April 24, 2016
This is an unusual story! And one of the things we have to keep in mind, is that the ministry of Jesus lasted around three years. And in that time, he did many things. John said at the end of his Gospel, that if everything Jesus did were to be written down, the world could not contain the books that would be written.
So, as an old professor of mine once said, when you look at a story in the Gospels, you have to ask why it’s there. Of all the things Jesus did, why was each particular story included by the writer? And here in the book of Acts we have the “Continuing Story of Jesus.” And this leads us into the story of the Holy Spirit and the Church. Acts was most likely written by Luke, and in a sense it could be thought of as “Second Luke,” or even the “Fifth Gospel.”
Ok, so here we have this story for today, and I find myself wondering why it’s there. Right before this, these men had seen Jesus for the last time. And right before their eyes, he was taken up into heaven – just like Elijah in II Kings. We’ll talk about that Ascension story in a couple of weeks. That was right before this story. And then right after this we have the Pentecost account. But what about this story?
Here we have these disciples, and they’re meeting together, and what are they doing? They’re talking about the need to replace Judas. It was Peter’s idea. “Hey guys! (in a Jewish accent, of course!) “Jesus chose twelve of us – like the tribes of Israel. We have to get somebody else!” So, they discuss that for a while, and then they draw straws – essentially – and they choose this man named Matthias. And then Matthias is never heard from ever again!
Now, does that seem strange to you? It does to me! It’s almost like they were not really in tune with what was happening. It
reminds me of Peter on the mountain at the Transfiguration. Do you remember that? He said, “Lord, it is good that we are here! Let us make three ‘booths’ – three shrines – one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Do you remember how Jesus didn’t even answer that thought?! It was incongruous with the great event that was happening! As close as these men were to Jesus, they had missed the point, in some way.
I think the same thing is happening here. The Ascension happened! Pentecost was about to happen! The power of God was about to come over these men, and then be shown to the world in a powerful way! And yet here they were doing something that seems incongruous. Were they sincere about this? I’m sure they were! I’m sure they felt they were doing what God wanted them to do!
So what’s going on? I think we need to see in this story this question. Can a person do what they sincerely believe is God’s work, and have it not be what God had in mind? Can we let our thoughts get in the way of God’s plans?
I remember an old pastor of mine once saying that sometimes it’s easy to become so “gung-ho” to do God’s work, that we leave God behind! Is that what’s happening in this story? Remember, these guys were human. They didn’t always get things right. Remember how they wanted to rain fire down on one town that didn’t receive them well.
Remember again, this is Peter’s idea. Peter was the impetuous one. He was the one who often “leapt before he looked.” He often ran headlong into something without really thinking it through. A good case could be made that this story is really about him.
Well, whether that’s the case or not, I think this is a good example for us. We too can find ourselves in this story. We can be like these disciples, moving forward but maybe “leaving God behind.” Every week, we pray, “Thy will be done…” But do we mean it? I think, too often, when we think about “doing God’s will,” we really say, “Lord, may it be your will…” Or more honestly, “Lord, here’s what we’re going to do – Here’s our will – please bless it.” That would make things much easier, wouldn’t it?
Doing God’s work. That’s what we’re thinking about today. Doing God’s work, doing God’s will, is not something we always get right. In fact, this is not something we “figure out how to do” by some formula, or learn to do by some great revelation or moment of understanding. “Ah, now we know how to know God’s will!” No, the more I think about it, the more I think doing God’s will is an ongoing process. It’s something we grow in the understanding of. It’s something we grow in the ability to do.
That’s not an easy thought, is it? It would be much easier if someone just handed us a piece of paper with God’s will for our lives spelled out on it, in simple steps. This whole “searching for” and “seeking” God’s will is much harder, isn’t it?
When somebody asks how we know if we’re doing God’s will, or how do they find out what God’s will is for them, I feel the answer is to work at it! It is often a process! And as we think of that, let me say this. I think it’s helpful to think, not just in terms of doing God’s work, but to think of the things that make us better at understanding and doing God’s work!
Of course, one of those things is prayer. And one of the most important parts of prayer is not only being close to God, but striving to grow closer. I think you’ll agree with me that the closer we are to God, the more “in tune” we will be with his spirit, and the easier it will be for us to know where he is leading us.
In the Old Testament, they talked in terms of “Waiting on the Lord.” Maybe we need to recapture that idea for ourselves. We need to take each day to sit quietly, to listen, to wait in God’s presence, to think of his kingdom. I don’t think we do enough of that. I know I don’t. I’ll bet you don’t, either.
I also believe we need to share together the process of discerning God’s will. It’s important that these men were together in this story. They were thinking about what Jesus had taught them. They knew the fellowship they had when he was with them was crucial. I believe we will be in better “tune” with God’s spirit, and better able to know his will, when we grow closer to each other.
Another important thing to do is to think in terms of “following Jesus.” You want to do God’s work? Then think about the old phrase, “What would Jesus do?” That’s important! As God’s people it should be our goal to be like Jesus. If we’re doing that, we will more likely be doing his work. If we follow Jesus, we will be closer to doing God’s will.
Part of doing that is getting out of the mode of thinking of ourselves first. And that’s a tough one! Our instincts, the world’s philosophy of life, our needs, our worries, those things tend to make us think of ourselves first. We have to practice thinking of God first. I remember an old pastor years ago holding up a sign in a children’s sermon that said, “JOY” in big letters. And he told us, that “if you want to have joy, you should think of Jesus first, others second, and then yourself third.” That spells JOY.
Those are all helpful things. But throughout the “process” of finding God’s will, of “Doing God’s Work,” we need to remember that we are human. Like these disciples of Jesus we too are going to “blow it” sometimes. But we also need to remember that God loves and cares for us even in our humanness. He loves us through the process – not just when we arrive at the end! I think Jesus had a special love for Peter, even though he was impetuous, even though he would rush headlong into things without thinking.
So think of him as you go today. Think of these disciples and what was about to happen to them! Think of old Matthias, the man they elected, the man you won’t hear about again! Yes, they may have been a little “off base” here, but they were about to receive the power of God. May all those things lift us up, as we seek to do God’s work here in this place.
Eternal God, help us to draw closer to you so that we will know your will for our lives and for our congregation. Help us to know the power of your Holy Spirit. Help us to feel you leading us, guiding us, and building us up for service in your kingdom, and for your glory. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.