In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
6 Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
7 He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
Matthias chosen to replace Judas
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’
18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20 ‘For,’ said Peter, ‘it is written in the Book of Psalms:
‘“May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,”
‘“May another take his place of leadership.”
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Today’s passage chronicles the birth of the church, and we can easily miss the significance of this moment as we read the narrative. Christ has ascended before the watching disciples, having promised to send the gift of the Spirit, who will give them the power to be His witnesses everywhere. Although it’s the first time they are without Christ in their midst, He has taught them well, and Peter knows what to do – he goes to the scriptures and quotes the Psalms as authority to seek a replacement for Judas, so that the number of the apostles will be restored to twelve, the same number first appointed by Christ (Mark 3:14). He also knows what qualities the replacement must possess, and although this is the apostolic qualification, the ground is already laid in this first small church for the principle of leadership qualification that we later see in Titus and elsewhere.
How remarkable that from the moment Christ ascended into heaven, His church came into being, and has continued to grow ever since then as believers have shared the gospel, and as the Spirit has worked in the hearts of unbelievers everywhere. The early church was by no means perfect, and neither is ours today, but it is Christ’s gathered people, His treasured possession for which He will one day return.
Prayer: Thank you Father God that You prepared Your church from that very first day when Christ ascended to be with You in heaven, and You have preserved it ever since then. Thank you that we are part of your church where we can grow as believers, serve according to the gifts You give us, be taught from the scriptures, learn from the godly example of others in the body, and persevere to the very end as we encourage one another to stand firm in the faith.
O Lord, we know we could not walk this road on our own – how we bless You and praise You for giving us the church, and we pray that You will strengthen our commitment to be active and useful members of our own local church. Help us to always be obedient, humble, kind and loving as we seek the good of our brothers and sisters in the body, doing everything without grumbling or complaining, all for the glory of Christ, who is the head of the church. Amen.