14 May 2016

Acts 1:15-26

“Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship” (vv. 24-25)

Psalm: Psalm 15


Today's passage reflects the veneration, in some Christian traditions, of Saint Matthias, the man chosen to replace Judas as one of the twelve apostles. Matthias, unlike the 12, was not personally called by Jesus, who has already ascended into heaven by the time of his appointment in Acts (Acts 1:6-11). Neither is Matthias mentioned in any of the Gospels, but these verses in Acts reveal that both Matthias and his co-candidate for the vacancy (Justus) had "accompanied us from throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" (v. 21). This is very interesting if only in confirming that the band of disciples who travelled with Jesus was larger, and almost certainly more diverse, than the twelve men we often visualise when we hear of "the disciples".

The passage from Acts also gives us an account of the fate of Judas Iscariot after his betrayal of Jesus. Clearly there was more than one story circulating at the time about Judas and his demise. Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 27:3-8) writes that Judas returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders and then went out and hanged himself. Deeming the money unfit for the treasury, as blood money, Matthew has the Jewish authorities purchasing a field for the burial of foreigners, a field which became known as "the Field of Blood". In a variant on this, Luke, in his sequel to his Gospel, suggests that Judas used the reward to purchase a field where, whether by accident or by his own hand, he met a horrible death. Two thousand years later we are unlikely to discover which account is more accurate, but both lead to the same result - the place of Judas in the team needs to be filled.

Several ideas can be gleaned from this passage; firstly it demonstrates that Peter is already the accepted leader and spokesman of the group (verse 15). The detail that the crowd numbered 120 (ie 12 x 10) (verse 15) could be related to the significance for the Jews of the number 12, which underlies their reason to replace Judas, not to carry on as a band of 11. The story also highlights the importance of the Apostles and their calling to Luke. The detail in verse 20 with which Luke explains not just how, but also why this was done (referring to two relatively obscure quotations - Psalm 69:25: 109:8) suggests that the betrayal Judas committed was much more than a betrayal of Jesus, but also an act which shook the fellowship of the disciples, leaving them hurt and bruised as well.

In Matthias and Justus they seem to have found two suitable replacements and they leave it to God to make the choice through the casting of lots, a practice which has plenty of support in Old Testament times, but which has largely fallen out of favour as a way of choosing religious leaders in modern times!

To Ponder

  • How might this story, with its message that Christian vocation, even a personal calling to apostleship by Jesus himself, can fail, affect the way you live out your own calling?
  • Reflect on a time when you have felt betrayed by the actions of another - even if those actions were not directly against you.
  • Psalm 15 is a meditation on 'walking blamelessly'. How might this psalm shed any 'guiding light' on your day, or does it sound rather smug?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers’ tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where her husband Andrew is superintendent minister. For Jill, the past 20 years have included all sorts of roles within Methodism – further afield (as a mission partner in the South Caribbean) and closer to home (with WFMUCW, MWiB, leading pilgrimages and as part of various committees and groups) and is currently the Vice-President of the Conference 2017/2018. When not engaged in these ways, Jill enjoys walking in the beautiful mountains of Scotland, gardening and writing; she blogs at and "Thanks, Peter God", her book about the life of her son, Peter, who died in 2012, was published in 2016.