Never Out of Control…

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’ So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:12-26 ESV)

My mother used to tell the story of my parent’s first “new” car. My Dad had just been discharged from the Navy and they had returned to Tulsa. Dad had started working for the US Postal Service so, they went and bought a new 1958 Buick. Dad was so proud of it. Not long after buying the new car, Dad received a call from my grandparents (my mother’s parents) that their car had broken down and they asked if Dad would come tow them back to town?

Dad borrows a chain and goes to get them. Dad and grandpa get the chain connected and Dad begins towing them towards town with grandma and grandpa in their broken down car and grandpa steering while dad and mom were in their car with dad driving. Mom says that the road was rather winding and Dad was enjoying the drive in his new Buick. But when they looked back at Grandma and Grandpa, they were wide-eyed and terrified. Grandpa was unable to control how fast my Dad was driving and they both feared they were about to be “whipped” right off the winding road. Needless to say, Dad continued to hear about his crazy night of driving when he nearly killed my Grandparents for years to come.

Have you ever felt like your life was out of control? Like you were being towed down a winding road behind a ‘58 Buick completely out of control? I can only imagine how the disciples must have felt. Their entire world had been flip-flopped in just two months time. They had gone from being taught the powerful truths of God’s kingdom to being left behind as He returned to God giving them a charge to be witnesses of His death, resurrection and His deity. Life had really begun to “feel out of control.” But there are several things in this story that remind us that things are never really out of control and we can trust God… let’s take a look.

First, notice that the Apostles and the rest of those early believers, about 120 of them, were gathered in “one accord” and they were praying. If the Church is to know God’s power and presence then WE must be praying with one accord. One of the most beautiful things about the church is her ability to be so diverse while being so unified. We can come from so many places, cultures, languages, vocations, and educational backgrounds but we gather and pray as one…

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV)

So, they were in one place praying in one accord. They were united in their purpose and their thinking as they prayed and sought God’s guidance and will. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have differences, but it does mean they were unwilling to let their differences divide them. They were bound together by the chains of God’s Love and nothing could separate them. Our churches today need to be reminded of that and we need to make it a focus of our worship and our Christ culture; we are ONE people united in singular purpose and calling.

But the next part of this story seems to really highlight the crazy, out-of-control nature of life and not the church’s unity that I just described. Peter stands up in the midst of the disciples and declares that Judas had forsaken the faith and they needed to choose a replacement. Judas’ abandonment of them and his betrayal of Christ is a chapter in the gospel story that we would like to forget. Ok, it happened but let’s just move on and get everyone gathered together, sing a few verses of Kumbaya (Google it if you’re not familiar with it) and pretend everything is okay.

Peter says, “the scripture had to be fulfilled” concerning Judas and his betrayal and that’s a crucial piece of information in this lesson. Even when life SEEMS out of control, God is still on the throne and fully in control. Judas’ betrayal was not a surprise to God and had actually been foretold in scripture almost a thousand years before. While we could spend quite a bit of time on this subject, let me simply point out that God’s foreknowledge of an event doesn’t mean He causes the event. Judas was fully responsible for his choices and actions, even though God knew his choices centuries before. We struggle with that idea because time for us is linear. But God is not bound by the linear path of time. He’s outside of time and space and can see it as one “event” without the restrictions that we experience because of our humanity.

So, here’s my point… life can seem totally out of control (like a ‘58 Buick careening down a dark winding road) but God is still on the throne and your eternal life is secure in His hands. Peter declares that Judas may have abandoned them but God had not. His purpose and plan was intact and they needed to begin to act in accordance with it and select someone to replace Judas and carry on the portion of ministry assigned to him. By the way, God’s not surprised by our struggles either. While He is aware of our choices and sin, He offers redemption and forgiveness. If you find yourself struggling, don’t abandon your faith simply because the circumstances of the moment seem difficult or even contradictory to your expectations. God has NOT abandoned you. Trust Him and let Him renew your strength… (and also, go read Isaiah 55 for encouragement)

“…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV)

Finally, God’s plan of redemption and His purpose for the Church will not be thwarted by our failures or Satan’s schemes. It is moving towards the fulfillment God intended and if we fail to fulfill our part in His plan then He will raise up and choose another to take our place. Peter knows they need to replace Judas so that his part of this ministry could be carried on and then he lays out the requirements: “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Notice the qualifications Peter lays out; he needs to have been with us from the beginning (John’s baptism) and also present these last few weeks during the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Being an eyewitness of the life, ministry, teachings, death and resurrection of Christ was essential in this role. The challenges that each of them would face would require a solid foundation for their faith to survive.

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV)

Our Faith is only as strong as the foundation upon which it is built. When faith is built on the character and personality of a pastor, it WILL fail. When faith is built upon a false doctrine or a lie, it WILL fail. When faith is built upon a fake gospel, whether that’s a gospel of a works based salvation or false health and wealth promises, it WILL fail. But, when your hope and faith “is built on Jesus’ blood and righteousness” (listen to the song – then it can withstand the fiercest storm and the worst circumstances life can throw at you.

“”Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25 ESV)

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:15-18 ESV)

So, when life begins to feel like you’re riding in an out-of-control ‘58 Buick careening down a dark, winding road then remember God’s still in control. Even though things might seem a bit crazy and it feels as though God isn’t anywhere around, He’s always there and the situation is not a surprise to Him. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes about the struggles he had been facing and God’s faithfulness…

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

In the midst of his personal weakness, Paul discovered the amazing strength that God provides through faith. Whenever we depend on ourselves and our own abilities, we never truly need or experience God’s strength. It is only when we find ourselves incapable of handling our circumstances using our own resources that we begin to turn to God for support and strength. It is in those moments when God begins to bless our faith and His strength pours into us.

Let me end with one final observation… If we fail to be faithful and obedient, God will not fail and His purposes will not be thwarted. He will raise up another who will be faithful and obedient. This story ends with the church prayerfully seeking and choosing Judas’ replacement, Matthias. Judas’ life careened out of control and he lost everything. But God was already in the process of raising up another. How can you avoid Judas’ fate? Establish a firm foundation of absolute faith in Jesus and build a life of obedience that includes being part of a local church that seeks unity with each other and God. Remember, God will accomplish His plan and His purpose and we can be a part of it when we are obedient. Don’t let your life resemble a ride in an out-of-control ‘58 Buick.

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