Being a Nobody is Ordinary Manuscript

DATE: 5/12-13/18
SERIES: Ordinary.
SERMON: Being a Nobody is Ordinary
TEXT: Acts 1:12-26 (ESV)

WELCOME

It’s good to be with all of you at Gateway Church this weekend. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.

SERIES INTRODUCTION

And we are continuing our series in the book of Acts today. So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Acts chapter one. We’ll be looking at verses twelve through twenty-six together today. And if you’re new to the Bible, the chapter numbers are the numbers in large print and the verse numbers are in the smaller print.

And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.

RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ TEXT:

And with that, here are the words found in Acts chapter one. Verses twelve through twenty-six.

“Then they (the disciples) returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 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 and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (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. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:12-26 ESV)

SERMON INTRODUCTION

So just like last week, I need to set the stage for the verses we’re looking at today. And, honestly, I’ll probably have to do something like this every week as the book of Acts is a narrative — it’s a recording of history — so the context really matters.  

Last week, we ended with Jesus having ascended into Heaven leaving His followers a bit confused about what was going on. You probably remember that two men appeared — they were actually angels — and they had to sort of get the disciples moving again. “Stop staring into the sky. Jesus isn’t coming back right now. You’ve got some stuff to do first.”

That’s why our passage begins — in verse twelve — with, “Then they (the disciples) returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet (the mountain that Jesus ascended into heaven from), which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 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 and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:12-14 ESV)

So that’s where we find the disciples in our story. They’ve just returned to Jerusalem — the city where Jesus was murdered just a few weeks earlier.  

Now something in this story — that we’re not going to have much time to spend on — is the story about Judas. Judas isn’t a guy I want any of you to imitate, so his story gets the short end of the stick today. And I bet that even if you’re not that familiar with the Bible, you probably know that Judas was the guy who betrayed Jesus. He took the thirty silver coins offered to him by the religious leaders as a bribe to help them arrest Jesus.  

And here’s what the disciples discuss about Judas and the situation they now find themselves in. Beginning in verse fifteen, “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about one hundred and twenty) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (And this next part is a commentary by Luke, it’s not something that Peter said, that’s why it’s in parenthesis. In verse eighteen we read…) (Now this man (that’s Judas) acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 (And in verse twenty, we’re back to Peter speaking again. And he says…) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.” (Acts 1:15-20 ESV)

When I was on staff at a church in Connecticut, a mom came up to me after a worship service and she said that her upper elementary aged son had a question for me. He had asked her first and she didn’t know how to answer the question and she thought I was a good sucker who would give it a try. And here was his question: “Did Judas even have a choice to not betray Jesus?”

Have you ever thought about that? It’s actually a really great question. A question we don’t have time to answer right now — but it’s a really great question. I won’t do that to you.

Now I won’t give this question the time it deserves, but here’s a quick look at what these verses do tell us about Judas. These verses tell us that the Bible is focused on something more important than whether or not Judas had a choice.

Now we just looked at these verses but this time I’m going to stress some of the words which will help us better understand what’s going on. So look with me again in verse sixteen. Luke — quoting Peter — writes, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now skip to verse twenty with me.) 20 “For it is written (where? In the…) book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.” (Acts 1:16-17, 20 ESV)

Now if you go and look at everything written in book of Psalms, you won’t find Judas’ name mentioned anywhere. So what is Peter doing? Well what we’re seeing here is how the early church leaders — like Peter — how they were able to look back at the Old Testament and see how it all pointed to the life of Christ — including the man who would betray Him.

And what’s more important to Peter — and to Luke, and the early church — what’s more important is not “did Judas have a choice in the matter of betraying Jesus” — what matters is that Judas’ actions were the fulfillment of Scripture. Peter — in verses sixteen, seventeen, and twenty — quotes or alludes to three different psalms as he interprets the betrayal of Jesus.  

In verse sixteen — where Peter says that David spoke of Judas — Peter alludes to Psalm forty-one verse nine. For some context, let’s begin in verse eight of the psalm where we read, “They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him; he will not rise again from where he lies.” (Now think of how Jesus’ enemies were so satisfied at His death — so certain that He would not rise again from the tomb where He’d been laid — and now listen to the words in verse nine — where David writes words that are a perfect description for something that not only he went through, but describe the ultimate betrayal experienced by Jesus.) 9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. 10 But you, O Lord, be gracious to me and raise me up, that I may repay them! 11 By this I know that you delight in me:  my enemy will not shout in triumph over me. 12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever. 13 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.” (Psalms 41:8-13 ESV)

Was Judas close to Jesus? Yes. Did he eat bread with Jesus? Yes. And those of us who know the story of the Last Supper — probably couldn’t help but think of the disciples asking Jesus — while eating bread at the table — “Who will betray you” — and Jesus saying “the one to whom I give this piece of bread” and then He gives it to Judas.

Now to save us some time, I won’t take us to the other two psalms — but you can go and look at them for yourself — because the point is that Peter — in verse twenty of Acts chapter one — quotes from Psalm sixty-nine verse twenty-five and Psalm one hundred and nine verse eight — to describe the actions of Judas as the fulfillment of words that are found written in the Old Testament.  

So Peter’s concern is with how Judas’ story demonstrates the reliability of God’s Word. What God’s Word says will happen is guaranteed to happen. Down to the very smallest details — such as who the person is who would one day betray Jesus.  

And what this story about Judas does — is it leads us to the tension in our story. The disciples find themselves in a dilemma. There was once twelve of them — an important number to them as they believed themselves to be representatives of the New Israel — just as the twelve tribes represented the Old Israel — they were the New Israel — and now — they’re a man short. Thus Peter’s quote from Psalm one hundred and nine, “Let another take his office,” which sets up the rest of our story.  

Let’s start in verse twenty-one. “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a (what? So one of these men who’ve been with the other disciples since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry must become a…) witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:21-26 ESV)

And the eleven became twelve once again.  

Now I want to highlight something in this story that I first stumbled upon while reading through the book of Acts — not for any sort of sermon preparation — but just to read it. And it was during this time that the phrase “A nobody for Jesus” — and “being a nobody is ordinary” — came to me.

And what I’ve realized, is that a lot of us see ourselves as being a nobody. If you’re like me you weren’t great at sports in school. And even if you were pretty good, odds are you didn’t make it to the pros. You had like four more years of playing sports than the rest of us before you flamed out and became nothing more than an ordinary athlete once again.

Maybe you took piano lessons as a kid — and I know — you can nail “chopsticks” and play a mean “heart and soul” — but — let’s be real — that’s pretty ordinary.

You see most of us are ordinary people. A bunch of ordinary nobody’s when it comes to making waves on social media or having an influence in the world.

And that’s why our big idea is such good news for all of us ordinary folk — because being a “nobody” is so ordinary. Here’s our big idea.

PROPOSITION

Jesus loves to use a “nobody” for His glory. Jesus loves to use a “nobody” for His glory. Let me explain what I mean by sharing a phrase I’ve heard said by a few pastors. So I’m not sure who was the first to use the phrase, but here it is. They describe themselves as, “A nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody who can save anybody.” A nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody who can save anybody.

And in our story, there are actually two “nobodies.” Joseph. Also known as Barsabbas. Also known as Justus. And…Matthias. Also known as Matthias. Joseph has got three names and Matthias has just got...Matthias.

I bring this up because it seems like Luke is setting us up to believe that Joseph is going to be the replacement for Judas. Luke’s wanting to make it clear who this particular Joseph is. He’s the one who some of you know as Barsabbas and others of you know as Justus. But he’s not Joseph also known as Bob. So don’t get them confused. So it’s interesting that Joseph isn’t the one picked to replace Judas. Mister “I’m so special I’ve got three different names” fades off into history as an unknown, forgotten, ordinary guy. He ends up being a “nobody” for Jesus.

Now to keep things in perspective — to keep us all humble — because we all think we’re the most important person in the world don’t we — so to keep us all humble — what’s the only thing that we do know about Joseph? Look at verses twenty-one and twenty-two again. “So one of the men who have (done what? Joseph was someone who had…) accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22 ESV)

Both Joseph and Matthias had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry. They were at Jesus’ baptism. They were with Jesus for the three years while He walked on this earth doing the things we read about in the gospels. And Joseph and Matthias were both present when Christ was lifted up into Heaven. I don’t care how special you think you are — none of that stuff is on your resume.

And do you know what happens to Joseph after he gets passed on to replace Judas? Nobody has a clue. A few Bible scholars think he may be referred to again in Acts chapter fifteen, but no one knows for sure.

This man — Joseph — who was important enough to be one of two candidates selected to become one of the twelve apostles — ends up being a nobody as he fades off into history.  

And what about Matthias — after all he’s the guy who gets picked — do you know what we know about him? Nothing. Nada. Zilch-a-rooney. Do you know how many times he’s mentioned in the Bible after this passage in Acts. Never again. Even the guy who gets picked to be an apostle ends up being a “nobody” for Jesus — he’s so ordinary. He ends up fading away into history too.  

Here’s my point. Being a nobody for Jesus isn’t a bad thing. It should be a humbling thing — but it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a very ordinary thing.

And there’s one thing in our passage that this group of “nobodies” do that’s something that we group of nobodies — known as Gateway Church — would do well to learn from them. And that’s how these “nobodies” pray. Prayer should be an ordinary activity for someone who’s a nobody for Jesus.

Look with me again in verse twelve. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying…(let’s skip all of their names to verse fourteen. Notice in verse fourteen what these nobodies were doing.) 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to (what? They devoted themselves to…) prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Now skip down to verse twenty-one when they’re finding a replacement for Judas. There we read…) 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they (did what? They put forward two men who met their requirements and then they…) prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen.” (Acts 1:12-14, 21-24 ESV)

MAIN POINT 1

The first thing we notice…is that ‘a “nobody” for Jesus is a person of prayer.’ A “nobody” for Jesus is a person of prayer. Which leads us to an important question. What is prayer?  

You may not know this, but our denomination has a book that answers questions like “What is prayer?” It’s a book that dates back to the eighteenth century — it’s called the Westminster Confession of Faith along with the Longer and Shorter Catechisms. The catechisms are books of questions and answers that are useful in helping us understand what we believe.

And the ninety-eighth question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is — drum roll please — “What is prayer?” And the answer it gives is this:  “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q98)

So there’s a historic definition of prayer. A modern definition of prayer — by theologian Wayne Grudem — is “personal communication with God.” And personal communication doesn’t have to mean individual communication because we — as a church — can come personally before God in prayer — as we do every time we gather together.  

So prayer — in its simplest definition — is “communication with God.”  

So what were the disciples praying for in our story? Most likely they were praying that they would be faithful witnesses since that was the mission they were just given by Jesus. Remember what we looked at last week? Jesus had just told these disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)  

And that mission was just as daunting to them as it is to us. And it’s probably why they wanted a replacement for Judas. They needed someone who would be a faithful witness with them. Someone who would testify about the truth of Jesus Christ. If they were going to reach the world with the Good News of the gospel — they needed all hands on deck — and they were one man short. And — oh by the way — if we’re going to reach the world with the Good News of the gospel — we need all hands on deck too — we can’t afford to be one man or one woman — or one youth or one “not as youthful as I once was” — person short. We need all believers here at Gateway to be a witness for Jesus Christ.

SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 1

So this group of “nobody’s for Jesus” prayed that they would find a faithful witness to replace the unfaithful, betrayer — Judas Iscariot.

Being a “nobody” for Jesus isn’t a bad thing. But never forget that a “nobody” for Jesus is a person of prayer. Which leads us to our second observation about prayer in this passage. And that is…

MAIN POINT 2

A “nobody” for Jesus is devoted to prayer. A “nobody” for Jesus is devoted to prayer. So what does it mean to be devoted to prayer? Look with me in verse fourteen. “All these (meaning the disciples) with one accord (meaning, in unity with one another) were devoting themselves to prayer, together with (who? They were praying along with the…) women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Notice how they’re praying together. They’re praying as a group. They’ve been given a mission to accomplish together — so they naturally see the need to pray together as a group. Now skip to verse twenty-four.) 24 And they (the whole group of Jesus followers) prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”” (Acts 1:14, 24-25 ESV)

These “nobodies” for Jesus were devoted to prayer. They prayed together. And they prayed with great confidence knowing that God would provide for their need of a replacement for Judas.

The word “devoted” appears six times in the book of Acts and it means “to persist in; to be intently engaged in; to constantly attend to something.” It means to be “strong and steadfast” over a long period of time. It means that these “nobodies” for Jesus did not give up on prayer.  

And this type of devotion to prayer is something that all of us “nobodies for Jesus” should want to improve in. If there’s one thing that distinguishes the early Christians from most modern day Christians is their devotion to prayer.

Acts chapter two tells us, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42 ESV)

In Acts chapter six we see that — when faced with some difficult choices about what should be their primary focus — the early church leaders decided, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4 ESV)

In both passages we see the disciples being devoted to prayer and other things. But it’s not a coincidence how often the words “devoted” and “prayer” are found together in our Bible.  

In Romans chapter twelve we read, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 ESV)  The word “constant” is the same Greek word translated as “devoted” in our other verses.

In Colossians chapter four we read, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2 ESV)  And — again — “steadfastly” is the same Greek word.

In Ephesians chapter six we read that we are to be, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:18 ESV) “Perseverance” is the same word again.

SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 2

And if you keep your eyes open around you, you’ll notice how devoted people are to things that won’t matter in a million years — most won’t even matter in fifty years. Whether it’s how well your college football team will do this season, or getting into a certain college program, or becoming a YouTube sensation, or planning your next trip to Disney World — will it even matter a century from now?

We live on a planet full of people devoted to all sorts of things that are fading away. Yet we’ve been given the opportunity to be devoted to something of eternal significance. Communicating with God — so that we grow in our trust of His power and provision as we seek to accomplish the mission He’s given us — the mission of being His witnesses to our world.

Which leads us to our final observation — which is why these “nobodies” for Jesus prayed.  

MAIN POINT 3

They prayed because “one of these men must become with us a witness to his (Jesus’) resurrection.” (Acts 1:22b ESV)

They needed another “witness.” They needed another witness to accomplish the mission they were given. And — similarly — ‘a “nobody” for Jesus prays with their mission in mind.’ A “nobody” for Jesus prays with the mission Jesus has given them — and their church — in mind.

So how do we pray — and let’s be sure to keep our thinking in the plural — but how should we pray as a church for our mission?

  • We should pray that our church would be a growing witness for Christ.

  • We should pray that the mission God has given us would become the fire in the hearts, minds, and souls of everyone who’s a member of Gateway Church.

  • We should pray for more people to be “connected to Jesus Christ and to one another.” Every member — together — living out our mission. And if you want to join with me in a bold prayer, I’m praying for 100 baptisms in the next year — evidence of 100 lives connected to Jesus Christ showing us that we’re accomplishing our mission.

  • We should pray that we inhale and exhale joy to everyone around us. A joy that comes from a passion of knowing God through worship. A joy that comes from connecting to others in life groups. A joy that comes from serving others. And a joy that comes from going and telling the whole world that there is hope — and His name is Jesus.

SUMMARY OF MAIN POINT 3

We should joyfully be a group of “nobodies” for Jesus — who are devoted to praying for our mission to be accomplished as we send out witnesses from among us. Missionaries who we’ve raised up in this congregation to help people connect to Jesus Christ in other parts of our city, our nation, and our world.  

CONCLUSION

I mean, can you imagine what God is wanting do through us — Gateway Church — if we all committed today to being a bunch of “nobodies who were trying to tell everybody about Somebody who can save anybody”? What kind of church would we be if that was our collective heartbeat? What kind of congregation would we become if our hearts were content with being a “nobody” for Jesus — a bunch of ordinary witnesses of an extraordinary God?

A bunch of “nobodies” for Jesus who pray. A group of “nobodies” who not only pray — but are devoted to prayer. A congregation full of “nobodies” who pray with the mission God has given us in mind.  

Remember, Jesus used the group of “nobodies” — that we’ve read about today — to change not only the world — but Jesus used them to change the history of the world. Jesus used them to continue all that He began to do and teach while He was on this earth. And Jesus is just as eager and able to use us too — this group of “nobodies” known as Gateway Church — to continue all that He began to do and teach. Because Jesus loves to use a bunch of “nobodies” for His glory.

And when His glory becomes the purpose behind all that we do — reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel — and reaching our nation with the gospel — and reaching our community with the gospel — and reaching your friends and family members who right now do not love Jesus — well all of that — and even more — will be possible.

I hope that we — that you and I — will commit to being a congregation of a bunch of ordinary people who exist to “connect people to Jesus Christ and to one another.” That we’d wear as a badge of honor — the title of “nobody.” Because being a “nobody for Jesus” isn’t a bad thing. Let me say that one last time. If you feel like you’re a “nobody” who doesn’t have much to offer — that’s not a bad thing — that’s a great thing — because Jesus loves to use “nobodies” for His glory.

Let’s pray.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, I pray that You will remind us often that You love to use “nobodies” for Your glory. Father, I also pray that if there’s anyone here whose heart is stirring to be a “nobody” for Jesus — yet they’ve not yet believed in Your Son — that they would do so right now. That they would commit themselves to being a “nobody” for Jesus all the days of their life.

Help all of us to humbly receive this gift of being a “nobody” for You. Give us contentment with being ordinary. May fame, fortune, and the world’s definition of success and fulfillment all easily slip through the desires of our heart, as we focus ourselves on the mission You’ve given us — of connecting people to Jesus Christ and to one another — of being Your witnesses in our world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.