through some prophet whom they were to choose. But this is pre-Pentecost, and so they show themselves to be people who want to be responsible and choose someone, but they trust the sovereignty of God. And the lot falls to Matthias. And Matthias becomes the twelfth of the Apostles.
Now this little theme of God doing His part and the people doing their part is what runs through this section. It is a clear reminder that God is sovereign and that we are to be responsible. What are we to learn from this-this morning? What will you take away from this unusual section of the New Testament? I want to give you my suggestion of two things.
I want to suggest that you keep rejoicing that God is sovereign, that God does what is necessary. Whatever is going on in your life, whatever is going on in the circumstances of your life, God has not missed it. You might say, ‘Why didn’t He prevent from what is happening?’ But God has permitted it. Keep rejoicing that God, the Father who is loving and wise and powerful, has considered it to be necessary. Rejoice about His sovereignty. Keep reminding yourself that He is sovereign. Because we forget this – you could forget this ten minutes after this meeting. Keep reminding yourself that God is sovereign.
And then, keep obeying God, who is the sovereign God, who asks you to obey His Word and to do what is necessary. Judas did not obey. He disobeyed, but Peter and the other Apostles are tempted to obey the Word of God and you must, and I must, keep reminding ourselves to obey what the Bible says is necessary to be done. Because when you despair, it is very easy to stop trusting the sovereignty of God and to be disobedient. But if you are to be a responsible, sensible, faithful believer, keep rejoicing in the sovereignty of God and keep seeking to be obedient to the revealed Word of God. In other words, trust and obey Him. Trust and obey. There is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and to obey.
Well, let’s pray. Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for giving to us this part of Your Word. We thank You that you have reminded us, in this Word, that things are to You necessary, even when they seem to us to be unnecessary. We ask that You would help us to keep trusting in Your sovereign wisdom, power and love. And we also thank You for being reminded in this section this morning, that the disciples, the Apostles, were willing and keen to put into practise what Your Word says is necessary to be done. And we pray that You would help us to do what Your Word tells us to do so that we might be people who trust You and obey You and represent You and honour You and witness to You. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.