The apostolic loser

Last Sunday, our pastor preached on the text about the apostles’ lottery for who would take Judas’s place among the Twelve (Acts 1:12-26).   Joseph-called-Barsabbas-called Justus was the apostolic loser.  Later, he couldn’t even get elected to be a Deacon!  But tradition said that he would die as a martyr to the faith, which was the same fate as that of the apostolic winner, Matthias.  The sermon turned into a profound exploration of vocation.

From Rev. James Douthwaite, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Easter 7 Sermon:

I wonder if Joseph [called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus] was relieved when that lot with Matthias’ name came out of the jar! Did you ever think about that? Whenever I’ve read this story before – about choosing the man who would replace Judas – I’ve always just taken it for granted that Joseph and Matthias wanted to be apostles; that they were both vying for this position – like politicians do in elections today. But maybe it wasn’t that way at all. Maybe they were reluctant. Maybe they were filled with fear. Maybe they were both secretly hoping the other guy’s name would come out. But someone had to do it. The Lord would have His twelve.

And I wonder why they cast lots to pick between them? Yes, maybe that was the common practice of the day and just the way they did things back then, but maybe there was more to it than that. Maybe after they whittled the list down to two – Joseph and Matthias – maybe at that point they were split, like we often are: the eleven split six for one and five for the other, or maybe the larger group of disciples split 60-60. And so to decide, they cast lots. Lord . . . 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. And the lot fell to Matthias who (tradition tells us) was eventually rewarded and thanked for his service of preaching the Gospel by being stoned and then beheaded.

Now I bring up that alternative way of thinking about that story because it was not only Matthias that was chosen to fill an office – you are too. All of you have offices, or callings, or places in life where God has chosen you to serve, and there are offices, callings, and places where God has not chosen you to serve. Sometimes you are a Matthias, and sometimes you are a Joseph. And maybe sometimes you want those callings you don’t have and maybe sometimes you don’t want the ones you do have and maybe sometimes it changes – at times you are happy with them and at other times it is just tough and you really wish the lot would have fallen to someone else. But it is you the Lord has chosen. And His choice is always the right choice.

But that’s sometimes, frankly, hard to believe. It’s easy to believe when things are going well. It’s hard to believe when – like Matthias – the stones start flying because of where God put you and the calling He chose you for.

But don’t be surprised at that, Peter says in the Epistle we heard today. Don’t be surprised when fiery trials come upon you from a sinful and hell bent world. Don’t be surprised when the devil is prowling around you like a roaring lion, sizing you up as his next tasty morsel. Don’t be surprised that in all your offices and callings and places in life – as a parent or a child or both; a care giver or a care receiver (and yes, that’s a calling too); as a worker or student; married or single; healthy or sick; rich or poor; lots of friends or few friends; old or young; confirmand or member of the executive board – don’t be surprised if there is cross and suffering. If it happened to the Shepherd, it’ll happen to the sheep.

And when it does, do this (to paraphrase and interpret Peter here): If it comes because of your sin, repent and stop doing that. If it comes because of the sins of others, forgive and keep forgiving. And if it comes because of the name of Christ, rejoice, and know that you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

[Keep reading. . . ]

The sermon goes on to tie everything into Jesus fulfilling HIS office.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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