15 May 2017

Acts 1:15-26

“And the lot fell on Matthias...” (v. 26)

Psalm: Psalm 15


Today is the Feast Day of St Matthias, about whom virtually nothing is known outside this passage. The way his story is told may give the impression of him simply being a person who happened to be around at the right time. But a closer look at the background may offer some scope for a deeper meaning to be found in his example.

Our passage begins with Peter addressing the believers gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus' ascension (verse 15). Given the symbolic importance of numbers in this passage, it's worth noting that there are about 120, that is 12 times 10, or tenfold the number of disciples. Peter tells them what is already known about Judas, how he was numbered among the disciples, how he betrayed Jesus, how he was rewarded for this and what he did with the money, how he subsequently fell and died in the field he had bought.

It is clear from Peter's account that the punishment for Judas' apostasy was understood to be no accident but rather a fulfilment of the Scriptures, of that "which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas" (v. 16), for he quotes from Psalm 69:25: "Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it" (v. 20).

It is also clear that the story doesn't stop with Judas' death, as there a replacement needs to be appointed, both to complete the complement of twelve disciples chosen by Jesus as part of the restoration of Israel and also to fulfil what is foretold in another Psalm 109:8 "Let another take his position of overseer" (v. 20). There are two candidates eligible from those who have been with Jesus since the time of his baptism, Joseph Barsabbas, known also as Justus, and Matthias (verse 23). The disciples first pray together and then draw lots, and as we know "the lot fell on Matthias", who is then added to the other eleven apostles (verse 26).

The fact that this is all we know about Matthias may appear to make this a fairly perfunctory account, an example of someone simply 'making up the numbers'. However, numbers matter to Peter and his colleagues, because they symbolise Jesus' mission to Israel and the continuity of ministry which the apostles will exercise in Jesus' name. More than this, the account of finding a replacement for Judas is a reminder that the story of the Apostles continues, that tragedy and betrayal will not undermine their work; for when 'another one bites the dust', God is always able to raise up someone else to replace them.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever felt you were there simply to make up the numbers? How did that make you feel?
  • Or does the example of Matthias remind you that our calling is sometimes to be a part of something bigger, to contribute as part of a bigger whole?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.