“He was a really good athlete. In fact, he was an alternate on the 2008 U.S. Olympic track and field team.” What thoughts come to mind when you hear this statement? For me, the first thing is that this person obviously was a really good athlete. Absolutely he was a star in high school. Has was an all-state athlete, and he probably won multiple state championships.
Certainly he had a scholarship to a power five school and competed in big time college athletics at the highest level. He must have been all-conference and won conference championships. Of course he competed in the NCAA Track and Field Championships, and it wouldn’t be surprising if somewhere in those college years he was national champion in an event. If someone from our area did that, you would hear about him in the news all the time and his name would be very familiar to you.
Those are the first things that would cross my mind. But then, I would think something else. It would occur to me that he was only an alternate. He wasn’t really on the team because he didn’t compete in the Olympics. You’ll notice that the statement wasn’t, “He was in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.” He tried out for the team, but wasn’t actually good enough to make the team. If you are going to put in that much effort and compete at that level, and then you don’t achieve your goal … well, you failed. Great career. Lots of memories. But there is a reason no one has the goal of being the alternate.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthias, the “alternate apostle.” The only things we know for sure about St. Matthias are what we find here in our text. And it is impressive. We learn that he was one of the men who was with the apostles in their time with Jesus beginning from the baptism of John until the day of our Lord’s ascension. He was a witness of the risen Lord. As Jesus presented himself alive to his followers by many proofs, and appeared to them during forty days speaking about the kingdom of God, Matthias was there.
Matthias was one of the hundred and twenty people gathered with the apostles after Jesus’ ascension. While naturally we focus on the twelve apostles, the Gospels are clear in telling us that other people accompanied Jesus as well during his minstry. Luke tells us about women such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna along with “many others” like them who provided for the group out of their means. There were seventy two men that Jesus sent ahead of him to heal and proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven has come near to you.” Perhaps Matthias had been among them.
Matthias had been in that group that was with Jesus from the very beginning – from his baptism by John the Baptist. He had been there all the way right up to ascension of our Lord. Yet Matthias had not been among the twelve apostles. He had not been chosen by Jesus as one of his authorized representatives. Immediately before our text Luke tells us, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
Now for those of you keeping score at home, there are only eleven names in that list – eleven names for the twelve apostles. In fact our text deals specifically with this issue. Our Lord had chosen twelve apostles, a clear reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. As the foundational leaders of the church, the number of the apostles – twelve – shows us that the Church is the Israel of God. It is the continuation of the people of God.
Jesus had chosen twelve apostles. Now there were eleven. For forty days the disciples had known the joy of seeing the risen Lord. But now, Peter had to address the elephant in the room. He said, “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.”
Jesus had chosen twelve apostles. He hadn’t chosen Matthias. Instead, he had chosen Judas. Really, it should have been a huge embarrassment to the early Church. One of Jesus’ handpicked inner circle had betrayed him and caused his death. This certainly called into question Jesus’ judgment.
In April the NFL will have its annual draft. Every year as the draft approaches there are stories about “draft busts” early first round choices that amounted to nothing and ended up being wasted picks. If a general manager has a few of those, he loses his job. Well, Judas certainly counts as an all time “draft bust.” Jesus had chosen him in the first round – after prayer and careful consideration he had chosen Judas to be among his twelve apostles. It turns out that Jesus chose a traitor.
The choice of Judas certainly calls into question Jesus’ judgment. And while we are on that topic, it is not hard to look around and wonder if Jesus really knows what he is doing. Why have so many members of this congregation been afflicted with cancer recently? That doesn’t seem to make sense. Why is the radical leading edge of abortion advancing, advocating infanticide as the media cheers it on. That doesn’t seem to make sense. Why is it becoming harder and harder to raise children in the Christian faith within this increasingly sick and twisted culture? That doesn’t seem to make sense.
At times we are tempted to think, that maybe Jesus doesn’t know what he is doing. Maybe he is making great “draft bust” decisions about the course of our own lives. It’s not what we would choose. It doesn’t make sense to us. If Jesus chose Judas, what other mistakes is he making?
Peter says in our text, “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.” We learn that the choice of Judas was not would we are inclined to think. It was not a mistake. Instead, Judas was exactly the right choice.
On multiple occasions Jesus predicted his passion – his suffering and death. After his resurrection he said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Suffering and death to win the forgiveness of sins for you was Jesus’ mission. This was the saving mission the God the Father had given to Jesus the incarnate Son. Judas’ role in this was to betray Jesus. Our Lord’s choice of Judas was not a “draft bust.”
We know this because in our text, there is the need to select an “alternate apostle.” Betrayed by Judas, Jesus Christ had been crucified and died under Pontius Pilate. He had been buried in a sealed tomb. But as he had also predicted, on the third day he had risen from the dead. Over the course of forty days the disciples had just spent time with the risen Lord in different locations and with different groups of believers. There could be no doubt that the Lord who had been betrayed by Judas had risen from the dead. After all, Jesus had offered, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Jesus had now ascended. He had told the believers not to leave the city until they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. He had said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” There was work for God’s Israel, the Church to do. And so there was need to complete the twelve again. Another apostle was needed.
The criteria for selection were clear. Peter says in our text, “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.” Matthias becomes an apostle through the Lord’s choice because Jesus rose from the dead. The choice of Matthias shows us that the choice of Judas was not a mistake. Instead it was God at work to give us salvation. It was Jesus at work choosing to sacrifice himself to save you.
Our Lord’s choice of Judas … and his choice of Matthias comforts us in the midst of his choices that we don’t understand. We see that God has given us his love, forgiveness and salvation in ways we would not expect, through choices we would not have made. Yet because this is so, should we really be surprised if the almighty God does this in other areas of life as well?
And because we have seen the outcome that he worked through the betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, shouldn’t we trust him as we experience his choices in the present that we don’t understand? The answer is most certainly yes, because there was the need to choose an alternate apostle. There was need because the crucified Lord has risen from the dead, and that fact now shapes the way we look at everything.