Acts 1:12-26 Twelve Good Men and True

Sun, 21/05/2017 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

How do we know anything about Jesus? We weren’t there when he fed the 5000, or when he rose from the dead? So how do we know these things happened? How do we know what they mean for today?

This morning, we’re continuing our journey through the book of Acts. Last week, I showed us how Acts is the second volume of Luke’s gospel. It picks up the story where Luke left off. 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus returned to heaven. But his story doesn’t stop just because he’s gone home. And Acts is all about the things that Jesus did and taught next.

But we also began to see Luke’s answer to the question I just asked: How can we, today, know about Jesus? How can we, today, know Jesus personally for ourselves?

And the answer is the group of exactly 12 eyewitnesses. He called them his apostles. He taught them, and he gave them his Holy Spirit, so that they could testify to what they saw and heard. So that they could take the good news of Jesus to the very ends of the earth.

What’s more, these are the very people who wrote our New Testaments. Every book in there was written by one of Jesus’ apostles – either directly, or by getting someone else to scribe for them. Paul is a bit different. Luke knows he is, and when he gets to Paul he’ll show very carefully where he fits in. Let’s keep things simple for today, and leave him out of it for now..

How can we know about Jesus? How can we know Jesus? Through this group – the 12 apostles.

But here’s the question: Can we trust them? Can we trust what they wrote? Did they remember accurately? Did they write clearly? Were they even on the right side?

Before we even get to the Day of Pentecost, when God poured out his Holy Spirit, Luke records one more incident. An incident that took place in the 10 days after the ascension. An incident that gives us insight into who these apostles are, and why we can trust them. An incident that will answer some of the questions we might have.

It’s the replacement of Judas with a new member, a man named Matthias.

I’ve got two headings for us – two things Luke is telling us as he records this incident.

Judas is not a problem; he’s a warning

Firstly, Judas is not a problem; he’s a warning. Judas is not a problem; he’s a warning.

When I tell you that Jesus wants us to trust his disciples, Judas is the most obvious problem. Even if you only know the story of Jesus a little, Judas immediately comes to mind when I tell you that the 12 disciples are to be trusted. In case you didn’t know the story, Judas was one of the 12 disciples. He was offered money to betray Jesus to the authorities. Verse 16: “… concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.”

We won’t get out of it by saying that Judas wasn’t really one of the 12 disciples. He was. As Peter spells it out, this is precisely why Judas is such a problem. Verse 17: “He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.” It was one of Jesus’ inner circle that did this.

Which makes it a little bit hard to trust the other 11. How could Jesus get it so wrong? He trusted 12 men. One failed as spectacularly as you could imagine. Jesus basically had to fire one, and replace him at short notice. Now he’s done that, can we have any confidence at all that the remaining 11 weren’t also disastrous choices?

Or look at it this way. The magician, up on stage, looking nervous, giving a crowd a new trick for the first time. The trick goes wrong. The crowd start to lose confidence. The magician can feel it, and starts looking even more nervous.

The young, keen entrepreneur. Goes to the bank with a business plan, comes away with a loan, starts his new business. 6 months later, he’s burnt through all that money, and hasn’t yet got any income to speak of. Goes back to the bank to ask for more. He messed up with the first tranche of funding, so why should they ever trust him with more of their money?

You can see how Judas has the potential to undermine any confidence we might have that Jesus’ disciples are the way to know him.

But that is not how it happened, as Luke will show us.

Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he appointed Judas.

Jesus is the Messiah, the king for God’s people patterned on the great Old Testament king, King David. In the Old Testament, there’s a book called “Psalms”, a collection of hymns and prayers for God’s people. Many of them were written by David himself.

They are prayers that show us what happened to David. They also show what will happen to any king like David, and therefore what would happen to Jesus.

What’s more, they are far more important than just being David’s diary. Have a look at verse 16: “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David”. David wrote down his prayers for his people to pray with him. He may have written them, but these are actually the Holy Spirit’s words. God’s words.

This is what happens whenever we read the Old Testament. It’s all the more striking because Peter isn’t trying to make a point here – it’s just how Jesus taught the first Christians to read the Old Testament. Whenever you read the Old Testament, you’re reading something written by another human being. But at the same time, these are God’s own words, and so they must be true, must come true.

Peter knew how to read the Psalms. Luke tells us in his gospel that Jesus spent a lot of time teaching the disciples after he rose from the dead. Specifically, he opened up to them all the things written about him in the books of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms. Jesus taught Peter what the Psalms say about Jesus.

And one of the things they say is that God’s chosen king only gets to where he is by having one of his closest turn against him. One character you meet in David’s life is a man called Ahithophel. Ahithophel was extremely wise, and was one of David’s closest counsellors and advisors. But when David’s throne was under threat, Ahithophel changed sides, and advised David’s enemies how to win the hearts of the people and steal the throne.

Peter quotes Psalm 69 and Psalm 109. They tell us that the king will have one of his inner circle do this. They also tell us that God will catch up with such a one – he’ll face death, and after that God’s judgement. Lastly, Psalm 109 tells us that another will take his place in the king’s inner circle.

All of which is exactly what happened with Judas. The psalms obviously didn’t name Judas, but they foretold his betrayal, his death, and his replacement.

When Jesus chose 12 men, and one of them was Judas, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew what was in Judas’s heart. But he also knew the psalms and knew that one of his closest would betray him.

Now, please don’t get this wrong. Jesus may have known what Judas would do, but that doesn’t let Judas off the hook. He did exactly what he wanted to do, and nothing less. As verse 18 says, he bought a field with “the payment he received for his wickedness”. It was his wickedness and no-one else’s. He was responsible.

But nevertheless, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. When Judas betrayed Jesus, this wasn’t the plan falling apart. It was everything going exactly according to plan. We end up with what Jesus planned from the very beginning. We end up with 12 apostles to bear witness to what they saw and heard. Those 12 apostles are made up of the remaining 11 original ones, and the one new one.

Go back to that magic trick that went wrong. What if it was all part of the act. What if the audience were meant to laugh at the apparent failure of the first attempt. Maybe to take their eyes off what the magician did while they were all laughing. But certainly so that the final trick would be all the more impressive to watch.

Go back to that business start-up, and the entrepreneur who goes crawling back to the bank after 6 months to ask for more money. What if the bank reads the original business plan that he filed, and sees that this was in the plan. The forecast was for the initiative to fail in exactly the way it has, for a second influx of capital to turn things around, and for the business to turn a profit after another 6 months.

This wouldn’t be the first time that God has used what appears to be failure to achieve his purposes. Just 7 weeks before this, God’s own Son was nailed to a cross and killed. It looked like Jesus’ mission had failed. The Messiah was in a tomb. It turned out that Jesus’ death was actually his moment of triumph: sin, death and evil defeated.

Judas is not a problem. We can trust the apostles Jesus appointed to tell us about himself. If anything Judas gives us even more confidence that Jesus knew what he was doing.

He’s not a problem. But he is a warning.

There’s a minor theme we’ll meet a few times through Acts. It’s the theme of the misuse of money. We’ll see Ananias and Sapphira killed by God for their hypocrisy in their financial dealings. We’ll see Simon the Sorcerer try to buy the ability to dispense the Holy Spirit.

And we see Judas. He chooses 30 pieces of silver over Jesus. He loved money more than Jesus, and so he betrayed him. And his fate was extremely gruesome.

Judas is a warning to us all. He’s a reminder that it’s possible to turn against the Jesus we once followed. He’s a reminder that being close to Jesus, in the inner circle, in leadership, does not mean this can’t happen. You can lead the church, be a bishop, be an archbishop, and this fatal mistake is not beyond you.

You can be on our welcome team, help with Sunday Special or crèche, read from the front, greet at the door, serve coffee at the back, and this mistake is not beyond you. This is a mistake that can be made in the inner circle just as much as on the fringes. And it’s the mistake of loving something else more than Jesus, until one day you change sides and betray Jesus in order to have that other thing.

And we read here where that gets you.

Judas is not a problem; he’s a warning.

The Apostles are not self-selected; they’re chosen eyewitnesses

Here’s the second thing Luke’s got for us: The apostles are not self-selected; they’re chosen eyewitnesses. The apostles are not self-selected; they’re chosen eyewitnesses.

They have to appoint one more to replace Judas. They got that from Psalms as well.

And as we watch them decide who that should be, we get insight into who this little group is. Who are these apostles? What are the criteria to become one?

The way Luke tells it, there are four criteria.

Firstly, there are exactly 12 of them. They had to make the number back up to 12. Our reading started with a list of 11 names in verse 13. Judas conspicuous by his absent. And just in case you hadn’t bothered to count them, our reading ends: “… so he was added to the eleven apostles.”

In the Old Testament, Jacob had 12 sons. From them, came the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus comes to relaunch the people of God. To do so, he appoints 12 new leaders, 12 patriarchs to lead the new testament people of God. Jesus is not replacing Israel. All of these new leaders are also Jewish. But he’s bringing all of God’s purposes to fulfilment. That needs a fresh batch of 12 leaders, to highlight this wonderful new stage in God’s plans for his people.

So there are exactly 12 apostles. One drops away, another needs appointing. It’s not a football match. One player gets sent off, you have to finish the match with only 10 men on the pitch. It’s more like a jury. One juror can’t serve, another must be found.

Exactly 12, which mean they are a unique and irreplaceable group. There are no apostles alive today. They don’t have successors. They were a unique group.

And yes, we’ll come back to Paul another time.

Exactly 12.

Second, they were with Jesus. Verse 21: “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.”

This was their number one qualification. They had to have been with Jesus. From the beginning, when John the Baptist was at work. Right to the end, including the ascension itself.

It really mattered that the Jesus these apostles talked about was the same one who actually walked this earth. We couldn’t have people who would talk second-hand at any point.

With Jesus.

Third, they had to have witnessed the resurrection. Verse 22: “One of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” This is where it gets very specific. All 12 had to have been with Jesus from beginning to end. But not without a break. We know that only Peter, James and John went with Jesus into the bedroom when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter back to life.

Saying they had to be with Jesus is a bit like saying someone had to have been employed by the company continuously for a certain three year period. It doesn’t rule out the odd day off sick, or some annual leave.

But there was one event from which they could not have been absent. And that was the resurrection. If they were off sick then, they’re ruled out of the running.

It wasn’t the resurrection itself that they had to witness. No human being actually saw him rise from his tomb. They had to be eyewitnesses who had met Jesus after he rose from the dead. They had to have ate and drank with him. They had to have touched him. Been in that group who were given many convincing proofs that Jesus was alive.

Exactly 12. With Jesus. Witnesses of the resurrection.

And last, they had to have been chosen by Jesus himself.

So far, we’ve had the shortlisting criteria for the other apostles when they chose Judas’s replacement. Only 2 men were found who fitted all 3: Joseph, and Matthias.

So what did they do next? Take up references, and conduct interviews? No. Two things. Verse 24: “Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs. Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias.’”

“Which of these two you have chosen”. It’s all about finding out who Jesus had already chosen. They weren’t making the choice. They asked Jesus to show them who he had chosen. And then they drew lots. A random process was how Jesus would show them.

Once again, it’s striking what we learn from what the Bible simply assumes. It isn’t the main point, it’s a little insight into how Jesus’ first disciples saw the world as working. Jesus is so in control of every single thing, that when you roll a dice he decides whether you get a six.

It’s not just that he knows whether you’ll get a six. He decides. If he just knew the outcome, but had no control over it, then drawing lots would be a useless way to decide whether Jesus wanted Matthias or Joseph. If he just knew the outcome, Jesus would have known which man would be chosen by their lots, but have been unable to make sure that they chose the man he’d already chosen.

He doesn’t just know what happens. He decides. It blows your mind when you try and think about it. Two children playing snakes and ladders. Jesus decides who’ll win, and he decides every snake and every ladder along the way. Every tiniest detail of our lives is in his loving care. Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

The apostles were the ones Jesus chose. When he chose the first 12 on earth, he called them to himself by name. It’s recorded in 3 of the gospels. And when Judas had gone his own way, his replacement was the one Jesus had already chosen.

These men did not appoint themselves. They were the ones perfectly qualified for the job. Exactly 12 of them. With Jesus. Witnesses of the resurrection. The precise individuals he picked by hand.

The apostles are not self-selected; they’re chosen eyewitnesses.


In the opening verses of his gospel, Luke tells us he wrote his two volumes that we might have certainty about the things we’ve been taught.

We can.

Judas is a warning to us all, but he’s not a problem. Jesus himself chose exactly 12 men to testify to all they saw and heard, most importantly the risen Jesus himself.

We can be sure that when they record all that Jesus did, both on earth and after he returned to heaven, what they record is accurate. We can be sure that when they explain all that Jesus did, they are getting it right.

When they tell us that Jesus is God’s only Son, who died to save us from our sins, who rose to conquer death, and who will return to rescue his people who are waiting for him, we can be absolutely sure they’re right. So sure, we can build our lives on this, with 100% confidence.

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