God has a purpose. At this time of stress, with the world going through a great pandemic we need to understand more than ever that God is sovereign and that He is good. We need to know this is true – that God is good and that his sovereign purpose is wholly good.
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A Special Choice
Understanding that God has a purpose and it will be fulfilled Acts 1:12-26
His intention and purposes for those who love him, and even those who don’t love Him, are equally good. We need to know that when we have grave fears, and things do not work out well, we can look to God knowing that he is consistently good, holding to His eternal purpose. We need to know that when we look to him we find one who is able to keep us in His will and purpose. It is what we see about God in this passage of Scripture before us – we see that this God of ours is trustworthy, purposeful, and committed to His promises: that he cares for us and that he loves us in spite of any feelings we may have towards him.
We may play around – but the course of all life has a destination
Not long ago the luxury liner Queen Mary 2 or QM2 came to Adelaide and the 2,500 passengers took in the sights of Adelaide and surrounding districts. The QM2 is massive, the largest ocean liner of her kind when built – not just a mere cruise ship. When launched she was the longest, widest and tallest passenger ship ever built, and at 151,400 tons, the largest ever. While she no longer holds that distinction, Queen Mary 2 remains the largest ocean liner – as opposed to cruise ship – ever built. Intended primarily to cross the Atlantic Ocean, she was designed differently from other passenger ships, requiring 40% more steel. That, and the sheer size of the ship, and the high quality of materials, pushed up the cost to about US$300,000 per berth – nearly double that of contemporary cruise ships. She was faster too, with a top speed of 29.62 knots (54.86 km/h) and a cruising speed of 26 knots (48 km/h), much faster than contemporary cruise ships. Instead of the diesel-electric configuration of many ships, QM2 uses a CODLAG configuration (Combined diesel-electric and gas) to achieve her maximum speed. The additional gas turbines augment the power from the diesel generators, allowing the ship to reach a higher maximum speed. QM2’s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea. So there are plenty of things that the 2500 passengers can choose to do. In fact, they can do just about anything that they want to. But whatever they choose to do, they cannot determine the ship’s destination; that has been pre-determined by the proper authorities.
Planet earth – our vessel in space
Have you ever wondered who is in charge of the destination of this planet we call earth? Is it possible that there is no one in charge and that we are hurtling through space and revolving around the sun without a guiding hand at the tiller? Is it just coincidence that certain events happen? Albert Einstein thought it might be. In a book titled ‘The world as I see it’ he is quoted as saying; “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous”. But today I want us to see that this statement is not the truth. I want us to see that in God purpose there are no coincidences.
Purpose, not coincidence
In chapter 1 of Acts we see Jesus beginning to establish the kingdom of God. We see him commissioning his apostles, to be His witnesses, and to preach the kingdom. And we see that God’s kingdom is not yet complete on earth (as it is in heaven) and that it won’t be so until Jesus returns again, just as the angels said he would. But we don’t know when that will be – the time and date for that are predetermined by God, and only He knows. And that’s why the angels tell the apostles to stop looking up into the sky and to be about doing what Jesus said. And so they did. After Jesus was gone up, they returned to Jerusalem to the room where they were staying. Luke gives us the names of all eleven of them – and it is no coincidence that these are the same men whom Jesus chose after he had prayed all night some three years before. (Luke 6:12-16). Luke also tells us what they did to fill in the waiting time – they joined with the other believers constantly in prayer. Acts 1:14). Was it coincidence that, when Jesus left to return to heaven, there were 120 believers, enough to form a Jewish synagogue, and that they happened to pray? No, these are not coincidences they are purposeful. They were doing exactly what they had been asked to do – to ‘wait in Jerusalem until you receive the gift that the Father promised, to be baptised in the Holy Spirit’. And was it just coincidence that in their time of waiting they elected someone to take the place of Judas – someone to be an apostolic witness to the resurrection of Jesus?
Again, it’s not a coincidence because in this event we see that God through His Holy Spirit is invincible in His purposes and that there are in fact no coincidences in His purposes.
That’s why this passage is here! Luke, writing under the inspiration of God puts this passage here, right between the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its fulfilment, it is here for a real purpose. This passage about how Judas died and about the field his blood-money bought and about the way he was replaced with Matthias is here because it shows us God’s ongoing purposes.
Notice, in V20, that there are two Old Testament quotations. One talks of the desolation of Judas’ habitation, and the other has to do with a replacement for Judas amongst the apostles. These two Scriptures govern the rest of what’s here, namely, the story of how each of them was fulfilled. The fulfilment that has already happened is described first in verses 17–19, how Judas’s blood-money came to buy a desolate field of blood. The fulfilment that is taking place as Peter speaks is described second in verses 21–26—how Judas’s office was filled by another. Over the four parts (the two Scripture quotes, and the two descriptions of fulfilment) we find the main point in verse 16 where Peter says: “The scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David, concerning Judas.” And that brings us to the first main point of this message:
God has an Invincible Purpose which he has pre-determined.
It is my belief that God wants us to see that, no matter what we think, no matter what we do, no matter what protests we put forward, His purpose will be fulfilled. Remember the Queen Mary 2 and what I said about the proper authorities predetermining the destination. That’s what we see here. God is the captain of History, and he is taking us to a conclusion, a destination, and his purposes will be accomplished. God wants us to see that when He, through His Holy Spirit says something, it will be fulfilled, even if it takes a thousand years.
See what it says in v16. Notice what Peter says? He says that the Scriptures ‘had to’ be fulfilled! Not that they ‘possibly would be fulfilled’ but that they ‘had to’ be fulfilled. God had said they would be and they will be. How can Peter say, “It had to be”? Why did it have to be? Isn’t life full of contingencies? Isn’t the future open-ended? Aren’t people free to make of life whatever they want so that even God has to adjust his plans? How can he say, “It had to be!”?
Now either Peter was wrong (and you must decide whom you will believe, the sceptics or the apostles), or the purpose of God expressed in Scripture, is indeed invincible, unconquerable, indomitable, supreme, omnipotent – use whatever adjective you want to describe it! And this is one of the things you want to see in the Father’s face when you look up to him in a time of crisis and danger – especially in a time when you are being betrayed. You want to see that his purpose is not crumbling; that he is not worried; there is no panic in his face. In his face is the absolute confidence of an invincible purpose. He has spoken and it has to be. So that’s the first point – God’s purpose will happen. That leads on to the second point we get from this passage of Scripture in Acts.
The demise of Judas illustrates that God’s purposes will happen.
We could be excused for asking why Luke illustrates the invincible purpose of God with the demise of Judas. Why remind us that he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and threw the money back in the temple. Or that the priests put their heads together and evidently said, “Well, this is not our money, it belongs to Judas. He’s dead, so let’s buy a field (probably the very field where he died) in Judas’s name, and use it to bury people like that“?
So in a sense Judas, the thief, leaves the blood-money of his inheritance behind to buy a desolate graveyard for his habitation. But why use an ugly, brutal, tragic story to illustrate the invincible purpose of God? Luke uses it because it is just that – ugly, brutal, and tragic. It’s not hard to believe that God’s purposes are invincible when things are going well for God’s anointed. But what about when things go bad; when there is lying, and mistrust and betrayal, and death? How do we see the purpose of God then? It’s in the hard times that we need all the help we can get to believe that the purposes of God are invincible. Luke is led to give us the help we need, to see that not even Judas and Satan could undermine or escape the all-encompassing invincibility of God’s purpose. Just imagine what it would have been like for Jesus if he had had no way of fitting Judas and the betrayal into the invincible purposes of God.
When events feel like a “loose cannon”, and no real purpose?
There is a scene in one of Victor Hugo’s novels of a great French warship 200 years ago, with dozens of massive cannon strapped into their portholes ready for battle. But suddenly a storm hits and the tossing and rolling is so bad that one of these 2-tonne cannon breaks loose from its straps and becomes like a wild bull on the lower deck. With every toss and turn of the ship, it smashes irresistibly back and forth crushing gunners and shattering the sides of the ship. It is utterly unpredictable and out of control – a loose cannon indeed.
Was Judas like that for Jesus – an out-of-control event? The point of this text is that none of the enemies of God is like that. Listen to what John writes: For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. (John 6:64) And again: While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled (John 17:12). Maybe that’s not the way we imagine him praying. Maybe we would have him praying like this: “I have guarded my own, and I only lost one. I can’t account for it—his treachery, his betrayal—he was like a loose, wild cannon, unpredictable, out of control, there is no explaining it. It’s a glitch.”
But Jesus did not pray that way because God is not that way. And let us be thankful and give Him praise because we will never look up into the face of our Father in a time of crisis and danger and betrayal, and see a puzzled or worried face. We will see what we want so very much need to see, the confidence of someone with an invincible purpose. And that leads us to the third point: God’s invincible purpose is found in Jesus Christ, His Son and we see that in the replacement of Judas.
The replacement of Judas illustrates God’s invincible purpose.
Look again at V21 and 22. Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole t to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection. Notice again the imperative statement? One of these ‘must’ become – not one of these ‘may’ become’ or one of these ‘will possibly’ become. No, just like the Scripture ‘had to’ be fulfilled (V16) so one of these men ‘must’ become a witness with us of his resurrection. That’s it! That’s the invincible purpose of God – to conquer death and give human-kind the chance to live again in perfect relationship with him. And it’s found in the resurrection of Jesus for in that one event God demonstrated both his power and his love. So, this is a very special choice and as such that choice cannot be left to just anyone, not even the eleven remaining apostles. The only person qualified to make this special choice is Jesus himself – after all, he did choose the other eleven. So, having understood God’s purpose the apostles sought out suitable candidates and then having settled on two men they allowed Jesus to make the final choice and Matthias was added to the eleven apostles bringing their number back to twelve.
Summary: what the passage teaches us about God’s purpose – a special choice
I believe that there are two very important lessons for us in what this passage of Scripture says. The first is that God has a purpose and nothing that we or anyone else can do will be able to stand in His way or divert Him from that purpose. That makes Him sovereign. The second is that God’s purpose is not malicious but is excellent.
His purpose, found in Christ, is that no one need perish, but that all may find eternal life in him. That means that we have a will which under grace is able to choose, that is, to believe Him and receive the Spirit of Life.
Because I began with a description of the QM2, I want to finish with an analogy that illustrates these two things. When the QM2 left Adelaide its destination had already been predetermined by the relevant management people of the Cunard cruise company. Nothing that any of the passengers could do would change that. That’s a faint picture of sovereignty. On board were about 2500 passengers. None of these passengers were in chains and their activities were not determined for them by decree. They were completely free to move about at their will. They could eat, sleep, play, lounge around on the deck, go for a swim, read, talk, or visit one of the restaurants as they pleased. That’s a picture of choice. But, when we put those two things together we see that, even though the passengers could exercise their will, all the while the QM2 is carrying them steadily towards a predetermined destination. Both freedom and sovereignty are present, and they do not contradict. So it is with human freedom to choose and the sovereign purpose of God.
The mighty liner of God’s purpose keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered towards the fulfilment of those eternal purposes which he purposed in Christ before the world began. We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been disclosed to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and give us good hope and firm assurance of future well being if we choose to align ourselves with his purpose and accept the salvation that he offers in Christ Jesus.
Grahame Daniel – 19 April 2020