Faithlife Sermons

Help for Decisions

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THEME: When the Apostles were working on replacing Judas Iscariot, to keep their number at 12, the process they used is certainly worthy of study and use today. Although we don’t need to “draw lots” because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, receiving God’s instructions about the decision is still a necessity, if we want His blessing on our efforts.

Read Acts 1: 12-26.

I. The need for a decision (vv. 12-22).

A. The Apostles had been reduced from 12 to 11 by Judas Iscariot’s defection and subsequent suicide.

1. The number of Apostles appears to have been an important group, because of the close correlation between the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles mirroring this number.

a. Jesus was very deliberate about picking 12 to be His close circle.

2. This group was also given the task of being the primary witnesses to the physical resurrection. (Acts 1: 8) “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

3. Peter (in his role as the normal spokesman for the 12) confirms this in (Acts 1: 22) “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

B. There was a large number of disciples that their choice could be made from.

1. The group of 120 probably contained a vast majority who could have fit the criteria of witness.

2. We must also remember that the potential 12th had to have been a witness from the time of John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus to actually seeing the risen Christ.

3. It might not have been a requirement to be present with Jesus the whole time of His 3 year ministry, because from the Gospels, one gets the impression that even some of the 12 were not with Jesus every moment of that 3 years.

II. The decision process (vv. 23-26).

A. There appears to have been a three step decision-making process. First, they narrowed the “applicants” to only two men. (1st Step)

1. We really don’t know how this was done, but we can make an educated guess.

2. 1st they would have separated out (of the 120) all those men who had not seen the resurrected Jesus.

3. Then they would have further restricted that group to those who were with them at the time of John the Baptist’s baptism.

4. Now they have a group that meets all the basic qualifications.

5. To narrow this group to only two would probably have been very difficult.

a. Call for volunteers to withdraw?

b. Of course, in that society and social context, no women would have been chosen.

c. Maybe some had what were considered “too significant” gaps in their presence during the 3 years. (For example, some might have left for every planting and harvest season (4 months?).

6. Eventually they got it down to a small number.

a. Remember, these people did not come from a democracy background.

7. But it is also very possible that the whole group simply “voted” to narrow it down to just two people.

8. Now comes the hard part.

B. Once they are down to two “nominees” the choice becomes infinitely harder, practically speaking, impossible.

1. These two were obviously very equal in all qualifications.

2. The group had gone as far as they could in determining the correct replacement.

3. They clearly could not decide, so they would have to ask God to decide.

4. This could have been their desired result all along: narrow down to two and God picks the right one!

C. They use lots for God to indicate His preferred Apostle (v. 26). (3rd step)

1. This was the ancient (and very Scriptural) way to determine a course of action.

2. Note these OT Scriptures referencing the use of lots:

a. (Proverbs 16: 33) “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

b. (Proverbs 18: 18) “Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.”

c. (Leviticus 16: 8-10) “He is to cast lots for the two goats – one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.”

3. There has always been much interest in the meaning and mechanism of casting lots. My research has revealed that the 11 might have used any one of the following means:

a. Put two small pebbles or pieces of wood into a container, then had someone blindly draw out one. The pebble drawn indicated which candidate was accepted. As a variation, the two objects were put in a jar and then shaken and dropped (cast) out. The first one out would indicate the decision.

b. Put a flat metal disc with different sides (think of a coin) into a jar, shake it around and pour it out. The side that was up indicated which candidate was accepted.

c. They might have used dice, but this is doubtful, as dice were considered to be a Roman or Greek item.

d. Incidentally, the Urim and Thummin kept in the ephod of the high priest’s robe might have been different colored pebbles or possibly gemstones. The priest could blindly draw one out, with one color meaning “yes” and the other “no.” While he was fleeing Saul, David used Urim and Thummin to help him decide what was the Lord’s will. (See 1 Samuel 23: 7-13).

4. Regardless of the actual instruments used to choose between Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias, we see that the group prayed for God to show His will using the lots (v. 24) “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry.”

a. After the casting of the lots, it’s clear the group accepted the results of casting the lots as God’s own decision (see Proverbs 16: 33 above).

III. The second part of the process and its direct connection to us of today.

A. Note that I left out the second step from the process. That is because the second step had started long before this choosing – and was the most important part in the decision.

The group was in prayer before, during, and after completing the Apostles. Note (v. 14): “They all joined together constantly in prayer;” and (v. 24) “Then they prayed. . .” As we leave this incident and go to the day of Pentecost, we find them all together again, obviously to pray. (2nd Step)

1. So prayer was one of the key ingredients in the choice of apostolic succession.

2. But also they referred to the Scriptures for guidance: (v.20) “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it.” (taken from Psalm 69: 25) and “May another take his place of leadership.” (taken from Psalm 109: 8).

3. Prayer and Scripture provided the basis for their decision.

4. They did not trust themselves and their all too human judgment to make such an important decision.

a. They all would have been very hesitant about replacing Judas because he had been chosen by Jesus, so Jesus would have had to replace him.

b. Jesus had said nothing to them about replacing Judas.

d. If He didn’t, then why would the Apostles take it upon themselves to do so?

c. I think it is clear beyond a doubt that Peter was told by God duringafteras a result of prayer that he was to lead the effort to replace Judas.

d. He might have even been told how to do it, although this level of detail is not often given by God in a situation like this.

5. God often tells us to “do,” and leaves the “how” up to us.

B. The lesson is both clear and obvious to us: Use Scripture and prayer to determine God’s will in our decisions, especially major ones.

1. How many of us actually spent time in Scripture and prayer before starting our current or former careers?

a. I admit that I did not spend hardly any time in prayer before deciding to make the Air Force my life.

b. I remember asking God one time: “If You don’t want me to do this, then stop me somehow. Otherwise, I’m going ahead.” Beginning and end!

2. It was certainly different when God called me to the ministry and I had finished Bible college and was deeply engaged in searching for a church to pastor.

a. I spent hours and nights in prayer begging for guidance, sometimes about the (hindsight) smallest little detail.

3. I must admit that God answered every one of my prayers – though often not with the answer I either wanted or thought would be right.

C. How do you make your decisions now, meaning the major or important ones?

1. Do you look at the Bible and see if there’s some pertinent guidance there?

a. Many people don’t realize that the Bible has been one of God’s ways of speaking to us for about 2,000 years; more than that if you separate the Old from New Testaments.

2. God often speaks to me through the reading and study of His Word.

a. He has told me about things that I wasn’t concerned with – that I should be.

b. He has told me to drop stuff that I should have been leaving alone.

3. Scripture is very valuable for learning God’s will.

D. Much of the time, we think of prayer as our “rescue system” instead of our “guidance system.” This limits the effectiveness of our prayers.

1. If we will think of prayer as a guidance system, then God has a greater opportunity to lead us through life.

2. How much easier or more productive would all of our lives been if we had just asked God about everything more important than what to order at a restaurant?

a. I’m talking about choices concerning life, family, jobs, hobbies, money, and the like.

3. If the guidance about those items would be as great as the guidance I’ve received about career, marriage, etc., then why wouldn’t/shouldn’t I ask Him about everything?

a. I suggest our pride gets in the way: “I don’t need God to tell me whether or not to buy a new car. I know enough about them.”

b. Or maybe sometimes, we are hesitant to ask, because we know what the answer will be, and we don’t want to do that.

(1) If you can’t stand the answer, don’t ask the question.

E. But God will help us greatly if we’ll just let Him, just ask Him.

Let me suggest to you:

1. For the next week (7 days), ask God about your decisions, large and small, in Scripture and in prayer.

2. At the end of that week, see what you think. Has it been good for you? Have you learned something? Have you been saved from a wrong decision? Have you made good decisions as a result?

3. If you’ve gained from asking God in Scripture and in prayer, then keep it up.

4. The effect of asking and receiving His guidance will be life-altering.

The disciples found that out, and so will we!

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