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Description: Apostolic Succession
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I’d like to have a shot at it, if God gives grace on first verse of Colossians. This is where the
emphasis in the church and fellowship is important. Please look at the Colossians 1:1-2, Paul, an
apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy, our brother, to the saints and faithful
brethren in Christ at Colossae. Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”
This first verse gets you to the important book of Acts. Acts 1:12, “Then they returned to Jerusalem
from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away; 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. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with
the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
“In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred
and twenty), and said, ‘Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke
beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he
was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man bought a field
with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his
bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was
called in their language Akel’dama, that is, Field of Blood. ) For it is written in the book of
Psalms, “Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”; and “His office
let another take.”
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out
among us, 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.’ And they put forward two, Joseph
called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘Lord, who
knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou has chosen to take the place in this
ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots
for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.”
That was key and key to everything that has happened since in the Church. That’s why we call it an
Apostolic Church. I don’t know if you remember that Paul said I’m an apostle because I have seen
the Lord. He regarded seeing Jesus on the Damascus road the same as what the others had done. That
was the mark of an apostle. An apostle was one who had seen Jesus incarnate, seen Jesus alive.
That was critical to beginnings of the early Church. I think we need to bring it out more in our
apologetics that these people had seen Jesus alive and actually touched his body.
So the apostles had that special position as evidence and that’s why the truth was never questioned
in the first century.
If you remember probably the last book that was written in the New Testament was John. They reckon
it was written as late as 100 A.D. John himself died about 100 A.D. Through all those 100 years you
had lots and lots of little churches everywhere in the ancient nations. They were all receiving
letters as early as 50-56 A.D. and they were distributed around all those churches; all around the
then known countries in the east. They told about Jesus being alive and there were still lots of
people who were alive at that time. They could say, “My cousin was alive in Jerusalem at that time
and he told me about this Jesus.” They could say it was so. On top of that they had these apostles.
These men walked along side of Jesus, ate with him and known him. They were the apostles.
‘Apostelo’ means to send out. They were known as apostles, not only were they sent out, but people
who had actually seen Jesus and touched him and knew that he was real. You can see that in the first
century the whole thing was very solid.
That’s why also it became very solemn in the second century — why even the emperor of Rome claimed
Jesus to be the Son of God and proclaimed Christianity the established religion in the Roman Empire.
[Constantine, 272 – 337 A.D.] There was no question in anyone’s mind that this Jesus had lived and
done the things that they said. No one questioned that he had risen from the dead. It all stemmed
from the respect that was given to these apostles. It was so important to them that they elected
someone to take Judas’ place. There were twelve men who were trusted and known to have been with
That’s the kind of truth and in a sense, the same truth that God has passed on to us. This is the
purpose of the first verse in Colossians. He is stating who is doing the writing here in this
letter. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.” They didn’t
have email back then but they did the same in addressing their letters ‘To’ and ‘From’ in the
beginning. They were very clear on who was saying these things and who was writing to whom. That’s
the opening of all the letters in the New Testament. Paul was actually someone who had seen Jesus
incarnate. He had seen Jesus on this earth, on the road to Damascus. Timothy, of course, who was his
assistant and had traveled so many miles with him. The truth in Christ was always tied to these men.
That has carried on through God’s grace to us. We are in the remarkable situation where God has
placed us. I know many older men in the churches in Ireland who tried to get truth over to one of
their children. They would say, “If he had only heard Billy Nicholson.” Nicholson was a famous
evangelist through whom God had worked a lot of changes in people’s lives. I heard many older men
who said if only their children had heard so and so. Here we are.
I was thinking the other day, even now it is 40 years since we did the first sermon that we
recorded. It is at least 40 years since some of us met for the first time. Here we are alive. Not
only alive but we have 1000 presentations online in video and audio format. We hope they are good
for another 100 years. In a way, we are right in line with the apostles. God has been good to us.
It wouldn’t be there online if it was just me. It’s there because of you. You were there; not just
Greg. We have all made it possible. There would be no one who had any interest in those things at
this time. You have probably 30-40 years to tell people where they can find those sermons or those
truths. Also, about 100 years after that people will be able to find those sermons and truths
It’s a precious and noble privilege that God has given us. To us it’s nothing. Irene, being the wife
of a preacher, would say you’re making so much out of nothing. But it is a big thing. God has
enabled his truth to be passed on. It’s crazy but we are probably one of the first to have a
complete presentation online of truth. It’s there in such a way that they can be a part of the
fellowship with us as if they heard those truths. It’s very effective that somebody can see it.
Don’t you think especially in these days when there is so much deception? Especially when there is
so much distrust and lack of trust? We’ve all made mistakes. If it is through the ‘Basic Youth
Conflicts” man or someone else who’s done something wrong and it’s questioned. Here you see the
dumb guy and see the people in the congregation 20-30 years later, it builds up a great sense of
truth and confirmation. It carries on the certainty the apostles carried on. A certainty that tells
people they were there and saw that. They saw him alive. They ate fish with him on the beach so it
must be real.
That connection with actual incarnation is mighty, powerful and most influential. I encourage you
therefore to carry it on. This is why we are meeting here. We have this book of Colossians because
Paul and Timothy wrote this letter and he put his name on it. We can trace him back and we can track
down people who refered to Paul; others that have refered to Timothy. It all hangs together and is a
convincing thing that will be more and more essential nowadays when people wonder was that a movie
or did it really happen. Was that news or YouTube? Is that Reality TV or real? There is such
uncertainty that men and women will question what their eyes see. It will be increasingly important
to have something that has all kinds of connections to fact and reality — what you can see and
God has made us part of that apostolic succession. It’s because of those apostles that we have the
certainty that we have today. I think you know it because you are so loving, kind and respect what
God has done. I would encourage you to be faithful to that until you go to heaven. Do everything
you can to get all you can on your websites. The websites don’t need to be brilliant. They just have
to be there so you can invite people to them. They can be anything especially if you have the side
menu with all the other websites. That will assure for the next 200-300 years people will be able to
see and hear the things we have seen and heard ourselves.
That is very much what the apostolic church is. You might wonder why the apostolic church. Well,
because it first came from those 12 men who had actually seen him and therefore had no question
Jesus existed or not. On that apostolic church God has built what we see before us these days. So it
is an honor and a privilege. None of us need to be brilliant. We don’t need to be wonderful speakers
or writers. We just need to be the little people who get these things on the internet in all kinds
of different ways.
Then you really have to be thankful to God in arranging this as much as He has done. We need to be
thankful to God for men like Paul and Timothy. We must be thankful even for the heat of the day when
it comes. You will have to carry on in the heat of the day sometime. There will be the equivalent of
persecution. It may not be the same as what John Wesley experienced where it was physical. There
may not be imprisonment — though again who knows! There may not be imprisonment such as the
apostles themselves faced. You will come into moments in your own life when you think is it worth
it. Is it worth it? This is so boring. There will come moments where you wonder if it is worth
Oh, yes, yes! Because otherwise you break the line! You break the string, yeah. You are part of
what God started in these 12 men. You are part of what Jesus established by his death and
resurrection. You are a part of the apostolic succession. That is why God has created us. That’s
the only reason we are here to witness to the reality of Him and of His dear Son.
Of course we can all see how that will be threatened when Zefferelli produces a movie about Christ.
Or someone else how makes another life of Christ. Obviously, what they do now to men and women who
are famous in the world, you know you can barely recognise the person they are talking about because
they have turned him into a homosexual or something else. The unreality is there whether he is an
actor or a politician. It will always be that. It will be the same with Jesus. They will do all
kinds of things to mutilate him and to prevent people seeing him as he really is. Part of our
responsibility and privilege is to clarify that.
I agree with anyone here who says isn’t the best way to do that is him living in us. Yes, of course,
that’s the best way. That’s better than a movie. If they can touch Christ’s kindly tenderness in
you. Of course that’s the best. It is also important to see the salutation in this letter teaches
us clearly of the truth of God is dependent on the faithfulness of people like ourselves, including
the faithfulness of these two. It is very difficult for any of us to think who will be here in 100
years time. But there will be somebody. There will be someone who is looking for truth as we are.
God has blessed us here to bring that about.
Let us pray.
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