Waiting In Jerusalem

Acts 1:12-26     Sermon Resources    |    27 October 2019


Jesus had ascended into heaven before their very eyes and in obedience to his final commands, the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet. Luke notes that they were a Sabbath day’s journey away (v.12), not implying that the ascension took place on the Sabbath but that the distance they travelled was short – less than a mile. This was a travel restriction not found in the Old Testament but added later by the Jews.


Upon entering Jerusalem they went up to the upper room (v.13). It is not clear whether this is the same upper room where Jesus ate his Last Supper (c.f. Luke 22:12) or, as some have speculated, that it is the upper room belonging to Mary, the mother of John Mark referenced in Acts 12:12. Or perhaps it was another room altogether!


Luke here lists the names of the now 11 apostles and notice that he rearranges the order of the names just a bit (c.f Luke 6:13-16).   The most notable change is that instead of listing the pairs of brothers together, brothers Peter and Andrew and brothers James and John, he writes, Peter and John and James and Andrew (v.13). Is this meant to be some indication of a new order of leadership within the early church? Or perhaps this was a statement that the new brotherhood in the family of God is more important than blood relations.


The apostles are in the upper room with the women (v.14). Because there is a slight ambiguity in the original Greek, gunaixin, this can also be translated “wives.” Which is to say that apostles were there with their wives. John Calvin prefers this translation while almost all modern English translations use the word “women” instead of “wives.” It seems most likely to me that our English translations get it right, and that these are not the just the wives of the apostles, but the women who accompanied Jesus. These were perhaps the women Luke explicitly writes about in Luke 8:1-3 — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. See as well that Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (v.14) are present as well. Remember that his family at one point thought that Jesus was out of his mind and openly opposed him (c.f. Mark 3:21) but now they finally come around having had their eyes opened.


Jesus had earlier instructed his apostles to not depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the “promise of the Father” (c.f. Acts 1:4). And now what do we see them doing? What are they doing while they wait? They are praying — all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer (v.14). John Calvin points out that they are doing “two things which are proper to true prayer, namely that they did persist, and that they were all of one mind (Calvin’s Commentary on Acts).” Unified, prevailing prayer. This is what we should desire as well to be united with others and to not give up in prayer.


From the earliest days of the church we see the leadership of Peter. He stood up among the brothers and addressed the company of persons which was about 120 people (v.15). It is unlikely that this represents the sum total of all of the followers of Christ at this point in the history of the church. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time.” The word “brothers” does not have to mean “brothers who are believers” but in every other usage of the word in the entire New Testament the most obvious meaning is “brothers who are believers.” And so we can reasonably conclude that there were at least 500 believers at the time of Jesus’ resurrection and that just a portion of them had gathered in Jerusalem at this time.


The first issue that is before the apostles is what to do with the absence of Judas. Should he be replaced? If so, by whom? Now it’s interesting to me that this question had never come up in the 40 days that the apostles had with Jesus after his resurrection. They were bold enough to ask whether or not Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel but for whatever reason the topic of Judas’ replacement never seemed to have come up.


In verses and 18 and 19 we are parenthetically given some background information on Judas. The original Greek did not have the punctuation (quotation marks and parentheses) that we have in our English translations today. Nevertheless this is almost certainly a proper way to render the Greek – placing verses 18 and 19 in parentheses as it would seem out of place for Peter to be explaining to the other apostles what happened to Judas and also unnecessary to translate the word, Akeldama, that they certainly already knew.


There appears to be a contradiction between what Matthew says happened to Judas (c.f. Matthew 27:3-10) and what Luke records here about Judas. However, it does not take crazy gymnastics to put the two accounts together. Judas, according to Matthew, returned the 30 pieces of silver, which was the reward of his wickedness but the chief priests were not able to place the money back in the treasury and so they bought a field with it. In this sense Judas acquired a field albeit after his death. Matthew says that Judas hanged himself and Luke says that he fell headlong and burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out (v.18). One scenario that combines these two accounts would be that Judas hanged himself and as his body decomposed, the rope broke and his body fell to pieces. (This makes for great night time reading doesn’t it?!!)


Back to the issue at hand – what to do about replacing Judas? Peter stand ups and says brothers (v.16). The original Greek actually uses two words here, andres which means men or males, and adelphoi, which means siblings or brothers. So it is clear from the original language that Peter is specifically addressing the men who are present. Perhaps this is because at this point he is speaking only to the apostles. It is disappointing that the NIV translates this verse “brothers and sisters” as that is misleading but even the more literal ESV could have done a better job in translating this verse. (The King James version actually sticks to the original language pretty well.)


Regardless of exactly who is audience is, notice what Peter does next. Where does he look for an answer? He goes to Scripture. And see as well the profound statement Peter makes about Scripture — Brothers, the Scripture had to fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David (v.16). Peter acknowledges that the Holy Spirit was at work long before Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was the one who inspired David to write the Psalms. This is a profound statement on the origin of Scripture!


There are two separate verses from the Book of Psalms that Peter quotes. The first is Psalm 69:25 concerning what to do with an enemy and the second, Psalm 109:8, having to do with replacing him from leadership. Peter puts these verses together and then in the words of John Stott uses “common sense” to infer what the requirements for apostleship ought to be. He must be one who has accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us (v.21). Two men meet the requirements: Joseph and Matthias (v.23). We see here something that should color how we read the Gospels. There were more than just the 12 disciples following Jesus everywhere he went; there were others as well including Joseph and Matthias.


What comes next is remarkable. They begin to pray “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all…(v.24). To whom are they praying? Who is the “Lord”? Who did they have in mind? They are praying to Jesus! This is the same Jesus who they called “Lord” in Acts 1:6 and who Peter had just referred to as “Lord” in verse 21.   So here we have the first recorded prayer explicitly to Jesus in the Bible. And the context is remarkable. Just a few verses (and perhaps just a few days) earlier they saw Jesus face to face and asked him a question “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And now Jesus has ascended into heaven but the conversation continues, You, Lord, who know the hearts of all. This is what prayer is about – simply speaking to Jesus, to the one who is present with us, to the one who does indeed hear us when we speak. Remarkable, isn’t it that the relationship between Jesus and his apostles, continued after he rose up to heaven?


So after going to Scripture and after praying, Peter leads the group to cast lots and the lot fell on Matthias (v.26). Casting lots to discern the will of God was a practice we see in the Old Testament (i.e. 1 Chronicles 26:13-16, Jonah 1:7).   This is the last recorded usage of casting lots in the Bible and most notably it happens before Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Later in Acts (c.f. Acts 13:1-3) we see a major decision the church must make – who to send out as missionaries. However, no one even suggests that they cast lots. We are told that as they were “worshipping the Lord and fasting” the Holy Spirit directly revealed that Paul and Barnabas should be sent out.


Matthias will be the last apostle to be explicitly replaced. Although Paul and Barnabas will later be numbered among the apostles (c.f. Acts 14:4,14) and possibly James, the brother of Jesus, as is implied in Galatians 1:19, “the age of the apostles” will come to an end with their deaths. But nevertheless Jesus continues his work through ordinary people like those first apostles. People who have nothing remarkable about themselves except for the fact that they have surrendered their lives to the resurrected Jesus and have been spiritually reborn by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Discussion Questions

  1. What were the disciples and others doing while they waited in Jerusalem? What is the significance of Jesus’ family being present with the disciples?
  2. What is the state of your “prayer life”? How can you become more devoted to prayer?
  3. What do you think Luke means when he says they were “with one accord”?   Why is it significant? When have you experienced being “with one accord” with other believers?
  4. Discuss Peter’s speech. What reasons does he give for needing to replace Judas?   What are the qualifications for finding a replacement?
  5. In what sense were Joseph and Matthias (and the rest of disciples) just ordinary men? In what sense were they extra-ordinary?
  6. How should the idea that God uses ordinary men and women be an encouragement to us?
  7. In verse 24 the disciples pray to Jesus for the first time. How does this prayer teach us to pray?
  8. Should we continue to cast lots today? Why or why not? Do you think the disciples still had to exercise faith when they cast lots?