Are You Matthias?, Acts 1:12-26, Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 2, 2019
What about Matthias? What’s the big deal about him? We only hear about him once in the Bible, right? According to our text in Acts, he was the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and Judas’ subsequent death. His calling as an apostle is unique, in that his appointment was not made personally by Jesus, who had already ascended into heaven, and it was also made before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church.
There is no mention of a Matthias among any of the lists of disciples, or followers of Jesus in any of the gospels, or anywhere else in the entire Bible, for that matter. But according to Acts, he had been with Jesus from His baptism by John until His Ascension.
In the days following Jesus’ Ascension, Peter proposed that the assembled disciples, who numbered about 120, nominate two men to replace Judas. Peter proposes a solution to a dilemma which we don’t really see. Peter seems to think that the number of disciples needs to be twelve. We might just wonder why he thinks that twelve disciples are somehow more important than eleven.
Ancient Jewish law, however, helps us out here. It seems that if one had twelve witnesses to a crime there was no need for a trial. The number twelve of course has come down to us in trial by jury. In our law a full jury is always twelve people. The prosecutor has to convince twelve folks that the accused committed the crime. Just one person who sees a reason to doubt makes it a hung jury. It takes all twelve. In this case, the twelve are witnesses to both a crime, and an act of God at the same moment.
Well, they chose Joseph called Barsabbas, whose surname was Justus, and Matthias. “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show 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.” (24–25)
Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was numbered with the eleven apostles. This is the last time in Scripture that lots are used to discern the will of God. A new era is dawning. The Spirit is coming; “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26). We have no need of casting lots now because God’s Spirit-breathed Word clearly reveals His will.
Yet, no further information about Matthias is to be found in the entire Bible seems strange. Even his name is questionable with many of the early church historians. The tradition of the Greeks says that Matthias planted the faith in the geographical region around Turkey and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea, residing chiefly near the port city.
Tradition also says that he died around 80 AD. It is claimed that Matthias’ remains were brought to Italy through Empress Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. Part of these relics are said to be interred in the Abbey of St. Justina, in northern Italy, and the remaining in the Abbey of St. Matthias, in Germany, if you buy-in to that sort of stuff.
So Matthias, in spite of his being named one of the twelve Apostles, remains an obscure figure. His name is barely remembered, and even Christian writers who lived within a century or two of his lifetime do not agree on what he actually did or what actually happened to him. Of course, this could be said about most of the original twelve apostles. God does not always choose the most visible, the most well-known, or the most popular people to do His work. Often God chooses obscure, unknown folks for that purpose.
In terms of worldly ideals, Matthias was a colossal failure. We don’t hear of him preaching in mega-churches with their huge buildings and auditoriums. We don’t hear of people from all over rushing up to hear his every word. We don’t hear of him healing people, who faint because he touched them.
We do hear that the Lord added 3,000 souls to His Church after Peter preached his Pentecost sermon and his hearers became baptized. But we don’t get numbers like Peter’s when we’re talking about Matthias.
Therein lies our problem. Too often, we’re not looking in the right place to define or measure success. We look at the ledger but not to the Lord. We search statistics but not Scripture. We are wowed by works but not God’s Word. We behold the bright lights but not Holy Baptism. We look to the universe for answers but not to God for our salvation. We determine success in terms of what the world expects but not in terms of what God says.
I wonder how Matthias felt about being chosen to replace Judas as an apostle. Honored? Scared? Humbled? Reluctant? Uncertain? We don’t know. But I do know that I often feel any or all of these things, and probably some others feelings combined, maybe you do too.
And what about Joseph Barsabbas, AKA Justus, the guy who wasn’t chosen? How did he feel? Disappointed? Jealous? Relieved? Honored that he had been nominated? Satisfied that God’s will had been done? Well, we don’t know that, either.
I imagine most of us can relate more to Justus. We all have the need to be the one chosen. Sinfully and selfishly, we want to be the favorite, best dressed, most likely to succeed. We want to be loved, admired, appreciated, and complimented. We want to be the one chosen for honors, awards, teams, prizes, and promotions. Many of us would like to be number one. Perhaps that sinful desire was ultimately the cause of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus.
Truth be told, every one of us, at times, ends up being the unchosen one. The unchosen ones exist everywhere. They are the ones who didn’t have enough skill to make the team or high enough grades to get into the college; the ones who didn’t get the promotion or the new job.
However, whether or not the world has chosen us for any special honors or awards, God by His grace has chosen us to be His sons and daughters. To be chosen by God’s grace is the greatest recognition or award in life.
Time after time, the Scriptures remind us of our chosen status. Long ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:9–10). Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16).
There was a traveler in Europe who once noticed a carving of a lamb high up on a stone near the top of a church tower. He had seen such carvings of a lamb before, but never in such a place. Usually they would be inside the church, near or on the altar or pulpit.
Asking for an explanation, he was told that in the days when the church was being built, one of the workmen lost his footing and fell from the scaffolding just when that particular stone was being laid. His fellow workmen hurried to the ground, and they were shocked to see the man standing there brushing the dust from his clothes. He had fallen into the midst of a flock of sheep.
One lamb in particular broke his fall. The man, looking at the lamb said, “he was crushed, but I live.” The workmen carved a lamb on that stone so that all might remember the miraculous fate of the workman. But more than that, it also points everyone to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.
Jesus was crushed for you! He broke your fall as you were heading headlong into the abyss of hell. He lifted you up in the power of His resurrection to live before Him in innocence, blessed and peace. He gives you, even today, His pledge of His forgiveness and grace, His broken body and His crimson blood.
We are called to be a witness of this true solution to all of life’s problems. Through the eyes of the Gospel writers, we have experienced His birth at Christmas, His passion and death and resurrection at Easter, His miracles in His Word, but not only here, in this place, but also out there.
We have seen Jesus! He is not absent but He is here. Jesus says it today in our Gospel reading. “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (23) He is in us. We are in Him. He was not talking simply in some figure of speech, but He really meant it. It is what we confess and God accomplishes every time we have extended our hand at this altar and received this sacrament. Jesus in us! Right now you can, look to the left and look to the right, and see Christ. But this vision is not just for us to gaze upon. The world needs us to bear witness.
So here is what you can learn from Matthias today: whenever you feel unchosen, unwanted, or unloved, you can be reminded By God, by His Word, that your value in God’s eyes is not determined by how many teams you’re on, how many awards you’ve won, how much you have, or how others view you. Rather, your worth is given to you by God, who made you in His image and saves you by His grace. Never forget or doubt that in Christ, you are God’s loved, forgiven child. God chose you. God picked you. Now, go be His witness! Amen.