“The Lord’s Will”
Text: Acts 1:12-26 Easter 7 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the Book of Genesis, the Lord called the twelve tribes, the sons of Jacob, the whole family of Israel, to be his covenant people. Twelve makes a complete family, all God’s people gathered into one communion, the full portion of his faithful people. That fullness was destroyed by the unfaithfulness of Dan, the first of the children of Israel to turn from the Lord God (Judges 18). The fellowship of God’s people, of Israel, is broken. The twelve is now eleven: broken, incomplete. The outward appearance of unity and completeness might be maintained, but what is broken cannot make itself whole again. Sin cannot be undone, except if God himself should do it. And that’s just what He’s promised. To undo sin. To send the Savior to overcome sin and death for us. To make His people whole again.
But how exactly is the work of sin undone? How are God’s people made one again?
During the days that immediately followed Jesus’ ascension, the Eleven and the other disciples, about 120 in number, awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit by devoting themselves to prayer. Their prayer arose out of their study together of the prophets—who had pointed to the incarnation of Christ, his ministry, sufferings, death, and resurrection—and of the Psalter, the prayer book of the twelve tribes of Israel, of the whole people of God, of Christ Jesus, and of the Church in all ages.
And in the course of their prayers from God’s Word, passages from Psalms 69 and 109 came to Peter’s attention. Here was a Word from the Lord to direct their action. As Israel had been broken and scattered because of sin, so, too, the apostolic circle had been broken by the sin of Judas Iscariot. The Twelve were now only the Eleven. The full number of the Twelve had to be restored. “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.”
But why would they choose only one more witness? Why not choose both Matthias and Barsabbas? If it were simply a matter of adding witnesses, certainly thirteen would be better than twelve. Actually, soon enough the number of those who proclaim the resurrection would swell to an even greater number, as Paul and Barnabas and Apollos joined in.
At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus chose twelve men, the living picture of Israel made one in Him and in their call to follow him faithfully. Their unity, too, was broken by the unfaithfulness of Judas. This time there’s no possibility of maintaining the illusion of fullness. The fellowship has been broken. Which is exactly what sin does. It drives us away from God and away from each other. It destroys the wholeness we have in our relationship with God
A relationship we have no way of restoring on our own. As much as we desire to be able to fix the problem ourselves, we’ll never be able to make right the relationship that we’ve messed up. So, we look back to the restoration of the Twelve, which is the very picture of our Lord’s saving work. His death breaks the power of sin, and his resurrection proclaims healing for the broken and reconciliation of those driven apart by sin. He fills back up what’s been depleted, and He makes whole what’s been split apart. It is only by the saving work of Christ that what we have broken can be made right again.
Filling the place that Judas deserted and restoring the full number of the Twelve apostles not only brought an additional witness to the resurrection, but it was also a witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection to reconcile the estranged and make his people, his new Israel, whole.
God’s People Are Made One by Christ’s Saving Work
The man who would be chosen to replace Judas would be like the Eleven with respect to his faithful following of the Lord, a witness to all He said and did in the days of his incarnation. As with the Eleven, he would have followed the Lord, not by chance, his own decision, or his act of commitment, but by the call of his Lord.
Two disciples met these qualifications: Joseph, also known as Barsabbas and by the Latin name “Justus,” and Matthias. We know nothing about them; they are strangers to us. What’s important about them both is that Jesus called them. They faithfully followed him. And all this was recognized by those who were closest to the Lord and they nominated these two to be considered for the call. A call of the Lord that came in a most peculiar way, to be sure. “Then they cast lots.” Imagine having the fate of your vocation for the remainder of your life resting on the casting of a lot, essentially the roll of a dice. Given that the choice was so important, this course of action seems particularly inappropriate to us. Why is there no report of personal investigations, interviews, and a thorough discussion? You’d never do such a thing when selecting a pastor to lead you. Well, actually, you kind of did. And look what you got. What it really means is that the decision was completely in the hands of God. And whichever way it turned out, the man chosen for the work would have been a fine choice.
The simple answer to our question about why it all happened this way with Matthias is that the assembly isn’t making the selection. Neither the will of man nor good luck nor blind fate will determine such an important thing. The choice isn’t in the hands of men, even men who’ve called upon God to assist them. As with the Eleven, so now the Lord who called them at first would choose one to complete the number of the Twelve. The whole matter is out of their hands. And God’s choice is Matthias.
And in that choosing, the number of the Twelve is restored. This is the fruit of the saving death and resurrection of our Lord. Israel is made whole in Christ. We’re told nothing more in all of Scripture about Matthias. And it’s kind of comforting that the focus isn’t on the messenger, but rather on the message. All our attention is directed to the apostolic witness to Christ and the power of his resurrection. This Good News is proclaimed for nations and peoples as the Twelve, the evangelists, apostles, and apostolic ministers in every age go into all the world, inviting all to the Baptism that incorporates us into Christ and makes us members of his body. And as they announce forgiveness to the repentant, calling us to oneness in Him and with all believers. Oneness that we’re reminded of in the fellowship of His altar.
Like Matthias, we too are called to be witnesses to the resurrection. Not because of what we’ve done, but because God desires all to know, and to proclaim, the Good News that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.