7th Sunday of Easter – May 13, 2018
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16and 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— 17he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” 18(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20”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.’ 21Therefore 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, 22beginning 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.” 23So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
A few years ago there was a contestant on Jeopardy! that blew away the competition. His name was Watson, and he competed against the two best players in the history of the show. Everyone was amazed. Not only had Watson done the unthinkable and beaten these brilliant contestants, Watson had accomplished that feat as something of an unusual player. You see, Watson was a computer.
He had to listen to the question just like everyone else. He had to buzz in just like the other contestants. And like everybody who competes on Jeopardy! Watson wasn’t allowed to access the internet. After Watson won, everyone asked the same question: “How could a computer do that?”
Watson was years in the making. And as the engineers at IBM constructed Watson they eventually realized they had a choice to make. They could either try to give Watson the answer to every possible question he would ever hear (which would be impossible), or they had to give him principles that would guide him. In the end, they chose to give him rules to follow because they couldn’t foresee every possible question that might be asked.
Now Watson as a computer is a fun little story, but what those IBM engineers learned was a Biblical fact. No person has all the answers to every possible conundrum they will face. It isn’t possible.
Of course, God knows. He knows every problem before we ever encounter it. He sees every issue before it comes to light. And wouldn’t it be nice if he gave us specific answers to every one of our problems? Which college should I attend? Which person should I marry? Which house should I buy? Or, as you look at a call list, which individual should we choose to call to be our next pastor?
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were asking that very question. One of their own, the disciple named Judas Iscariot, had betrayed Jesus and hanged himself. He was no longer a disciple and follower of Christ. Because of this, Peter stood up and quoted from Psalm 109, saying, “May another take his place of leadership.”
But not just anybody could fill this leadership position. So Peter continues, “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.” Peter even sets up the parameters for them, “beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.” This new apostle was to be very familiar with Jesus: his ministry, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection. It made sense, because just as Peter says, “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
Luke tells us, “They proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed.” After deciding on the two men, they entrusted this decision to the Lord. But how should they go about finding out God’s will and purpose?
How have you figured out those big decisions in your life? Like those disciples, we probably know how we ought to start – with prayer, asking the Lord for guidance and strength. But do we always function that way? When life’s biggest challenges and decision come our way, our first response is usually to gripe and complain or demand that the Lord just give us the answer.
Or, we are tempted to go to other places to find answers. Sometimes we want to find answers out for ourselves apart from God and his direction. We look for worldly “signs” to direct us rather than God and his word.
What guided Jesus during his ministry? It wasn’t signs. It wasn’t his own personal, selfish choices. Quite the opposite! Every decision Jesus made fulfilled God’s Word. His birth in Bethlehem, his miracles, his parables, his suffering, his death and resurrection all followed God’s perfect plan. Jesus perfectly fulfilled his Word to save you.
But where can I find God’s purpose for my life? The apostles had to find out God’s will for a very specific circumstance. They needed to fill the leadership position of Judas Iscariot. Now because apostles were men picked specifically by the Lord, they needed the Lord to tell them who was to fill this void: Joseph or Matthias. So Luke records for us, “Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’”
They asked for the Lord to reveal for them his hidden will. And as always, their prayers were answered as we hear in our final verse, “They cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” In this specific instance, God showed for all the Church that Matthias was to be the twelfth apostle in place of Judas Iscariot. The Lord revealed his will and purpose, and the Church was blessed through it.
So, what about us? If God doesn’t intervene like this in our lives, how are we to know what to do? Remember how those IBM engineers solved the problem of choice for their computer, Watson? They couldn’t give him all the answers to every question. That wasn’t the best way to do it. Instead, they gave the computer principles to follow in various situations.
In a much more perfect way, the Lord does the same thing for you. He gives you those principles to live by in his word. Then he also sends you the tough questions so that you can give him glory by putting those Biblical principles to use.
At the end of his ministry, the prophet Jeremiah was forced to watch his proud city of Jerusalem burn to the ground. He saw the conquering Babylonians destroy his temple and kill his people. At the end of it all, the Babylonians gave him a surprising choice. After being freed from his chains, the Babylonian commander told him, “Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come.”
The Lord was silent on the matter. Jeremiah could choose whichever path he wanted. Either choices was acceptable. In a way, neither path really mattered that much. What mattered was Jeremiah’s complete trust in the Lord’s promises.
That’s what matters most in your choices, too. You don’t have to cast lots. You don’t have to look for signs. In the end, following God’s will means leaving all things…all things…to his direction. Amen.