In the Aftermath of the Ascension (Acts 1:12-26) || Part 2

INTRODUCTION: UNDERSTANDING THE WAITING

Everything has changed for this group; from the moment that Judas arrived with the authorities to seize Jesus, his followers have not had a moment of peace. You cannot help but feel sorry for the disciples as their whole world collapsed and was rebuilt before their eyes. From those last moments in the upper room to walking the road one last time with Jesus as he taught them to abide. Then, to watch as he was arrested and betrayed by one of their own for a few pieces of silver. Throw in trying to process his murder at the hands of the state before being overcome by the joy of the resurrection, and then basking in those momentary appearances over forty days as Jesus taught them the way of the Kingdom and helped them to understand all that had happened. It has been quite a period for this community of Jesus, as they moved from hope to hopelessness and then abounded back to hope: moving from faithlessness to faithful.

One last time, they would face the unknown with Jesus, as he walked them to the Mount of Olives, commissioned them and then before their eyes ascended into Heaven. To affirm the finality of the moment, (that Christ would no longer be among humanity until he comes in Judgement; there stands among them are two messengers of the Lord who said: “Men of Galilee … why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” The disciples have found themselves on a rollercoaster for the last six weeks, yet, as it slams to a stop, there is something different about the situation and them: No longer do the Apostles, and wider 120 seem fearful about the future. Why? Amid the waiting, God has been working in them, and they have been transformed by the presence of the risen Jesus.

Jesus has helped them to understand all that has happened, he has deepened their abiding, and now they are people who can see God and work and trust God to work and lead them as they walk the road set before them. This Group devoted to Jesus have become a people who fully Trust God in the waiting and seek him in their working as they discern the next steps they must take. Furthermore, they model what it means to live for Jesus today in how they wait, seek, discern, and trust. The Disciples trusted the Lord in the waiting and sought the Lord for the future.

PASSAGE Acts 1:12-26 NIV

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those presents were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas, son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. 15 In those days, Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

TEN DAYS OF PREPARATION IN THE UPPER ROOM (1:12-14)

We looked at the Ascension and some of its implications last week; now, we join the disciples in the immediate aftermath of the Ascension, as they head back into the city along the road they walked with him, yet, without him. There is a profoundly different feel to this group; fear had seemingly ruled their hearts and movements; yet, now, after forty days in the presence of the risen Christ, they are changed. They have been commissioned by Jesus to bring the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the world, and with that commission, they appear to have new confidence, not in their strength but in the one who has called them. Throughout this whole passage, we see confidence as they rest in God’s Sovereign rule while waiting for the Holy Spirit. Then as they show confidence in God’s past actions, understanding through scriptures all that Judas did. Finally, they seek God’s wisdom in choosing a replacement Apostle for Judas.

It is the simplest and yet most profound of scenes as the Eleven return to the Upper Room in the company of the wider circle following Jesus, numbering 120. What do this small group of followers do when their Lord has left them and wait for the next season of life? They wait in the presence of the Lord; Christ might have ascended from them, yet, there is no sense that as a people, they can longer know the presence of God.

All Are Present in the Presence of the Lord (13)

They have walked back to the upper room; it is interesting that Luke then lists at this point all who are present: Peter, John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James, as well as all the women associated with Christ and Mary Jesus’ Mother and his brother. They are all gathered, yet, not in fear, but faith as they seek God in prayer with the door open and their eyes fixed on God.

It is a wonderful scene of commonality: The people of God – although they are few – confidence in God, gathered to seek Him. Luke’s mention here that ‘they all were continually united in prayer.’ Jesus commanded them to wait for the Holy Spirit; how did they choose to wait? By Seeking the Lord in prayer. So Confidence in the Lord as they waited for the coming of God the Holy Spirit that they devoted themselves to the Lord in prayer. In his brief ascension narrative at the end of his Gospel account, Luke also mentions that they continually worshipped him in the Temple. Both of these passages compared presents us with a powerful scene as the 120 find themselves waiting on the next move of the Lord they pray continually (Acts 1:14) and worship continually (Luke 24:53) – in the waiting, God was enough, so they sought him (prayer), and rejoices in Who he was, and what he had done for them (Praise). In the aftermath of the Ascension, there is newfound confidence because the people of God understand God’s work, and as they are waiting, they trust God.

A Challenge to the Disciple in the Waiting

I love the simplicity of this scene as those who knew Jesus Lord are gathered together in one place seeking him in Prayer and Worship. There is no division among them as the Apostles, the other men and all the women. They are there in one space seeking God before the next phase of his work. In the Aftermath of the Ascension, they trust God as they wait for him and display their trust in Prayer and Praise. Their action models for us the way of Discipleship in the waiting and every season: We must seek God and trust in him during those seasons, seeking his direction through Prayer and worship.

Covid, if not anything is a season of waiting for the Church and the Body of Christ, what must we do? We must seek to abide deeper into the reality of the Kingdom by seeking the King in Prayer, reminding ourselves as we worship Him of all that he has done, which points to the certainty that he is acting now and will bring to completion all that he set out to do.

The 120 were happy to wait because, in their relationship with God through Christ, they had all they ever needed. Thus they delight in prayer and worship. It was an act of devotion and readying that would prepare them for what is ahead. They were not idle in these 10 days of waiting; they practised what Jesus called them to – abiding, and that abiding prepared them for what God was going to do in the years ahead. How are we waiting for the Lord? In whatever we find ourselves facing or waiting through, are we trusting him and seeking him in Prayer, Worship and word, knowing that he is working in us and the world to advance his rule and reign.

Together for the Kingdom

The Second thing I love about this scene in the Upper Room is the Kingdom Unity that is apparent in these early stages. Jesus has ascended, and it would be easy for this group of followers to disperse or collapse from their common cause because the link in the chain holding them all together had been broken. Yet, they did not disperse! Why? Because they knew Jesus and understood what was happening, their Leader might have ascended, but he had not left them, so they waited for Him. Yet, there is a deeper unity here; they have become a community defined by one thing – Jesus.

The eleven Apostles and all gathered praying to Jesus: everyone had come to know and accept Christ as Lord, and now they were ready to live it out together. Luke writes that they were constant or continually in prayer. Furthermore, he highlights the ‘togetherness’ of all who are here through his use of the word ‘homothymadon’, which he uses ten times over his two books. Now, it could mean simply meeting in one place. Still, later in acts, it is used to imply unity in a decision (15:25), and that seems to be the sense here: “the ‘togetherness’ implied seems to go beyond mere assembly and activity to an agreement about what they were praying for. They prayed ‘with one mind or purpose or impulse.’”1

As the people of God waited for God to work, they knew that they did not wait alone; their strength was in the community of faith. In all we face in the world for the cause and Kingdom, we must remember that we are part of something beyond ourselves; we must remember that to depend on Christ depends on one another in the body. This is part of our strength and witness. The question is: are we united in purpose, mind, and existence in our churches in this season of COVID-19 as we seek to continue to the Built Christ Kingdom and live out the Great Commission?

THE WORDS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ARE FULFILLED (1:15-17(18-20))

When you look at the whole Narrative around the Cross and the days after, the dominant things that come across from the disciples is fear. They are terrified because they do not understand what is happening: their friend has died, and they assume they are next; the government wants ride of all they represent; perhaps (because of Judas) they are terrified of one another; then for a moment they are terrified of Jesus because they do not understand. Fear grows out of their lack of understanding; yet, some forty days have passed, and they have walked with Jesus, who has taught them about all that happened and will happen; fear has faded, and faith has grown. Thus, all who are gathered display confidence and trust in the Lords working because, for the first time, we hear them seeing the actions of Judas as part of the plant of God. Their fear of Judas has been replaced with confidence in the greater working of God because they understood what Judas did was part of Gods bigger plan, a plan set out before the foundations of the earth. That does not mean that Judas did not act of his accord or morality; no, all of what Judas did was still on Judas. However, it does mean that the disciples came to understand the fullness of Gods sovereign rule and reign, wisdom and understanding and how he worked in the world. So powerful and good was God that he had foretold of this plan in the scripture; with the help of Jesus, the disciples had come to see that in the Scriptures and began to understand past events through the lens of Gods word, trusting Gods working. It was by the word of God that their trust in God had grown, and they grew in their knowledge of the working of God in the world.

We get a glimpse of this confidence in God found through Scripture in the next section of the passage, as Luke recalls the moment when Judas was replaced. During sone time in the ten days of waiting, Peter stood up among all gathered and began the proceedings for replacing Judas. Yet, his first comment reveals a newfound understanding of all that had happened through a newfound understanding and Trust for God from Gods word: ‘The Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago’ (1:15). In this moment of waiting, the disciples display newfound confidence and understanding for the way of the Kingdom because of their newfound understanding and love for the word of God. They were reading and understanding through a new lens – Jesus: hence, everyone started to make sense.

Confidence and love of God will grow through time spent with God; we see that earlier as the Community of faith commit themselves to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is a profound thing as we speak to God, bringing before Him our concerns and the concerns of the world. Yet, every conversation must need to be dual in its nature for both sides to properly understand. We see the duality of Christian confidence in God and his workings here. The Disciples have been praying, but they have also been reading the word of God and allowing it to speak to them and their circumstances. It has helped them to grasp probably one of the most difficult realities of the resurrection, that one of their own betrayed them. Yet, Peter can stand up and declare that Scripture has been fulfilled, further quoting from Pslam 69:25 to illuminate all that had gone on, and then Psalm 109:8 to direct their next step. Thus, the Word of God helps the disciples understand all that has happened, and it directs them in their next step.

Responding to the Word in our Lives

Here then lies the challenge for us: How are we when it comes to the word of God? Are we those who are saturated with Scripture, thus, being helped in how we see the world and Gods working in it: hearing the voice of God in response to our prayers and intercessions as he directs our living for Him? Or is our engagement with Scriptures limited to Sundays when we hear it read or sang, then goes back out into the week as if the Word of God did not exist. We are a people of the word! By the word, we understand the working of God in the world and see the way that God wants us to walk as the Holy Spirit directs our steps and illuminates in our lives the things that God wants us to work on.

We are a people of the word because the Scriptures are alive thanks to the dwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is wonderful but more wonderful in unison with the word. In the word that we hear the voice of God speak: thus, Scripture informs our prayers to God in every season; the disciples found themselves in a season of waiting, committing themselves to prayer, worship and the word. These are the things that sustain us, guide us, equip us and help us see God and what he wants us to do in the world.

Let us commit ourselves to better talk with God by seeking to spend more time in his word; it is never about quantity. Still, about quality, that may mean we simply take ten minutes throughout every day to stop, read, reflect and pray and ponder what God is saying to us. It may mean we are proactive, choosing to read rather than hoping to stumble into Scripture, committing ourselves to a reading plan that will not overwhelm us, following a daily devotional. Whatever season we are in, let us grow in confidence with God by seeking to spend time with him through His word. In essence, let us chose to priorities hearing the voice of God over the cries of the world. A choice that will only lead to confidence in God.

BY GODS DIRECTION THE TWELVE ARE RESTORED (1:21-26)

The disciples have shown their trust in God in the waiting by their worship, prayers, and their seeing of God working in the world through the actions of Judas understood through Scripture. Modelling for us the sustaining practices of the Christian Life. Yet, they also show their trust in the Lord by responding to what he has spoken to them through his word. In the waiting, God was working amid the disciples; he changed their hearts and readying them for what he was calling them to. Furthermore, they sought God at that moment, hearing from him and responding to him. Peter spoke from Psalm 109 verse 8:

“May another take his place of leadership”

The gathered community of God heard the voice of God through the word of God and responded to it. We pick up in this response where the disciples display their trust in God is calling them to by choosing someone to replace Judas, thus, restoring the apostles to their original 12. Verses 21-22 outline the parameters for one who might replace Judas and join the Apostolic leadership: He must have been with them since the baptism of Jesus by John, who has witnessed everything in between and been present for the ascension of Jesus. Why? Because eyewitness testimonies were important thus, those who were to declare the Kingdom of Christ must be they who have witnessed his Kingship.

The group propose two names, using common sense and prayer to work through the process. Yet, as Christ chose them, so must he chose the replacement. Thus, the disciples display their trust in God (triune) in how they replace Judas: after thinning down the candidates, they step back and leave the rest up to God:

“24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

First, they prayed because every act of the faithful Christian should be one soaked in prayer and seeking of God. Then they trusted as they threw lots to see who would replace Judas. The disciples were so confident in the work of God that they trusted God to reveal his will through what would seem like a chance to the world. Proverbs 16:33 states, ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision from the LORD’ thus, by throwing the lot, the disciples were leaving the choice up to God and trusting him to appoint the right person; when out of fear it might have been easier to make a choice for themselves. In the aftermath of the Ascension, the disciples showed their trust in God for what was ahead by seeking him in appointing the one to replace Judas.

God is Preparing Each of Us

I do not know what you find yourselves facing today, but I do know the God you can face it with. Thus, the challenge for us in every season is to seek God in the moment but also for the next. What might God be preparing you for in the days to come, and how might he be prompting you in terms of future actions? The disciples displayed their trust and faithfulness by abiding in God during that waiting and responding to his directions. God is at work in us, doing things to further his cause in our lives. However, there are decisions and choices to be made: our faithfulness is to respond to what God is calling us to. Thus, the challenge: What decision is God prompting you to make in this season? What road is he calling you to follow? The Disciples displayed their trust in God in the aftermath of the Ascension by acting in response to Gods word and prompting, laying the foundation for their future Kingdom work. We, too, must be faithful to the things God is calling us to and the decision he directs us to make in every season of life, whether as a church or as individuals. Decisions for God will never be contrary to his word or will, so in living for him, let us seek to be faithful to him.

CONCLUSION APPLY AND LIVE IT OUT

The Stage is now set for Pentecost; the Apostles have received the Commission to wait and ‘receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you and then to witness for him ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Furthermore, the team has been restored by choice of Matthias to replace Judas; now they wait for the Promised Holy Spirit to come and replace Jesus as the presence of God in the world, and as they wait, they persevere together in prayer and worship ready to fulfil the call of God on their lives. In this season of covid, let us model our waiting on that of the disciples and seek to abide in God in this season through prayer and praise, understanding the working of God by communicating with Him through his word; and, seeking the wisdom of God in preparation for whatever he may be calling us to in the days ahead as a church and individuals.

Life with God

As we go, I want us to consider the process again that the Disciples seemed to walk in appointing Matthias to their ranks; it captures the essence of the entire passage so well. John Stott, in his commentary, highlights four stages. First, the Disciples seemed to respond to their general reading and understanding of Scripture. Over the forty days, Jesus had opened up their minds to the word of God and how it was both a tool of understanding and a guide for living. Peter, prompted by the Scripture, begins the proceedings for replacing Judas the betrayer (16–21). Then, the Disciples displayed something that can often be lacking in the Church as they discerned the process for replacing Judas – Common Sense. If one were to witness the Resurrection, it would make sense for one to witness the event and the wider ministry of Jesus. Thus, they discerned through common sense that one of two should replace Judas: Joseph and Matthias. Next, they prayed to Jesus for Guidance and knew the hearts of those nominated more than any human ever could; they gave the decision over to Jesus in prayer before giving the decision over to Jesus in Sovereign choice. As mentioned, the last stage seems strange to us, the casting of lots, but it was in its essence a Spiritual decision; they chose to trust that God would work through the casting of the lots to appoint the right person. Today, we no longer need to draw Lots or act in similar ways because we have the Holy Spirit. Still, we must follow the same principle of seeking God’s wisdom in decisions and allowing the Holy Spirit to direct us by the Word of God and other means. The process highlights how God will often guide us today and captures the foundation of what we have drawn out of the passage today; in every season, God can be trusted, and we must look to Him to Lead us.2

The Way of Matthias

I wonder what it must have been like in the moments after Peter got up and declared the need to replace Judas for Matthias and Joseph. Did they have to accept the nomination? Did they even want it, knowing the weight of responsibility? Then what it must have felt like the moment the lot was cast, and Matthias realised what he had been called to. Yet, Matthias is the model disciple because he responded to the call of God at that moment and walked the road that was set before him. Furthermore, he is the model disciple because his story captures the Kingdom reality for most of us. Matthew was called by God to witness to the resurrection – the call of every Christian – and willingly followed when called, and then what? We never hear about him again; this is the first and only time he is mentioned in Scriptures, yet, we can know he was faithful to the call of God. Matthias could be the Saint of anonymity because he remains unknown, and that is why he is the perfect model for all who will choose to follow Christ. Why? Because he responded to the call of Christ, he witnessed the resurrection in the world, and yet the world never knew of him. What matters is not our fame but our faithfulness to the call of Discipleship. Let us delight in the way of Matthias by faithfully walking the road unknown, confident in the treasures to come rather than seeking the Glory of the world.

Today, let us show our faithfulness and love of God by practising what the disciples modelled for us today in whatever season we find ourselves in, seeking to live for him and in our living, making him known.

  1. Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 53). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (pp. 58–59). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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