11. Spin a Coin

Meditations in Acts  : 11 :  Spin a Coin

Acts 1:24-26 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Perhaps we don’t get the significance of these verses until we line them up with say what happened in the church at Damascus a few years on: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2,3) Do you see the difference?

In today’s verses we have prayer plus spinning a coin (well that would almost be the modern equivalent, although of course we do still draw lots). I mean, to be fair to them, this does seem similar to the practice of the Urim & Thummin of the Old Testament period but that is still very different from what we find in the church period, which is after Pentecost. Spinning a coin, drawing cards or whatever other method you use is very impersonal and requires no direct contact with God. It almost forces God to act in its thinking, i.e. we are going to do this so God will you add your bit to this by determining which named card will come up.

This is where this between Christ and the Spirit-interim-period that the disciples are in at the moment, is so different from pre-ascension and post-Pentecost. With Christ they could talk directly to him and get their guidance. Once the Spirit came, they had another Counsellor who could speak to them directly.

Please note that they had what we call the Old Testament Scriptures and indeed they made reference to them (and the Gospels are full of such references) but they could only be used for general guidance. It still needed the Holy Spirit to impress on them the significance of the particular Scripture but that wasn’t so good as the Spirit imparting a prophetic word that directly applied to a specific situation and made clear the intent of God for them. This is the difference between being in the period of the Spirit (post-Pentecost) or before it.

We really do need to emphasise this difference because it is crucial in modern church life. It is the difference between relying upon the written word (in this case in the Old Testament only) or on the word plus the Spirit. It should never be one or the other but always, both!  Now the danger here is that some of us who are Christians may feel defensive here and shout, “Sola Scripture,” the word alone, which tends to be our cry when we seek to oppose beliefs in part of the Church that relies upon Tradition plus Scripture, when appealing to matters of authority.

Now we must be quite clear that Scripture IS our ultimate authority and anything that goes contrary to it must be considered error – whether it be preaching or prophecy or words individually received. Anything that leads us to think or live lives that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture is error and is to be rejected.

However, we have only got to study the pages of the Acts of the Apostles to realise that the guidance and direction of the Spirit is essential for some specific guidance situations.  First of all, in simple power or boldness cases, in the new era, it is the Spirit who empowers and directs God’s servants, e.g. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them….” (Acts 4:8)  Later on when they prayed, they used the Scriptures as the basis for their praying (see Acts 4:25,26) but it was when the Spirit came on them that they spoke boldly (4:31). So much for empowering, how about guidance?

It was an angel that directed Philip to leave his evangelistic campaign and go south (8:26) and then the Spirit who directed him to the Ethiopian (8:29).  It was in a vision that the Lord directed Ananias to go to Saul (Acts 9:10). Similarly it was in a vision that Peter was prepared to meet Gentiles (Acts 10:10-) and it was the Spirit who prompted him to go to speak to them (10:19).  It was by the Spirit that Agabus prophesied and warned of a coming famine (Acts 10:29). It was the Spirit that directed the church at Antioch to send out missionaries (Acts13:2). It was the Spirit who directed Paul where not to go (Acts 16:6,7).

Thus we see from these many examples, that the life of the church and its guidance should be a flow of the Spirit. This in no way denigrates the Scriptures, but simply means that we are living in a period of grace where the Spirit has been imparted to every believer and as such, we now have a means of communicating with God where, if we are living in harmony with Him, and are being obedient to Him, God will direct us personally and directly. This is, I believe, THE challenge for the church today. Will we be a church of the Word AND the Spirit?

29. A Child is Born


29. A Son is Born!

Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As we have gone through these Advent meditations, there has been a tendency to try to put ourselves in the place of the people concerned, in order to catch the reality of the events and the possible impact upon us today. In doing this we have almost ignored the baby! In a sense the baby is the most important person in the story but, by necessity, we focus on the people involved with the baby. In the last of these meditations we now seek to remedy that by looking at this Old Testament prophecy about this coming one.

A child…. a son is given….. the prophecy is all about a male human baby yet to be born who, from the descriptions that follow, will be far from ordinary, who will be ‘given’ as a gift from God!

…. and the government will be on his shoulders… he will carry the burden of rule, a quaint way of saying he will be a king.

….And he will be called…. when you call somebody something, you are acknowledging who or what they are.

Wonderful Counsellor… this is literally wonder-counsellor or supernatural counsellor, one who will come with great wisdom and insight that is beyond human capability. When Jesus came he came with a different level of teaching (Mk 1:23,27, Mt 22:33) and knew what people were thinking (Mt 12:25, Mk 2:8, Lk 5:22, 6:8, 11:17) and stopped with mouths of the religious teachers with his wisdom and insight.

Mighty God… what a staggering prophetic claim! The word mighty gives no room to go off into wondering if the prophet was going off into some fantasy New Age speculations, (“we are all gods”). No this is Isaiah saying this child will be Almighty God. Of course, as we’ve noted a number of times, this defies our intellect and was therefore a stumbling block for the Jewish teachers. But this is at the core of the Christmas story – today we celebrate the coming of God Himself to live on the earth in human experience!

Everlasting Father… again there is no room given by the prophet for us to speculate about this coming child. Everlasting has to speak of God Himself for no other being is eternal or everlasting. The concept of God as Father was limited in the Old Dispensation, and only came to fullness when God came in the form of His “Son”. Contrary to the so-often terrible role models of today, this Father is a faithful, caring, compassionate and understanding provider who is always there for His children – which is what He calls us when we come to Him (Jn 1:12, 1Jn 3:1). Within these latter two descriptions so far, is the sense of unity. Jesus is the Son, but he’s also one with the Father (Jn 10:30 ,38, 14:9). John makes over 110 references to the Father in his Gospel! He understood something of the incredible concept that Jesus was sharing.

Prince of Peace…. a prince is a son of a ruler… hence Jesus the Son of the Almighty Ruler of all things. His role? To bring peace between God and man, to reconcile us sinners to Holy God (Rom 5:11, 2 Cor 5:19). This is what this baby is going on to do. Without him we would be estranged from God and could never know the wonder of His loving acceptance and the blessings that follow.

That is the wonder of this day – God has come to bring the means to bring us to Himself. Rejoice in it! Celebrate it! Worship Him!  Have I received this gift from God?  Has Jesus become the ruler of my life?  Have I acknowledged him for who he is? Is he my counsellor, the one who knows all about me and who guides me?  Do I acknowledge him as God? Is he the way to my knowing the Father, the one who cares for me and provides for me?  Have I received the peace he brings?

If I can respond in the affirmative to all these questions then the only thing left is to thank God for all of those things –  for my gift of life, the leader of my life, the bringer of wisdom and all else that I need, my entry to heaven, my peace here on the earth.

Lord I thank you for all these things. Thank you for this day! Thank you for Jesus!