"A Sabbath’s days walk" does not mean that the Ascension took place on a Sabbath, but only that it happened near Jerusalem. This is a bit of rabbinic legalism arrived at by comparing Exodus 16:29 (no one is to go out on the Sabbath day — that is, to gather manna) with Numbers 35:5 (the first 3,000 ft. outside of a town was pastureland that was considered to belong to the town). So, if you only go 3,000 feet, you haven’t really gone "out."
"the room" i.e. probably, though not certainly, the room of the last supper, of the Easter evening appearance, and which, Acts 12:12 may indicate, was the upper room of the house belonging to John Mark’s mother Mary. What an honor paid to a house! A reminder of what can happen if our homes are open to the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people.
The list of the apostles differs in one particular from that given in Mark 3 and Matthew 10: Judas, son of James, replaces Thaddeus. (Thaddeus was probably a nickname). It is the same list as that Luke gives in 6:14-16.
"the women" = the list given in Luke 8:2-3 (Mary Magdalene; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manger of Herod’s household; Susanna, and others). "These women were helping to support them out of their own means." A good way to examine yourselves, ladies. Would you have left family, home, etc. to follow Christ as these did? Do you do so today? Are you a supporter of his cause?
This is the last mention of the Lord’s mother in the NT.
The Lord’s brothers. The obvious interpretation is that this is a reference to the Lord’s younger brothers (and sisters, Mark 6:3), the natural children of Joseph and Mary (vs. the RC doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity). There is very little to commend the RC view that, in any case, was based not on the Bible but a view that Mary should have remained a virgin because of the superiority of virginity as a condition of life. They had not believed in the Lord during his ministry (John 7:5), but, by virtue of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7 "then he appeared to James" — What a meeting that must have been!), they not only believed, but some became prominent leaders of the church. (James — not the James of Peter, James, and John, that James was the first martyr (12:1) — but James the Just, who became the leader of the Jerusalem church, took a prominent role in the first church council (Acts 15), and wrote the book that bears his name in the NT. Judas, or Jude, the author of the little book by that name in the NT was another of the Lord’s brothers.
"120" reminds us of the relative "failure" of the Lord’s evangelistic ministry and prepares us for the contrast with the result of Peter’s single sermon after the descent of the Holy Spirit. But there may be another reason. In Jewish law, 120 men were required to form a community with its own council. The point of mentioning this number would then be to say that this body met the requirements of a new community.
Peter is clearly the leader — as we had learned in the Gospels — and this is a wonderful demonstration of how complete his forgiveness and restoration had been. But, then, his repentance had been thorough as well!
"The Scripture had to be fulfilled" = it had been prophesied and, thus, was God’s will. The cross was no accident. Jesus had already made this point in regard to Judas’ betrayal the night of the last supper. ("The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." Luke 22:22) The same point is going to be made regarding the crucifixion in 2:23 and 3:18 and especially 4:28. Even our sins, even the worst of all conceivable sins do not stand outside the will and purpose of God, however completely responsible men may be for their wickedness and however impossible to blame God for these sins. That God’s rule extends even to man’s sin is a doctrine the Bible does not hesitate to teach.
This account, a digression in Peter’s speech — and is clearly an addition by Luke, not by Peter, as "in their language" in v. 19 indicates — , raises a classic problem. You see the problem immediately if you compare this account with the account of Judas’ death as given in Matthew 27:3-10. In Matthew we read that Judas, in bitter remorse, tried to return the money to the priests, and eventually threw it into the temple, then went and hanged himself. The priests then took the money and bought the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. According to Matthew that is why it was called the "Field of Blood." A number of harmonizations have been proposed through the ages. Judas hanged himself and later, perhaps after his body was already decomposing, either he was cut down or the rope broke and his body ruptured upon hitting the ground; what the priests bought with Judas’ money was regarded as his purchase; he hanged himself on the field which was later bought by the priests, perhaps for that very reason — a place suitable for a cemetery for foreigners.
Luke was in Jerusalem himself in A.D. 58 to get his information. There would still have been plenty of folk around who knew the facts. In all likelihood, if we knew as much as they did, the problem would disappear. Remember, Luke probably knew Matthew’s gospel!
Two citations from the Psalms, each of which is a curse called down upon the enemies of God. Not necessarily a prophecy of Judas, but a form of curse that was appropriate for one who had betrayed the Lord.
Why must they choose a 12th? Cf. Luke 22:30: 12 tribes = Israel = the people of God of whom they were to be the new foundation.
Very interesting I think that here, at the headwaters of the new epoch, popular election is the method of filling offices in the church. The qualifications are spelled out, prayer is offered, men are chosen. It will be the way for deacons, in Acts 6; for elders later. One of the features of Independent and Presbyterian church government over against Episcopal.
The problem was that they couldn’t decide between two men and there was a place for only one. So they cast lots: it was still a day of special revelation! But, then, there may be times when we are left to flip a coin ourselves!
The form of prayer in vv. 24-25 is what came to be known as the "Collect" (spelled "collect") which those of you who are familiar with the Book of Common Prayer will recognize as a common form of prayer in that book. The Collect form is: invocation ("Lord"), relative clause ("you know everyone’s heart"), petition ("show us which of these two you have chosen"), statement of purpose ("to take over this apostolic ministry") conclusion or doxology, as this prayer would have had as well. We print a number of collects in our Order of Service. E.g.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now, I want to draw two lessons from this fascinating text before us this evening.
- The first I will simply mention and leave you to consider how you might apply the lesson to your own case.
What we have, in this particular history, is an instance of believers "waiting upon God." Indeed, in this case, it is the whole church of God, in its representative form, that is waiting upon the Lord. There is not much emphasis on this spiritual work of waiting upon the Lord nowadays, but God’s people used to recognize how often the Scripture taught the necessity of it or showed us believers doing it. Now, they found themselves unable to move forward in their main work because they needed something the Lord had to provide and he had not provided it yet. So, what did they do? They prayed (v. 14: what do you supposed they prayed about? The work they were to do, their fitness for it, their spiritual preparation, the advance of the kingdom, specific folk, etc.); and they set in order the few things that they had in their hands to do — in this case the filling of the vacancy among the Twelve.
A good lesson. We often, some of us even now, cannot move forward in one way or another in our lives, in one area of life or duty or service, because we need something from God as a prerequisite that he has not yet provided us. Ours is not to complain, nor is it to run this way and that seeking to make up what God must provide, but to set our hands to do what does lie before us to do and to pray. It is part of the life of faith and every Christian must learn it if he is to live fruitfully and at peace in this world.
The second lesson, the great lesson of this history, is the warning that Judas gives to all the faithful of all the ages.
This is a particular striking juxtaposition of two events designed to draw our attention to this lesson. The filling of the vacancy in the Twelve is the reminder that the Twelve were the church in a representative form. The twelve disciples, during the Lord’s ministry, were the church in microcosm. And there are a great many ways in which the Twelve reflected the nature of the church: (different types of men; from different backgrounds; with different gifts; leaders among them — a core of the core (Peter, James, and John) — most of them ordinary men [no scholars or great men among them], etc.
But, there was another way in which the Twelve were representative of the church of Christ. There was a traitor among them that no one else recognized and that only time revealed to be insincere in his profession of faith in Christ.
That too is typical of the church in this world. It is, as it has always been, a mixed company, composed of both the genuine believer and the spurious and temporary Christian. We will encounter more of Judas’ type of church member as we proceed through Acts. [Ananias and Sapphira, Simon Magus, etc.]
But the greatest exemplar of this temporary church member is certainly Judas Iscariot. And he teaches us the lesson in such a dramatic fashion, because he was a disciple of none other than the Lord Jesus himself.
- He saw all that Jesus did — the wonders!
- He heard all of the Lord’s sermons.
- He was an intimate of the Lord and got to see this perfect man live for three years.
- He himself, as the Lord’s disciple, worked miracles, preached powerful sermons that changed the lives of those who heard him!
But, all the while, he was not a real believer, though his fellows did not know that nor, certainly, did he himself. Only time and events would prove that his loyalty to Jesus was founded on natural things and not on a supernaturally changed heart and a true and living faith.
Like it or not, this happens and it happens a lot. The history of Israel in the ancient epoch is, of course, a grand demonstration of this reality. Not all Israel are Israel; indeed, not even most of Israel are Israel, and in many cases, only a few of Israel are Israel. The Lord told us to expect it in his parables of the kingdom ("the soils" the net, wheat, tares, e.g.), the writers of the epistles comment on the fact (Hebrews 6; 1 John 2, etc.), we are given a number of illustrations of this phenomenon in the NT, and all have encountered it in our own experience of life in the church.
There are many lessons to be drawn from this reality, illustrated so baldly by the personal history of Judas.
- Outward profession and the acceptance of others is no adequate ground of assurance. Every Christian should care to see the changed life, the true signs of holiness (aspirations, grief for sin, repentance, and obedience — not perfect, of course, but real and lasting). Judas had that within himself, that at least he knew, that should have alerted him, if he had cared. John 12:6: "as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put in it." [Not that any of the other disciples knew that at the time!] A true heart agreement with God and love for God and his Name demonstrated in life is essential. Nothing else will substitute for the lack of this, though other things of great importance may be added to it.
- There is, of course, a peace and an assurance that is the inheritance of the saints in light. But, in the dialectic of the Christian life, the history of Judas and others like him is designed to keep all true believers on their toes, caring to be sure that they are not resting their hopes on sand, which is the way the Lord himself puts it in his Sermon on the Mount. "Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord…" The people who worry and who care about Judas’ example are those likely to be safe in a true and living faith in Christ.
Let me say, here, that I judge this matter to be a very good way of taking the spiritual temperature of a theological tradition, or a church or denomination, or a ministry. If they take with utmost seriousness the fact that many in the church are not of the church, that a large number of folk throughout the ages have thought themselves saved when they were not, and if, for that reason, they urge upon their people the grave importance of settling for nothing but a living faith that demonstrates itself as Scripture teaches it will, then you have serious and authentic Christianity.
But if, on the other hand, you hear little of this concern, if virtually anyone who thinks himself a Christian is encouraged — actively or passively — to suppose that he is in fact a Christian, if the issue of presumption and false profession is never or almost never raised, if the true grounds of genuine assurance of salvation are not taught and pressed home to the conscience, if the congregation is not forced to reckon with the reality of the church as a mixed community of true and false believers, then there is a form of Christianity that, however orthodox in profession, is at best, pale and insipid and profoundly dangerous as likely to produce deluded hypocrites in large numbers.
For all the interest that a number of evangelicals have expressed of late in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, here is perhaps the devastating problem with those forms of the church and perhaps the best demonstration that they do not understand the gospel aright. They both now produce and have through the ages vast numbers of hypocrites. Indeed, their approach to the gospel and the Christian life is bound to produce hypocrites. The typical RC priest never warns his parishioners as the Scripture warns them. He never forces upon the consciences of his hearers the lesson of Judas. He never tells them not to count on their religious acts for their peace with God, on their belonging to the church in the way of outward membership, if they do not, in fact, love the Lord Jesus with an ardent, personal love, trust him, rest their lives upon his promises, and strive with might and main to keep his commandments.
No one can read the Bible and think any Christianity authentic that does not feature in some prominent way this element of warning, of the proper ground of assurance, and of facing the implications of the reality of false profession.
Indeed, these churches (the RC and Orthodox) seem designed to produce exactly the wrong effect, to put people to sleep when they need desperately to be kept wide awake. I don’t say, of course, that there aren’t exceptions to this, but many of you have had your own experience of these churches and the folk who belong to them and you know yourselves of what I am speaking. Even in the public aspect of the church’s ministry of the Word of God to its people, these churches do not warn their people: you cannot continue to think yourself a Christian, going to heaven, if you are living promiscuously, if you are dishonest in your business, profane in your speech, cruel in your marriage, indifferent in your parenthood, etc. They do not say to their people that a curse rests upon all those who do not love the Lord Jesus and that those who do love him keep his commandments!
I have been greatly enjoying the readings of Peter Kreeft’s Between Heaven and Hell. It is an imaginary dialogue between C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John Kennedy, whom, if you remember, all died on the same day, November 22, 1963. In his introduction Kreeft says this:
"The fact that Lewis was a Protestant (an Anglican) and Kennedy a Roman Catholic is irrelevant here. Traditionalist and modernist Christians exist in both churches, and the difference between them is far more important than the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. Whether the Pope speaks infallibly ex cathedra and whether there are seven sacraments or two are far less important than whether Jesus is literally divine and literally rose from the dead.
Well, I can accept that that is true. Though Kreeft does not mention Rome’s more egregious and heretical errors — its view of righteousness, of the method of grace, of purgatory, of prayers to Mary and saints — all of which combine thoroughly to blue and to distort the Bible’s central message of salvation as a gift of divine grace and as the work of God. But setting even that to the side, an error as great and as dangerous and which has contributed without doubt to the damnation of vast multitudes of Catholic and Orthodox churches is their almost universal tendency to assure their members that the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to life and most everyone walks it — at least most everyone in their churches. When Christ’s point was precisely to disabuse us of any such comfortable complacency. Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!
But Judas is the proof positive that a person’s saying he is a Christian proves nothing, nothing at all. Don’t you ever suspend your confidence on the mere fact that you claim to be a Christian. Care to know, consult your own conscience, if you are a lover of God — to whom God and his name and will are uppermost in your life, sinful and imperfect as that "uppermost" must be — and someone who would never imagine asking God to overlook the fact that you posed as his disciple when, in fact, he never unseated you yourself in your heart and in the devotion of your life.