Completing Our Numbers (sermon text version)

Let me just start by reminding you, “Don’t open your box until we’re ready!”  This is a one-of-a-kind interactive sermon.  You may have heard of the Do-it-Yourself Messiah, you may have heard the Little Red Hen say, she’ll do it herself, or maybe you have done home improvements that were do-it-yourself.  This isn’t completely a do-it-yourself sermon, but there will be plenty of times today for us to do shout-outs and offer insights on completing our numbers.  So, don’t open that box yet!

In the flow of the book of Acts that we’ve been investigating over the past month, we’ve seen that the Holy Spirit will be coming and He’s the gift worth waiting for.  We’ve seen that the disciples were challenged to think beyond the way things always had been and were challenged in their thinking even further when Jesus went away.  Now, we’re at the point where the 11 remaining disciples are going to choose Judas’ replacement, not with just another warm body, but with one whose history, personal spiritual maturity and willing witness to the resurrection would make him ideally suited to work in synergy with the other disciples in a one-of-a-kind apostolic role.

jigsaw titleWhich brings us to today and completing our numbers.  Just as time spent with Jesus—what we called Necessary Time—was not just a time frame of 24 hours, but included amplitude of spiritual maturity, completing our numbers isn’t just a function of having a quantity. 

Completeness has both an element of quantity (the right number) and the quality (the right person).

Completing our numbers is both a quantity and quality thing.  Because it’s spiritual when we’re talking about the Church, the process by which we do things in the Church must be spiritual too.  It differs from how we do business everywhere else.

How does one go about making spiritual decisions in the Church?  How do you know when you’re finding the right person?

Taken as a whole with last week’s passage, today’s passage Acts 1:23-26 tells the rest of the story on how we complete our numbers.

Last week we saw that Peter appealed to Scripture and that they looked for someone who had the Necessary Time of preparation.  Today we’ll see a few more.  Let’s listen:

Acts 1:23 So they proposed 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.

Some of you may never have heard of these men before and maybe you’re wondering about the casting of lots.  Basically throwing dice. So before we get to the things that endure and a process of spiritual decision making, it’s worth noting that there are three lasts in this passage.

  1. This is the last we hear of Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus.
  2. This is the last we ever hear of Matthias.
  3. And this is the last recorded time in the Bible in which people cast lots to find out the will of God.

Casting lots is something recorded throughout the Old Testament—and we heard about in our Scripture reading this morning from Proverbs 16—as a way of discerning the will of God.  We see this in Exodus 28:30 Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD.

How did they know what God wanted back then?  Throw dice, polished stones, or the Urim and the Thummim to help make the decisions.  Because God gave this means, it’s not luck!  But it does eliminate the possibility of the person making the decision playing favorites or resorting to means other than God’s choice.

In our passage today, we’re not talking about lucky snake eyes, but we are talking about a spiritual process of completing our numbers.  About discerning God’s will for His Church.  So let’s circle back to the beginning of the process that we saw last week.

It starts with a spiritual leader (one who differs from a business leader).  Step 1 in the process: We need a Spiritual Leader who looks to the Word!

Acts 1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)

What gave him the right to stand up and be their leader?  Let’s just acknowledge that he rose to leadership among the 12 while Jesus was still among them.  If you read John 1:35-51, you’ll see that Peter was not the first disciple chosen, and he wasn’t even the first in his family.  His brother Andrew was.  But Simon was named Peter (Simon Peter, the Rock!) by Jesus because God saw him not for who Peter was (impulsive and unstable) … but for who he would become (a spiritual leader) by value of that Necessary Time.

Suffice it for our purposes right now to acknowledge that every group needs a leader, spiritual groups need spiritual leaders. 

Governance by committee is seldom the best way if everyone is of equal authority and standing.  What happens in the absence of leadership is the Kitty Genovese effect—which is actually kind of a misnomer because it’s not exactly what happened in the murder of Kitty Genovese, but the name stuck.  The Kitty Genovese effect is what happens when there is more than one person who has the potential to act and each person defers to the point of inaction (a diffusion of responsibility).  It’s also called the Bystander Effect.  It’s what happens in the absence of leadership.  We all look at one another and wait for someone else to make decisions.  When no one leads, we’re all bystanders.

So step 1 in the process is we need a spiritual leader who looks to the Word.  Peter rises to the occasion in this group of 120.

Peter said in Acts 1, verse 16, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus– 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry… 20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’

Peter appeals to Scripture and concludes in verse 21 “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out 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.”

Spiritual leadership looks back at the Word, assesses a need, and sets future direction.  Judas needs to be replaced.  The vision was completing the numbers and that became their immediate goal.

Step #2: Spiritual leaders assess needs, cast a vision, and clarify goals.

So what do they do?  Does Peter pick his favorite?  Does Peter pick a family member?  Does Peter pick the person with the most seniority?  No. No. And No.

Good leaders don’t command.  Good leaders lead and if a leader has no followers, who is he leading?  No one!  Good spiritual leaders do what Peter did.  Peter stands up among the 120.  He appealed to Scripture.  He assessed the need and concluded what is necessary to be done.  He cast the vision, but he realized he wasn’t a one man show.  The 120 mattered.  So, here comes the group!

Step #3 in completing our numbers—that spiritual task—involves evaluating alternatives.  The group—not Peter alone—the group proposes two men Joseph/Justus and Matthias.

Acts 1:23 So they proposed 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.

Under spiritual leadership that appeals to the Word, sets goals, and involves others, they pursued a process that involved God.

Step #4 Then the group prays, asking God to make the decision.

How often when we’re making decisions do we conclude there’s a need, look at alternatives and then make a decision without ever thinking about God’s view of the matter?

Look at all the ways the disciples involved God in their workings:

  1. Peter looked at Scripture (God’s Word)
  2. By appealing to God’s Word, he assessed a need for completing numbers and set a goal that was aligned with God’s Word.
  3. The group proposed alternatives who had been with Jesus (the Son of God) the whole time and had the necessary time for spiritual formation.
  4. They prayed, asking God to make the decision for completing their numbers.

Why pray?  Well, we cannot possibly be expected to know everyone’s heart.  We cannot even be expected to know anyone’s heart, including our own.  As it says in  Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  So they ask God.

  • It wasn’t a matter of looking at resumes like Donald Trump and seeing who had the most experience.
  • It wasn’t a matter of seeing who has the most seniority.
  • It wasn’t a matter of thinking about who was the most politically correct, had the best optics for diversity, the most charisma, or opportunity for patronage.

No, even something like completing numbers was a spiritual decision so they appealed to God through the means He had given them: His Word and the casting of lots.  (Remember, the Holy Spirit hasn’t come yet, so the disciples used the means God had given them back in Exodus).  Word and lots.

We have a benefit.  Next week the Holy Spirit finally comes.  We can appeal directly to God because of the Holy Spirit, but where we’re at in the flow of Acts—as we’re kind of walking in the sandals of the disciples—they don’t have the Holy Spirit so they do what God had given them: Word and lots.

They appealed to Scripture and cast lots.  They had (1) a spiritual leader who looked at God’s Word, (2) he set a vision and a spiritual goal, (3) he invited the group to share in the alignment and alternatives, (4) they prayed asking God to choose for them, and now

Step 5: They accept God’s choice.

Matthias was the choice and there was no do-over.  No “eenie, meenie, miney, moe” and when it lands on the one you don’t really want you continue on with “my mother told me to pick the best one” which means that it was the one that I wanted which, of course, makes it the best.

No.  They did not do that. It fell to Matthias and if God made that decision for them, then the disciples would embrace God’s selection.  Which brings us to the important 6th step:

Step 6:  They follow through.

Acts 1:26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

They followed through.  They completed their numbers.  They didn’t procrastinate, debate, or second guess.  They followed a spiritual process for a spiritual decision.  God was involved the entire time and when He made the choice, they did what spiritual people do: they followed through.  Matthias was added to their numbers.

We never hear from Matthias again, nor most of the rest of the disciples in the rest of the NT.  Most of what we have in history is from the traditions of the early church.  That leads some people to say that the Apostle Paul was supposed to be the 12th apostle, the replacement for Judas.  Paul saw the Risen Christ, but where he’s at in Acts right now, he’s the least likely person to be chosen.  He will enter our stage in a few chapters as the arch-enemy of the church.  So what do we do?

We assume that completing the numbers was important for now.  So the Holy Spirit would come to a complete group and if God was in the decision from the get-go, He put each disciple in the 120 for a reason.  Which brings us to your box:


So, why did I give you a puzzle box?

  • Flip it over to look at the bottom.  Whose picture is on it?
  • How many pieces does it say are needed to complete the puzzle?
  • Have you ever made a jigsaw puzzle and gotten to the very end and there was at least one piece missing?
  • What do you do?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • What types of things do you do when you have missing puzzle pieces?

OK, in the Body of Christ, each church will have a picture of Jesus they are looking to complete with all the pieces.  That’s what the 11 did.  They needed completeness with 12 in order to look like Jesus.

Does the picture we have at Plymouth need to look exactly like the picture at another church—even in Racine?  Or is the most important thing that it looks like Jesus?  Must we be the exact same as another church or can we have our own unique presentation?  Will another church’s picture look like Jesus?  Different setting.  Same Savior.

Now, open your box.  How many pieces do you have? (1,2,3?)

How do you feel about the number you have?  Think about how Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus might have felt.  He was not chosen.   Out of the 2, he could have felt like a loser.  But out of the 120 he was still valued enough to be put forward as one of the 2.

When it’s not about us, but it’s about Him, Jesus Christ, we don’t need to feel proud or bad about what we bring to the table.  Here’s why:

  • Look at your box.  Look at your neighbor’s box.  Whose pieces are necessary to complete the puzzle?
  • Are anyone’s pieces more necessary than others?  Or are everyone’s necessary?
  • What will we need to do to complete our puzzle that looks like Jesus?
  • How do we complete our numbers—not just with quantity, but with true completeness?
  • Do you realize that if each person here brought one person to Plymouth with them, we’d double our numbers?

A good starting place for each of us in the Body of Christ is to see where in the puzzle we fit.  On that same little card with your puzzle piece, there is a web site  I know not all of you are Internet kind of people, but for those of you who are, I’d encourage you to take this fun little quiz.  It will help you to see how God has especially gifted you—as a believer in Jesus Christ with the indwelling Holy Spirit—to fit into the puzzle here.

Furthermore, each of us has a mission field that is related to our sphere of influence.  Think about your life.  Maybe you have a career, play golf, do gardening.  For those of you who garden maybe you know people who like to do that and you could invite them to our free workshop on Saturday.

Maybe you have family.  Like Andrew.  John 1:41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Maybe some of you like to fish.  Reach out to those who also like to fish and bring them with you to church on Sunday and become fishers of men, like Jesus told Peter!  It’s our Fall Kick-off next week so maybe bring your friends who love the Packers and ask them to join us for our hot dog cookout.  It’s like a tailgate party!

We will want to complete our numbers.  By finding our missing pieces.  If you’re not an Internet person, there is a book called Network by Bugbee and Cousins (published through Willow Creek) that you could get and do the survey in the book.  Because when each of us is doing what God has called us to do, when leaders lead, when prayer warriors pray, when evangelists share the Gospel, when those with creative gifts like singing, instrumental music, art, or dancing do what they’ve been created to do…born-again to do…then our puzzle can be completed and be a full picture of Jesus.  That’s what witnesses to the world.

We want the world to see Jesus—the full, complete picture—when they look at Plymouth.  Each one of us matters.  But we need to invite God to be part of the process from His Word, to His goals, to His community, to our inviting Him to make the decision, and our accepting the outcome of our prayers as from His hand.  And then we must follow through.  So this week, pray about your role in completing our numbers and then follow through.

Let’s pray.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on September 19, 2014

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