Friday, February 24, 2017

St. Matthias (Acts 1:15-26)

“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this commemoration of Saint Matthias comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Dear friends in Christ: as we at Good Shepherd have had the opportunity to commemorate the saints of old during our Wednesday night services, you have certainly heard this phrase before: ‘We don’t know much about so and so…” For every Peter, James, and John, we have a Simon the Zealot, for every Matthew or Thomas we have a James the son of Alpheus. And for every Paul, we have a Matthias. Saint Paul is the addition to the apostles, one untimely born, and the book of Acts is as filled with his deeds as the New Testament is filled with his writings. Saint Matthias filled the number of the disciples, giving the New Testament Church the number of the Old Testament Church—twelve—and then is never mentioned again. All we have is a name—one name, mind you, not three, like the other guy, “Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus.” Some of the disciples were probably thinking, ‘A guy with three names? We know that Jesus liked to give us nicknames, but that’s a little much. Let’s just keep it simple.’ And God gave them Matthias. Just Matthias.

Even in our text today, we learn more about Judas than we do about Matthias. In fact, that’s who Peter and the apostles spend most of their time talking about. “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” Judas was placed into the very same office that Peter held, the same office that John and Matthew occupied, the same office for which James the son of Zebedee lost his head. Judas was a disciple, he was an apostle. Jesus wasn’t tricking Judas when He called him, He wasn’t secretly calling Judas to the office of ‘betrayer’ when He summoned him to leave his other vocations to follow the incarnate Son of God. Judas held the unique office of the Twelve, he had his share in their ministry; in Matthew chapter ten, he too was given authority over unclean spirits and the power to heal disease, then he was sent out with the others to the villages ahead of Jesus, to prepare the way for Him. Judas presumably even performed a miracle or two in Jesus’ name; he was an apostle, and even as Satan was working on his heart, he fulfilled the tasks of his office in the stead and by the command of Jesus.

But he vacated his office; he turned aside from the office to which Jesus had called him and went, as the Eleven said, “to his own place.” Jesus had called Judas to follow him, Jesus had taught Judas for three years, Jesus had given him authority over demons and disease, and Jesus sent Judas out on vicarage, preparation for the time when Judas was to go forth into all the world with the message of his Lord’s death and resurrection. But Judas turned aside. Instead of bringing the Gospel to the world, he spoke of Jesus to those who wished to kill him, instead of driving out Satan, he invited him in; he did lead others to Jesus, but only so that they could arrest Him and put Him to death. And when he had done his wicked deed, Judas went “to his own place,” he could find no grace, no forgiveness in the temple, and so he dealt with his sin himself, at the end of a rope.

Now his office must be filled. “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it;’ and ‘Let another take his office.’” It’s surprising, when you think about it, that the office that Judas held was not dissolved by his shameful betrayal of that office and His Lord. We wouldn’t have been surprised if the apostles had left his place open, if they had become the Eleven from now on, if they would’ve decided that Judas had so corrupted and poisoned his office that no one could now take it. We place much more of a focus on the man, whether wicked or boring on the one hand, or charismatic and friendly on the other. But that is not the way the office that Christ has established works. Whether it is occupied by Saint John or wicked Judas, the office of apostle and pastor does not depend upon the man. It doesn’t even depend upon his faith. The betrayer of Jesus held this office because Jesus put him there, and Judas cannot corrupt the office, no matter what he does, just as no occupant can make it efficacious. It is Christ’s office, His gift, created by His mandate and institution, and as He lives, never to die again, so His office will endure until He comes again.

And the Church has the mandate from Christ to fill this office. It’s surprising that Jesus didn’t fill the office of Judas before His ascension into heaven. Instead, He leaves it to the Church, assembled together. Before, Christ Himself directly called men into the office; from this point forward, the Church will be His instrument, and we will follow the pattern set forth by the apostles in Acts chapter one. The first act of the apostles is a call meeting! Peter begins by declaring the qualifications: “So one of the men 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.” The entire Church hears the qualifications set forth from Scripture, and then using her God-given wisdom puts forth qualified men. “And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.” With the choices before them, the Church prays. “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.” After prayer, the choice is made. “And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

Through the Church, Christ fills His office, as He will for century after century, even until this very day. We still follow this pattern, and we should, with a few differences. Matthias was called to the unique, once-in-history office of apostle, as one of the Twelve. Therefore, the qualifications were a bit different: pastors today are not required to have witnessed the resurrected Lord. And the means of choosing is different: the Church never cast lots again; instead with prayer the Church used its God-given wisdom to choose between qualified candidates. But what is most important remains the same. Matthias, like every pastor since, is called by Jesus through His instrument, His bride, the Church. Matthias is, like Judas, given his share in the ministry of the apostles.

It is not the man, but the office. Who is Matthias? All we have is a name, and that’s just fine, because through Matthias and his companions, his fellow office-holders, we know all about Jesus. It doesn’t ultimately matter whether you have Judas or Matthias, Peter or Matthew, James or John, even Preus or Poppe, Meyer or Maronde, as long as the office is being fulfilled. What matters is whether the Word is rightly taught, and the sacraments rightly administered. Flee false teaching, but do not think that the power of the Word, or the efficacy of the sacraments, depends upon men. Faithful pastors are interchangeable, and the Word they preach, the sacraments they administer, do not depend upon them—thanks be to God! They depend upon Jesus, who gives these gifts to His Church. They depend upon the One who was handed over by the betrayal of Judas, the One who suffered and died at the hands of sinful men, the same One who rose again from the dead victorious over all of your enemies. The forgiveness proclaimed from this pulpit, the forgiveness splashed upon you at this font, the forgiveness placed into your mouth at this altar depends not upon the man who gives it. Pastors simply distribute the good gifts of God. The goodness of the gift doesn’t come from the pastor but from Christ, the giver of every good gift. They are His gifts, and it is His office; His office to fill, and His office to work through, to the ends of the earth. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

No comments: