Summary: A sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, series B, focusing on Christ’s gift of the called and ordained ministry to His church for the forgiveness of sins.
7Easter2003b "The Luck of the Draw” Acts 1:15-26
June 1, 2003 © 2003, Robert C. Baker,
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Vero Beach, FL
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, had 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, gave sight to the blind, and raised 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 had 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 as they happened upon 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 have had arranged for the congregation to divide itself into focus groups in order ascertain the will of the Father. That certainly might seem “logical”. And we might have presumed that the apostles would have paid for a professional market study in order to divine their ministry goals. Who today 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 foreign 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.” (1) But in every case, it wasn’t that the faith of God’s people faith was misplaced in “luck,” for in reality there is 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 difficult because Matthias wasn’t any better than Barsabbas, rather, we can rightly assume that they were equally qualified for the position. Both were close associates of Jesus 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. (2)