Now What?

Pastor Jim Drake
On Mission  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:54
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A few years back, I read a book called “The Paradox of Choice” by a psychologist named Barry Schwartz. In it, he describes all the stuff that goes through our heads when we have to make even the simplest choices. And he argues that this advertising/marketing/consumer-driven world we live in is paralyzing us. For example, the average grocery store has over 250 different kinds of cereal on its shelves. Do you like Crest toothpaste? That narrows your choices down to only 27 kinds of Crest toothpaste. The author argues that kind of selection actually fries our brain and makes it even tougher to make even the most basic decisions in life. Let’s face it, a lot of us have a hard time making decisions even in the best of circumstances. But what happens when you’re in a difficult, troubling time in life? What happens when you’re faced with having to decide between two good choices? Or what happens when you’re faced with having to decide between two really difficult choices? What happens when you don’t know what direction to turn? That’s exactly what the disciples were faced with in our passage this morning.

Jesus had just ascended into heaven. And remember that the disciples had just gotten fussed at by a couple of angels for standing there looking up into the sky when they were supposed to be doing what Jesus had told them to do. And do you remember what He had told them to do? Back up in verse 4, Luke tells us they were supposed to go back to Jerusalem and wait there until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit—which verse 8 tells us would empower them to be the witnesses they were called to be. So that’s what they did. They walked back down the mountain to Jerusalem. Verse 12 says it was a Sabbath day’s journey. Jewish law only allowed a person to walk about ¾ of a mile on the Sabbath, so it wasn’t a long trip. When they got back to Jerusalem, they went to the place where they had obviously met before. Some people think it was Mark’s house. Some people think it was the place where they had eaten the Last Supper with Jesus. The fact is—we don’t really know. It had to be a pretty big place since it was going to hold 120 people. But that was where they went. They didn’t have an agenda. They didn’t really have a plan. But Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait. So they did. They were obedient. And while they were waiting, do you see what verse 14 says that they were doing? They were praying. And they were praying together. Yes, as believers, we’re called to individual prayer. We’re called to meet with the Lord as individuals—as Paul says, we’re called to pray without ceasing. But there’s something special about corporate prayer. Something special happens when God’s people gather together and pray for things in one accord. That’s why I always encourage you to come to our prayer meetings. As a church, we need to devote ourselves corporately with one accord to prayer for the persecuted, for the nations, for our neighbors, and for ourselves. When God’s people are devoted to gathering in prayer, God-sized things start to happen. One more thing I want you to notice about their prayer meeting. The men and women prayed together. Mary, the mother of Jesus was praying right there alongside Peter and James and John. By the way—notice they weren’t praying to Mary or through her. They were praying with her. Her prayers were no more special than anyone else’s. For those of you who might have come from a Catholic background, you need to understand that this is the last place Mary is even mentioned in Scripture. She’s never mentioned after the birth of the church. She’s never mentioned in any of the instructional letters to the church. And because of that, she has absolutely no role whatsoever in the church or in believers’ lives today. As a matter of fact, praying to Mary is blasphemy—because God is our only audience in prayer. And praying through Mary is heresy because the Bible tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man—and His name is Jesus. The disciples were devoting themselves to prayer. Together. With one accord. And God was getting ready to do something exceedingly abundantly more than they could ask or think. But not quite yet. Sometimes we might get the impression that they were just spending their whole time together on their knees. That wasn’t the case—because they had some work to take care of. In verse 15, Peter starts to take the lead on some things. All along, Jesus had prepared Peter for his leadership role. It was part of the way that Jesus discipled him during their time together. And now it was time to start stepping up. He reminded the rest of the group of what the Bible had prophesied about Judas. When you think about it, that had to be shocking and heartbreaking to them. Judas had been their friend. They’d lived life with him for three years. They really trusted him. As a matter of fact, they trusted him enough to let him handle their money. So when he betrayed Jesus, he betrayed all of them. Have you ever had a dear friend stab you in the back? That’s what they experienced with Judas—only infinitely more so. So in verse 16 Peter reminds them about what Scripture said. Scripture predicted it would happen. It predicted the betrayal. It even predicted the way he would die and where he would be buried. Peter was reminding them that even though Judas had been unfaithful and untrustworthy—God is always faithful and His Word is always trustworthy. And in the middle of those prophesies, Peter reminded them that they needed to pick a successor. They needed to pick someone to fill Judas’ position as an apostle. Verses 21-22 tell the criteria for apostleship. It had to be someone who had been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry—from His baptism on. And it had to be someone who had been with Jesus after his resurrection. Out of all the 120 gathered, there were only two men who met those qualifications. Some others might have wanted to be an apostle. Others might have even “felt called” to be an apostle. But only two met the qualifications—Joseph and Matthias. Two men were qualified, but only one office was available. So what now? They were faced with a really difficult choice. They had two excellent options in front of them and had to choose only one. Have you ever had to make a choice like that? In the middle of a difficult, troubling time… knowing you need to make a decision in order to move forward. So how do you do it? How do you know what direction to go? Notice what Peter and the disciples did. First, verses 24 and 25 say they prayed. And then verse 26 says they cast lots. In other words, they rolled the dice. The lot fell on Matthias and they chose him. Congratulations Matthias! You’re now an apostle—just like Peter, James, John and the rest of them.

So what do we do with a story like that? How do we build a bridge from an event in the first century to our lives in the 21st century? That’s what we’re going to do over the next few minutes. The disciples were in a difficult and troubling time. One of their own had stabbed them in the back. They were betrayed, confused and uncertain about the future. And on top of that, Jesus was gone. The One they had looked to for everything was no longer standing in front of them. They were like a boat without a rudder or a sail. Everything had been jerked out from underneath them and they didn’t know where to turn next. Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in a difficult and troubling time and didn’t know what direction to turn? Are you there now? What job should I pick. Who should I marry, or should I get married at all. Should I stay here or move. Should I keep working or retire. Should I get that extra medical treatment or not. It’s easy to know how to choose between good things and bad things. But most choices aren’t like that, are they? Most choices in life are between two potentially good things. And making those choices is hard. Choosing how to move forward was difficult for Peter and the disciples. But do you know what they didn’t do? They didn’t just stand still. They didn’t just wait around for the problem to fix itself. They made their decision and moved forward. So how are we supposed to do that? When you’re in a difficult, troubling time and you don’t know what direction to turn, how do you move forward?

First, do what God clearly tells you to do in His Word. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Peter knew Scripture well enough that he remembered the command to choose Judas’ replacement. He knew the command, so they followed the command. They also remembered Jesus’ specific instructions to them. Go to Jerusalem. Stick together. Pray. Those were clear, unambiguous commands. So they followed them. Here’s the problem with us most of the time. Our problem isn’t trying to figure out all the things we don’t know. Our problem is obeying all the things we do know. We know that we’re supposed to gather together as believers as often as possible. Hebrews 10:24-25 clearly says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” There isn’t any ambiguity there, is there? It doesn’t say, “Don’t neglect to meet together—unless you’re tired from too much work.” It doesn’t say, “Unless you’ve got other priorities like sports or schoolwork or you just stayed up too late on Saturday night.” We know we’re supposed to gather together as a covenant body of believers in a local church at every available opportunity. You know what to do—just start doing what you know. We also know that we’re supposed to pray together as believers. In Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus tells us, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” By the way, Jesus isn’t giving us an excuse to have only two or three in our prayer meetings. He’s stressing the importance of agreeing together in prayer. Remember the disciples were gathered together in the upper room—devoting themselves to prayer together, with one accord. We know we’re supposed to do that. There’s no confusion or ambiguity. You know what to do—just start doing what you know. So—when you’re in a difficult, troubling time and you don’t know what direction to turn, move forward by doing what you know to do. Follow any specific biblical commands, gather with other brothers and sisters at every available opportunity, and pray together with other brothers and sisters. So the first thing that you do is do what God clearly tells you to do. The second thing to do is use the wisdom that God has given you to make a plan.

Clearly understand the situation you’re in. Peter summed things up pretty clearly in verses 16-19. Judas betrayed Jesus and is now dead. Someone needs to take the share of ministry that he abandoned. We need someone to replace him that will be an authoritative witness to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. When you’re faced with the choice of a life-impacting decision, you need to clearly understand your situation. What is the real need or desire behind each potential choice? What is really driving your decision? How will each choice impact your future? How will it impact your family? How will it impact your church family? Most importantly, how will it impact your mission to make disciples? Your situation is far bigger than just a financial or comfort or convenience impact. Clearly understand the situation you’re in.

Then after Peter clearly understood the situation, he looked for help and guidance in Scripture. Was there anything in the Bible that specifically spoke to their situation. In their case, there was. The Bible told them that Judas would have to be replaced. Look—if one of the choices you’re trying to decide between violates a principle of scripture, it’s not a choice. Don’t do it. The problem is, many of us don’t know our Bibles well enough to know how it speaks to our specific situations—even when it clearly does. Read your Bible. Study your Bible. Hide it in your heart—so when circumstances in your life happen that it addresses, you’ll know what to do. Know it before you need it. And you always need it. Make a plan by understanding the situation you’re in and by looking for guidance and wisdom in the Bible. But you can’t forget the most difficult part. You can’t forget to act and trust God with the results.

Isn’t that what Peter did? They started off with prayer. But after they prayed, they acted—they did something. Now, I don’t recommend making your decisions with a pair of dice. But in their case, everything about their two choices was completely equal. They did what God had clearly told them to do. They did what Jesus and the Bible had told them to do, they stuck together, and they prayed. And after that, they used the wisdom God had given them to make a plan to move forward. They completely understood their current situation. And they looked for guidance and wisdom and direction in the Bible. So then they acted. They did something. They moved forward and trusted God with the results. Listen—it’s so easy to do everything right and still be paralyzed. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s insecurity. Sometimes it’s just plain laziness. The fact is—it’s hard to overcome inertia. It’s easy to sit and let opportunities pass us by. It would have been easy for the disciples to leave Judas’ spot vacant. I mean, whoever we don’t pick might get his feelings hurt. What if he gets mad? And then his friends might get mad. And then we’ll have a rift in our sweet fellowship. So let’s just sit still and not do anything. That would’ve been easy, wouldn’t it? But God doesn’t call us to easy, does He? He calls us to action. He calls us to BE His witnesses. He calls us to MAKE disciples. He calls us to GO into all the world. He calls us to DO good works. Be and make and go and do. There’s nothing in there about sitting and watching.

So what about you? Are you sitting and watching? Or are you acting? Are you boldly doing what the Lord has called you to do? Or are you afraid to? Are you too busy making excuses why you can’t? The fact is, you and I are faced with difficult choices every day. We’re faced with whether to move forward in accomplishing God’s will for our lives or whether to shy away in comfort and complacency. My prayer is that you will choose to act today.

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