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February 24: Feast of St. Matthias

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Local News: This Tuesday's Mission Mississippi Prayer Breakfast will take place at Clinton's Baptist Healthplex (102 Clinton Parkway). For more information, contact Jan Cossitt at 601-925-7900. To learn more about Mission Mississippi, go to www.missionmississippi.org.

Of all of Jesus’ disciples, the one who is likely most obscure in most people’s minds is Matthias. We don’t read any specific mention of Matthias at all in any of the four gospels, and we are first introduced to him in Acts 1. The context is that Judas Iscariot has recently committed suicide, leaving a hole in Jesus original group of 12.

1. How was Matthias selected?

Jesus’ disciples are together with several others in an upper room, waiting as Jesus told them to for God’s power to come upon them. Peter speaks up and explains how the Scriptures prophesied that Judas would do what he had done. Peter then explained that it would be necessary to fill the void left by him. The criteria suggested by Peter is that it must be someone who had been with Jesus’ followers since the beginning and that it must be someone who was an eyewitness of the resurrection.

Two men were suggested by the assembly (the author Luke tells us there were about 120 gathered), and after lots are cast, Matthias is selected to complete The Twelve. After Matthias is selected, we never see him mentioned again in Acts or anywhere else in the New Testament.

On a side note, some have been troubled by the fact that the early church selected the 12th apostle by casting lots. The Living Bible, trying to put this ancient practice in a more modern context, says they threw dice. Does this mean that it is appropriate to try to discern God’s will by such means today?

Casting lots was customary in the Old Testament, but it is significant that the ordination of Matthew is the last reference made to casting lots in the Bible. What’s the significance? Some have explained that casting lots, not a bad thing in itself—since God clearly condoned it in the Old Testament—has been phased out in the Christian church thanks now to the ever abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit directs the church into the perfect will of God, there remains no need to cast lots or throw dice or guess at what God’s will might be.

2. Why was Matthias selected?

It was not coincidental that, just as there had been twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus selected twelve apostles. In the book of Revelation, we are told that the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are inscribed in heaven.

Historically, Christians have believed that the number 12 holds symbolic significance. In choosing 12 apostles, Jesus was deliberately establishing continuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant he was establishing. It wasn’t so much that the church Christ founded was intended to “replace” God’s covenant people of Israel, but rather that Christ’s church was intended to be the logical next step in God’s covenant dealings with the world. Christ’s church doesn’t replace the Old Covenant as much as it completes it. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his 12 disciples that they would sit on thrones and rule over the twelve tribes of Israel. This sheds some light on why it was necessary that when the Twelve disciples had been depleted to 11, it was necessary for Matthias to be appointed.

3. Conclusion

We may not know much about Matthias’ life after he was selected, but we do know that it was God’s will for him to replace Judas Iscariot. Some have conjectured that, when John saw the names of the 12 apostles inscribed in heaven, he saw the original eleven, plus the name of the apostle Paul, rather than Matthias. The reasoning is that Paul appears to have played a much more important role in the life of the early church than Matthias who was technically the 12th apostle.

It is true that the New Testament makes it clear that Paul’s “status” as an apostle was equal to the rest of Jesus’ apostles. Like Jesus’ original 12 apostles, Paul was specifically called by Christ to be his servant. Like the other apostles, Paul was an eye witness of the risen Christ. Unlike the original disciples and Matthias, Paul did not know Jesus during the time of his earthly ministry. Paul always described himself as an apostle selected well after all the rest, “one abnormally born”.

In the end, does it matter whose name will be the 12th inscribed in heaven? When James and John approached Jesus about sitting at his right and left hand in his kingdom, and the rest of the disciples took offense, Jesus explained that in God’s kingdom, the least shall be first. Attempting to lord over others is incompatible with following Christ. That being the case, we can certainly rest assured that in heaven, where both Matthias and Paul are with their Lord, there’s not the least bit of competition or vying to be the 12th name inscribed among the apostles in heaven. Heaven is a place where pride and competition are distant memories. Every soul is delighted with what God has made of it, and is equally delighted with what God has made of every other soul.

In heaven, there’s no covetous or jealousy or any resentment. Whosever name it is, we can rest assured that both Matthias and Paul will be content. May God grant us a little dose of such non-competitive fellowship here on earth as we can look forward to experiencing in heaven.

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