Jesus said to wait, and so they did.
The fledgling church had been through the ringer. They had walked away from the crucifixion as a defeated movement, cowards to their own cause. But then they had seen the impossible stand before them. They had put their hands in His and watched Him do everyday things like eat a meal. And they had seen Jesus ascend into heaven. Now they were back in Jerusalem.
Waiting for power. Waiting for the comforter. Waiting for the Holy Spirit.
But it strikes me that there are two different ways we can wait: we can either wait passively, or wait actively.
These Christians could have simply stayed in Jerusalem, twiddling their thumbs. There is a time and place for that – when God makes a promise and the difficult task is to simply sit and wait for that promise to be fulfilled. But there are other times when there is still work to be done in the meantime. Indeed, that work can and often is the expression of our faith that God is going to do what He promised. That’s the route these early Christians took. So there, in the midst of their waiting on God to do what only God could do, they took action:
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.
During these days Peter stood up among the brothers—the number of people who were together was about 120—and said: "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was one of our number and was allotted a share in this ministry." Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood).
"For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it; and let someone else take his position."
"Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection."
So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, "You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosento take the place in this apostolic service that Judas left to go to his own place." Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles. (Acts 1:12-26)
Now again, they could have stayed seated. Done nothing. Waited passively. But they chose to act – to make decisions before a sovereign God. There is a great truth in that for all of us – the sovereignty of God does not paralyze our decision-making; rather, God’s sovereignty gives us the freedom to move and act according to His will. We see at least three ways that happens in this passage:
1. They were united in prayer.
Don’t miss that little detail at the start. They weren’t just shooting the breeze there in Jerusalem; they were earnestly praying, not in isolation, but with each other. They were actively seeking their next step in prayer as they were waiting. We have the tendency sometimes to use the sovereignty of God as an excuse for doing just the opposite – not praying. Not thinking. Not being together. Because, after all, God is going to do what God is going to do. But in this case, the group remembers together that God is indeed going to do what He said He is going to do and part of His plan of action involved human agents.
2. They used their God-given wisdom.
It’s wonderful to see that they didn’t haphazardly move – their action wasn’t done out of frustration with the seeming silence from heaven. Instead, they thought about the situation and brought their collective wisdom together to say that they needed another person to replace Judas. But not just anyone. Even then, they had the foresight to know they needed someone who had walked with Jesus and who had witnessed His resurrection. Another eye witness to give testimony in the days ahead.
Wisdom is an incredible gift, and one that should be put to good use. And along with that wisdom, God has given us the gift of each other. We are more wise together than we are alone.
3. They acted and they trusted.
This group knew that no matter what plans or decisions they made, the ultimate decision rested with the Lord. He had the final say. That’s not to argue that, with every decision, we simply throw the options in a hat and draw one out; it is to say that in the end, when we make a decision, we can walk confidently in that decision knowing that God will exert His sovereign influence to shape that decision in the way He wants it to be shaped.
But also notice that they never assumed that this decision would somehow take the place of what God had promised. Choosing Matthais was not evidence of these disciples trying to push along God’s time table to deliver this power He promised; it was simply a decision that needed to be made in preparation for what they believed was coming.
Be encouraged today, Christian, that God is sovereign. He rules over all. And He is working. Don’t let that knowledge move you toward fatalism and decision paralysis; let it instead motivate you to do the next right thing as you wait for Him in faith.