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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

We DO Have a Vacancy

Acts 1:12-26

            Tyler Cronkright wrote an article titled “The Most Famous Person You Have Never Heard Of.”  I was intrigued who this might be, so I read the article and was to find out that, in his opinion, the most famous person you’ve never heard of was Edward Kimball. Here’s what Tyler wrote about him:

            “Edward Kimball’s story began on July 29, 1823, when Kimball was born in Rowley, Massachusetts. He would grow up and eventually become the Sunday School teacher at Mt. Vernon Congregational Church in Boston on Beacon Hill.

            “[One of boys in his class] was Dwight Lyman Moody, the founder of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.  Among the millions of people that D.L. Moody shared the Gospel with was a London pastor named Frederick Brotherton Meyer. F.B. Meyer would share the good news with Presbyterian evangelist John Wilbur Chapman, who would then influence another prominent evangelist of the 20th century named Billy Sunday. Billy Sunday would then play a major part in the faith walk of Mordecai Ham, who began radio broadcasting in the 1930s. Who would come after Mordecai Ham? His preaching helped lead yet another young man to faith. His name? William Franklin Graham Jr., and Billy Graham, as you may know, was one of the most influential men of the 20th century.

            “The point of the story is that God took one man in a Sunday school classroom and [used him] to bring millions of people into the Kingdom.  Edward Kimball did not labor in vain. You are not laboring in vain. All it takes is one person, one young man or woman, to listen to what you have to say for the message to take off and spread like wildfire.”

            This morning we’re going to look at the least-known member of the Twelve Apostles, a man named Matthias.  As we shall see, he is the very kind of man who is the most famous man you’ve never heard of.

While waiting for the Spirit, the disciples acted in prayer and unity to settle the question of Judas.

1. The disciples were UNITED IN PRAYER. (1:12-14)

            In obedience to Jesus’ command in 1:4, They returned to Jerusalem, but they did not wait idly.  Before His Ascension, Jesus had commanded them to NOT LEAVE JERUSALEM, but to wait there for the promised GIFT of the Holy Spirit.  They obeyed Jesus’ command, returning to the place at which they’d been STAYING.  As we shall see, they didn’t sit on their hands, but acted to replace Judas, who had been one of the twelve men selected by Jesus, but had betrayed Him.

            Luke provided a list of the male disciples.  Comparing the list of Apostles here and in Luke 6:12-16, we see the names are in a slightly different order and Judas Iscariot is omitted in Acts.  Otherwise, they are the same.

            A brief introduction of the Apostles.

- PETER = the most oft-mentioned, only married, fisherman, impetuous leader.

- JOHN = called the “Beloved Disciple,” along with his brother Big James, they were the “Sons of Thunder.”

- JAMES = John’s brother, sons of Zebedee, fishermen.  (“Big James”) First disciple martyred, the only martyrdom mentioned in the Bible.

- ANDREW = Peter’s brother, oldest apostle, previously followed John The Baptist.

- PHILIP = the fifth Apostle Jesus chose, fifth on this list. “The Evangelist.”

- THOMAS = aka Didymus, a skeptical, even pessimistic person.

- BARTHOLOMEW = aka Nathanael, Jesus praised his sincerity.

- MATTHEW = Worked as a tax collector for the Romans, a person despised in that culture.

- JAMES = Son of Alphaeus,  aka “Little James” because he was younger?

- SIMON = A political activist, “Zealot,” people that advocated revolution against Rome.

JUDAS = son of James, aka, Jude, Thaddeus, Lebbaeus.  Least known.

            THE BROTHERS OF JESUS may refer to Joseph’s children (brothers by marriage), Mary’s sons with Joseph (brothers by birth), or brothers by faith.  Two other male believers mentioned in v. 23.

            The female disciples receive less attention.

- MARY = Jesus’ mother took on a kind of leadership role among the disciples.

- The phrase SEVERAL OTHER WOMEN include a couple other Mary’s, Salome, Joanna, and Susanna are named in various places in the gospels.

            The important thing about these 120 souls is that their unity in prayer determined their focus on mission.  The reason they replaced Judas was to return the leadership to full strength in preparation for their mission.

2. The disciples were united in purpose: being witnesses of JESUS’ RESURRECTION. (1:15-26)

            Their process in replacing Judas was both reasonable and scriptural. (1:15-20)  Peter initiated the process because he recognized Judas’ betrayal was necessary to fulfill prophecy. (15-17)  The first twelve chapters of Acts center on Peter and his leadership of Jesus’ followers.  He  did not pastor an individual church, but oversaw all of them, particularly among Jewish Christians.

            In verse sixteen, Peter affirmed Jesus’ selection of Judas, and acknowledged his place among them, indeed his place in history.  Notice he avoids using the word “betray.”  His choice of words and tone is forgiving, scriptural, and reasonable.

            The point, however, is that Judas’ death left them with a vacancy. (18-19)  Pity may have been part of what may’ve moderated Peter’s words about Judas: he came to a horrible end, described by Luke as a parenthesis in verses eighteen and nineteen.  Judas’ gory death would’ve seemed like a divine punishment and a warning against those who would turn against Jesus.  His demise was no secret: ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM heard the news of Judas’ death.

            In verse twenty, Peter used Psalms 69:8 and 109:8 to establish the need for a replacement.  These are not complete quotations of these verses, but the obvious gist of how they indicated God’s plan would involve a betrayer among the Messiah’s followers and would need to be replaced afterward.

            Their method was faithful. (1:21-26)  Peter’s suggested qualifications for selection was reasonable - someone who’d traveled with them during the entirety of Jesus’ ministry AND was willing to be a WITNESS OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION. (21-22)  The Greek word for WITNESS is martyria, from which we get our English word “martyr.”  That word refers to people who give the ultimate witness, giving up their lives in loyal and obedient devotion to Jesus.  Using this word implies that only men who’d travelled with Jesus and were willing to put their lives on the line would be nominated to replace Judas.

            They nominated two men who met that qualification (possibly out of several candidates) but cast lots to let the Lord decide which of them would become an APOSTLE, replacing Judas. (23-26)  The first step was entirely rational.  They NOMINATED two men who met their two qualifications.  Let’s assume these men were their two top choices.  What do we know about them?

- JOSEPH = Aka BARSABBUS and JUSTUS.  Joseph was his proper name, a Hebrew name that meant “God shall add.”  Barsabbus is an Aramaic name; it meant “son of the Sabbath” or “son of God’s will.”  Justus was a Roman name that meant “just” or “upright.”  All these names imply a man of godly character.

- MATTHIAS was a Hebrew name that meant “gift from God.”  It is a variation of Matthew.  This is the only place in the Bible where Matthias is mentioned, so we know next to nothing about him.  There are three different traditions about the rest of Matthias’ life and a false Gospel was written in his name but it did not survive antiquity.

            The casting of lots was more like an act of faith than an exercise of reason.  The use of LOTS, a seemingly random method for revealing the will of God, was customary in Jewish culture because it was mandated by the Law given to Moses (Leviticus 16:8; Numbers 26:55; Jonah 1:7-8).  We don’t have a description of the items used but two six-sided dice have become the traditional symbol of St. Matthias.

            To our ears, this method may sound superstitious, but they believed God left nothing to chance.  Proverbs 16:33 says, WE MAY THROW THE DICE (cast lots), BUT THE LORD DETERMINES THE OUTCOME.  We may think our method of discussing, debating, and voting is more reasonable, but I suspect we’re just control freaks.  If we really trusted God, we’d believe that casting lots was something He could use to reveal His will.

            That said, we need to remember this took place prior to the followers receiving the Holy Spirit.  With the Spirit, a new relationship with God became possible, rendering divination methods like casting lots obsolete.  People with the Spirit hear from God directly, not indirectly through inanimate objects.  (No “Magic Eight Balls!”)

            All that aside, the emphasis here is not on the method, but the outcome.  God selected Mathias to be Judas’ replacement.

While waiting for the Spirit, the disciples acted in prayer and unity to settle the question of Judas.

            There are times in our spiritual lives when the Lord wants us to wait on Him.  Acts 1 is an example of one of those times.  He does not intend that we should be idle during those times, but are free to attend to other things, to prepare to act the moment His will becomes clear to us.  Acts 1 is an example of this aspect of discipleship. 

            While they were waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit, it occurred to Peter that it would be good to find a replacement for Judas.  He went about doing that in a way that combined reason and group communication and consensus-building with a way of ascertaining God’s will that was familiar to them.  With that matter resolved, they were ready to receive the Holy Spirit.

            What puzzles me a bit is what happened afterward.  Nothing much.  We believe that the Bible has been inspired by God Himself and everything it communicates is important to those who follow Him.  After all they go through this process, this guy Matthias has the honor of being named one of the Twelve.  He was not mentioned by name before this happened and will not be mentioned again.  What is the message here?

            My view is that Matthias faithfully served God the rest of his life but there was nothing about his service that got mentioned in the Bible. Baptists don’t have “patron saints,” but if we did, I would identify Matthias as the patron saint of all pluggers.  You know, the people who put in their best effort without achieving anything historic.  He represents the vast majority of us who live faithfully but without fame or infamy.  If that thought encourages you, stop measuring your life against the noteworthy minority.  be like Matthias, just happy to be on the team.

RESOURCES:

            Tyler Cronkright, “The Most Famous Person You Have Never Heard Of," retrieved from https://www.1517.org/articles/the-most-famous-person-you-have-never-heard-of on 3 May 24.

            Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles, 1998, pp. 115-127.

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