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Hold

June 02, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

Acts 1:12-26

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our first reading where Luke records, And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It’s not unheard of during the dress rehearsal of a stage production that, as the company is playing through a scene of the play, that they will suddenly hear the word, “HOLD!” belted out by the stage manager. The actors know to stop whatever they are doing and freeze, instantly. It doesn’t matter what they were doing – speaking a line, walking, performing a complicated dance move, in the middle of doing a push-up. Whatever they had been doing, they freeze. This allows the stage technicians to make necessary adjustments so that the rehearsal can resume. There’s a good reason why the actors freeze: safety. They may not know what’s happening elsewhere on the stage. For all they know, a trap door may have opened incorrectly or at the wrong time. A prop may have fallen and become a tripping hazard. A bolt may be loose on some part the backdrop and is at risk of falling upon the company. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s for the good of the actors. Hopefully, the issue is resolved quickly without breaking the momentum of the rehearsal, and things can resume as normal.

We seem to be in a bit of a hold today in our text. A few days ago, Christ Jesus was lifted up into the sky out of the sight of the disciples. He had told them that, in a matter of mere days, the Father would bestow His promise to them. Jesus had told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That was a few days ago … and they were still in Jerusalem waiting for the fulfillment of this promise to them. Waiting for what we now know would happen on the Day of Pentecost. They were, for all intents and purposes, in a hold.

However, unlike actors in a hold who freeze, the disciples were not entirely still for the time they waited for the hold to be completed. Luke tells us that, In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, 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. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. … 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.’ So one of the men who 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—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

It seems quite reasonable that they would do this. After all, in the history of Israel, 12 was a pretty important number. 12 sons of Jacob, and thus 12 tribes of Israel. When it came time for appointing land plots to the different tribes, the tribe of Levi did not get a land allotment; well, instead of leaving it at 11, God decided that the two half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim would be considered full tribes and receive allotments, thus bringing the number back up to 12. Now, in Jesus’s time, He had originally called 12 apostles, though, as we heard, one betrayed Him. In rather graphic detail, Luke describes that traitor’s ghastly end. Needless to say, they were down to 11. Things undoubtedly felt …. incomplete; awkward. A space needed to be filled. They needed to get back to 12, so they brought forward a few candidates. They prayed. They cast lots. The lot fell to one of the candidates, Matthias, and he was numbered to be one of the apostles.

Now here’s the question … it might be a little uncomfortable: did the apostles act hastily? I mean, did they act when they were supposed to hold? No doubt they had good intentions, believing the promise that God had in store for them in a few days and wanting to be back at full strength, but was it the right thing to do? In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells his readers about how the resurrected Lord Jesus appeared to many different people, finishing the list by saying, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Did they act hastily? Didn’t God have everything well in hand? In hindsight, doesn’t it seem obvious that He had plans to bring Saul/Paul in to be Judas’s replacement? Who can say? At this point, we can only speculate, because Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. However, it is worth mentioning that the people of God, as both sinners and saints, have a nasty habit of trying to fulfill God’s will on their terms. When Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, they thought they would help God’s plan along by having a child … through Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant. To help Jacob receive a blessing from his father, Rebekah had the son dupe his father into giving it to him. In an attempt to ensure the victory of Israel against the Philistines, Saul consulted the witch of En-dor to summon Samuel, long dead, for counsel. Good intentions, but hastily performed, and without regard to the promises that YHWH had made to them, the One Who has always kept His promises.

What about you? Do you fall into those same traps? Do you seek to fulfill God’s promises to you by your own actions? Whether the disciples sinned in their actions or not, we know that this is something all sinners are wont to do, even those redeemed by Christ the crucified and resurrected Lord. How arrogant can we be to think that we can bring about God’s blessings, the fulfillment of His promises to us, by what we do? All our actions are tainted with sin! Our best works, however well intentioned, are as filthy rags according to the prophet Isaiah. That goes for the patriarchs. That goes for the prophets. That goes for the disciples. And that certainly goes for us, as well. We are clumsy bumblers, and our best intentions do not mitigate our sin.

Perhaps the most obvious instance of this principle is the work of the Sanhedrin. Make no mistake, folks, they had good intentions as they called upon Pilate to crucify Jesus. They had good intentions as they watched Him march up Golgotha’s hill, as He was nailed to the cursed tree. They had good intentions as they walked away from that place after Jesus breathed His last and yielded up His spirit. This, in no way, exonerates them from their actions. Their lack of faith, their open hostility to the things of God, and their condemnation of an innocent Man to death were horrific actions, however good their intentions. We are clumsy bumblers, all.

Thanks be to God, He can use bumblers like us. He used Abraham’s unwise choice to bless him with another son, Ishmael. He used Rebekah’s and Jacob’s shrewdness and deceit to ensure the bloodline to the Messiah. Saul’s fall led to the rise of, undoubtedly, one of the greatest kings in Israel, David, the one who had a heart after God’s own heart. And the actions of Judas, the Sanhedrin, the Romans, however wicked, brought about the full forgiveness of sins through Jesus’s self-sacrifice upon the cross. God uses sinners and their sinful actions to further His Kingdom, to bless His people, to be a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Did the apostles act hastily? Did they jump the gun? Did they act when they should have been on hold? Whether they did or not in that particular instance, we know that we do. And we take comfort in the fact that, in spite of our clumsy bumblings, God can still use us for His eternal purposes. So, by all means, we recognize St. Matthias as Judas’s replacement, while also recognizing the apostleship of Paul of Tarsus. Think of it less as a “stage hold,” and more of a “Be still, and know that I am God.”

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.