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(Acts 1:15–26) Throwing Dice and Drawing Straws

(Acts 1:15–26) Throwing Dice and Drawing Straws

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 1:15–26

Like drawing straws or picking a hand, we sometimes seek God's will like it's a game of chance. But the tools for discovering God's will are not mystical. So throw the dice away and learn how to discover the will of God.

Dive into Acts 1:14-26, where the early believers devote themselves to prayer and seek God's guidance in choosing Matthias as Judas' replacement. Discover the significance of prayer, the role of apostles, and how to discern God's will in your own life.


We return this morning to our study of the Book of Action - 1:14. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. 15 And at this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together).  16. “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.  17. “For he was counted among us, and received his portion in this ministry.”  18. (Now this man acquired a field with the price 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 who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20.  “For it is written in the book of Psalms,‘Let his homestead be made desolate,And let no man dwell in it’(Psalm 69);  and, ‘His office let another man take. (Psalm 109)

Now Peter gives us the rest of Judas’ story - we know he hung himself, according to Matthew - Peter informs us that the rope evidently broke or the knot eventually came loose and his body, perhaps by then distended, fell and burst open in the middle.

One of the saddest biographical phrases related to Judas is in verse 25.  this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

While the choices and decisions of Judas were known to God to the point that those choices fit the sovereign plan of Jesus’ betrayal - this passage emphasizes the awesome consequence of human rebellion - here you have 120 people in a room who are choosing to follow Christ - who are choosing to put their lives on the line for the cause of Christ - and here is also the story of another one who chose not to follow Christ. . .and the phrase “Judas turned aside to go to his own place” - Peter says, “Judas belonged to hell”  “Hell belonged to Judas”.

My friend, if you’ve chosen to reject Jesus Christ, you also will eventually go to the place of your own choosing - “Hell will belong to you; you will belong to hell.”

Now that Judas is gone to inherit the place of his choosing, Peter reminds them that they have an agenda item - they need to seek God’s guidance in replacing Judas with another apostle.

You might wonder - shouldn’t they have elected the Apostle Paul - shouldn’t he have been that 12th man.  I personally don’t believe so - it might help to remember that the 12 apostles were primarily representatives of the gospel going to the Jewish nation and it’s 12 tribes.  In Revelation 21, the walls of the new Jerusalem will have 12 foundation stones and upon each stone are the names of only 12 men.

If you remember, the Apostle Paul called himself in Romans 13 the Apostle to whom?  The Gentiles.  Paul had indeed a special commissioning and apostolic function to the Gentile peoples.

But the office of Apostle was specifically for 12 men who would lay the foundation of the early church.

You will notice as well that this upper room was bathed in the activity of prayer - another reason I don’t believe their choice was wrong.  verse 14 says, they were continually devoting themselves to prayer...verse 24 as they chose Judas’s replacement - they prayed.

In the process of their desire to fulfill the scripture we read in verse 23. And they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed, and said, “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou hast chosen 25. to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

I love the fact that it is Peter who is the only person in the New Testament who refers to the Lord as “one who knows the hearts of all men”.  The original word is cardio/heart  from which we get our word, cardiology + gnosta - knowlege = the Lord is the heart knower. 

Peter will use the phrase for the second and only other time in the New Testament in Acts 15:8 as he preaches the truth about “God who knows the heart”

God, the heart knower.  No one knew that any better than Peter.  Becuase God knew Peter’s heart - “Lord, I’ll never deny you; I will die for you; all these may abaondon you but I never will” - God the Son knew Peter’s brave words were really covering up a heart filled with uncertainty and fear. 

The resurrected Lord met with Peter on the beach that day and asked him three times, Simon, son of John, do you love me - “Lord you know all things (you know that in spite of my failure and my fear and my denial and my pride - Lord you know that I do love you.

Now, Peter stands and prays:  “Lord, both of these men say they will lay down their lives for you - both Justus and Matthais are claiming to want the office that will put their lives in great peril - both of them look and sound good to us - but You know their hearts . . . like you knew mine.”

26. And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Eusebius tells us that Matthius faithfully served the Lord in Ethiopia and even had travels and ministry in modern day Germany, where his bones are supposedly buried.

Now the question remains, do we cast lots for church leaders - they did it in the Book of Acts.

In the Old Testament, casting lots was a God approved method of discerning His will - remember, they did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit who will become our teacher and guide.

It’s interesting that this event is prior to the Spirit’s indwelling and it is the last recorded Biblical even of lot casting.

But wasn’t it easier back then to determine the path God wanted them to take?  Can’t we cast lots - or roll dice - can’t we draw straws?

Well, when you uncover the agenda of this meeting, you’ll discover that what they simply wanted to do was fulfill the Word of God, prophecied in the Psalms, which they were able to understand now that Jesus had opened their minds, Luke recorded.

And their desire was bathed in prayer - in fact, they didn’t ask the Lord to help them decided which man was the man for the job - they asked the Lord to reveal who His choice was!  vs. 24b.  Lord, show us which one to these two Thou has chosen.

You say, but they still got to throw the dice - that’s not fair.

Well, I happen to believe that we throw dice too - a lot - only in different ways.

We come up with little tests - we devise a scheme to discern God’s will, “Lord, if I get a call tonight from that company out west whose offering me that lucrative job - I’ll know it’s your will to take the job if it rings at exactly 8:00 pm.  What if it rings at 7:55, or it doesn’t ring at all - or the next night it rings at exactly 8:00, or it rings at 8:00 am the next morning - or the phone rings at 8:00 that night and it’s from someone from out west, but they’ve dialed the wrong number. . . now what.

Now I understand, behind our fleece setting and straw drawing and dice throwing practice is the sincere desire to do what God wants you to do. . . there is nothing more important to the believer than knowing and doing the will of God.

Even Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said (5:17)  "So then, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is!"

So then, how do we discover the will of the Lord for our decisions and dilemas?

Negative Reminders:

1)  God doesn't reveal His will through audible sounds, dreams or visions.

The Bible is clear that it is complete and capable of equipping every believer for every good work "2 Timothy: 3."

There isn't any doubt that one of God's methods of leading is through the inward impression of the Holy Spirit through what we refer to as the peace of God.

Colossians 3:15 & 16 - let the peace of Christ "call the shots"  - to let the word of Christ dwell - "take up residence in your heart".

Stay away from the statement - "God spoke to me".  It seems God is speaking to everybody nowadays.  From psychics to shiite Muslims.  God doesn't speak audibly, so quit implying He does.  Hebrews 1 stated clearly - God spoke in the past through the prophets - but in these last days, has spoken to us by His Son!"

So when some bird on T.V. closes his eyes and says. . . "God just told me someone out there has a hurt right hand, take your right hand and turn him off!"

He is doing nothing more than negating the authority of God’s completed word and claiming to be a source of new revelation from God. 

Another important thing to remember as you seek God’s will is that . . .

2)  Discovering God’s will doesn’t always make obedience easier.

Think of it - Gideon said, “Lord, if you want me to fight the Midianites, let my fleece be wet with dew and the ground wet - the next morning his fleece was wet and the ground was dry. . .uh, Lord, if you want me to fight the Midianites, let my fleece be dry and the ground be wet . . .

Consider the remark of Christ toward His own generation of rebellious religionists, "You adulterous and evil generation, you do always seek for a sign."

Remember the rich man who went to hades and was in torment - Turn to Luke 16.

LUKE 16:19

19 “Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. 20 “And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 “Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 “And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 “But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

Consider the thousands of people who saw Christ and his apostles perform undeniable miracles - yet they still hardened their hearts against Him.

Knowing the word of God and the will of God doesn’t guarentee obedience to God.

Let me suggest three things that are wrong with devising quick ways to discern the will of God - we’ll call them “dice throwing”:

1)  “Dice throwing” most often occurs whenever we lack time or patience.

Let’s admit it - fleeces usually appear when we feel we're out of time to make the decision.  Lord, we need to know by tomorrow if we're to apply for that job; buy that house.

Frankly, we haven't given the Spirit of God time to develop in us whatever His will may demand of us. 

2)  “Dice throwing” schemes are often an avoidance of Biblical counsel from others

Many times we resort to some strange test for the Lord,  simply becuase we don't like what other believers who are wise in the Lord are saying to us.

3)   “Dice throwing” can be a refusal to obey the revealed will of God

A young man who wants to marry an unbelieving woman may lay out a series of fleeces: if she comes to church with me - if she'll agree to let me read my Bible - if she seems sensitive to my convictions, etc

But God has already said, "Do no be yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship has light with darkness"  (I Cor. 6)

A young woman says, "I'm living with my boyfriend; why is that wrong. . . our combined incomes are relieving debt - besides we’ve committed to getting married sometime in the future - surely God is pleased with that."  The Bible states, "Flee fornication - sexual relations outside of marriage".

A woman says, "I really believe it would be best for me if I divorce my husband, we've fallen out of love, so she says,  it's destroying my life - God seems to be leading me to break it off" I Cor. 7 - "But to the wife I give instruction, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband. . . and that the husband should not send his wife away."

Ladies and Gentlemen, sometimes our problem is not what we don't know about God's will, but what we do know. 

And so we arrange all sorts of situations and tests for the Lord which simply veil an underlying disobedience to God’s revealed word.

But what about those issues that aren’t clear - those situations that aren’t spelled out in scripture?

Instead of rolling the dice, let me suggest . . .Two things to believe:

1)  Begin by believing that God has the Sovereign right to take His time; and that His timing is always perfect.

Our thoughts are not God's thoughts. . . that means His timing is not always our timing.

2)  Believe by faith that God desires for you to discover His will; and that His will is always best.

God promised in Philippians chapter 2 that “He would work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure."

Why would God promise to work in your life that which He now makes impossible for you to discover.

The wonderful news is, Jesus didn’t leave us orphans - He didn’t leave us on our own - He promised his early disciples that he’d send a Helper - to illumine and guide and teach and convict and instruct us.

Otherwise God is saying to every new believer:  "Good luck, from here on out, you are on your own."

That's like taking a young man whose just decided to become a pilot - placing him immediately in the cockpit of a jet and saying - "Congratulations on your decision to be a pilot - have a nice flight!"

Paul wrote to the Colossians in chapter 1 that God's desire is for them to be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding."

Those are two things you can believe.

Last question: is there anything I can do to discern the will of God?  Absolutely.

I want to suggest Three journeys for You to Take in order to be filled up with knowlege and understanding of His will . . . three trips for the 20th century believer that replaces casting lots for the first century apostle.

1) Make a journey to the Word with an open heart - Psalm 119:105 - Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.

Now that’s good news and bad news.  The bad news is we don’t read, Thy word is a brilliant light to light up my path from start to finish.  No, but the good news is the Word of God provides just enough light - like the light from a lamp - for that next step you need to take.

So be sure the options you are contemplating - the choices you are considering do not contradict Scripture. 

The Living Word never contradicts the written word.

2)  Make a journey to wise believers with open accountability -

Proverbs 13:14  The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death. 

            v. 20.  He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Don’t go to person after person until you find one that will agree with you - go to one or two wise believers and then stick with it.

3)  Make a journey to your knees in prayer -

James 1:5 - If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and doesn't rebuke you for asking. 

In Acts 1:14 they began their stay with an attitude of continually prayer - in verse 24 they ended the process of discovery by means of prayer.

Trouble is, we often go to the Lord, not with an open mind that he can fill, but with a speech or a plan we’re hoping He will bless.

James is implying that the person who recieves wisdom from God is the person who admits he doesn’t have it - “if any man lacks wisdom from God, let him ask.”

While you’re asking, be sure your motive for asking is unselfish and pure.

I like the legend of the man who was granted an opportunity to talk face to face with the Lord.  He said, "Lord, how long is a million years to you?"  God responded, "A million years is just a second to me."  Hm, well Lord, how much is a million dollares to you?  The Lord said, "A million dollars is just a nickel to me."  The man thought and then, with a sly grin, said, "Well, Lord, how about giving me a nickel then.  The Lord said, "I certainly will; it'll be there in just a second."

James, in his letter, rebukes the believers for asking God for things in prayer only that their fleshly wants can be fulfilled.

So go to God with an open heart that says, “Lord, even in my request, purge my thoughts and motives so that I will be able to say, “Not my will by Thine be done.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are to pursue God’s will by waiting, by praying; by listinening to wise counsel, by bathing our search in the word of God and through prayer/communion with Spirit of God, whom we believe and trust as Sovereign.

Then with courage and obedience and faith and submission, we throw the dice away and follow after God!


George Mueller wrote how he discerned the will of God in most situations - he developed what he called the journal method - drew a line down the middle of a page:  pros and cons He called this his balance sheet. . . revising the list from day to day as seemed necessary.  He also wrote - "Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord's will, whatever it may be.  When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.

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