The last thing the disciples did which is mentioned in these verses is that they recognized the need for leadership and took steps to supply it. In their case, it involved the election of Matthias to fill Judas’ place.
Some people have been critical of the disciples at this point. They have suggested that because the disciples chose Matthias by lot—that is, as we would say, by drawing straws—they were acting like pagans, since this was a pagan way of doing things. Others have argued that since we never hear of Matthias again, he must not have been God’s choice to fill the vacancy. Some have looked at Paul and have concluded that he, rather than this relatively unknown man, must have been God’s choice to be the twelfth apostle.1
I do not think this is right. Paul was an apostle (as was Barnabas, and perhaps some others too), but in a different sense than was the case with these twelve. And so far as lots being a pagan custom is concerned, actually the casting of lots was an Old Testament tradition—and a strong one. The disciples were not just falling into pagan ways. They were following Old Testament precedent. More than that, since they had just been praying and studying the Scriptures, we must assume that they were led by the Holy Spirit to seek a qualified person to fill this place of leadership. They must have been saying, “If the Holy Spirit is going to empower us to be Christ’s witnesses in the world, we had better get our house in order. We are missing one apostle, so let’s ask Jesus whom He wants to choose to fill the twelfth position. We should get to know and begin to work with him.”
Sometimes we pray for revival. We pray sincerely, “Lord, bless the church; convict many of sin; bring them to salvation; send a revival in our time.” That is very good. But I wonder, do we think what would be needed if a real revival should come? Most of us are ignorant of what happens in great movements of the Spirit of God. If you read church history, you will find out that such times are very draining—physically as well as spiritually. In times of revival people are under such conviction of sin that they press into the churches. They do not want to go home. They want instruction and help. They want their sins dealt with and their lives straightened out. What does one do in times like that? Who is going to teach and pastor such people? If we are serious about revival, we need to make preparation for it now.
I say this with some assurance because of something that has been happening in Argentina. There is a revival going on in Argentina today, and I have been told by people who know the situation that preparation for the revival began years before it happened, when the churches began to ask what they should do to prepare for revival when God should eventually answer their prayers and send it. They asked, for example, “What are we going to do if God sends 1,000 more people into our church?” They didn’t have much money. So building bigger churches was no solution. They said, “The only way we can possibly handle so many people is in the believers’ homes. Each home is going to have to become a miniature church. But if it is to be a good one, then the leaders of those homes have to be trained to do spiritual work.” They began to train home leaders—the mothers and the fathers of their congregations—to be hosts of little churches. They did a number of similar things. After that, when the preparation was complete, God sent the prayed-for blessing.
The same thing should be true for us. Even if we are not in a time of revival now, or if a time of revival is delayed, all the things seen in the early church (in Acts 1) should be encouraged in our fellowships.
I often say at Tenth Presbyterian Church, which I pastor, that the most effective means of outreach and growth we have is our home Bible studies, which we greatly encourage. I was sitting on the platform the night I first preached this sermon, and I was looking at the evening’s bulletin. I noticed that right below the subject of the sermon, “Preparing for Growth,” there was an item headed: “Home Bible Studies.” As I read it, I found that it described most of the items highlighted in this first chapter of Acts. It read: “Through prayer, the study of God’s Word, and mutual sharing, these groups provide fellowship and support that are not found elsewhere.” That is it exactly.
I do not know what God is doing in our time, but I think these are great days—great days for our country and our churches. Yet, I am not satisfied with what has happened. I look at Philadelphia and see the work that still needs to be done. I see the flight of our country into gross materialism and overt sin. I notice the church’s mindless conformity to the world’s culture. I say, “Lord, send a revival in our time.” But I know, even as I say that, that if we are serious about wanting a revival, we must get ready for it. We must prepare. We must use these days of waiting wisely, believing that if we do, Jesus will send the blessing we desperately need.
1For example, E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1963), 53.