First there were 12, then there were 11, and the Church was faced with a problem. The perfect number 12 (the number of the tribes of Israel, for example) was lost by the son of perdition who refused to stand in the mercy of Christ. Was the Church to enter Pentecost and the great mission of proclaiming Jesus and His resurrection now one man short? Something must be done.
They come together and, as usual Peter takes charge. He stands up among the company of the 120 brothers and explains the problem and does not spare any of the gory details. Then he reaches back to the Psalms to justify forgetting Judas and leaving behind the memory of his unfaithfulness so that another might take his office.
Now comes the problem. Who wants to be the successor to Judas? No one would ever live down the memory of such a predecessor.
Peter outlines the qualifications: a man who has been with us, from the beginning, through it all, from the baptism of John until the day of Jesus’ ascension and someone who saw the risen Jesus (that drops the number of candidates). It seems that from the short list, they came down to a shorter list. Two, to be exact. Neither of whom we know anything about except that we know three times as much about the one who was not chosen as the one who was. He had three names and the one who was chosen had one.
And then they prayed. Joseph, called Barsabbas or Justus, and Matthias were praying that they would choose the other one… at least if they were smart.
Then comes the election. “You Lord know the hearts of all – you show us which one YOU have chosen to fill the open spot of minister and apostle from Judas who went his own way…”
So they cast lots. And Matthias won, well that is not exactly what Scripture says: the lot fell on Matthias. Call that winning or losing? I do not know which. Matthias would serve the church, tradition holds among the cannibals and meat-eaters, and then killed for preaching the news of Christ.
What criteria would you have chosen? If you were Peter making your speech to this first-century voters’ meeting, what would you have directed the assembly to look for before rendering their choice? “One of these men must possess a dynamic personality with us as we preach to all creation.”? “One of these men must become a great philanthropist with us known for godly acts of love throughout the region.”? “One of these men must have a keen awareness of human psychology with us so that together we can better penetrate the human soul.”?
But none of those things made the top of Peter’s list of apostolic requirements. And we dare not sit here and think that we can forget the importance of the Gospel for accomplishing the church’s mission! Our sinful flesh is quite good at convincing us that something other than the message of Christ’s death and resurrection is the way to get the job done.
And so we pass by opportunities to proclaim Jesus to our friends and relatives because, well, they’re just not the religious type. We rationalize that our neighbor just won’t accept the crucifixion and resurrection because they’re so unbelievable. Building bridges and establishing friendships is not our problem. Our challenge is in actually crossing those bridges and being willing to risk our earthly human relationships as we present the resurrection gospel—that’s when we start to doubt the effectiveness of Jesus’ message.
But the death and resurrection of Jesus is the message that He has given us to proclaim. And the beauty of that Gospel is that it is a real historical fact that carries so much meaning and significance and comfort along with it. The resurrection of Jesus means that God the Father has fully accepted Jesus’ death to wipe away your sin. Even your sins of doubt, and your failures to trust in the power of His resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus says to all who believe that heaven is opened, and a place is waiting for you, forever. The resurrection says to every repentant soul who has been filled with faith in Christ that your hearts can be stilled. Your conscience may rest easy, for death has been swallowed up by death and now the living Lord gives you eternal life.
Although we are looking at chapter one of Acts this morning, if we paged ahead to chapter 20, we’d see just how the early church understood the true source of calling apostles. There St. Paul was saying farewell to the leaders of the congregation in Ephesus that he had founded. Even though there had been a human process that appointed these leaders to serve, Paul said to them in his farewell speech, “Keep watch over yourselves, and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” People may have appointed them, but Paul recognized that the Holy Spirit had called them to serve. Jesus had kept His promise to be with His church by providing proclaimers of His resurrection.
That is ultimately the job of pastors—to take people back to Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we stand before you and say, “I forgive you all your sins,” we are announcing to you the fruits of Christ’s cross and the benefits of Jesus’ resurrection. When we stand at the font and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we are—by the power of the Spirit and the Word—connecting souls to the resurrection of Jesus. When you kneel at this altar and hear, “Take and eat, take and drink; this is the true body and blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” the crucified and risen Lord is truly among us and is truly feeding you. His body and blood previews the resurrection feast we will enjoy in heaven, forever.
When Satan or a guilty conscience tries to accuse you, what comfort to hear that God forgives you for Jesus sake! When the harshness of life brings you down, what joy it is to be uplifted by the message of the risen Jesus, whose resurrection provides hope that cannot be shaken! When the reality of death haunts you, what peace it is to be pointed to the empty tomb of Jesus, knowing that the rising of His crucified body declares our forgiveness and our own future resurrection from the dead.
After His resurrection, Jesus promised His disciples, “I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” That promise was not fulfilled by a commemorative plaque or by fond recollections. Jesus keeps that promise through a message—through THE message—proclaimed by Matthias and by all those chosen by God to declare to us the joy, comfort, and peace of our souls.