11 + 1 = 13

Text: Acts 1:12-26
Date: Easter VII + 5/20/12

The sermon title, “11 + 1 = 13,” is, at first, intended to be a little humorous comment about finding a replacement for Judas Iscariot to restore the number of apostles to the original number of twelve. The humor I see is that though in today’s text, Acts chapter one, Peter and about 120 others solemnly choose Matthias to be the replacement, in Acts chapter nine Jesus Himself directly chooses Saul of Tarsus for this purpose. So, not to disallow the choice of Peter and the first “voters assembly,” instead of restoring the number of apostles to twelve the end result is thirteen! Yet I do not find this observation to be purely amusing nor incidental. For we are to discover that the Gospel of the resurrection not only restores life and things to merely the original design of creation before the fall into sin but salvation in Christ actually increases God’s gift of life to be even more than it was before. The resurrection, for instance, turned the old first day of the week, Sunday, to be now also the eighth day, the eternal day, the first day of eternal life. The Ascension of Our Lord elevated human nature itself to be identified with the divine. And the promise of our resurrection in the new heavens and earth is that we will reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12). As Martin Luther wrote of all the baptized in reference to Psalm 82 which says, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (Ps 82:1), “for we are all the children of God…and therefore we are gods”[1]

Now, it’s not that Peter and the Church acted too hastily or made the wrong choice. They could have chosen the other candidate, “Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus.” I believe they were not plumbing the depths of the hidden mysteries of God in their prayer and casting of lots. Rather, this little incident demonstrates the larger fact that, in the grace of Christ, “God is in the business of blessing” his people. The main difference between the church’s choice of Matthias and God’s choice of Saul is that we, the church, are limited to the facts as we know them. The qualifications that seemed right and proper to Peter and the rest were that the candidates needed to “have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us.” That’s because the main function of an apostle is to be a witness of Christ’s resurrection. On the other hand, even if they knew at that time the man named Saul of Tarsus, he wouldn’t even make it on their “call list.” Only God Himself saw in this once “persecutor of the church” (Philippians 3:6) the perfect candidate to become the Christian apostle to the Gentiles.

And that’s what this word of God tells us today. God is in the business of blessing. When it comes to “calling” a pastor or teacher, deaconess or other ordained or commissioned servant, or the placing of new graduates of our seminaries as recently happened, you really can’t make the wrong choice between candidates who are otherwise qualified to serve. God is in the business of blessing. The same goes for the pastor or other worker considering two or more calls he has received. “God’s will” is that you make the choice based on your own best judgment and desire, as the psalm says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4). God is in the business of blessing.

This is not only true of church or congregation call meetings or of church workers, prophets or apostles. It is true of all the baptized. It is true of you. God is in the business of blessing you. The apostles were the contemporary eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. But all Christians, including you, are witnesses as all who have been baptized into Christ’s death have also been raised with Him so that, as St. Paul says, we may walk in newness of life.

That newness is, first of all, having become forgiven sinners. Each and every day the walk of faith of the baptized is renewed by constantly living in the forgiveness of our sins. In the confession of sins we ask God not only to forgive us but also to “renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name” (LSB 151). “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” that is, the right desires. This newness is the holiness or sanctification Jesus prays for in today’s Gospel. God is in the business of blessing.

The newness of the Christian life is powered and directed by the Word of God. We heard Jesus say today, “I have given them your word…. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:14a, 17). It was with the words of scripture in Psalm 69 (v. 25) and Psalm 109 (v. 8) that the Holy Spirit moved and directed Peter to call for a replacement for Judas Iscariot. And it is as we hear, read, learn, mark and “inwardly digest” the words of Jesus that, He says, we “will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32)—free from sin, free to live trusting in God’s love and blessing, “free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life” (Lk 1:74-75; LSB Evening Prayer).

The newness of the baptized life is in trusting that our Lord is in control, that He leads us and works all things together for our ultimate good.

Do you believe this? Or do you find it sometimes difficult to believe that God is in control? We all do; especially in those times of sadness or trouble, injury or accident, separation or loneliness. That’s when we need the truth and freedom provided by God’s Word, to remind us that things are not ultimately dependant on our wisdom, our action or control. At those difficult times, in those dark days, those painful twists and turns of life, faith yearns for the light of God’s gracious Word to give hope and confidence. The words of Psalm 42 come to mind,

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:2-6)

There is hope because God really can work all things together for your ultimate good.

These are those strange ten days between our Lord’s Ascension into heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost—silent days, waiting days. We wait with Peter, John, James and Andrew, with Philip and Thomas, with Bartholomew and Matthew, with James Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas son of James, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers, and, yes, with Matthias and Joseph Justus. We wait because Jesus told them to wait. Remember? “He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father,” the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Sometimes the best thing, sometimes the only thing to do is to wait. The prophet Isaiah said it first: “the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Is 30:18). “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14).

[1]Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther’s Works, Vol. 11 : First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126. Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1976 (Luther’s Works 11), S. 11:111