7th Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 1:21-26 Sermon
May 28, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
426 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
95 "At The Lamb's High Feast We Sing"
434 "Beautiful Saviour"
115 "Golden Harps Are Sounding"
GOD’S SECOND CHOICE
TEXT (vs. 21-26): [Peter said:] “‘Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’ So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven disciples.”
I think that everybody is familiar with the Miss America pageant. Contestants from all 50 states who have previously won local and state competitions come together and compete for a national title. The person who finally becomes Miss America is usually granted a full scholarship to the college or university of their choice. And the person who is chosen to be Miss America is put forth as a role model of conservative moral values and ideals.
The pageant which actually started in 1921 consists of young women competing in several areas. They have to give a public speech, where they expound on some timely topic. Then there is the talent competition, the evening gown competition, and the ever-popular swimsuit competition.
Even though this competition still goes on today, it isn’t nearly as popular as it was some years ago. I remember that it used to be a whole evening’s worth of entertainment. It would come on T.V. beginning at 7.00 in the evening, and it wouldn’t be over with until the 10.00 news came on.
We’d sit in front of the T.V. with a bowl of popcorn and follow the whole thing through. I’d sit with a pencil and paper and keep my own score as to whom I thought was the best. It was interesting to see how many times my opinion agreed with the judges.
As the pageant went on, the numbers got fewer and fewer in the competition. It got down to 10 semi-finalists, and then 5 finalists. The tension would mount. The fifth runner up would be announced, then the fourth, the third, and the second.
And then things got really tense when there were only two girls left on stage—one would be the first runner up, and the other would be Miss America. The announcement was slow and dramatic. Miss America from the previous year was standing close by, waiting to crown her replacement. Then the announcement was made, that in the event the person named Miss America couldn’t fulfill her duties, that the first runner up take over and be Miss America.
The drums would roll. The envelope was opened, and in a very dramatic fashion, the name of the first runner up was announced, followed by the pronouncement of the new Miss America.
The former Miss America would then place the diamond tiara on her head, place the royal cape over her shoulders, and hand her a scepter. Bert Parks would sing his famous song, “There she is, Miss America” as the new Miss America would slowly walk down the runway in Atlantic City, amid flashing cameras and thunderous applause. And that was the end of it.
I always wondered what happened to the first runner up. She had to be very good to get to that point. The only time in the history of the pageant that the first runner up had become Miss America was in 1984, when it was discovered that Vanessa Williams, who was Miss New York had posed for Playboy Magazine. She was stripped of her crown, and it went to Suzette Charles, Miss New Jersey, the first runner up.
Apart from that, the first runners up just seemed to fade into the background and were never heard from again. All of the work seemed futile to become second-best, and all of the notoriety just sort of disappeared like a fleeting vapor. The world just doesn’t have much of a place for those who are second best.
People have tried to capitalize on this concept at times. For example, you can think of the old advertising feud between the two top car rental agencies—Hertz and Avis. Hertz was number one and Avis was number two. Avis’s advertising campaign used the slogan, “We’re number two, so we try harder.” As cute and catchy as that was, yet Hertz still remained number one and Avis still remained number two. People just have a problem with things that aren’t a first choice and that don’t occupy the number one position.
In our text for today, we are presented with a rather unique situation, which is the replacement of one of the apostles. It was a situation which had never happened before, nor would it ever happen again.
The original apostles were short one man. Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed Jesus, was dead. He had gone and hanged himself, and was now occupying his place in the netherworld. His wicked actions had been rewarded with eternal damnation.
As Peter addresses the disciples, he refers to a prophecy of David from Psalm 9, 41: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Jesus himself quoted this verse when he spoke about Judas who had betrayed him.
Then Luke records in Acts 1, 18-19 an explanation of what happened: “(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)”
This parallels what Matthew records in chapter 27, 5-8: “Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.”
Judas did not intend that the 30 pieces of silver he got in exchange for Jesus’ betrayal would be used to buy this field. He wasn’t planning to do charity work. He didn’t make the purchase himself. Rather in a more tragic way, he bought it, because this was how the “reward for his wickedness” was used.
In any event, the disciples had to come up with his replacement. Jesus himself called the rest of the apostles personally, whether it was on the Sea of Galilee, or like Paul on the road to Damascus. This apostle would be chosen without Christ actually being present and doing it himself.
Peter sets forth the qualifications. It would be someone who had been with them from the time of John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, all the way through Jesus’ ascension into heaven. It would have to be a faithful disciple, one who had been loyal to Jesus through it all.
The names of two men were proposed. There was Joseph Barsabbas (also called Justus), and Matthias. There would be a first runner up, and the person who would become the 12th apostle. How would they be chosen?
The Bible tells us that the apostles committed the matter to prayer. They knew that God would know which one was the person best suited to fill the position.
Then the Bible says that they cast lots. Some have thought that they took a vote amongst themselves. However, this was not the way the ancient Jews cast lots, or conducted a lottery as we would say today.
What they would do, was to write a person’s name on a small stone, or a broken piece of pottery. Then these names would be placed in a type of bottle, and it was shaken vigorously. The name which fell out first was declared the winner. And we can safely assume in this case that God was in control of whose name popped out of the bottle. So it wasn’t an election by chance.
If we were to do something like this in today’s society, you can imagine names written on ping pong balls whirling around in an air-filled enclosure like they do with the Powerball drawing on T.V., or names written on little wooden balls and rolling around in a little wire cage like they do with Bingo numbers.
God saw to it that the lot fell on Matthias as being the best qualified for the job. Matthias would be the next apostle, replacing Judas.
But what about the first runner up? Whatever happened to Joseph Barsabbas? Since this is the only place he is mentioned in the Bible, it’s almost like he just sort of faded into the background and is forgotten. He would have been a very faithful disciple, or his name wouldn’t have been put forth in the first place. He was probably about as equally qualified as was Matthias as far as the apostles were concerned, or the decision would have been a lot easier for them to make.
In their mind, the best decision was to allow God to make the decision, and hold a lottery, which would almost seem like it was a chance decision. Of course nothing would happen by chance here. It was all in God’s hands.
I can’t help but wonder what Joseph Barsabbas was feeling when God chose Matthias over him, that is if he even knew about the lottery being held in the first place, or if he even realized that his name was being considered.
How would we feel if we knew that we were God’s second choice? Don’t you think that we would feel honored to know that we were even in the running in the first place? Wouldn’t we want to go forth with a renewed zeal for the Lord’s kingdom and the Gospel with the knowledge that our faith and life and qualifications were worthy of consideration?
Or would we feel despondent and rejected, thinking that we weren’t good enough for God? Would we somehow feel like less of a person knowing that we were God’s second choice? Would we feel like we weren’t loved as much? Would we walk away with our tail tucked between our legs like a sad puppy? Would we somehow get the feeling that our faith wasn’t worth it?
It’s here that we need to realize that there are no levels of love when it comes to God. He loves everyone equally, without exception. In our Epistle lesson for today, from I John 4, 15-16 we read: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias were both sinful human beings, like the other apostles and disciples, and like everyone else in the world—like you and me. Sin causes us to sometimes doubt our relationship with God, thinking that maybe we only occupy a lower position in God’s pecking order, and that God loves some people more than others. Sometimes we look at life and think that God has deserted us or doesn’t like us very well. Sometimes we think that our sins are so great that God couldn’t possibly love us or really want anything to do to us. These are the various lies the devil wants us to believe.
If we ever doubt God’s love or our position in his family, all we need to do is look at the cross. The cross is the world’s symbol of love. It is there where we find the assurance that Jesus loved us so much that he stretched out his arms for us and died for our sakes. All of the doubts and fears and thoughts of rejection are dissipated. Because God loved the whole world equally, Jesus came to this earth. He came so that through faith in him, our sins would no longer condemn us. He came so that we would all have an equal place in God’s family.
In verse 22 of our text, when Peter talks about the two men who were apostolic candidates, he says: “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” It would be their special duty as apostles to bring the hope of the Gospel to the entire world. Jesus’ resurrection is proof of that hope, that he died and rose again so the world would know God’s saving love through faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour.
Joseph Barsabbas, first runner up; God’s second choice as an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. Maybe that’s the way the world remembers him. Joseph Barsabbas, faithful disciple, witness to the resurrection, true believer, and in every way a saint; that’s the way we need to remember him.
In this life, God will give certain responsibilities and duties to some people, and not to others. Some people will be qualified in areas where others aren’t. When this happens, we can’t see ourselves as being inferior or somehow ranking lower than others. In God’s kingdom, there is no superior or inferior ranking, for God loves everyone equally and promises all true believers in Christ a glorious reward in heaven.
As we go forth as Christians in this world, we can’t all be apostles. We can be a faithful disciple like Joseph Barsabbas. Therefore, let us remember the words of the hymnwriter Daniel March:
If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
You can say he died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked
With the judgment’s dread alarms,
You can lead the little children,
To the Saviour’s waiting arms.
Let none hear you idly saying,
‘There is nothing I can do,’
While the souls of men are dying,
And the Master calls for you.
Take the task he gives you gladly,
Let his work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly when he calleth,
‘Here am I; send me, send me.’
--SBH 59, vs. 2-3