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The Last Lottery

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The Last Lottery -

Decision Making in the Will of God

May 7, 2000        Acts 1:12-26



How many of you have had to make some really hard personal decisions in your life this past week, month, or year?

How did you make those decisions?

Did you make the right decision, or is the answer still out there somewhere?

For many people, decision making is like rolling the dice.

It is just taking a chance.

You act on what you think, and if that doesn't work, you may get a chance to try something else.

There are no sure things in life for them, it seems.

Life is a gamble.

You win some, you lose some.

Every once-in-a-while you just get lucky.

Every once-in-a-while you just bomb out.

Perhaps you've been there.

Perhaps you've recovered. Perhaps not.

Perhaps you're still living on your winnings.

But isn't there a better way to make decisions?

I'll bet you there is.

I'll bet there are some of you here this morning who would like to know what it is.

Decision making can actually turn out better than the sign I saw this week – "I bet my cholesterol count on the lottery."

To many people, making the right decision is about like taking a chance on winning the lottery.

But who really wins the lottery?

The lottery promotes the interesting moral notion that if people are inclined to waste their money, the government should make it fun for them.  And take a profit.

   -- Charlie McDowell, quoted in the Tampa Tribune (Oct. 21, 1987).  Christianity Today, Vol. 32,  no. 2. 

Amazingly, many people will go to great lengths to make bad decisions.

Amount spent by one person on tickets for a 1990 weekly drawing of the Florida state lottery: $46,000

   -- WBBM-TV news, 10/14/90. "To Verify," Leadership.

The chances you will eventually die in a car crash: 1 in 125

 Develop a brain tumor: 1 in 25,000

 Die in a fire this year: 1 in 4,000,000

 Win a state lottery jackpot: 1 in 4,000,000

   -- What the Odds Are (Harper Perennial, 1992) by Les Krantz, cited in Context, 2/1/95. "To Verify," Leadership.

We have students here this morning who are just graduating from college degree programs and are wondering what to do with their lives.

What is God's call for my life, they wonder?

I don't want to act in my flesh, but how do I know what that is?

How do I sort out the many voices around me?

Which voice belongs to God?

And do I really want to obey God's voice, even if I knew it?

We have people who are wondering about how to save for their retirement or how to live on retirement with what they have.

We have people wondering about which direction to take in treatment for a medical problem for themselves or for a loved one.

We have people wondering whether to trade in the old car and buy a new one.

We have people wondering whether to take a second job to make ends meet or to let that second job go to spend more time with the family.

There are difficult decisions "on the job" that are facing many of you.

Some of you are wondering how to carry out certain ministries here in the church that you have graciously and obediently taken responsibility for.

You want to know how best to minister to your family.

There are difficult personal family interrelationship decisions facing you.

Do you have another baby this year or try to wait until next year, if ever?

Should we start having children now or wait until we are more settled in life?

The world, also, is offering us many more choices that don't make life any easier.

It used to be that many choices were made for you, and accepted as part of life.

When people got married, it used to be that kids came with the package - they came when they happened.

But now we have the option of making decisions about how best to tamper with our bodies for a more controlled family environment.

It used to be that you went to the grocery store and you were lucky if there were one or two brands of dish soap on the shelf.

And now you can't even go to the grocery store to buy dish soap without making a decision about what brand, scent, color, consistency, whether moisturized, or anti-bacterialized, and what size to buy.

And guys – just try to make a decision about what kind of shaving cream to buy, even in the brand you usually get.

That is, if you have already made the decision to shave with a safety razor instead of electric.

I'll bet you there is a definite way to end up a decisive winner every time.

The question is whether or not you really want the winning answer.

Once again we turn to God's holy Word in the Bible for our answers and find it sufficient, even excellent – not easy, but full of wisdom and truth.

We are investing time in the book of Acts.

It is full of wisdom as we learn how God worked through the apostles and the early church to begin changing the world.

Remember the twin themes of Acts are witnessing and the Holy Spirit.

The truth of God is still changing the world.

The truth of God is still changing us.

We saw last week that Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then he gave them the last great commission and ascended into heaven – from whence he would one day return.

In today's passage in Acts 1:12-26, we see an account of the last great lottery.

It is about decision making in the will of God.

The apostles discovered or realized that they had an important decision to make.

So let us look to God's Word and see what principles we can apply to our own lives about decision making.

This situation in Acts is a unique situation – it will never be repeated.

The ten-day period between the ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church in Acts 2 will never occur again.

So how and what can we learn from such a situation?

What are the sequence of events or actions taken that instruct us here?

What would you do if left with the mandate to wait for the H.S. and Jesus had just left you to go into heaven?

Big Question: How can we know that we can make godly decisions?

I.       Cycle One


A.      The Effectiveness of Prayer (1:12-14)

The disciples had been out on the hill called the Mount of Olives from where Jesus ascended into heaven.

Since this was the Sabbath, they could go no further, this being about one kilometer, or less than a mile from the city.

They returned as they were told and went to the upper room.

This most likely was the same upper room where Jesus held the Passover meal, the Last Supper, with his disciples.

It could also have been the room where he appeared to some of them after he rose from the dead (Lk. 24:33-36), or even a room in the house of John Mark's mother where the church later met (Acts 12:12).

These upper rooms of the houses were an appropriate place for such a meeting because they were above street level noise and prying eyes.

They were perfect for assembly, study and prayer.

Note the women who continue to play an important part in the early church (Lk. 8:2-3; 23:49; 23:55-24:10).

Here is the last reference to Mary, mother of Jesus.

Note that Jesus' brothers are now here whereas they had previously not believed in him (Jn. 7:5).

Note that only eleven apostles are listed.

Only Judas the betrayer was absent.

This issue of Judas was about to come into significance.

But the greatest thing we take note of here is that "they all joined together constantly in prayer.

What would you or I be doing if we were there as they were then?

We would be in prayer.

What better thing to do than to pray when you are waiting for instructions from Jesus.

Has anything ever really changed about our corporate situation and our need for prayer?

We are just as needy for God's leadership now as then.

Prayer plays a significant role in the story of the church as recorded in the Book of Acts. The believers prayed for guidance in making decisions (Acts 1:15-26) and for courage to witness for Christ (Acts 4:23-31). In fact, prayer was a normal part of their daily ministry (Acts 2:42-47; 3:1; 6:4). Stephen prayed as he was being stoned (Acts 7:55-60). Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), and Saul of Tarsus prayed after his conversion (Acts 9:11). Peter prayed before he raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-43). Cornelius prayed that God would show him how to be saved (Acts 10:1-4), and Peter was on the housetop praying when God told him how to be the answer to Cornelius’ prayers (Acts 10:9).

The believers in John Mark’s house prayed for Peter when he was in prison, and the Lord delivered him both from prison and from death (Acts 12:1-11). The church at Antioch fasted and prayed before sending out Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3; and note 14:23). It was at a prayer meeting in Philippi that God opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:13), and another prayer meeting in Philippi opened the prison doors (Acts 16:25ff). Paul prayed for his friends before leaving them (Acts 20:36; 21:5). In the midst of a storm, he prayed for God’s blessing (Acts 27:35), and after a storm, he prayed that God would heal a sick man (Acts 28:8). In almost every chapter in Acts you find a reference to prayer, and the book makes it very clear that something happens when God’s people pray.

-----Warren Wiersbe, Be Series

Since Peter led the discussion that happens in the narrative after this, we might assume that he led this first corporate prayer meeting mentioned in the NT.

What do you suppose they prayed for?

If it were any of us, I can imagine that they were praying for the coming of the gift that Jesus promised.

They were praying for the coming of Jesus' kingdom.

They were praying for his return.

They were praying for wisdom in how to begin this ministry they had been given.

They were praying for others to believe in what they had witnessed about Jesus.

They were praying for protection and holiness.

They were praying that their needs be met.

They were praying for God's will in all things and not their own.

          B.      Implication

We know that we can make godly decisions when we seek God in prayer before we act.

          C.      Illustration

I have always liked this particular quote by Adrian Rodgers, "We can do more than pray after we have prayed, but we can do no more than pray until we have prayed."

"Prayer is both a duty and a conviction."

          D.      Application

How sure can you be about anything you seek knowledge and wisdom about unless you first seek the council of God in prayer?

We must be as these first disciples were.

We must always remain within a Sabbath day's walk of corporate prayer.

Corporate prayer pleases God because his disciples are together in him.

Return tonight and you can put that into practice in our "first Sunday night of the month" prayer vigil, Seeking Higher Ground.

II.      Cycle Two


A.      The Effectiveness of Wise Council (1:15-22)

This next scene might be taken as the direct result of that extended corporate prayer meeting.

Note the reference to "those days."

As a result of that time (those days) of prayer, something was laid on Peter's heart.

So he stands up as the leader of the group that he is and does two things.

First, he presents his concern to the group.

Basically, although he is making a recommendation, in context he is also seeking group council.

And as the basis for his recommendation, he also has sought out Scripture.

Prayer has prompted him in a way to seek the council of Scripture in the context of other believers.

What would you do as an apostle about one of your numbers who had betrayed Jesus and had now died?

You know that Jesus had appointed him an apostle (Lk. 6:13) so he must have wanted twelve apostles (Mt. 19:28).

There were others in this group of 120 who seemed to meet the requirements of an apostle, which were that they had been with Jesus the whole time since his baptism by John and up to and witnessing his resurrection.

But who would be the right choice?

We seem convinced that in every option there is a best option.

But how do you find it?

So Peter puts an idea to the group and supports it with Scripture.

This description of Judas' death does not fit Mt. 27:3-10 but can be reconciled.

The potter's field that was purchased was bought with the money that Judas threw back into the temple

This field became a burial place for foreigners – those who were defiled in Jewish law – because the money that Judas returned was "blood money."

Matthew said that Judas went out and hanged himself.

In Jewish eyes this would have made him defiled.

Luke says that Judas fell headlong and burst open.

Perhaps he was buried in his own field.

As Augustine said, both are true.

It was enough for Matthew to say "Judas hanged himself."

But Luke wanted to stress the awfulness of Judas' situation by spelling out the gory details in a way to emphasize Judas' terrible fate in relation to the divine plan.

More explanation was needed here for Luke's Gentile audience than was necessary for Matthew's Jewish audience.

Suicide was taken as a morally neutral thing with those in the Gentile world.

It was God's purpose for us that Jesus be betrayed.

It was also God's purpose then that Judas be eliminated.

All this by Luke suggests a basis for the disciples' perplexity in trying to comprehend the plan of God.

God intended to begin with 12 disciples, but they ended up with 11 at this point.

Peter even upholds this with his quotes on Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 that speak in context about false companions and wicked men who have become enemies of God.

Psalm 69 was not primarily applicable to Judas, but the retribution it speaks of certainly is.

Psalm 69 was often quoted in regard to Christ.

We might note that Psalm 69 gives no justification for replacing Judas, on the contrary it even seems to oppose it.

So Peter cites Psalm 109:8 through a Jewish exegetical principle of "analogous subject" to defend the legitimacy of replacing this member of the apostolic band.

To Peter's Jewish mind, any group that presented itself as representing the righteous remnant of Israel must be so not only in proclamation but in symbolism.

He felt that 12 apostles were needed in parallel with the 12 tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28) to have the credibility to do what they were told to.

He puts forth a valid definition of what it means to be an apostle.

An apostle must be one that could guarantee the gospel tradition because he had been a companion of the earthly Jesus, and a witness of the reality of his resurrection, because the risen Lord had encountered him.

          B.      Implication

We know that we can make godly decisions when we seek the council of Scripture and other believers.

          C.      Illustration

YFC Juvenile Justice Ministry and the truth of Prov. 16:7 as courage to proceed with an event successfully.

          D.      Application

You can be confident that God's Word already speaks to your situation.

But lest we misinterpret it, we seek others to see if it also speaks the same way to them.

III.    Cycle Three


A.      The Effectiveness of Decisive Action Based upon Prayer and Wise Council (1:23-26)

Two men were put forward by the 120 (not the 11).

Eusebius says that Matthias was one of the 70 (or 72) in Luke 10:1.

But why didn't Jesus choose one of them the first time around instead of Judas if they were his choice?

He chose Judas so that Scripture would be fulfilled (John 17:11).

There were perhaps more than these two who were qualified, but the group proposed these two.

But they also sought as best they knew how, to present the decision to the Lord since the Lord was the one who had chosen the other apostles.

They again enter into prayer, as they well should, to seek God's hand in determining which one.

This whole section, we remember, also began with prayer out of which Peter then makes his proposal about replacing Judas.

The "place where he belongs" refers to hell where Judas went.

The sacred lot was cast after prayer.

The practice of casting lots was frequent in OT (1Sam. 14:42; Exod. 28:30; Prov. 16:33).

The names were probably each written on a stone, placed in a vessel, and shaken until one stone came out.

          B.      Implication

We know that we can make godly decisions when we take decisive action to carry out God's will.

          C.      Illustration

Many people have the habit of discovering God's will by allowing their Bibles to open at random, and then they take as a sign from God whatever their finger falls upon while their eyes are closed.

A Louisville jury couldn't figure out whether a defendant who shot his girlfriend was guilty of murder or manslaughter. To avoid a hung jury, they flipped a coin and found him guilty of murder. When word spread to the judge, he declared a mistrial. "Realistically, I didn't think we had anything to lose," jury foreman David Melton told The Courier-Journal. Phillip J. Givens II faced life in prison if convicted of murder in the death of Monica Briggs last May. A new trial was scheduled for Sept. 12.

-----World Magazine, May 6, 2000, page 9, "No Comment Zone."

          D.      Application

Peter and the disciples took the best action they knew how to do.

But they acted. They had prayed. They had sought the council of Scripture.

And now it was time to act.

When you hear a word from God through valid channels, do you act upon it?


Big Answer: We know that we can make godly decisions when we seek God in prayer before we act, when we seek the council of Scripture and other believers, and when we take decisive action to carry out God's will.

I had to apply these principles in the making of this message.

Initially, I had a different idea about how it should go.

I almost had it written with a different conclusion.

It is amazing how tightly we cling to the interpretations of the Bible we first heard.

They need to be modified many times as we come into deeper truth.

How do we find that truth.

We pray, seek the council of Scripture and other believers, and act upon the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Timeless Truth: Wise decisions rest in the wisdom of man - in seeking and acting upon the wisdom of God.

The question that must be asked, and indeed some of you are probably asking it, is whether Peter and the others made a wise decision in choosing Matthias since Paul was later chosen by Christ as an apostle.

This is the question I had to struggle through myself in making this message.

Many of us have heard and have been taught that they should have awaited Jesus' choice of Paul to fill the vacancy.

We can see that Jesus told the apostles to "wait" in 1:4 until they were baptized by the H.S. in a few days.

In some ways it appears that they acted on their own in this situation instead of waiting.

Was Peter jumping ahead of God here in light of the fact that they were told to wait for the Holy Spirit?

Was he leading the group astray?

What we see here is the last lottery.

Was that a valid method for what he sought to do?

This activity was never again recorded in the church.

It is the last lottery because after the coming of the H.S. this will never be necessary again.

In the OT past, in which the apostles still lived in this ten-day period, this means of seeking God's will by the means of his hand in chance was an accepted practice.

With the coming of the H.S. this would never be necessary again.

With the coming of the H.S. nothing would ever be left to chance, or what appears to be chance, again.

The church would be under the direct guidance of the H.S.

This is one thing we can learn from this passage – a one-time event – that the means of decisive action based upon the will of God is not the same today as then.

But we are to take decisive action upon what God reveals to us.

How should we live as believers under the instruction of the H.S.?

How should we make decisions in the will of God?

We should seek the council of God in prayer.

We should seek the council of God in Scripture and through other believers.

We should act upon the direction that God reveals to us.

Did Peter act wisely, given the fact that Paul seemed to be God's later choice?

He took the logical course of action to follow for a Jew at the time.

Scripture neither blames him, nor asserts that Paul was the true 12th man.

There is no clear reference that any of the other of the Eleven were replaced when they were martyred one by one.

But should Peter and the others have waited until the Spirit had been given? We must not forget that the Lord had previously “breathed” on them and imparted the Spirit to them (John 20:22). When the Spirit came at Pentecost, it was for the purpose of filling them with power and baptizing them into one body in Christ.

We must also remember that the Lord had opened up their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). When Peter referred to Psalms 69:25 and 109:8, he was not doing this on his own, but was being led by the Spirit of God. These people definitely believed in the divine inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 1:16; and see 3:18; 4:25), and they also believed that these Scriptures had a practical application to their situation.

-----Warren Wiersbe, Be Series

We can make a case that Matthias was a bad choice.

He was never heard from again in Scripture, but neither were any of the others heard from after Acts 1:13 except Peter, James, and John.

But from some sketchy accounts in church history we may hear about him as a collaborator of the early Gnostics.

The Gnostics claimed Matthias as the origin of their teaching, and he supposedly wrote the heretical "Gospel of Matthias" referred to by Origen, and Clement possibly referred to the same work as the Traditions of Matthias.

This work sets out a religion of extreme asceticism.

If this is true, realizing that this work was never accepted into the Canon of Scripture, and if Matthias was indeed the founder of a cult, then he could not have been God's choice.

But these accounts are possibly in the realm of hearsay and may not even refer to the same Matthias.

If we might consider that Paul was intended by Christ to be a 13th apostle, we can justify the action to choose Matthias by lottery to be the 12th.

Paul did not fit the definition of an apostle that was necessary to be one of the Twelve since he had not been with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

Paul even acknowledges his dependence upon others with respect to the gospel tradition (1Cor. 15:3-5).

Paul made it clear that he was not to be classified with the Twelve (1 Cor. 15:8; Gal. 1:15-24), and the Twelve knew it. If the Twelve thought that Paul was supposed to be one of them, they certainly did not show it! In fact, they refused to admit Paul into the Jerusalem fellowship until Barnabas came to his rescue! (Acts 9:26-27) The 12 Apostles ministered primarily to the twelve tribes of Israel, while Paul was sent to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:1-10).

No, Paul was not meant to be the twelfth apostle. Peter and the other believers were in the will of God when they selected Matthias, and God gave His endorsement to Matthias by empowering him with the same Spirit that was given to the other men whom Jesus had personally selected (Acts 2:1-4, 14).

-----Warren Wiersbe, Be Series

The necessity for having exactly 12 apostles in the early church sprang from the need for Jewish Christians ministering within the Jewish nation to maintain this symbolic number.

This was not necessary for Paul's primarily Gentile ministry.

And Paul himself recognized the special nature of his apostleship to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8).

It was in line with that of the Twelve, but it also rested upon a different base.

The gospel was first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Rom. 1:16).

God provided 12 apostles for the Jews and one for the Gentiles.

Paul referred to himself as an apostle "abnormally born" (1Cor. 15:7-8).

His background, ministry, and call were different from those of the Twelve. However, he insisted his apostleship was equal with theirs (Gal. 1:1)

But the question then remains.

What about the use of lots now?

This is no longer a valid way to determine God's will.

Now we have the council of the H.S., but we must still act in regard to what we surmise the Spirit's will to be.

This becomes for us the opening and closing of doors.

We take action as God continues to direct us.

We act according to the wisdom of God - that we can discern and trust him for further discernment until it becomes clear to us that this is the will of God.

We remain open and allow God to lead us.

And he often stretches us.

It is a walk in faith in order to discover faith's bounty – the will of God.

Will you act within the will of God to find the will of God by seeking the avenues of direction he gives you and then acting on them as he directs you further?

He chooses to actively use us in the process of discovering his will.

We must want his will in order to have it.

Whatever you are facing today is already in God's hands tomorrow.

It's a sure bet.

You're a winner with God.

We no longer need to play the numbers.

But we do need the Holy Spirit that he gives for our understanding, assurance and direction.

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