Festival of St. Matthias – 2019: No Vacancy (Acts 1:15-26)

sermon-2-24-19.mp3

St. Luke writes a sequel to his gospel that is called “The Acts of the Apostles.”  “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.”  (Acts 1:1-2)

The work that Jesus accomplished from His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary to His Ascension to the right hand of God the Father in heaven was just the BEGINNING.  He’s just getting started.  There’s a LOT MORE WORK to do.

And that work He will do THROUGH THE APOSTLES whom He had chosen. That is, He will continue to do His work through the One, Holy, Christian and APOSTOLIC Church.

This is the APOSTOLIC CHURCH to whom “he had given commands through the Holy Spirit” when He met with them on Easter Eve and showed them His hands and His side and ate a piece of broiled fish before them.  “And then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:36-48)

He has done (past tense) the work of bearing the sin of the whole world and putting it to death in His body on the cross and thereby making peace between God and man.  And the Father has done (past tense) the work of raising Him from the dead, thereby opening the gates of heaven itself to all who believe in Him.

And HE WILL DO THE WORK (future tense) of getting the message out to ALL NATIONS in EVERY AGE until the Last Day comes and the WORK is finally over.  The work that He has done, He has done through the disobedience and rebellion of those who rejected Him.  The work that He will do, He will do through the obedience and acceptance of those who receive Him.

The, One, Holy, Jewish and Prophetic Church that God had called and ordained to do His Work through would now be continued through the One, Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church.  Just as that Church consisted of the 12 sons of Jacob, the 12 tribes of Israel, so this Church will consist of 12 Apostles.

Which meant that there was an opening on the Church Council that must be filled.   Judas had betrayed, not only Jesus, but he had also betrayed all of them. And no matter how you do the math, 11 does not equal 12.  When Jesus was on the mountain with all of His disciples gathered around Him, He appointed 12 to be Apostles.  That was no random number. That was the ‘new Israel.’  And the Lord will have His 12.

Somewhere in the course of those 10 days between the Ascension of our Lord and the Day of Pentecost, the church is all together in one place.  “The company of persons was in all about 120.”   If you were Jewish, you’d know that it requires 120 persons to make a quorum for a Synagogue meeting to be official.  And so, for all who are sticklers for following the Constitution and By-Laws, Luke wants us to know that you can check that box.

Luke makes no mention of a pot-luck supper or free pizza, but I for one cannot imagine an official meeting of the congregation without it.  At some point, Peter “stood up among the brothers.”  “Ehem!”  “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you.”

Stumbling and bumbling Peter, who was known for saying the darnedest things and putting his foot in his mouth has become the spokesman and quite the theologian.  That’s what happens when Jesus opens your mind.

“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas.”  In other words, we dare not think for a second that God didn’t see this coming or that this was not according to God’s plan.

It was Jesus Himself who had singled Judas out from among the disciples and chose him to be one of the 12.  Did He made a poor choice?  Should He have run a more thorough background check?  No, He was fulfilling the Scriptures.

Peter has Psalm 109 in mind.  Psalm 109 is one of those ‘cursing psalms’ that’s hard for us to swallow.  It’s the prayer of David who is suffering unjust persecution and praying that God would curse those responsible.  Like every Psalm in the Psalmody, we hear it best when we hear it from the mouth of our Lord Himself.  In this case, as He is betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.  In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer.  So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.  Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin!  May his days be few; MAY ANOTHER TAKE HIS OFFICE!”  (Psalm 109:2-8).

David, no, Jesus prays that the hypocrite and the betrayer and the unbeliever be cursed and removed from office.  And God heard His prayer.

There are two qualifications that the candidate for the vacancy must meet.  “One of the MEN (it must be a male) 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.” 

This also is not Peter’s own idea but his Lord’s will.  That night in the Upper Room, after Jesus washed those 24 FEET, He said, “…when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness, BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN WITH ME FROM THE BEGINNING.” (John 15:26-27).

The 12 Apostles were to ‘bear witness to Jesus Christ.’  And the ‘witness’ that they were to ‘bear’ must be that of an ‘eyewitness.’

Peter would later bear witness to the church, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were EYEWITNESSES of his majesty.”  (2 Peter 1:16)

Luke tells Theophilus, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were EYEWITNESSES and ministers of the word have delivered them to us…”  (Luke 1:1-2).

You must know that when you confess that you believe in “Jesus Christ, crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised again on the 3rd day,”  you are confessing a faith that is based on the ‘eyewitness testimony’ of the 12 apostles.  Your faith is not based on ‘second hand’ or ‘hearsay.’  Your faith is not based on a collection of stories and traditions that eventually became the New Testament.  The Apostles had to be ‘eyewitnesses,’ and that includes Judas’ replacement.  It’s just part and parcel of Jesus’ Last will and Testament.

How the field of ‘disciples’ was narrowed down to just two men we’re not told.  It might have been very difficult or it might have been very obvious.  Were there questionnaires or interviews or trial sermons or those ridiculous personality profiles.  Whatever the vetting process may have been it came down to one man named Joseph and one man named Matthias.

Of Joseph, we’re told that he was also known as ‘Barsabbas, who was also called Justus.”  Of Matthias we’re told nothing at all.

Not much information for the congregation to go on is it?  How is it supposed to make its decision?  But that’s just the point.  It is the LORD WHO IS AT WORK HERE and DOING HIS WORK THROUGH HIS CALLED SERVANTS.  Trusting in their risen and ascended Lord, they rely on Him to choose, trusting that whichever one of these two is called, he has been called by their Lord.

One of the problems with asking the Lord to do the choosing is in determining just how it is that they should know the choice He has made.  It was easy when He singled them out from the ‘disciples’ there on the mountain top.

But now He has ascended into heaven.  How will He make His choice known?  We would prefer to hear His ‘voice from heaven.’  Or better yet, if the ‘finger of God’ were to write the name on a wall as He did with the prophet Daniel.

“They cast lots for them…”  I’ve read a number of different descriptions of what this means.  Some say that two straws or cloth where each marked with one name and one drawn.  Some say that two stones were each marked with one name each and put into a bag. And the bag was shaken and the first one that fell out was the one.

For a decision of this magnitude and importance, this may seem a bit absurd.  Way too unscientific for determining the will of God.  At the very least they should do best out of three, or best out of five would be even better.

In fact, they were simply doing what the Lord Himself has directed His church to do whenever it sought the Lord’s will in decisions that needed to be made.  In the Old Testament, the High Priest was given the ‘urim and thummim,’ two stones by which the High Priest made decisions for Israel by casting them, kind of like we do with a coin toss. And afterwards he would say, ‘this is the will of God.’

They had pray, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two men you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 

“And the lot fell to Matthias.” 

To this day, when a congregation wants to call a pastor to serve them, it follows this same model – or at least, in my humble opinion, it does well to.  The two qualifications the candidate must meet is first, he must be male, and second, he must be properly equipped and fully committed to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, based solely on the “eyewitness testimony” of the 12 apostles.  And our Lord will choose the man whom He chooses whether it be by casting lots or raising hands or secret ballots.  And when it’s all said and done, whomever it may be, it will be the man that THE LORD has chosen.

On this day that is called the Festival of St. Matthias, we have said precious little about this man.  And that’s because we know almost nothing about this man.  In fact, the only time his name appears in the New Testament is right here.  And there is precious little outside evidence about him.

But within only days of his election to the vacancy on the Church Council, maybe even within a single day, there is Matthias doing the work he has been called by His Lord to do.  On the Day of Pentecost, when the tongues of fire rested on the heads of the Apostles who spoke in foreign languages, Luke writes, “but Peter, standing with THE ELEVEN, lifted up his voice…”

The Eleven plus Peter equals twelve.  And Matthias is one of them.  Our Lord has His twelve.  And through these 12, He will accomplish His work as they proclaim His resurrection to all nations. 

And on the Last Day He will gather the harvest that He has produced through these 12 and bring it into His heaven. And it will be 12,000 x 12,000. (Rev. 7)

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