Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pick A Lot: Acts 1

Last week, we finished going through Mark as we work completely through the Bible. Now, I’d like to skip Luke and John and go straight to Luke’s second volume, Acts. The longform name is often given as The Acts of the Apostles, but most of us know this book as simply the book of Acts.

Another title I’ve seen a few others and heard a few preachers attach to this book is The Acts of the Holy Spirit. While I can see the point they want to make, that this book is about what happens in the time after the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) and how God works through people in His church, it is still about the people through whom God worked. We’re all about saving the pixels, though, so Acts will be the name I use.

What happens in the first chapter (link)? Initially, you get what reads like a Twitter recap of the Gospel of Luke:

“All that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles He had chosen.” 

That’s a quick reminder of what happens in Luke, and then Luke begins his telling of the apostles carrying out those orders. We see the final command of Christ as He is straightening out the disciples quest for a timeline. He tells them to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come and then they will be His witnesses.

While they’re waiting, though, Peter has something for them to do. I had one professor in college that was convinced that Peter was wrong for this: waiting means just that, waiting. I’m not so sure. I see Peter as taking the waiting time as the time to fix a few issues in-house. I think his process starts right, but I think his end-result might be mistaken.

A quick aside: I firmly affirm that the Bible contains no mistakes in the record of what happened. However, just because an event is accurately, infallibly recorded does not make the event a good thing. David’s sins with Bathsheba (2 Samuel) are not recorded as an example to follow, likewise with many sins. Just because an action is taken by a praiseworthy individual does not exclude that action from consideration or critique.

Oh, and neither am I saying that in the moment that I would make a better decision. I may disagree with Peter’s outcome, but he’s still likely holier and better than me. Any knucklehead can armchair quarterback, and occasionally there is useful information presented. Had I been in Peter’s place, I don’t know that I would have quit fishing.

Peter remembers, as they sit in the upper room, a few of his Psalms. As he considers the passages from Psalm 69 and Psalm 109, he reaches this conclusion: Judas has fallen from the company and needs to be replaced. So far, so good. We also see him using Old Testament Scripture to guide his decision making. That’s also a good thing.

Peter then wisely puts forward that the replacement for Judas should be someone who had been with the company of disciples the same length of time. This allows the replacement to be an equal witness to all of the life of Christ (from the Baptism to the Ascension) alongside the original Apostles. They find that Joseph Barsabbas Justus and Matthias were the two men present in the upper room who had been with them that whole time.

So, how do you choose between the two? The early church at this point drops back to the method of drawing lots. Essentially, this allocated a random element to a decision, and that randomness was seen as God showing His decision. (1 Chronicles 26, 1 Samuel 14 both show mention of the idea.)

This method of drawing lots was intended to allow God to make the final decision. Those present even pray that God would make Himself clear through the decision. Now, the lot-drawing will certainly be clear: only one of the two will have the lot marked. Clarity won’t be an issue.

Here is what happens: Matthias ends up the one chosen. Now, from a strictly Bible perspective, we don’t know much of the future of either of these two. In fact, Luke spends most of Acts on a guy named Paul who is not even mentioned here.

What do I think? I think Peter made the right suggestion when he brought up replacing the lost Apostle. I think, though, that he did not grasp the change that was coming in how the church would act. Keep in mind, he’s one of the crowd that just asked Jesus if now was the time to bring the kingdom back. They are still a little off-center.

The idea of a one-to-one replacement of Apostles was not where the church was headed at this point. The Holy Spirit is coming, and the power of God is spreading. The initial Apostles have a special place in the guiding and growth of the infant church, but as you leaf through Acts you see Paul, Steven, James, Luke, Timothy, Barnabas, Silas---none of these are part of the Twelve.

Peter was right to not want to lose ground by leaving an empty chair, but is it possible that he should have added a chair? One for both Matthias and Justus? The company of the committed is growing in the book of Acts. In Acts 1 it may remain stagnant, but the growth explodes from Acts 2 to Acts 28. This is the model of what, perhaps, should have happened.

It’s not, though, is it? It is possible that this chapter, the last chapter before the Pentecostal Outpouring of the Spirit, fits more with Old Testament method than with New Covenant method and that God revealed Himself one more time through lots. Even so, though, it is not instructive for us: as Believers we have the Spirit. We make decisions based on the Word of God, Bible-derived wisdom, and the guidance of the Spirit. Not by picking lots anymore…

Question: How have you made important decisions? Do you strive to seek the Word of God or do you default to a hope that random life will show God’s will?

Today’s Nerd Notes:

1. What happened to Judas Iscariot? Did he hang himself or fall in a field? Or what about the classic “hanged himself over a field and fell into and burst open?” It’s also possible that he hanged himself and his body was tossed into a field. This is one of those spots that people pick apart as a contradiction. It’s really not that difficult to consider a scenario where there is no contradiction, just differing points of view.

2. Acts has chapters numbered 1 through 28. Without being excessively whiny, God stopped there. It seems a bit flashy to claim to be picking up where He left off, especially some 2000 years later.

3. Theophilus: pick up three different books on Luke-Acts and you’ll probably get at least two views on Theophilus, if not three. One is that Theophilus is just the guy’s name, nothing more. Another is that it is a symbolic name for any “Friend of God,” which the name means. A third posits that it’s a code word used for a high-ranking Roman who wanted to know about Jesus but could not be called by his real name. The first two are the more plausible, with the first being the best option.

4. I know I did not do this, but you should read Luke and then Acts. They go together well. Almost like they were a two-part set.

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