Acts 1: 12 – 26 Matthias chosen to replace Judas
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’
(With the payment he received 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.)
‘For,’ said Peter, ‘it is written in the Book of Psalms:
‘ “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,” and,
‘ “May another take his place of leadership.”
‘Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living 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 nominated 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 apostles.
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Before doing anything else, let’s consider the big inconsistency in this passage. With the payment he received 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. (Acts 1: 18 – 19)
But St Matthew’s gospel also has an account of Judas’ fate, and that is that he returned the money to the priests and then hanged himself. It was the priests who used the money to buy the field as a burial ground for Gentiles. (Matthew 27: 3 – 10)
I have read all sorts of rationalisations for the discrepancies and, for me at least, none of them ring true. The two accounts are different.
But my faith isn’t based on the bible being inerrant; it’s based on the core messages of the bible, supplemented by what I’ve experienced of Jesus in my own life and what I’ve seen of Jesus in the lives of others. I’m going to learn from one of yesterday’s conclusions; we only need concern ourselves with what God wants us to know to do his will.
But let’s continue with the core message of this passage, which is about prayer.
This passage is set before Pentecost, which is to say, before the gift of the Holy Spirit was experienced in all its fulness. A hundred and twenty disciples, women as well as men, met together in a large upper room; it must have been thirty feet by forty feet, so perhaps a community building rather than a private dwelling.
The disciples “joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
That’s a wonderful example to all of us. The disciples were praying because, having lived with Jesus, having been used to his guidance, they desperately wanted to know what to do next. The resurrection had convinced them that Jesus was still alive, and still able to teach and guide them. They wanted his day to day guidance, and they believed he would give it to them through prayer.
Prayer is how Jesus can talk to us – provided we listen as well as talk.
The answer to some of their prayer was given by Peter. Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, needed to be replaced as an apostle by someone else. Peter spelled out some conditions that ensured whoever was chosen would have the qualifications to witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and they finished with a shortlist of two.
They prayed, and cast lots – and the lot fell to Matthias; “so he was added to the eleven apostles.”
I once went to a bible study on this passage, and our study guide said something like “Of course, now we would be democratic and vote for the replacement”, in a manner that suggested how much better a democratic decision would have been.
I think the important part of the procedure wasn’t the way Matthias was chosen but the prayer that preceded the choice. And if there’s one important lesson for me to learn from today’s reading, it is that God can and will answer prayers for guidance. And, wonderfully, the more we ask for guidance, the more we listen, the closer we will come to Jesus.
Thank you that through Jesus I can approach you in prayer. Please help me to listen more than I speak, and to take to heart what you tell me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen