A sermon by my colleague, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, on this day of St. Matthias, Apostle and Martyr.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Dearly Beloved:
Matthias is unremarkable. We have his feast on our Evangelical-Lutheran church year calendar simply because of this passage from Acts 1. From church history we know next to nothing of where he preached or what he did later. In Christian art he is often pictured with an axe, which means that Christians in ancient times believed that he was put to death by beheading, no doubt as a result of his bold confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of the one, true God, and his refusal to acknowledge and worship false gods. But our text tells us very little. We don’t learn anything about Matthias beyond his name. We even know more about the guy who wasn’t elected, since he has three names—Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus—while Matthias has only one name. Of course, we also know that Matthias accompanied the Lord Jesus and the Twelve and was a witness to the Lord’s resurrection. Matthias’ only claim to fame is that God chose him to be an apostle and sent him out to preach and administer sacraments and shepherd the flock of God. What can we learn from this? Not all of the men whom God chooses to preach, administer sacraments, and shepherd the church are remarkable. Most are pretty ordinary. Don’t be disappointed if your pastor is not the most dynamic or charismatic leader. Don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t have the business sense to manage a small corporation. Hold him to the qualifications set forth by Scripture. For the call of Matthias, what was important was that he have been a companion of Jesus and the Twelve from beginning to end, and that he be a witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus. For pastors today, their qualifications and duties are set forth in sufficient detail in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. For that matter, we should learn from this to measure anyone in any God-given office by God’s standards in Scripture, not by whatever our emotions, eyes, or reason would require. Hold all church workers to the standards set forth in Scripture. Be satisfied with governmental leaders who are doing their duty. Fathers and mothers don’t have to be perfect, as long as they are doing what God sets forth in His Word.
Now, the treachery of Judas must have been a shock to the disciples. Here was one that the Lord Jesus had hand-chosen to be one of His inner circle. And yet he turned, betrayed the Lord, and ended his miserable life with an evil hanging of himself. It must have seemed like God’s plans were being thwarted by evil. But they were not. God knew what He was doing. In the same way, at the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, God already knew what He would do: send His Son to become a human being, to die and rise and redeem the world, winning them back for God. God’s plan was to create holy humanity to enjoy His blessings. Adam and Eve’s sin did not thwart God’s plan. He sent His Son to make it happen. So also here, at the treachery of Judas, God’s plan was not thwarted. The Lord’s plan was to have Twelve apostles, sent out to the twelve tribes of Israel, to be the foundation of the Church through their preaching of Christ. And even though Judas fell away, God’s plan was not thwarted. Peter and the other apostles studied the Old Testament Scripture, and they found a prophecy of Judas’ betrayal in Psalms 69 and 109. And the prophecy in Psalm 109 included the instruction, “let another take his office.” To us this seems obvious. If the pastor embezzels the congregation’s money or has an affair, he is removed from office and another pastor is called and installed. But it was probably not obvious to the apostles how they should deal with the fall of an apostle. What kind of an office was this? Was it like the Old Testament priesthood or kingship, in which the office could become vacant and passed on to others, or was it more like the Old Testament prophetic office, which God raised up when and where he pleased, and which did not automatically pass on to others, unless God said explicitly that the prophet’s student should become a prophet, too? (This happened with Elijah and Elisha.) Peter and the other apostles study Scripture, and they find this Scripture: “Let another take his office.” So it is an office, and it can be vacant, and someone else can take it. That may not have been obvious at first. We too, should search the Scriptures to find God’s will. Don’t look to your feelings and emotions, your fears and worries, or your reason and senses to determine God’s will for your life. If you want to know what God’s plan is, don’t look at success in the world, either. If doors seem to be opening to you, this might not be God’s will and plan. It might just be the path of least resistance. Instead, search the Scriptures. If you find it there, you know it is God’s will. If you don’t find it there, then don’t claim that it is God’s will and plan. Peter and the other apostles studied Scripture.
Finally, there’s something shocking about the “call committee” or “voters’ assembly” which was formed for the purpose of electing a new apostle. It’s not what we might expect. First, only men were present, or at least only they were being addressed by Peter (vv. 15–16). The Greek makes this clear, since Peter says not just “brothers,” but in the Greek, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, “men brothers.” Next, the qualifications for the new apostle were set forth by Peter, not by the congregation (vv. 21–22). The congregation did not go through a self-study process. They did not write up their own mission and ministry plan. They did not do a spiritual gifts inventory. Peter, as the leader, set forth the kind of man they were looking for, and clearly he was acting in accord with God’s will when he did so. Finally, nowhere does the text say that the congregation chose two out of many qualified candidates; in fact, Matthias and Joseph may have been the only two men qualified. It’s possible that this congregation of men did not nominate anyone. If they did, the text doesn’t make it clear. Finally, this congregation of men did not actually elect anyone either. The whole point of the passage is that the congregation did not choose, but God did.
Now, I’m not pointing out these differences from today’s LCMS call committees to say that our call committees or voters’ assemblies should be like this assembly of men around the apostles, in all respects. On the contrary, especially with the casting of lots, this is not something we should imitate. This is the only time in the New Testament where the casting of lots is used to select an apostle or pastor. The apostolic church afterwards abandoned this practice. After Pentecost it was never used again, and it is also not commanded to us that we practice it.
The reason I have pointed out these differences is to underline the main point of this Bible reading: that God chose Matthias to complete the Twelve and to be a witness of the resurrection. Matthias went forth and preached that Jesus conquered death for you, Jesus obtained forgiveness for you. God’s plan for your salvation is not thwarted by Judas, not by Adam and Eve, not even by your sins. Repent of your sins and believe in Christ, the same Christ whom unremarkable Matthias proclaimed. To Him be glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.