Are you impatient like me? Impatient? I don’t like traffic. I don’t like getting off an airplane. I don’t like anybody in a store who thinks that a check is an acceptable way to pay for a bill, particularly if they cannot find a pen. Have you ever said this: “Hurry up! Hurry up!” You ever said that? I’ve said it to a microwave. I am not an incredibly patient person. In fact, I’m an impatient person. And I know patience is a virtue, and one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience, and it’s all very convicting. I’ll be honest with you: I’m not very patient. And I get really impatient when there’s an opportunity or a goal set before me.
Any of you like that? There’s something on your horizon: it’s an opportunity that’s set before you—next season of life. Maybe it’s something you’re excited about, something you’ve been waiting for. Well, then, you just want to get to work, right? Are you like that? Are you a doer, like, “All right, just tell me what to do, get out of the way because I’m proceeding forward, going to get this done.” That’s me. What I don’t like is a four-letter word called “wait,” OK? “Wait” is—ugh—and it’s a word that Jesus uses, which means I’m wrong.
So, what we see in the book of Acts—we’re in Acts 1:12–26—is that people had been waiting for Jesus, all the way back. So, here we go. If you’re new, we’ll do the whole Bible in a minute. So, God made us, we sinned against him, death came into human history, a promise was made that Jesus was coming—Genesis 3:15. How long did they have to wait for Jesus to come? A couple thousand years. That’s a long wait, right? Long wait—way, way, way worse than, like, 2G or dial-up. This is a serious wait. And then Jesus comes, he lives without sin, he dies for sin, he rises from death. We see in the opening pages of Acts that he appeared for forty days, evidencing his resurrection, and he told them, “Here it is. You’re going to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth. I’ve got a global mission, something huge for you to do. You’ve been waiting thousands of years. Now go tell everyone that I’ve come, but”—what’s he say? “Wait.” What? “Wait.”
Waiting is hard, right? How many of you were students? School’s almost out! Waiting is hard. You’re single, you might have met somebody, you’re not sure yet. Waiting is hard. You’re engaged to be married, but you’re not married. You’ve gotta wait. You want to have a kid, you’re trying to have a kid, maybe you’re pregnant, maybe the kid isn’t here yet, maybe the kid showed up but the kid won’t sleep. Wait. It’s very hard to wait. It’s very hard to wait. Jesus gives them the whole purpose of their existence. “You’re going to glorify me by being a witness to the world. But first, wait, and I’ll send you the Holy Spirit, and he will empower you with my presence to be on my mission to my glory.” So, they’ve got to wait. They’ve got to wait. And that’s the early church.
What do you do when you’re waiting? How many of you do as I have done? You just plow forward: “I’m not going to wait; I’m just going to go,” and you make a mess of it. You do it wrong; you have to go back and fix it. How many of you get distracted, you do something else, you waste time, you get frustrated, you get bitter, you complain?
UNITY FOLLOWS PRAYER
What are they going to do? Set before them is the biggest mission in the history of the world, the one that God’s people have been waiting for a few thousand years. “Jesus has risen from death. Go tell the world!” And they’ve got to wait. What are they going to do while they wait? Read with me Acts 1:12–14. It’s going to be convicting, at least for me, maybe for you, too.
Here’s what we read, that unity follows prayer. Acts 1:12–14, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem.” They’re actually right next to each other. It’s a pretty quick little walk. “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”—that might indicate his political persuasion—“and Judas the son of James.”
Let me just say this: here’s everybody’s names. Isn’t that guy bummed that his name was Judas? There was more than one disciple named Judas. There’s that Judas and then the other Judas. Aren’t you bummed if you’re the other Judas? You’re like, “Oh, who are you?” “Well, I’m one of Jesus disciples, apostles. That’s what I—” “Really? I’ve heard of Jesus and the apostles. What’s your name?” “My name is Judas.” “Oh, I’ve heard of you.” “I’m the other Judas,” right? “I’m Oswald Bin Laden. I’m a different guy.” That guy explained it a lot, right? He just changed his name tag, right? It’s like, “What’s your name?” “Something else.” But his name was “Judas the son of James.”
“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to”—what? “To prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” So, Jesus says he’s God; Jesus dies for sin; Jesus rises from death; Jesus appears for forty days; Jesus proves that he’s conquered Satan, sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God; Jesus gives us the biggest mission in the history of the world; Jesus tells us to wait for the Holy Spirit’s power, and in that time, they do three things that are good patterns for us to learn from—gathering, praying, and unifying.
They’re gathering in the upper room. This is a flat-roof home, on top of which would have been built a pretty simple structure. This is where you can have guests stay with you, you could use it for meetings and events, you could also rent it out. These tended to be not very posh circumstances, conditions. This was the kind of place that the poor would rent. I mean, think about it—no air conditioning, you’re up on the roof, you’re baking, it’s hot, it’s uncomfortable. This is not a lavishly funded early ministry and church.
And they’re meeting in the upper room. We’re not sure which upper room they’re meeting in. It may have been the same upper room where Jesus convened his disciples for the Last Supper. They met also in an upper room, so they may be meeting and convening in that same place.
They give us the list of who is there, and there’s one group that is particularly noteworthy—Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers, together with the women. So there’s men and women. Jesus loves all people. The church is comprised of men and women, and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers.
HE IS WHO HE SAYS HE IS
For those of you who are not Christian—or not yet Christian—or you’re skeptical, I want you to see that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know some of you say, “Well, that’s unusual.” Oh, we know. We know. We know that the resurrection of the dead is unusual. That’s why we call it a miracle. We made a holiday around it. It’s sort of a thing for us because it doesn’t happen more than once, amen? So, one dead guy rises—hmm. It’s a thing to us. And so what I need you to see is that we don’t just believe this because we find it interesting or compelling or a curious story, but because there are reasons, evidences, historically, that are very compelling when accumulated together into a case.
And one of those is right here. Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers are gathered together in the early church worshiping Jesus, her Son, their big Brother, as Creator, Lord, God, Savior, sinless King, and Christ. These are devout Jewish people, who know if you worship the wrong God you go to hell. So you’ve got to get this right.
How many of you are mothers with sons? How many of you mothers would not publicly worship your son as a sinless deity? OK, any of you wooden spoon-touting mothers agree with me that you would never publicly say, “Yes, my son never sinned and he is God.” Mary worships him as God. This is the last time we see Mary in the New Testament, and if that wasn’t enough, his brothers. Now, I looked it up for you. Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 give us a list of Jesus’ brothers. There’s at least five of Jesus’ brothers mentioned in the New Testament. It says elsewhere that he had sisters. So he had at least two sisters and five brothers, so at least eight kids in this family. Big family—big, beautiful family. Jesus is the oldest; he’s the firstborn. He had no earthly father. Mary and Joseph, after Jesus was born, enjoyed normal marital relations. They had at least five boys and at least two girls, and the boys worshiped their big Brother as God, OK?
How many of you have a big brother? How many of you, if you had to choose between him being God or Satan, you would choose that he is Satan? OK, all right? How many of you publicly would not stand up and say, “My big brother is without sin,” all right? Because you have scars that indicate otherwise, right?—emotional and physical scars that explain and articulate otherwise. During his earthly life, Jesus’ family thought that he had lost his mind. Would you not? “Hey Mom, where’s Jesus?” “He’s out preaching, teaching, water skiing without a boat, declaring himself to be Creator, Lord, Savior, God, King, and Christ.” “Mom, do you think we should go pick him up?” “Yes I do. We’re going take him home, we’re going to give him pudding, and we’re going to lock the door, and we’re just going to keep him where nobody can find him. Jesus’ oars are not in the water. He is not doing well, OK?” That’s what his family thought about him.
How many of you, if your brother was saying the things that Jesus said, you would go pick him up? You’d go pick him up. “You know what? He’s not well. We need to save him from himself. We need to get him home and we need to just get rid of this crowd that’s following him. He’s not making any sense.” That’s what his family thought of him until he rose from death.
And then Mary and Jesus’ brothers decided, “Oh my goodness, he’s God. He conquered death. We saw him die. We saw him rise. He is who he says he is.” So, James and Jude, two of Jesus’ brothers, become pastors. James leads the church of Jerusalem, writes the book of James in the Bible. Jude becomes a pastor, writes the book of Jude in the Bible. Here they are, part of the early church, worshiping Jesus as God. Why do they do that, Mars Hill? Why is Mary, this wonderful woman, why are these brothers, these devout men—why are they worshiping Jesus as God? Why are they worshiping him as God? He’s God. And he rose from death to prove it. So, they gathered together.
I want you to see that we do the same. We gather in big groups on Sundays. We gather in small groups during the week called Community Groups. God’s people are to be gathering together. Here, you’ll read in verse 15 in just a moment, there are how many people in the first church, early Christianity? How many people? About 120.
Here’s what’s interesting: if you go over to 1 Corinthians 15—I’ll just summarize it for you—it says that when Jesus rose from death, he appeared to crowds of people, upwards of five hundred at one time. He did so, Acts 1 tells us, over the course of forty days—groups large and small. What this means is that hundreds, maybe thousands of people, saw Jesus risen from death. How many people joined the early church and gathered together as the church? A hundred and twenty. It struck me as I was reading it this week—that means there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who saw Jesus rise from death, and they still didn’t join the church.
See, some would say, “Well, I’m not a Christian because there’s not enough evidence.” And even those who had the evidence of the risen Jesus were unwilling to turn from sin, trust in him, and join the church. It’s not always that the mind is unconvinced, but often it is the heart that is unwilling.
In about a year, I’ve got a sermon series coming up I’m really excited about. We’ve commissioned a research firm that does work for political groups and businesses to go out and do a data study on those who are unchurched and dechurched, eighteen to forty-four. “What are your primary objections to Christianity?” We’re going to take the top eight and make it a sermons series. And the research is still ongoing, but the early returns indicate that upwards of 85 percent of those polled say, “There’s credible evidence that Jesus was God and rose from death, and I’m not a Christian because I want to do what I want to do.”
Things have not changed. Jesus rises from death. Many see him. Only a few follow him, and they gathered together. And as God’s people, we need to gather together, amen? We need to gather together on Sunday. We need to gather together in Community Group through the course of the week. And what do they do? What do they do, Mars Hill? They pray. This is convicting for me. Again, I’m someone who doesn’t want to waste time but wants to get to work. Well, they have got a lot of work to do. He’s telling 120 people who don’t have a map or an airplane to reach the nations. They have a lot to do. And they’re not wasting their time; they’re investing their time in prayer. It says it this way: “devoting themselves to prayer.” This issue of devotedness was ongoing, it was constant, it was integrated, it was their priority, it was involved in the course of their day.
PRAYER PRECEDES DOING
Mars Hill, I want you to see that praying precedes doing. OK, how many of you, like me, are a doer? Praying precedes doing. And what tends to happen in Christianity is there are prayers and there are doers. The doers just go to work, OK? And then, when we make a mistake, we pray things like, “Sorry,” “Help,” “Fix it.” So, we do pray, but we pray after we’ve made a mess, OK? Any of you done that? You’re like, “I pray after I ruin everything.” And other people are not doers as much as they’re prayers. And they’re like, “You know what? I’ll just pray; God’ll do it. I’ll pray; God’ll take care of it.” Here’s the truth: God wants us to pray and do—and pray before we do—because God is calling them to bring the gospel to the nations as God is calling us to bring the gospel to the nations. So, there’s work for us to do, but it has to be preceded by praying.
Now, just praying alone isn’t enough because God wants to work through his people, so his people need to get to work. But just working—well, we could pick the wrong work, we could do it the wrong way, we could go at the wrong time, we could have the wrong leaders, we could make all kinds of mistakes. And so praying precedes working; praying precedes doing. I want you to see that the time they spent praying—I think it’s going to be about ten days if memory serves me correctly—is not wasted time; it’s invested time. How many of you, you don’t pray for much, and if you do, you don’t pray for an extended period? They’re praying over the course of ten days.
PRAYER IS A MIRACLE
Now, let me say this about prayer: prayer is a miracle, and I don’t want you to ever lose sight of this. Prayer is an absolutely miracle, and if we pull back and think about it—and I want you to think about it with me for a moment—there’s the physical, material world we live in of visible, physical, tangible things. And then there’s the invisible, immaterial, spiritual world behind it. It’s as if there is a veil between the two. And God, who lives in the realm of spirit, created this physical world in which we live. He rules over it, and he works in it, though he is separate from it. And what is very interesting is that we sin against God, and it separates us from God, and we have no way to pass through that veil to enter into the presence of God and back into relationship with God.
And so God, in his grace, passes through that veil. He goes from the realm of spirit into the physical world, which he’s made. That’s Jesus. He’s eternally God. He’s the Creator of heaven and earth. He did not dwell in a physical body for all eternity. God, who is Spirit, added to himself human flesh, passed through that veil, and entered into human history. We call that the Incarnation, carne meaning “flesh”—that God took upon himself a physical body, and he entered into human history.
And so now, the spirit world of God has entered into the physical world, in which men and women live, and Jesus lives without sin, and he dies for our sin, and he forgives our sin. And when he dies, there’s a veil in the temple that is literally torn from top to bottom, from God to man, showing that this veil that separates the physical and the spiritual, the world in which we live and the realm in which God rules has been removed, and now God is welcoming us into his presence.
And see, all of this is alluded to earlier in Acts 1 when Jesus ascended into heaven. It’s not that he just went into another orbit, but he literally, out of their sight, entered into another dimension. He passed through that proverbial spiritual veil, and he went back into his heavenly kingdom. And today, he is ruling and reigning and seated upon his throne.
Now, here’s what’s amazing: when we pray, we are communicating from our world into that world. It’s miraculous. It’s miraculous. Many of you would say, “I’ve never seen a miracle.” If you’ve prayed, you’ve participated in one. I’m never certain exactly how all of this works, but I’m so blessed that it does, amen?—that somehow I can speak, and God can hear, and I can take requests and needs and fears and frustrations and longings, and I can communicate those to a living, loving, spiritual God, who’s made me with a soul so that I can be filled with the Holy Spirit and belong to him.
And all of this is a miracle. And it’s made possible, friends, only through Jesus. You may say, “Well, other people in other religions pray.” Yes, but their prayers do not get beyond the roof in the place that they pray, because we need a mediator, we need someone who has passed through to connect us to God, to connect this world to its Creator, to connect this fallen, physical world to that flawless, spiritual world. And that’s Jesus. He’s our mediator.
So, what the early church realizes here is that Jesus has gone to heaven, he’s entered into another realm. But as he promised, he’s not abandoned them as orphans. He said he would never leave them nor forsake them, so they could still talk to him through this miracle of prayer. And he’s available, and he’s willing to hear and answer their prayers. So, they are gathering, they are praying, and they are praying before they’re doing, to prepare them for their working.
PRAYER CHANGES US
Now, let me say this: they are not praying that God would do something. One of the great misnomers of prayer is that the primary purpose of prayer is to get God to do something. This is going to be controversial: I do not believe that the primary purpose of prayer is to get God to do something. I believe that the primary purpose of prayer is to allow God to do something with us. It’s not to move God; it’s to move us. It’s not to change God; it’s to change us. It’s not to tell God something he doesn’t know; it’s for God to tell us something that we don’t know. It’s not to change the heart of God; it’s to change our heart. Yes, God does hear and answer prayer, but hear me in this: Jesus already told them, “You will be my witnesses.” That’s not a question; that’s a promise. “I will send the Holy Spirit.” That’s not a possibility; that’s a certainty.
So, what they’re not praying is, “Send the Holy Spirit, and let us go on mission.” Those things Jesus has already promised and assured. I’ll tell you right now, you don’t need to pray that one day the dead in Christ will rise. You know why? They will because Jesus has promised it. You don’t need to pray, “Jesus, one day, judge the living and the dead.” He already has promised that he will. You see what I’m saying? If God has promised something, we don’t need to ask him to do it. What we need to do is ask him to participate in it. So, the prayer here is not to get Jesus to do something, to get the Holy Spirit to do something. It’s to get God’s people in agreement and in alignment with what Jesus and the Holy Spirit want them to do. Do you understand that?
So, how many of you, you start praying, “God, do this, do this, do this, do this, do this,” and you realize over time God uses prayer to change you. “God, I’m sorry that I’m bossing you around. God, I’m sorry that I think I see everything. God, I’m sorry that I think I know everything. God, I’m sorry that I don’t trust you. God, I’m sorry that I seem to think I live on a throne and you’re ready to take my orders.” All of a sudden, you’re realizing, “Man, prayer is changing me.” And prayer is inviting God to change us. Prayer is inviting God to change us. How many of you, when you’ve prayed, God’s the same, but you’re the one who needs to change? You see that?
ONE ACCORD, ONE HEART, ONE MIND
So, they’re gathering, they’re praying, and the result is it’s unifying. It’s unifying. It says that they were with—what’s the word? “One accord.” The Bible used the language of unity as “one accord,” “one heart,” “one mind.” They were together, right? There’s that word as well—“together.” This is all biblical language for unity. And Jesus prayed that we would be one. In his longest prayer in John 17, he says, “Father, I pray that they would be one as we are one.” Jesus prays in John 17, “Father, I pray that they”—the Christians—“would be one as we are one.”
And so here, you’ve got God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. One God. One God. One God. Three persons. One God. And Jesus prays that we, as God’s people, would be one—one heart, one mind, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one mission, one book, right? We’d be one. What comes first, praying or unifying? See, we don’t just pray with people who are believers that we’re unified with, we pray with believers so that we might become unified with them. Here’s the little equation I’d give you: gathering plus praying equals unifying. Gathering plus praying equals unifying. They gather, they pray, and they become unified.
So, let me say this. There’s two roommates, single people living together. They’re both Christians, driving each other crazy. How do they work toward unity? Gathering, praying. Pray for one another, pray with one another. Eventually, you’ll have unity. A husband and a wife not getting along, right? It’s not going well, it’s a hard patch, they don’t agree, they’re having conflicts. What’s the answer? Gather, pray for one another, pray with one another. Family’s divided, not getting along, a lot of drama. What’s the answer? Gather, pray for one another, pray with one another. Community Group driving each other crazy, right? What’s the answer? Gather, pray for one another, pray with one another. Church is experiencing a divisive season, difficult circumstances. What’s the answer? Gathering together, praying together, because gathering plus praying equals unifying.
Most of the time, we don’t have a unity problem; we have a prayer problem that manifests itself as a unity problem. But people who pray together stop trying to—“You need to agree with me. You need to do what I want you to do,” “No, you need to change your mind. I’m not going to be the one who submits or relents.” And when we pray, we’re saying, “Jesus, what do you want? Get us both to stand in your will. Have us think as you want us to think, have us to act as you want us to act. Our unity is not in one of us coercing the other, but both of us submitting to you.” You see that?
So, they’re not wasting their time; they’re investing their time gathering and unifying through prayer so that when the Holy Spirit does come, they’re ready to go serve the nations together, OK?
I am firmly convinced that the Holy Spirit has been on Mars Hill, faithfully pouring out grace year after year. But if we don’t have regular seasons of gathering and praying, we won’t experience the unity that is required to complete the mission we’ve been called to, OK?
LEADERS FOLLOW SCRIPTURE
Number two, leaders follow Scripture. Acts 1:15–20, “In those days Peter”—here’s the leader—“stood up”—that’s a leadership act, right?—“among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120 people) and said, ‘Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas.’”
Now, we’re in a real crisis. We’re gonna learn about Judas—“‘who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’” He was one of the twelve. It continues, “(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.” Pretty gruesome, right? “And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama.” Very, very Middle Earth. “That is, the Field of Blood.” What a great punk band that would be—“The Field of Blood.” “For it is written in the Book of Psalms”—and he quotes two psalms—“‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’” and then, secondly, “‘Let another take his office.’”
They have a crisis. Leadership transitions in ministry are always hard, and this one is particularly hard. Jesus picked twelve guys, one of them betrayed him, was complicit in his murder—his name is Judas Iscariot—and he went out and killed himself. The gospels say that he hung himself. Here, we get some additional information that his insides burst out. Either he hanged there long enough that his body fell or he became bloated until he burst. Either way, it’s gruesome.
Now, think about it: at this point, Christianity is not a few billion people as it is on the earth today; it’s 120 people. They’re all gathering in one room. Jesus has returned to his heavenly kingdom. Of the twelve leaders, Judas has killed himself. Difficult transition, right? Somebody needs to say something; somebody needs to do something. That someone is Peter. Peter is the human leader.
Mars Hill, I need you to see this, that God works through leaders. He works through political leaders. In the family, he works through parents. In the church, he works through pastors. God works through leaders. Here, he’s working through apostles. God works through leaders. God works through leaders, and anytime you think it is noble to just de facto rebel against authority, you’re putting yourself in grave danger. See, we live in a day today where rebellion against authority is a noble thing. And some will say, “Well, the authority is not holy.” Neither are the rebels. We’re all sinners, but God still works through authority.
This begins with the Trinity. God the Father sends God the Son. Even that language of “Father” and “Son” indicates some submission, some hierarchy, some deference. They’re equal—they’re totally equal—sharing all the divine attributes, but the Father sends the Son. The Son says, “I say what the Father tells me to say. I do what the Father tells me to do.” And he says things like, “Not my will be done but your will be done.” Jesus respects authority. Even as a little boy, he respects his parents’ authority. And then the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is in agreement and obedience to the plan of the Father and the Son. So, God himself demonstrates equality with submission to authority, and he calls us to respect authority and to pray for those in authority and to honor those in authority and to obey those in authority.
And here, they’ve got a real crisis. What they don’t need is a bunch of politicking and everybody putting together their plan about what they think is the best idea and then ending up with some compromise in an effort to get a majority vote from a congregationally governed church. What they need is a leader. And it’s Peter.
They never voted for Peter to be their leader. Jesus just appointed him. Every time the list of the disciples is given in the Bible of the apostles, Peter’s always listed first. Why? All right, we just read it in the previous verses. Who’s listed first? Peter. Why? He’s the first among equals. He’s the leader, and so he steps forward. He steps up. He’s going to lead the people.
How’s he going to lead them? This is very important, very critical. He’s going to lead them by following Scripture. Leaders follow Scripture, all right? Godly leaders follow God’s Word. That’s the way it works. Peter doesn’t stand up and say, “Well, let’s take a poll. Let’s take a vote. What do you guys think? Let’s look to all kinds of other sources.”
There may be good information in the social sciences and business and the culture. People may have some good ideas, but ultimately, everything rises and falls with us coming back to the Bible, back to the Bible, back to the Bible, and asking, “What has God said?” I want you to see, they start with prayer and then they move to Scripture.
Prayer is how we talk to God; Scripture is how God talks to us, OK? So, in prayer, we’re talking to God and he uses prayer to change us, and then as we open Scriptures, we’re submitting ourselves to the authority of God’s Word so that then we might know how to walk out God’s plan in our life.
THE SCRIPTURE HAD TO BE FULFILLED
Now, Mars Hill, there are certain things, for seventeen years almost every week, I’ve been stressing and stressing and stressing. Guys, I love you very much, and I know that some of you will only be with me for a short season, and I know that some of you, because of work or school or God’s calling on your life, you’re going to go elsewhere—you’re going to scatter for Jesus’ mission. And there are certain themes that I constantly emphasize in my teaching because I want you grasp them and take them as your own.
What I want to now share with you is one of those most deepest and significant convictions that I have and that I pray that we would have and that you would have. And it’s found in Acts 1:16. Here’s what Peter says, “The Scripture.” So, what are we talking about? We’re talking about God’s Word. God’s Word. We love God’s Word, right? We believe God’s Word, we trust God’s Word, we study God’s Word, we memorize God’s Word, we come back to God’s Word. This is what Peter’s doing. Peter is deciding who the twelfth apostle, the replacement for Judas, will be, and he goes back to the Bible. That’s where we always need to go back to God’s Word. “The Scripture had to be”—what? “Fulfilled.” This is an echo. This is an echo of Jesus, who said, “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets. I’ve come to”—what? “Fulfill them.” So, this is an echo of Jesus. Jesus came as a Bible teacher. He was a rabbi. That’s a Bible teacher. And he said, “I’ve come to fulfill everything that the Scriptures say.”
Mars Hill, I need you to know this: everything God promises comes to pass. Twenty-five percent of the Bible, at the time of its writing, was prophetic in nature, prophesying in advance what would happen, most of that surrounding the person and work of Jesus. Much of that has already been fulfilled, all right? A virgin gave birth to a Son, all right? He lived without sin, he was taken to the temple, he died on the cross, he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven. The Bible prophesied all of these things—hundreds, thousands of years in advance.
And now, we’re in the time between the times, between the first and second coming of Jesus, and we’re waiting for the conclusion of his fulfilling. And this is the season of human history where the church is unleashed by the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to the nations, to plant churches, to make disciples, to tell people that Jesus is God, to tell people that Jesus is Lord, to tell people that Jesus is alive, to tell people that Jesus forgives sin, to tell people that Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. And there’s a period of time—it’s a unique period of time in the history of the world—and we are a part of it. We’re a part of it—between Jesus’ first and second coming. And when he comes again, everything else that we’ve been waiting for the fulfillment of will come to pass just as God’s Word promised, because the Scripture has to be—what? It has to be fulfilled. God knows the future, God tells us the future, and God prepares us for the future that he has planned for us. The Scripture had to be fulfilled.
Now, this is amazing. Are you ready? This is amazing. “Which the”—read it with me—who? “Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David.” Peter gets up, quotes two psalms. Says, “Here’s what we need to do: we need to obey the Bible. Here in Psalms, it says this.” Peter says it was David’s voice, but whose words? The Holy Spirit’s words. Do you get that? David’s voice, the Holy Spirit’s words. This is where we get the dual authorship of Scripture. The Holy Spirit wrote the Bible through human authors. It may be Luke’s pen, but it’s the Holy Spirit’s words. It may be David’s voice, but it’s the Holy Spirit’s words. Do you get that? I’m not making this up, right? I’m not making this up, Mars Hill. There it is. The Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of David.
THE ONLY PERFECT THING ON EARTH
I’m gonna give you three big words, all right? “Verbal plenary inspiration,” OK? This is what we believe at Mars Hill. If you’re new, this is what we believe. Verbal—that the very words of Scripture, not just the concepts and the big ideas, are the very words of the Bible—verbal. Plenary—in the whole Bible, in the whole Bible. So, there’s not a part of the Bible that we do like Thomas Jefferson did and get a set of scissors and say, “Well, gonna cut that out and throw it on the floor, and get that and throw it on the floor, and cut that out and throw it on the floor.” Why? Well, because we don’t believe that the whole of Scripture is from God, only parts, and we’re here to be God’s editors, not God’s messengers. We don’t believe that. Verbal plenary—the very words in all of the Bible. Verbal plenary inspiration—it’s the Holy Spirit giving us the revealed truth of God. It’s a miracle.
Mars Hill, that means that the only perfect thing on the earth is the Word of God. Nothing else on earth is perfect. And it also means, Mars Hill, that there’s no book on the earth that is anything like this. You can’t go to a John Grisham novel or, you know, the latest self-help book on Oprah or with Dr. Phil. You can’t go to the latest “How to Fix Your Life” trend seminar and have them get up and say, “And this is the Word of God.” And if they do, run for your life unless they are reading this book, amen? There’s nothing like this. There’s nothing that matches this in authority. There’s nothing else that can say, “And this is the book that God wrote.”
And I tell you this: every opposition, every hammering that comes against the Word of God is demonic in nature. It’s trying to take the Word of God, make it a human word about God, reduce it from it’s place of authority, and just leave it in a place of conjecture and speculation, along with philosophy, morality, and spirituality. And it’s not. It’s the living, active Word of God. It’s God speaking through people so that when we hear what the Scriptures say, we are hearing from God. That’s what we believe, OK?
At Mars Hill, we get excited about this, and the Bibles are free. Take all you want on your way out. You’ll get to a point that says, “Thou shalt not steal,” but you’re not stealing. You’re welcome to take them, amen?
OK, so leaders follow what? Scripture. If a leader isn’t following the Bible, don’t follow the leader.
MISSION FOLLOWS FAILURE
Mission follows failure. Acts 1:21–26. “‘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’”—that’s Jesus’ cousin—“‘until the day he was taken up from us.’” It records it in Acts 1: “‘One of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.’ And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas.” Here’s a little caveat. “Bar” means “son of,” so when you read in the Bible, “Bar-, Bar-, Bar-, Bar-, Bar-,” who are all these “Bar” guys? It’s “Son of, son of, son of.” So Simon Barjonah is Simon, the son of Jonah. Barsabbas, well that’s Sabbath. He was probably born on a Saturday, the Jewish Saturday, so he’s son of the Sabbath, “Who was also called Justus, and Matthias”—which means gift from God.
“And they prayed”—oh, what are they doing? Look at that, Mars Hill. They’ve got to pick leaders—what are they doing? They’re not voting. They’re not voting; they are praying for God’s vote. You know what’s better than voting? Praying for God’s vote, praying for God’s vote. “They prayed and said, ‘You, Lord.’” And look at this, Mars Hill. They put a prayer in the Bible. Must be important, right? Praying is important. It’s important enough to make the Bible. “You, Lord, know the hearts of all.”
Here’s the truth: when it comes to selecting human leaders in the church, leadership transitions can be particularly hard, and we’ve all got to watch our hearts. You say, “Well, I like this person; I don’t like them. I want this; I don’t want that. I wish it was like this; I wish it was not like that.” You know what? Lord, who do you want? Who do you want?
“‘To take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’” Judas walked away from God and his people, and he went to his own place, ultimately the grave and hell. “And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Here, he talks about Judas Iscariot. He has to deal with this. Everybody knows what’s happened to Judas. Peter needs to explain it and what do we do now.
6 SIGNS JUDAS WAS AN UNBELIEVER
Before I get into some of the specifics on this, let me answer a very common question. And it is, Did Judas lose his salvation? How many of you’ve pondered that question? Was Judas a believer who lost his salvation and became an unbeliever? Because the story of Judas—if you’re unaware, Jesus chose twelve senior leaders, apostles, disciples. They were with him for three years. They heard him preach, teach; they saw him cast out demons, walk on water; they saw him perform miracles. And there was a guy named Judas who betrayed him with a kiss and handed him over to the authorities to be murdered. Judas was a pretend friend. Judas was Jesus’ betrayer, and then Judas went out and committed suicide and killed himself.
And then the question is, Was he ever a Christian? That’s the question. What’s the answer? Was Judas a Christian who lost his salvation? And might I submit to you that that’s the wrong question. The question is not, “Can we lose our salvation?” The question is, “Can Jesus lose one of his people? Can Christ lose a Christian?” We don’t earn our salvation, so we can’t unearn our salvation. Jesus says that no one can snatch us from his hand. That would include ourselves. Judas was never a believer.
Here’s what’s scary for you and me: you can be close to Jesus but not close to Jesus. You can be close to people who are close to Jesus and not close to Jesus. You can have a roommate who loves Jesus and not love Jesus. You can have a mom and a dad who love Jesus and not love Jesus. You can have a family that loves Jesus but not love Jesus. You can be in a Community Group that loves Jesus and not love Jesus. You can be in church that loves Jesus and not love Jesus. That’s Judas. It’s an opportunity for us all to examine our heart. “Do I love Jesus?”
Number one, the Bible refers to him as the son of perdition. The only other person I’ve seen referenced by that title is the anti-Christ. So, let’s just say that’s an unbeliever’s title, amen?
Number two, he is called the one who was doomed for destruction. God knew exactly what he was going to do. And some of you are going to get confused by this. As soon as you hear, “doomed to destruction,” you’ll think, “Oh, so he was a victim. God made him betray Jesus. He’s part of the cosmic plan.” God knew what he was going to do, and he still did it. God’s not the one who made him do it; God’s the one who knew what he would do. God is sovereign over it, and Judas is responsible for it, so he is absolutely responsible for his betrayal of Jesus. He is the one doomed to destruction.
Number three, Judas never loved Jesus; he loved money, and he used Jesus to get money. He was a lover of money. He was the CFO, the CEO, the Executive Pastor of Jesus’ ministry. The money would come in, and Judas would keep the books, and Judas would cook the books, and Judas would put his hand in the till and then put the money in his pocket. And the Bible says that he did this for the entire duration of his participation in the ministry of Jesus. He stole from Jesus for three years. That’s an unbeliever. And then when they came to him, they said, “Judas, we’ll give you thirty pieces of silver if you give us Jesus.” What did he do? He took the deal. He would rather have the money than Jesus. He would rather have the money than Jesus. That’s an unbeliever.
Number four, in John 6, Jesus looks at his disciples and he says, “One of you is the devil.”
Number five, it says in John 6 that Jesus looked at the disciples and then it says, “And he knew from the beginning which would betray him.”
And number six, at the Last Supper, we are told that Judas opened his heart and welcomed Satan into his heart, that he was demon-possessed. He was Satan-possessed, OK? Judas was not a godly man who had a bad day. Judas was an ungodly man who got exposed on one day. Who he was was simply revealed at the betrayal of Jesus; it was not changed.
The Bible is not primarily about leadership, but there sure are a lot of amazing case studies, and this is one of them. What you’ll see, as we continue in the book of Acts, is that ministry transitions are hard for God’s people. Some people transition wonderfully. There’s a case in Acts 13 where there’s a bunch of preachers, and the Holy Spirit tells them, “Well, these guys preach here, and these guys go plant a church and preach there, and we’re going to have more churches.” And they pray, and they send them out, and they bless them. It’s a wonderful transition! Other transitions are not wonderful; they’re woeful. This is a woeful transition.
Ideally, the way a transition would happen in ministry or in business or any other organization would kind of be like track. My daughter Ashley’s a sprinter. She runs the 100-meter, the 200-meter, the 4-by-100-meter, the 4-by-200-meter. Those are kind of the races, historically, that she’s participated in, and as I’ve talked to Ashley, I ask, “OK, well, tell me about track so I can be a good track dad.” And what Ashley has informed me is that in the 4-by-100-meter or the 4-by-200-meter—what’s the most important part of the race? It’s the handoffs. All right, if you don’t get the handoff right, the baton’s going to get dropped and then it’s over, or you’re going to have a bad handoff and it’s going to slow you down. Now, you’re in trouble. Ideally, you’d be going full speed, hit them in their transition, hand on the baton, off they go, good handoff.
Leadership is like that. Sometimes the baton gets dropped and you’re like, “Oh man, now we’re way behind. Now we’ve got a total mess.” Other times, somebody gets frustrated, walks off the track, and throws the baton up on the stands, and everybody else is out on the track like, “I don’t think they’re coming back. We need to go find that baton,” right? And it creates a lot of work, and all of a sudden, the whole team’s got to shut everything down and go pick up where they left off eventually.
Let me say this: part of your witness in ministry and part of your witness in business is not just doing a good job but having a good handoff when your job is done, caring enough to say, “I need to get the other person up to speed, and then I need to hand it to them and make sure they’re ready for success to carry the mission forward.” Some transitions are wonderful, and they’re like that. Others are woeful, and they’re like this.
LETTING GOD VOTE
And in my opinion, the two biggest leadership failures in the history of the world are Adam and then Judas. And here’s Judas. What are they going to do? They thought he was their friend. They were with him three years. They traveled with him, they ate with him, they prayed with him, they hung out with Jesus with him. And he wasn’t even a believer, and he betrayed Jesus, and he killed himself. So they come up with criteria by which to replace him. They had twelve tribes in Old Testament Israel; they have twelve apostles in new covenant Christianity. There is continuity here. They are the completion, the continuation, the fulfillment of the old covenant people of God, so they needed twelve.
They come up with two criteria—a man who’s an eyewitness. This is controversial to some, but in the Old Testament, the high spiritual authority were the priests, and they were all men. Jesus’ senior leadership team was twelve apostles, all men, and in the new covenant church, the highest authority, the spiritual leaders, are men called elders or pastors. We saw here that women are involved as well. Women are present; women have leadership roles. But the highest spiritual roles in the Old Testament, Jesus’ ministry in the new covenant, are all qualified men. So it has to be a man who is an eyewitness. He was there from Jesus’ baptism until his resurrection from death. He saw the life and ministry of Jesus.
They come down to two candidates. So, they have a leadership change, they have their criteria, then they pick their candidates, Barsabbas and Matthias. And then they’ve got to make their choice, and they don’t vote; they let God vote. And they do it through the casting of lots.
Now, this seems a little odd, right? Don’t see it like a casino. There’s not a craps table, right, and all the disciples, they’ve all got martinis and cigars, right? And it’s not Peter going, “All right, give me an apostle. Give me an apostle.” All right, it’s not like that, but they do roll the dice.
Here’s why they do it: Jesus chose the twelve, Judas is gone, they need to replace the twelve, Jesus still needs to make the decision who he wants, so they trust in the sovereignty of God. Proverbs 16:33 says it this way in the New Living Translation: “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”
Jesus picks Matthias. He joins the twelve. The team is now complete. He doesn’t become very prominent. He doesn’t write a book of the Bible. We don’t know a whole lot about him. He’s a more humble guy on the team. Church history tells us that maybe he became the apostle, the missionary, to Ethiopia. And now, everything’s set for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Everything’s set for the sending of the church into the world.
JUDAS & PETER
In closing, let me pull back from the story. Something struck me as I was prayerfully studying it this week. Who’s the person speaking in Acts 1? Right here, we’ve been studying it—who is that? It’s Peter. Who’s he talking about? Judas. Let’s look at these two men together for a moment. They both had Jesus as their pastor. Wouldn’t that be amazing? They both had the apostles as their Community Group. What a Community Group. They got some stuff done, amen? What a Community Group—twelve of them. They were given the same mission to extend the kingdom of God on the earth through the proclamation of the gospel and the planting of the churches. They both got to eat with Jesus. They both got to travel with Jesus. They both got to listen to Jesus. They both got to have Jesus pray over them. And they both failed Jesus.
We’ve looked at how Judas failed Jesus. Do you remember how Peter failed Jesus? As Jesus was arrested, falsely tried, his crucifixion was imminent. Peter was following, but he was following at a very careful distance. He wanted to see what would happen to Jesus, but he didn’t want it to happen to him. And a servant girl, maybe a teenage gal, comes up to Peter, “Hey, weren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” “No, never met him, don’t know him.” “Oh, your accent betrays you. You’re from Galilee. You’re one of those country boys.” “No, not me. Never met him, don’t know him.” Started cursing, declaring he never met Jesus. He denied Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus; Peter denied Jesus. Peter and Judas both failed Jesus.
What’s the difference between Peter and Judas? Judas walked away from God and his people, never returned. Ultimately, sin leads to death, and without ever repenting or apologizing or changing, Judas killed himself and sent himself to hell. Peter is now the human leader of Christianity on the earth, teaching a Bible study to Jesus’ mom and brothers.
What’s the difference between Peter and Judas? Not that they failed, but how they responded to it. Once Jesus rose from death, Peter heard, “Jesus is alive!” and Peter ran to the tomb, the Bible says. He wasn’t there first; the young guy was there first. He’s an old guy, so he gets there when he gets there. But he’s running to the tomb, and Jesus’ body is not there. Jesus has risen from death.
Peter and Jesus then have a meeting, and it’s one of the most tender, heartfelt moments in all of Scripture. Jesus is looking Peter in the eye, and I’m paraphrasing, but Peter apologizes: “I’m sorry. I failed you; you’ve never failed me. I abandoned you; you’ve never abandoned me. You needed me, and I wasn’t there for you.” Peter is devastated by his sin, he’s broken by his sin, he’s grieved over his sin and what it’s done to his relationship with Jesus.
What does Jesus do? He forgives him. “Yeah Peter, that’s why I died on the cross, so that you could be forgiven. I forgive you, Peter, but if you love me, feed my sheep.” See, Judas was about the money; Peter was about the comfort; Jesus is about the people, amen? Jesus is about people. “If you really love me, then teach the Bible. Feed my sheep. Take care of my people.” They all knew this.
The day comes. Peter stands up, and he feeds the sheep. He says, “You know, the Bible says in Psalms that this is what Jesus wants us to do.” He’s feeding the sheep by teaching the Word. What an amazing picture of the gospel that is.
The only difference between Judas and Peter is one brought their sin to Jesus and the other brought it to the grave. And this is a heavy word, but it’s a hopeful word, Mars Hill, because you’re not dead. Whatever sins you’ve committed as an unbeliever or even as a believer, today’s a great day. We should just bring it all to whom? We should just meet with Jesus. Say, “Jesus, I’m sorry. Please forgive me and use me like you did Peter to tell other people that you’re a God who forgives and gives grace, and let my miserable story be an example of how wonderful you are.” That’s Christianity, right? “That’s my story.”
So, if you’re here, the question is not, “Are we going to act like Judas and Peter?” The question is, “Will we respond like Judas or Peter?” I invite you to Jesus, be forgiven, be used for God’s mission, be restored to God’s plan for your life. If you’re alive, it’s just not too late.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND
In a moment, we’re going to give you an opportunity to respond. We’re going to take Communion, remembering Jesus’ broken body and shed blood. And this is where we come to Communion, and it’s kind of like having our little face-to-face meeting with Jesus, acknowledging our sin and his forgiveness. We’re going to sing and we’re going to celebrate because we have a God who loves us, and so we rejoice.
But first, we’re going to collect our tithes and offerings. And as the financial stewards take their position, I want you to know that part of giving is for our good. See, here, what was Judas’ problem? Take Jesus’ money, put it in my pocket. That was Judas’ life. How did that go for him? Good? Bad. When we give our tithes and offerings, what we’re saying is, “I take Jesus’ money out of my pocket, and I give it to his mission,” OK? We’re doing the opposite of what Judas did because we want to live in a way that is opposite of the way that Judas lived.
And as we’re taking our tithes and offerings, as well, I want to encourage you to see what God has at one of our fourteen Mars Hill churches. We’re a big family and God’s doing some wonderful things in Mars Hill Tacoma. So as we’re collecting our offering, I want you to see what Jesus is doing, and I want you to know how to be praying for Mars Hill Tacoma. And you’re going to meet my friend, Pastor Bubba, who’s been with us for over twelve years. He’s from Oklahoma. He’s a great guy. He’s actually got a huge belt buckle that says “Bubba.” You know that a man is wonderful who has his own name on his belt buckle. And he’ll introduce you to what’s going on at Mars Hill Tacoma.
Pastor Bubba: Hey Mars Hill Church, welcome to Tacoma. I’m Pastor Bubba, and I am privileged to lead Mars Hill Federal Way and help us plant Mars Hill Tacoma and plant other churches in the years ahead. There’s a great need for people to meet Jesus, and our hope is to see more people be saved by Jesus and experience redemption. What we’ve seen, especially, are marriages needing help, marriages that are broken—husband and wife cannot—they just can’t figure it out. They can’t do life. We’ve seen that happen and God step in and redeem those marriages.
A great story of redemption in marriage is one of our couples was struggling. They had just recently met Jesus, and prior to that, you know, the husband had committed adultery, but he had never told his wife. And then, you know, he meets Jesus, he’s saved, he confesses, he asks for forgiveness. What’s going to happen? Is Jesus going to fix the marriage? Is the marriage going to remain broken? Are they going to split? And we’ve seen God just redeem both of them and reconcile that marriage, and now they have a living testimony that God can redeem even the most broken marriages and build a legacy for the next generation through that family.
Well, for years, we’ve been looking for a permanent location in the Federal Way area. We weren’t able to find one. God has given us, though, a new home in Tacoma, which actually is great because it’s more strategically located to be in the center of the South Sound, to position us to be able to plant churches in various cities in the area in the years to come. And so we’re grateful for that home. We’re actually headed over there right now. I’m going to show it to you.
So, here we are in the Mars Hill Tacoma building. This is going to be the hub. This is going to be the place where we plant churches in the south region. And we are so grateful for a new home, but our new home needs some work. It needs some help. We need a new roof, we need electrical, we need bathrooms, we need the kids’ space to be fixed up. All of this to get the place ready so that we can move in and start sharing the gospel with not just one city but multiple cities. We really are a regional church reaching over fifteen cities in the south end, and our hope, our prayer is to plant churches in those various cities. And my heart is really this: to see many people meet Jesus and that Jesus’ name would be known, loved, and appreciated throughout the South Sound.
Yeah, you clap if you want. That’s good news.
Lord God, we thank you for the history of the church, a history that you are still writing as you make disciples and plant churches through your people. God, as we learned today, help us to be a people who are prayerful so that we might be unified. Help us to be a people who are biblical so that we might follow your will as revealed in your Word. And Lord God, let us boast in our failures, as it gives glory to your grace and allows others to have hope that their sins can be forgiven and their life can be used for Jesus, in whose name we gladly pray, amen.
Note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
How did the disciples begin executing the biggest mission in the history of the world? The Bible says that while waiting for the Holy Spirit, they devoted themselves to prayer—they talked to God. The apostles led by following Scripture—through it, God responded. Consequently, the early church experienced success—but not without undergoing failure first. What can we learn from what they did?
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