Ecclesiastes 3:1-9, Acts 1:15-17, 20-26
June 5, 2011
This story for today is a very interesting little interlude between the Ascension of Our Lord and Pentecost. And we have to wonder why Luke included it. That’s always an important question to ask. As I’ve said before, there were many more things that could have been written about Jesus. And the Gospel writers had to pick and choose between them. So we always need to ask the question “why this one?” And I have to tell you, I’ve always wondered about this story. “Why this one?”
Well, the more I’ve thought about it, the more it seems to me that, at this point, the disciples were still disturbed about another unresolved issue. Last week we talked about how they were still concerned about the whole “earthly kingdom of Israel” thing. They asked, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Now, I think there was yet another difficult issue that was still on their minds. And that was this whole thing about Judas.
Think about it. It was now only a few weeks since Maundy Thursday, and that whole horrible night had to be still on their minds! They could probably still picture that scene in the garden, with the soldiers surrounding them, and with Judas pointing out Jesus to them – betraying him with a kiss. So many things had happened since then, but that still had to be a vivid memory.
In one of the greatest ironies of history, Jesus was betrayed by one of his inner circle. And he had predicted it! He told them it would happen! And I want you to remember, that, at the time, none of them seemed to have any suspicion about who it was. The Gospel writers are careful to point out that when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” there wasn’t any kind of instant “finger pointing.” Nobody said, “It’s him! He’s the traitor.” Instead, they all started asking “Is it I?” They didn’t know who Jesus was talking about. At the time, Judas seemed no more likely to betray Jesus than any of the others. And then remember, as we said with Peter and his denial, Judas may have betrayed Jesus, but they all had abandoned him! When the chips were down, they had all fled for their lives!
The pain of all of all that had to be with them still. And we tend to forget that, don’t we? We tend to think of these stories as separate events, detached from the other stories. But I have to think that the disciples were still struggling with those memories. Despite the amazing events of the past few weeks, they still had to be thinking about the crushing defeat they had suffered in Jesus’ death, and their own cowardice at the time. Since they fled, they probably didn’t actually watch the execution of Jesus – at least not all of them. But it didn’t matter. Nobody in the Jerusalem was unaware of or untouched by the events of that day!
So here they were, waiting for “the promise,” as Jesus told them. (Probably still wondering what that meant!) And Peter stood among them and brought up this subject of Judas. And I want you to think about that for a moment. I want you to think about Judas. He holds a unique place in all of history, doesn’t he? And much has been said about him over the last 2,000 years.
On one hand, some have exonerated Judas, saying that “he had to do what he did.” They say that almost as though he really wasn’t in control of his actions. Some have said his place was tragic, but it had to be so in order for us to be saved from our sins. So in a strange way we have him to thank. That’s an interesting way to look at it!
On the other side of that spectrum, there are those who say that Judas holds was the most “infamous” place in history. In betrayal of the Lord, they say Judas earned that “special place in Hell,” reserved for the most wicked. Jesus himself said, “…but woe unto him by whom the Son of man is betrayed. It would have been better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)
We can think about all that. But I don’t know if any of us can really be the ones to judge him. Because we need to remember that in the upper room, who the betrayer would be was not apparent. It could have been any of them. It could have been any of us! We all have our times of denial and betrayal, don’t we? And in our story for today, these men must have been thinking of their own. They needed some reconciliation. They needed some kind of “closure.”
So Peter stood “before the company.” And Luke says that meant the whole entourage of the eleven disciples and all the other followers. It was about 120 people. And he addressed them concerning Judas, first saying how “the scripture had to be fulfilled.” He said how this was all predicted, not by Jesus, but by David. (A reference we don’t seem to have.) Then he spoke of how Judas was “numbered among us,” and “allotted a share in this ministry.”
Then Peter proposed that there was a need to “replace” him. So, they brought forth these two candidates who had apparently been selected by their “nominating committee.” (Or some such thing!) And they chose one of them by “casting lots.” Now, is it just me, or does that seem weird to you, too? And remember! The gospel writers had many stories to choose from. And we have to think there’s some reason this one was included.
The other thing that’s weird about this story is the story’s conclusion. They elect this man Matthias, and then we never hear from him again! We don’t even know if he participated in the ministry as it’s described in the rest of this book. In Acts chapter 5 verse 12, Luke tells us this. “Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” So, did two of those hands belong to Matthias? Other than the fact that his name “was enrolled with the twelve” in our story, there’s really no evidence Matthias was any part of that ongoing ministry!
Then, if we were to read ahead in the eighth and ninth chapters of Acts, we find out very quickly that God seems to have had a different plan! He had someone else in mind to take the place of Judas. And amazingly, God’s plan was to replace Judas with his sworn enemy! Think about that! God took the slot given to a chosen friend who turned bad, and gave it to a chosen enemy who turned good! That’s unbelievable!!
The other thing we might take note of here is the contrast between the disciples’ way of choosing their “replacement,” and God’s way. And it’s a huge contrast. The disciples’ choice was made by “casting lots,” and God’s choice was made by this miraculous vision on the road to Damascus. As I said several weeks ago when, we talked about the Road to Emmaus, “God has a flair for the dramatic!” And this whole Judas thing just confirms that for me!! You can’t write this stuff!!!
That’s the thought I want to leave you with today. We often insist on doing things our own way, rather than God’s way. Don’t we? Because God’s way can be scary to us! But when do that, doesn’t our way seem mediocre in comparison? I think this story teaches us that. When we choose God’s way, he will share his glory with us! When we don’t, we miss out on that.
Don’t we do that, though? Isn’t it uncomfortable for us to seek and to do God’s will? Don’t we often try to take over for God, to force his hand? We say, “God, I’ve got a better idea?” “I’d rather do it this way?” “Please don’t tell me how you want me to do it?” And when we do that, aren’t we missing out on God’s plans – plans which are much bigger than ours? And when we do that, are we not shooting for too low a target? And as someone once said, “if you shoot for mediocrity, you usually hit it every time!”
Sometimes we do that more innocently. We say, “Lord, here’s they way we’d like to do this. Please bless our plans.” Or at the beginning of the planning process we say, “Lord, let what we plan ‘be according to your will.’” That’s a fancy way of saying, “Please let whatever we come up with be ok with you!” This story helps us to see how that’s a lesser way of doing things. This story shows us that God’s plans are always far above ours. If only we will take that step of seeking God’s will, and then be open to following it.
I’d like to close by reminding you of these words written by Paul to the church of Ephesus. And when you hear them, I’d like you to think about Peter and Matthias and the rest of the company. And then I’d like you to think about your own life and how you follow God’s will. Maybe we should read these words every day!!
“And now to him, who by the power at work within us, is able to far more abundantly than all that we could ever ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ to all generations, for ever and ever, Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Eternal God, show us your glory, and the abundance of the life you have for us. Instead of insisting on our own will, grant us the strength to seek and to follow yours. And to you be the glory, and honor, and praise, now and forever, Amen.