Our Second Reading for today comes from the Book of Acts, chapter 1, verses 15-26. The Book of Acts begins with the ascension of the resurrected Jesus into heaven after giving the disciples instructions to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. While they wait, there is a piece of organizational business they need to address. We join the story there.
One additional word of introduction – I pray with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, from time to time I seek to enter into the scriptural text in a creative, first person style of sermon using a bit of theological imagination. I pray doing so this morning helps us hear the word God intends for us to share. Let us hear this Word of God.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for 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 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it’;
‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
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 must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us 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 added to the eleven apostles.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
We were there on the Mount of Olives, all 120 of us, when Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would be coming. I wasn’t sure what to make of that as I’d never really felt the Spirit before. But I knew it would be something big. Suddenly as Jesus was telling us that we would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, he was gone – gone for good this time we suspected. We just stood there looking up in the heavens, not knowing what to do. I’m not sure who finally suggested it, but we figured we might as well go back to Jerusalem. That is where Jesus had told us the Holy Spirit would come and we knew we should be ready.
And so we waited in Jerusalem. All of us were far from home – we were ready to go back to Galilee, but Jesus said to wait in Jerusalem. While we waited we told stories about being with Jesus. Someone said they remembered the time when Jesus walked on the water. That was really cool. Someone else recalled Jesus healing the lepers when only one came back to say thanks. I couldn’t believe that only one returned. I shared going to the empty tomb and hearing that Jesus was alive! Everyone smiled at that. I wanted to tell other people about Jesus, but there was still the danger. Those who crucified Jesus might be coming after us too. So together we waited, at one home and then another, just hoping the Holy Spirit would come.
Suddenly one day, when we all happened to be together, Peter stood up and motioned for us all to be quiet. The murmuring kept going; there were still some who didn’t trust Peter after his denial of Christ at the chief priest’s house. But gradually we all quieted down. As he began to speak, I sensed that this was going to be an important morning. “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus – for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” The murmuring started again - Judas was not a welcome topic. After all he had betrayed our Lord Jesus. It was his fault that Jesus had been crucified. But Peter was right; it was all a part of the plan foretold in scripture. If Jesus was going to conquer death, he had to die, right? If he was going to be raised from the dead, he had to be dead first, right? Judas had actually done what was necessary for God’s plan to work out. Still, I’m glad it wasn’t me who had to betray him.
Peter had kept talking and now was quoting from the Psalms: “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it; and Let another take his position of overseer.” Was Peter really talking about replacing Judas as one of the twelve? Could we do that? Jesus had picked the 12. The rest of us had followed along, learning from Jesus every day, but Jesus had picked the 12 to be his closest followers. They were taught some things that the rest of us were not. How could we replace one of the 12 – only Jesus could do that, right?
But Peter continued, “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 must be become a witness with us to his resurrection.” I remembered that day when John had baptized Jesus in the Jordan. I had been in line right in front of him and didn’t know it. John was a powerful preacher and I was convinced that I needed to be baptized to show my true repentance for my sins. I had cheated in my business, neglected to care for my mother and father, and had just a plain lousy attitude. So I went to the river that day and my life was changed. Little did I know how much. I thought I was just repenting of my sins, but instead I met the Lord.
I wasn’t even out of the river yet when I heard John talking to Jesus. So I stopped, saw the water poured over his head, the dove descending, and heard the voice from heaven. I knew that I had to follow this man wherever he went.
So I followed Jesus throughout Galilee. I saw him teach and heal, preach and perform miracles. I was with him in Jerusalem for the entry with the palms and praises. I am ashamed to say that I ran when I saw him arrested. I saw him hang on the cross. Then I was there when we heard of the resurrection and I saw his ascension into heaven with the others. I certainly knew the story and I wanted to tell everyone I saw. Maybe they would pick me to be one of the twelve.
No, they would never pick me. I was not a flashy guy; no one ever recognized me in the market if we happened to pass each other walking down the street; I hadn’t been part of any conversions or healings. I just watched and remembered. I did make sure that Jesus had a place to sleep in each town we entered. Jesus even asked me to make arrangements for that final Passover meal in Jerusalem. I was good at arrangements and behind the scenes work – like I said before, nothing flashy. There were a lot of other followers of Jesus who were better known and would be better apostles than me.
After Peter stopped speaking, there was only silence. It was like no one wanted to nominate anyone and certainly no one was going to recommend themselves. Then from the back I heard, “I suggest Joseph called Barsabbas, I think you may know him better as Justus.” I thought that was a good suggestion. Joseph’s nickname was Justus and it fit him well. He was the most righteous man that I knew. Everyone liked him and I was sure that people would listen to him if he became one of the 12.
Then, the person sitting next to me lifted her voice, “I suggest Matthias.” I almost fell over in shock! No, not me! She couldn’t have said me! We already had a great candidate in Justus, there was no way that I could stack up against him in anyone’s eyes – God’s or the other disciples. I was a quiet one, one who worked behind the scenes, I didn’t deserve to be one of the 12. What about my life before I met Jesus? That surely disqualified me! But then there were people around me nodding and smiling. One person even gave me a thumbs up! I waited for someone to make an argument against me. But no one did. I waited for another name to be called, but none were offered. Peter declared that the time for suggestions was over. It was time to pray.
I have never prayed so hard in my entire life. Peter led us in prayer, “Lord you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” In the silence that followed I prayed in my heart: “Lord, if this is your decision that I serve you as an apostle, I will do all that I can to be faithful to you. But if it is your will that Justus be an apostle, I will support him all the way. It is a hard job and only you can know the one you have chosen.” After a long silence, Peter concluded the prayer with a loud “Amen!”
As I looked up I saw he held the lots in his hands. If there was any way to know the will of God it was by throwing lots. We didn’t believe in chance, so if the lot came up with my name, then it was God’s will that I be an apostle. If it came up Justus, he would be the apostle. When Peter raised his hand to cast the lots, I closed my eyes and held my breath. I couldn’t bear the thought of watching as my life was being determined right before my eyes.
My eyes were still closed when I felt the first hand slap me on the back. Suddenly I was enveloped in arms and hugs and handshakes. I heard Justus’ voice saying, “God’s blessing on you!” I opened my eyes. The lot had fallen on me? God wanted me to be an apostle? Maybe we should throw the lots again. But I knew the result would be the same. God wanted me.
I made my way to the front to stand by Peter and the other apostles. Once there my fellow apostles hugged and hugged and hugged me again. There was no secret handshake or code word to learn. Just the warm hands of friends being laid upon my head and shoulders we together prayed for guidance. Me, Matthias, a behind the scenes guy was added to the eleven apostles. Now there were 12 again, just as the Lord had intended.
I don’t think that Luke ever mentions me again in the Book of Acts. Maybe it’s because I continued to do the work that I had always done. I worked behind the scenes, I spoke quietly to people in the street instead of making loud speeches in front of large crowds, I remained the same guy I always had been – faithful, not flashy. Yet, God used me in ministry in ways far beyond what I ever could have imagined. You might hear some stories of how I traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa and people came to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior through me. Maybe it was in my actions, maybe they heard a quiet word in a time of sorrow, but they came to believe in my Lord and Savior through me.
I like to think of myself as “the Silent Apostle.” My name is mentioned in the Bible just twice – both in the story I just told you. But I wonder sometimes if maybe my story is also a lot like yours? Being an apostle isn’t necessarily a flashy job or one that gets you a lot of recognition. It’s living your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ - trying every day to do the things that Jesus would want you to do. Maybe you don’t spread the word through big speeches, but you can speak a word to one in need. Maybe you find yourself living out the gospel through organization and taking care of details. Maybe you are a lot like me – not being able to believe that God has actually chosen you! But if I could be chosen, then you are too. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you’re up to the job – God will help you, just like God helped me.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: