According to Plan
Sermon Text: Acts 1:15-26
Sermon Theme: God has a plan that is mysterious to us. Therefore, we must know all is happening according to the Scriptures.
The great thing the apostles were to attest to the world, was Christ’s resurrection; for that was the great proof of his being the Messiah, and the foundation of our hope in him. The apostles were ordained, not to worldly dignity and dominion, but to preach Christ, and the power of his resurrection. An appeal was made to God; “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men,” which we do not; and better than they know their own. It is fit that God should choose his own servants; and so far as he, by the disposals of his providence, or the gifts of his Spirit, shows whom he was chosen, or what he has chosen for us, we ought to fall in with his will. Let us own his hand in the determining everything which befalls us, especially in those by which any trust may be committed to us.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- When you have a difficult task to do, do you base your action on Scripture? Are you relying on the sovereign will of God to accomplish His plan? Are you allowing God to lead His Church as they make decisions? Sovereignty simply means that the Lord knows what he is doing and he is doing it. It is a marvelous and reassuring truth that our sovereign, omnipotent God works His will through men. His providential control over events takes into consideration all the acts of human wills — even those opposed to Him. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s using humans to accomplish His purposes. As is the case with all predictive Scripture, the prophecies that are quoted have to be fulfilled. God’s Word is true, and what He predicts must certainly come to pass. In Psalm 115:3, the psalmist writes, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” God Himself adds in Isaiah 46:10, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (cf. Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 8:15, 1 Kings 8:20, 1 Kings 8:24). Isaiah 55:11 added that God’s word never returns empty but always accomplishes its purpose.
- In His sovereignty, God foreknows everything; and yet man generally acts as if He foreknew nothing. What is your position on God’s sovereignty? Are you shocked or hurt when things happen according to God’s Word? Instead of trivial and frivolous objections at difficulties, let us understand our limited abilities to resolve them from our mortal point of view; and, instead of boasting our mental powers, let us lie prostrate at the Divine footstool like those who feel their own littleness, and are sensible how blind and ignorant they are in reference to heavenly things. The subject should guard us against the error of suffering our understanding of the heavenly things from a human world view. Let promises and precepts, doctrines and duties, decrees and responsibilities, occupy the places assigned to them on the page of Scripture; and what God has joined together let not the hand of man dare to put under. For the contemplation of God’s foreknowledge should never be engaged in otherwise than in close connection with gospel promises and gospel precepts. The doctrine of Divine foreknowledge, as taught in Scripture directly or in inference, tends both to impart comfort and to prompt exertion. As faith and hope ripen into assurance, the soul is perceptibly strengthened for the performance of our duties; and with the certainty of Divine foreknowledge, we can trust God and move forward in full obedience to God and be “ready to every good work” — “steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
- Are you trying to understand God’s secrets? Is not a secret something that is not to be reviled? In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God is roundly stating that the matters of His actions and timing is His own affair, and it is not open to men to share His knowledge. Since this is God’s secret, there is no place for human speculation—a point that might well be borne in mind by those who still anxiously try to calculate the probable course of events in the last days. Instead of indulging in wishful thinking or apocalyptic speculation, the disciples must accomplish their task of being witnesses to Jesus.
- Are we acting like soldiers of the Cross — coming forward and performing our duty when required? The Church, like a line of soldiers in action, must have no vacant places; each gap in the line must be made good. The unfilled post is a point of weakness in the system and the work, and the enemy against whom we strive is not slow to take advantage. The weak place is soon detected, and the gap in the line will soon be still further enlarged; rapidly growing greater. As a Christian, as a soldier of Christ, we are servants of the Master and we must always be ready to be summoned — “I have need of you,” might come at any moment. Would the summons find you fit to obey? We do not know when Christ may need us; we do not know exactly how He may wish that we should be employed. But the summons may come. When it comes, in what state will it find us? Shall we know from experience anything of what a Christian life really is? A knowledge of Christian truth and Christian life is indispensable for Church workers. They must be prepared. But, “preparation is not preparedness,” but it is the secret of it, the means whereby it is obtained. Preparation, constant, ever going on, is the way to be prepared. But the worker, besides being prepared, must be also ready and willing to obey the call when it comes. Yet to whom “much is given, of him shall be much required.” According to our means, abilities, opportunities, shall we be judged. Notice the example of Matthias and Joseph. There is not a word of hesitation or excuse. They knew not upon which the lot might fall, but either was willing and ready. It was sufficient that the call had come, they must not dream of disobedience. They did not know what might lie before them — danger, toil, persecution, in all probability a martyr’s death. But there is no shrinking, no attempt to excuse themselves or find reasons why they should not take office. Should there not be a like spirit exhibited by all the soldiers of the Cross?
- Are you squandering the inestimable privilege to know Jesus? Do not waste any opportunity to know Him. For the most tragic person damns their soul to hell. The last phrase is a shocking and sobering Statement. Judas, and all others who go to hell, belong there; it is the place of their own choosing. It belongs to them, and they to it. That the consequences of evil will be felt after death; that what is sown here shall be reaped there, and that the “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” felt, and inflicted by God, will be of such a sort that the strongest and most dreadful images are not too strong or dreadful to express it. That, whatever the reality, the Judge of all the earth will do only right; so that no suspicion of injustice, or distress because of it, need or ought to have a place in our minds.
1) How shall we be witnesses?
We must be deep students of God’s Word. Where else are we to learn our witness of Christ’s resurrection? Here it is written clear and full — in the Old Testament in type, prophecy, and promise; in the New in fulfillment, act, history, and grace. In it, day by day, we must live with Him. Thus must our message sink into our own hearts. Even as they “who companied with” Him “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them,” learned, day by day, the truth they needed, so must it be with us.
We must be people of prayer. The union of the Word and prayer is the essence of the witnessing character. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and the ministry of the Word;” and without prayer we cannot bear this burden. How without it shall we have an insight into Scripture? how turn what we read to profit? how have power with God or with our brethren? In prayer, in real, hearty, earnest prayer, all things around us are set into their proper places. In prayer our minds are armed for the coming temptations of the day; they are cooled, refreshed, and calmed after its vexations, fatigues, and anxiety. On our knees, if anywhere, we learn to love the souls of our people; to hate our own sins; to trust in Him who shows us then His wounded side and pierced hands, and to love Him with our whole heart. Nothing will make up for the lack of prayer. The busiest ministry without it is sure to become shallow and bustling. To come forth from secret communing with Him, and bear our witness, and to retire again behind the veil to pour out our hearts before Him in unceasing intercessions and devout adorations, this is, indeed, the secret of a blessed, fruitful ministry. Nor let us suppose that at once, and by the force of a single resolution, we can become people of prayer. The spirit of devotion is the gift of God; you must seek it long and earnestly; and His grace will work it in your heart. You must practice it and labor for it. You must pray often if you would pray well.
We must be people of holiness. (1) Because without this there cannot be reality in our witness. We cannot testify of the resurrection of Christ unless we ourselves have known its power. Even though our lives be correct, yet our lives must be unreal unless the truths we speak have thoroughly pervaded our own souls. If we have for ourselves no living faith in a risen Savior, we cannot speak of Him with power to others. We must be great saints if we would have our people holy. The pastor’s character forms, to a great degree, the character of his flock. We must show them in our risen lives that Christ indeed is risen. This is a witness, from the force of which they cannot escape. (2) Because we are in the kingdom of God’s grace, and to us is committed a dispensation of His grace. Every act of ours will be real and effectual only so far as God’s grace goes with it; and though He may be, and is, pleased to work by His grace even at the hands of the unholy, yet who can say how greatly such unfaithfulness does mar His work, how much is lost which might be gained? How can the other necessities of our character be supplied if we fail here? How can we be students of God’s Word without God’s grace? How can they pray for themselves or their people who have not the Spirit of grace and supplication? How can they draw down the blessed dew on others who even repel it from themselves? Who can have daily audience of our King but those who dwell within His courts?
(From S. Wilberforce)
2) THE BLESSING AND RESPONSIBILITY OF COMMUNITY (By Augustine): What lesson then, my brothers, did our Lord Jesus Christ wish to impress on his church, when it pleased him to have one castaway among the twelve, but this, that we should bear with the wicked and refrain from dividing the body of Christ?… Such was this man Judas, and yet he went in and out with the eleven holy disciples. With them he came even to the table of the Lord: he was permitted to converse with them, but he could not contaminate them. Both Peter and Judas partook of one bread, and yet what communion had the believer with the infidel? Peter’s partaking was to life, but that of Judas to death. For that good bread was just like the sweet savor. For as the sweet savor, so also does the good bread give life to the good and bring death to the wicked. “For whoever eats unworthily eats and drinks judgment against himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29): “judgment against himself,” not against you. If, then, it is judgment against him, not against you, bear as one that is good with him that is evil, that you may attain the rewards of the good and not be hurled into the punishment of the wicked.
(From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
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