Acts 1 - The Selection Process

Acts 1 – July 29

Welcome to the book of Acts. Or, to be more accurate, the full title is ‘The Acts of the Apostles.’ This book could just as well be called ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit' or ‘The Continued Ministry of Jesus.’ Today we will focus on how the apostles chose the replacement for Judas, and how we should go about making decisions in our lives.

In 1926, two non-practicing Ashkenazi Jews began writing letters to one another about the nature of quantum mechanics and cosmological constants. From one of those letters, we get Albert Einstein’s famous statement that he did not believe that God plays dice. But in our text today we see that the disciples did. We read starting in verse 23, “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.”

It appears as though there are two equally qualified candidates who fit the requirements to be an apostle. But they can only choose one to round out the twelve. So, at that point, they determined that their final decision would be made by casting lots. Casting lots took multiple forms throughout history. Sometimes it was done by rolling a primitive form of dice. Other times it was done by seeing who drew the shortest stick from a cup. And there were many more varieties that developed as well. But ultimately the point was always the same. It removed any human instrumentality and placed the answer in the hand of the dice. 

Let’s talk for a moment about what you should do if I were to get hit by a bus and die this afternoon. How would you go about finding a new pastor to take my place? There is some information in this text that is helpful and instructional. Find qualified candidates. Find people who will preach the Word faithfully and with passion and compassion. Find someone who fits all of the criteria of an elder found in Titus and 1 Timothy. Find someone who has a zeal for holiness and a passion for evangelism. 

But when the time comes to make the decision, don’t play dice. I think it is appropriate for us to ask two questions here. First, were the apostles doing something wrong by making their decision with this method? And secondly, should this inform our decision making? 

First, did they do something wrong? There has been a theological debate regarding this question for a long time. However, I do not believe their actions were sinful, and here is why. 

  1. The disciples never determined that this was incorrect or sinful. When the Holy Spirit arrived and began to convict the world of sin, we never hear that they were convicted in their hearts for choosing Matthias this way.
  2. They never have a ‘do-over.’ 
  3. Luke is excellent at informing us when someone was functioning in a way that was contrary to the commands of Christ or the calling of the church. He doesn’t say anything negative or condemnatory about this event.
  4. This action was not taken as a replacement for prayer. Rather it was viewed as an answer to their prayers.

But now let’s get down to the second question. Should we make our decisions this way? And the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ But why not? Isn’t this the example that we see set forth by the apostles? Isn’t this how they laid the foundation of the church? 

I think by answering this question, we will understand more clearly why the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record this detail for us. Let’s think back through the Bible for a moment. How does God inform people about what they should do? 

On rare occasions, God sends angels. But, most often, God spoke in the OT through the prophets. He gave them the words to speak and the wisdom to discern truth from error. But, for the disciples, they had always been given direction from Jesus Himself. After the resurrection, Jesus did leave them with some instructions, but Jesus did not personally inform the disciples who was to replace Judas. Instead, He told them to return to Jerusalem, and He left them for the final time. 

And for ten days the disciples were waiting in a situation that no other Christian will ever face. Christ had ascended, but the Holy Spirit had not yet come. The apostles are forced to make many difficult decisions throughout the rest of the book of Acts, but they never again employ this method of decision making. Once the Holy Spirit arrived, everything changed. 

For example, in Acts 13, the church is faced with another decision about which men to send out as missionaries. They did not rely on human wisdom. They did not rely on dice. Instead, listen to how the answer was given. “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

How should you make difficult decisions? Through rigorous prayer, counsel from believers, and direction from the Word of God.