Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 20, 2012

Sermon on Acts 1:15-26

“I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS”

  1. Jesus provides us the message
  2. He also provides us the ministers

Text: Acts 1:15-26 

Introduction

Now what?  After four years of school, you have completed your assignments, written the essays, passed the exams, and are ready to receive your degree.  Graduation day comes, you walk across the stage to receive your diploma from the president of the college, and then have a party with family and friends to celebrate your accomplishment.  But now what?  You’ve been in school your entire life.  Going to class is the only routine you know.  But life goes on.  The routine changes.  You need to find employment and put your education to work in the real world!

Now what?  After three years of “Jesus seminary,” the apostles had been taught everything Jesus was going to teach them, Jesus’ saving work was completed, and they had witnessed the risen Lord over the 40 days following his resurrection.  But now what?  Life went on.  The routine changed.  They had a new assignment, and it was time to put their education to work and carry out the mission of the church.

Today is the Sunday between Ascension (celebrated last week Thursday) and Pentecost (celebrated next Sunday).  The First Lesson for today’s service records a gathering of leaders in the infant Christian church that took place between Ascension and Pentecost.  Jesus’ apostles had finished their educational program with Jesus and had even participated in the commencement exercises known as Jesus’ Ascension.  Now what?  Were they now completely on their own?  Was the Christian Church bound to stand or fall based on their strategic planning?  It might look like they were left to their own, but Jesus promised them in today’s Verse of the Day, “I will not leave you as orphans.”  And before the Ascension he promised, “I will be with you always to the very end of the age.”  And he has.  Today’s First Lesson shows us that although Jesus was not with his church physically, he was still with them because Jesus provided the message they were to proclaim, and he would also provide them the ministers to proclaim that message.

I.

Our reading begins with a problem.  Luke writes, “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, ‘Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.’”  Judas, one of the original twelve apostles, was no longer an apostle.  On Thursday night of Holy Week, he betrayed Jesus, leading his enemies to Jesus in the dark of night.  It was not long after this that Judas realized what he had done and hung himself in despair.  I’m not going to reread verses 18-19 from our reading, but they depict the gory scene that followed Judas’ suicide.  The bottom line is the apostles were now missing one from their number.

Perhaps someone could argue that there wasn’t necessarily a reason to replace Judas.  And if God hadn’t spoken about the issue, that would be a fair observation.  But God not only knew what Judas would do before it happened; he also wanted there to be a replacement.  The proof comes in verse 20, where Peter quotes two different verses from the Psalms.  The first verse came from Psalm 69: “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it.”  The original quote used the plural: “May their place be deserted,” but the Holy Spirit directed Peter to see that this verse, which spoke about the Savior’s enemies, could be applied to one specific enemy who had betrayed Jesus.  The other quote came from Psalm 109, and spoke about the need to replace Judas: “May another take his place of leadership.” 

In light of this, Peter came forward with the following proposal.  “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.”  The man to replace Judas needed to be someone who had been with Jesus from his baptism three years earlier to his Ascension just a few days earlier.  But the key to this three-year-long acquaintance with Jesus was this: “One of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”  Of all the qualifications that this replacement apostle needed to have, the first was that he was an eyewitness who could testify to the resurrection of Jesus—the very miraculous yet truly historical event on which the entire Christian faith hinges!

What criteria would we have chosen?  If you were Peter making your speech to this first first-century voters’ assembly, what would you have directed the assembly to look for before casting votes?  “One of these men must possess a dynamic personality with us as we preach to all creation.”  “One of these men must become a great philanthropist with us known for godly acts of love throughout the region.”  “One of these men must be a student of human psychology with us so that together we can better penetrate the human soul.”

Do not misunderstand.  It is a good thing for ministers to have a likeable personality, to love people, and to understand what makes them tick.  But that didn’t make the top of Peter’s list of apostolic requirements.  And we dare not sit back comfortably in our padded pews and think that we could forget the importance of the Jesus’ gospel message for accomplishing the church’s mission!  Our sinful flesh is quite good at convincing us that something other than the message of Christ’s resurrection is the way to get the job done.  And so we pass by opportunities to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection to our relatives because, well, they’re just not the religious type.  We rationalize that our neighbor just won’t accept the resurrection because it’s so unbelievable.  Building bridges and establishing friendships is not our problem; crossing those bridges and being willing to risk that friendship as we present the resurrection gospel—that’s when we start to doubt the effectiveness of Jesus’ resurrection message.

But the resurrection of Jesus is the message that Jesus has given us.  And the beauty of the resurrection gospel is that it is a real historical fact that carries so much meaning and significance and comfort along with it.  The resurrection of Jesus says to you that God the Father has fully accepted Jesus’ death to wipe away your sin—yes, even our sins of doubt and our failures to trust in the power of his resurrection message.  The resurrection of Jesus says to you who believe in Jesus’ resurrection that heaven is opened and a place is waiting for you forever.  The resurrection of Jesus says to every repentant soul who has been filled with faith in Christ that your hearts can be stilled and your consciences calmed, for death has been swallowed up by death and now the living Lord gives you eternal life.

II.

Let’s go back to our first first-century voters’ meeting.  Peter has stated the qualifications.  Then came the nominations.  “They proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.”  We don’t know much about the two candidates to replace Judas.  The church father Eusebius, who lived in the late third and early fourth century, once wrote that both of these men belonged to the group of seventy disciples that Jesus had once sent out to evangelize several cities and towns.  Beyond that, we can’t say much about the candidates.

What we can say is what happened next.  “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.”  With two equally valid choices before them, the apostles prayed to the Lord, asking that he guide the process.  Then they followed the Old Testament custom of casting lots.  We should note that this is descriptive—it tells us what happened here—not prescriptive—something we must do today.  But with the candidates down to two men, the early church left the final decision to the Lord, no doubt with Proverbs 16:33 in mind: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  The process probably involved placing marked stones in a jar, and then shaking them out; the first one to fall out would be the one selected.  And when Matthias’ stone came out first, he was called to be the apostles to replace Judas.  Our Christian ancestors recognized this process for what it is: Not mere chance; not a popularity vote like when you call in for your favorite celebrity on “Dancing with the Stars;” but a divine call from God himself.

We are looking at Acts chapter one this morning.  If we paged ahead to chapter 20, we come to an incident where the apostle Paul was saying farewell to the leaders of a church that he founded.  Even though there had been a human process that appointed these leaders to serve, he said to them in his farewell speech, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”  Human beings may have appointed them, but the apostle Paul still recognized that the Holy Spirit had called them to serve.  Jesus had kept his promise to be with his church by providing ministers to be spokesmen of his resurrection.

That is ultimately the job of ministers—to take people back to Jesus’ resurrection.  When the pastor stands before you at the start of worship and says, “I forgive you all your sins,” he is announcing to you the results of Jesus’ resurrection.  When the pastor stands at the font and says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” he is connecting a soul to the resurrection of Jesus.  When you kneel at this altar and hear, “Take and eat, take and drink; this is the true body and blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” the risen Lord is truly among us and is truly feeding you with body and blood that previews the resurrection feast we will enjoy in heaven some day.

When a guilty conscience tries to accuse you, what a joy to hear God’s minister forgive us through Christ’s resurrection!  When the realities of life bring us down, what a joy to be uplifted by the message of the risen Jesus whose resurrection provides hope that cannot be shaken!  When the reality of death haunts us, what a joy it is when God’s ministers points us to the empty tomb of the risen Jesus, knowing that the empty tomb declares our forgiveness and our future resurrection from the dead.

Conclusion

 In the Gospel for today, we heard an excerpt of a prayer Jesus spoke on Thursday of Holy Week, called his “High Priestly prayer.”  In that prayer he acknowledged that he was soon going to leave this world.  But after his resurrection, he promised his disciples, “I will be with you always to the very end of the age.”  That promise was not fulfilled by a commemorative plaque or by fond recollections.  One of the ways Jesus keeps that promise is through a message.  Jesus’ message is a life-changing—eternal life-changing!—message, and Jesus has ensured that his church will have ministers to proclaim this life-changing message.  You know the message.  It is simple but profound.  Here it is: Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen.

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Responses

  1. This sermon and the one I preached on the same text here in Texas really highlights how many different sermons there are in a given text.

    I wrestled with the question, “Why does God let Judas (and Judases) enter in the ministry?” I dwelt heavily on the truth that God makes the ministry work (not the men in it, like Judas) and God uses even bad shepherds to witness to Christ (a la AC VIII, “Both the Sacraments and the Word are effective…even if they are administered by evil men.”). Bad shepherds, in fact, emphasize all the more that the ministry is God’s ministry, not ours. I even said some of our graduates from MLC and the Sem could turn out to be Judases, and yet still we placed and assigned them.

    After church a couple people said, “I don’t remember any one talking about that before.”


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