Sermon for the Feast of St. Matthias (Lent Midweek 1), AD 2021

Acts 1:15-26

We often think of Peter’s first sermon as the one at Pentecost. After the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, they see tongues of fire above them and begin to speak in many languages. Peter then preaches powerfully to the Jews who have gathered in Jerusalem and three thousand are baptized that day. What we hear in our lesson from Acts is before that. This is truly Peter’s first sermon, after Jesus’ ascension, but before Pentecost. Imagine the state these first 120 Christians were in. Jesus rose from the dead to their great joy. Forty days later, and he has ascended. His earthly ministry is complete. Now what?
Peter gets up and leads the discussion. As the one who has taken the lead among the apostles, he speaks to console these Christians on what had happened. He must address the evil work of Judas Iscariot.
Remember, Judas was with the disciples from the beginning. He ate and drank with them. He listened to Jesus with them. He went through what they went through. He baptized, he healed, he drove out demons. He was so well-trusted that he was the group’s treasurer. We know that Judas betrays Jesus. His name is synonymous with “traitor.” Yet it wasn’t until the moment that Judas brought the soldiers into the garden that the other disciples had any idea. Worse than any outright enemy is a traitor. For he does not only hurt you, but he destroys the friendship, the loving relationship that was built.
Knowing this, Peter preaches to console and teach the purpose behind Judas’ betrayal. Taking up Psalm 69 and Psalm 109, he says, “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Judas had to betray Jesus in order that scripture would be fulfilled. This is not to say that God causes Judas to betray Jesus. God tempts no one, and causes no one to sin. It was known from the beginning that Christ must suffer and die for our sins, and therefore Judas must betray Him. While God foreknew this, as it is testified in the Psalms, he did not cause Judas to do evil. It was the evil of Judas’ own heart that caused him to sin.
Therefore we should also beware, who are Christians, of falling into grievous sin. For God does not desire it, but it is possible to fall away and reject the work of God by clinging to sin and unbelief. As Peter says, “he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” Judas was at one point an apostle. He possessed the most important office ever given by Jesus to men on earth. He lived and worked with Jesus and the other apostles. And he still fell. Why? He turned to money instead of God. He loved the glory of this world rather than the glory of the cross of Jesus Christ. Truly the cross of Jesus is a stumbling block to many. It is difficult to face the narrow road, the one which we only continue in faith and hope, where the ending is promised, but the current situation is dire. Judas chose not to continue, not to trust in Christ, but to sell all he had for thirty pieces of silver.
And what did Judas profit for his wickedness? Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. Rejecting the office of apostle, Judas decided to take the office of betrayer. And what did it gain him? A grisly death. Not only did Judas hang himself, as we read in Matthew, but died in a gruesome way. Even the field Peter speaks about wasn’t actually bought by Judas. When Judas regretted what he had done in betraying Christ, he threw the silver back to the high priests. As it was blood money – that is payment to betray the blood of Jesus – the priests could not use it in their treasury but used it to buy a field to bury strangers. This became a story that everyone in town knew about, a sign of the kind of punishment God brings to traitors.
Note how Peter does not dwell on Judas’ sin, but does mention his punishment. For the punishment is important for two reasons. First, that these first Christians know that Judas did receive punishment for his betrayal. Vengeance is not ours, but the Lord’s. While we are called to forgive, God will punish evil. Yet the second point is even more important – to see the punishment of Judas so we would also repent. For the Lord acts to punish evil, but he is patient and longsuffering. Peter knew this, for after Christ was arrested, Peter also betrayed him when he denied Christ three times. Yet Peter did not fall into despair and kill himself, like Judas did. Peter repented, he turned from his ways, and he received forgiveness from Jesus. So while even those who believe may fall, there is always the chance for repentance. The arms of the Father are wide open, waiting to run to us with forgiveness.
That forgiveness God gives to us through Word and Sacrament, and He has given us ministers to impart them to us. While Judas was wicked, his office as apostle was real. The people Judas preached the gospel truly heard the Spirit-filled gospel. The people Judas baptized were truly baptized. Thank God that the goodness of the minister does not determine the validity of God’s Word and Sacrament, so we would all be lost! The office of the ministry is the office that Jesus confers and Jesus maintains. It belongs to no man. The goodness of what ministers distribute is not from themselves, but from God who calls them.
So it is no wonder that citing Psalm 109, Peter would say that Judas’ office should be filled. It would not just be left empty in memory of his betrayal, but another would take it up. So the disciples find two qualified men for the position and commend the choice to the Lord. The disciples are mindful of what Jesus had said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the Harvest therefore to send out laborers into the harvest” (Luke 10:2). The need exists, so the work continues. Matthias is chosen by lot. Matthias takes his part in the ministry of the disciples, the first minister of Christ to be called through other men.
We don’t know anything more about Matthias other than what is mentioned here. Presumably he continued preaching the Word of God, baptizing, and administering the Lord’s Supper. He worked quietly watching over Christ’s sheep, giving forgiveness of sins to Christ’s people. Legends speak of his death as a martyr. Taking Judas’ office as one of the twelve, he really embodies Judas’ opposite. He doesn’t do great and mighty works and become famous, but humbly works where he is called. He trusts in Christ and serves Christ’s sheep, unlike Judas who sought to serve himself. The cross of Christ scandalized Judas, but Matthias clung to it to his very death.
We too cling to the cross of Christ. He has died and risen for us. He gives us forgiveness of sins and strengthens us for this life so we will not fall like Judas. He gives gifts through the called like Matthias. Matthias who embodied the humility of his Lord. Jesus did not think of himself first, but became a servant for us, that we may live. May we not be offended by him or by the men he sends to serve. May He strengthen us in this life, as we carry our crosses on the hard and bitter road, the road He traveled and travels with us, knowing he promises victory and salvation. Amen.






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