The Signs and Wonders of Easter Part 6: Chosen and Numbered!
The Signs and Wonders of Easter Part 6: Chosen and Numbered!
Text: Acts 1:12-26
7 Easter, C
Our last sermon text in this Easter season is full of numbers. 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection we find ourselves in the midst of the 11 remaining apostles and the 120 person company of the brothers. And the most important number in the text? 1. They were all of one accord. They were all one in unity. One in purpose. Returning from the ascension of Jesus they are concerned with filling their number back up to the full complement of 12 witnesses to proclaim the Gospel to the world. And this process will show us the final sign and wonder of the Easter season, that we, like Matthias before us, are chosen and numbered by God Himself!
12Then [the apostles] returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, ... 13And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying ... 14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120)
As the Eleven returned from the Ascension of Jesus, Luke tells us that they were of “one accord”. This unity was found in praying together with others who were followers of Jesus. Peter addresses the larger group of Jesus’s followers. The purpose of his address is to encourage the selection of a replacement for Judas Iscariot, who had ceased to be of “one accord” with Jesus through his act of betrayal and subsequent death. The fracture in the unity among the disciples created a vacancy among them, which Peter argued should be filled so that the Eleven were once again the Twelve.
and [Peter] said, 16“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled ... concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18(Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20
The story of Judas Iscariot is revealing in at least two ways. First, it shows the resistibility of the grace of God. Jesus himself had called Judas and numbered him among the twelve. Yet, Judas betrayed Jesus. He chose to walk away, to un-number himself. To recind his calling. His story therefore should always serve as a warning to every follower of Jesus to “take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). The fate of Judas calls each of us to daily repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sin.
Second, the story of Judas fulfilled what God himself had foretold. Even something as dark as that episode ultimately was not an unforeseen accident. The two psalms Peter quoted, (69 and 109) focus on the hostility faced first by David, and then by his Messiah. Yet God will vindicate his anointed king, both David and Jesus. God is not unaware of what lies before His chosen and called servants. And so His promise to stand by us and see us through becomes all the more glorious for the darkness that must first be tread. It is God who calls, God who numbers, God who sustains, and God who will be victorious!
“For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’ 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
And here is the important criterion of the calling and numbering – it is for a purpose. To serve as a witness of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ, through whom we are called and numbered among the saints! We are called to do no less. We are to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of everlasting life for those called and numbered among the saints who will rise with Him on the last day. We are not as important as the work we have been given to do. For others did it before us and God-willing others will do so after we are gone. We are important only because we are numbered among those called. And we are called by God Himself.
23And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
And while the shape of the sign and wonder may have changed the importance of it has not. All who are counted among the Church of our Lord are still called by Holy Spirit and numbered in the one holy unity of Faith. But rather than the roll of some holy dice, it now happens through the sign and wonder of Holy Baptism. Indeed, Baptism is perhaps the greatest sign and wonder of Easter there is. Just consider that we have been seeing this all through our Easter celebrations these past seven weeks.
We saw the sign and wonder of calling and numbering when Saul is brought to faith and the first thing he does upon regaining his sight is to be baptized. We saw it when the elders of Ephesus were reminded of their baptismal inheritance among all those who are sanctified. We witnessed it when Cornelius and his family are first baptized by the Holy Spirit at the preaching of the resurrected Christ, and then with water at the hands of this same Peter. And we rejoiced to see it again when Lydia by the river in Philippi has her heart opened to become the first European to be called and numbered in the Holy Christian Church.
The signs and wonders of Holy Baptism are at every turn of our Easter celebration! And it is the Sacramental sign and wonder that lies at the heart of your Easter joy too! For God loved you so much that He has called you by the Holy Spirit, gathered and enlightened you with His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, and even now keeps you in the true faith awaiting your own day of resurrection promised when you were called and numbered with Jesus Christ Himself, the firstfruits of all who will be raised! And it is in your Baptismal calling that you are numbered among those one in unity, one in purpose … to serve as a witness of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ, through whom we are called and numbered among the saints!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!