And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Our reading from Acts this morning, recording the selection of Matthias to take the place of Judas among the twelve apostles, might have struck us as, well, a little bit odd. Did you catch what happened? Judas, you will recall, hanged himself after the death of our Lord, leaving the apostles shorthanded. The twelve had been Jesus’ constant companions, eating and drinking with Him, listening to His teachings, observing how He healed the sick, gibing sight to the blind, and raising the dead. They were “eyewitnesses” to the Lord’s glory. But now, after our His death, resurrection and His glorious Ascension into heaven, the apostles were left, as it were, with one empty seat at the table, the seat formally occupied by the man who betrayed the Savior.
We might have thought that the apostles, those who were selected by our Lord to go out and Baptize and teach, would have committed themselves to a lengthy period of fasting before they made this very important decision. It was, of course, no small matter to select a man to fill the apostolic post. And, we might have assumed that they would’ve had arranged for the congregation to divide itself into focus groups in order discover the will of the Father. That certainly might seem “logical”. And we might have presumed that the apostles would’ve paid for a professional market study to define their ministry goals. I don’t think there’s anyone here today who would object to such an effort? But as we heard in the first chapter of Acts, the apostles and 120 members of the church did none of those things at all. Instead, they did what we might least likely expect: they chose lots, and through this system they selected not Barsabbas but Matthias to take Judas’ place and to join with Eleven in the proclamation of the Good News.
Yet, in spite of our modern sensibilities, which rely more on our effort than on God’s will and God’s grace, casting lots wasn’t something new to God’s Old Testament people at all. In several places the Scriptures record how the people of God sought the Lord’s help in making decisions by casting lots. Proverbs 16:33 even says, the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. But in every case, it wasn’t that the faith of God’s people faith was misplaced in “luck,” for in reality there’s no such thing as “luck”. Rather, faith in God is what moved them to place everything into His fatherly hands and to trust the outcome solely to Him. The decision the apostles and the church faced was difficult because Matthias wasn’t any better than Barsabbas, rather, we can rightly assume that they were equally qualified for the position. Both were not in the inner circle of Jesus, but a part of the bigger circle and had seen with their own eyes our resurrected Lord. That “personal experience with Jesus” was a requirement to be an apostle. It was that the church, comprised by the Lord’s chosen apostles and the Lord’s chosen people, were willing to accept God’s will for them, and to provide for the continuance of the apostolic ministry: the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.
That ministry of forgiveness, for that is what the called and ordained ministry is all about, was important to them, as it is for us today. For what Jesus came to earth to do was to forgive us of our sins through His spotless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. And to ensure that His forgiveness was distributed to His body, the church, He established His Means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments. And to convey these means to His blood-bought people, He also instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry, a “Means,” if you will, to the “Means”. The first servants occupying this Office were His apostles; all called and ordained pastors follow in their train, even to our very day.
This is how Article V of the Augsburg Confession [Latin Text] puts it: So that we may obtain this faith [in Christ], the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel, that is to say, in those who hear that God, not on account of their own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ. Galatians 3[:14b]: “So that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
And, Article V goes on to say, They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Spirit comes to human beings without the external Word through their own preparations and works.
Sadly, in this era of “tolerance” and “every man (and woman!) a minister,” that final point has been become lost among some in the church. The general attitude of American Protestantism has accepted, almost without reservation, the notion that the Holy Spirit does not come to us apart from the external Word and Sacraments, but He comes through our own preparations and works! I hear this all the time: Holy Communion, why I can commune with God through nature! I don’t have to listen to the Bible read in church, I can read the Bible at home. Why do I need the pastor to tell me I’m forgiven? I can go directly to God on my own. The Holy Spirit dwells within me, that’s the only church I need.
But, think about this, do these and similar statements indicate spiritual maturity so that one no longer needs the “the apostles’ teaching, and, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer? (Acts 2:42) or does in infer that one is well on one’s way to rejecting the Means of Grace and the Means of those Means, namely the ministry and ultimately, Christ Himself? The Spirit of God doesn’t operate in bestowing forgiveness, life and salvation apart from His Word and Sacraments, and that Word and those Sacraments are delivered by the voice and by the hands of Christ’s called and ordained ministerial servants. Our Lord said to the Seventy, whom He also sent: He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me (Luke 10:16).
I’m hoping that most of us have heard the story of a rooster named Chanticleer: He was the vain sort who prided himself for all his accomplishments. He even believed that his crowing each morning caused the sun to rise on the horizon. But one morning, Chanticleer overslept. When he woke up, he was surprised and mortified that the sun was already up, high in the sky. It had gotten there without any help from him. He thought this over. He could no longer take credit for the beautiful sunrise each morning. It was then that he finally decided what he could do. He announced, If by my crowing I cannot bring the dawn, then by my crowing I shall celebrate its coming!
In the same way as Chanticleer, we can celebrate the coming of our salvation through Jesus Christ, our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord. It’s He, like the rising of the morning sun, who instills in our hearts His “peace that transcends all understanding” (Phi. 4:7). Jesus alone is the One Who, while we were yet sinners…died for us, (Rom. 5:8b) bearing our sins in His body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24). It is Christ alone who purchased and won for us our salvation, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy (Titus 3:5). It is by His grace [we] have been saved through faith, which is not from ourselves, but it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8,9). Christ’s promise to us is that where two are three come together in my name, there am I with them, (Matt. 18:20), and that He will remain with His church even “to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). Like Chanticleer’s morning sunrise that came without his crowing, Christ gives us His grace, His forgiveness, life and salvation all without our effort. Jesus, and Jesus alone gets all the credit for our salvation, and we, in response, get to celebrate.
In celebrating Christ, we also celebrate Christ’s Means of Grace, namely the Word and Sacraments, those very channels of spiritual sustenance which Christ instituted to bring us what He accomplished for us more than 2,000 years ago. He brings Who He is and what He has done for us personally to the doorstep of our hearts. But we can also celebrate God’s gift of the called and ordained ministry, the “Means” of those Means, and thereby can be assured that God’s Word and Sacraments are powerful and effective because Christ has instituted this specific ministry of spiritual service for us and has promised us thereby to deliver us His very personal grace.
When we hear the true story of Judas’ being replaced by lot or casting a ballot, as we refer to it today, we might think that this was by the luck of the draw. But that would be incorrect. By the way, this is the last time in the Scriptures when we will read of casting lots. It wasn’t luck that placed Matthias into this position of service among God’s people, the church. It was Christ Himself perpetuating His ministry of preaching repentance and [the] forgiveness of sin…in His name (Luke 24:47). The apostles knew that, and the whole, growing church of our God knew that, too. Christ was continuing His forgiving activity in this ministry as He promised. Not luck, but rather certainly something to crow about!